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Thursday, 17 May, 2001, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Glyndebourne: A 'hallmark for quality'
The Last Supper
The Last Supper is a dark and difficult opera
BBC News Online's Darren Waters traces the unique sounds of the Glyndebourne Festival, one of the high points of the opera calendar in Britain.

The champagne and stuffed picnic baskets are as much a feature of the Glyndebourne Festival as the high-quality opera that has been performed for more than 60 years at the country house in the heart of Sussex's countryside.

The season remains a high point in the English social calendar but it is more than just three months of music in pleasant surroundings.

Glyndebourne
Glyndebourne: Ambition to be the best
Michael White, music critic and broadcaster, said: "Glyndebourne was in danger of becoming a place where the rich and privileged went to listen to third rate opera in the sun."

He said: "Initially Glyndebourne had a special place in the opera calendar because of novelty. It was different from the way other people were doing opera.

Obsession

"But you cannot survive half a century on novelty. Despite being a delightful day out if the sun is shining, the standards are high."

Daily Telegraph music columnist Norman Lebrecht said Glyndebourne remained a hallmark for quality.

He said: "It is getting right the things many national institutions are not."


Glyndebourne is still a bastion of privilege and something special in the English social calendar.

Michael White
Glyndebourne was started on 28 May 1934 and was the result of the estate owner John Christie's obsession with the idea of performing "not the best we can do, but the best that can be done anywhere".

The festival began as amateur opera productions in the Organ room at Glyndebourne but quickly expanded.

The first season lasted for two weeks and featured six performances of Le Nozze di Figaro and six of Cosi Fan Tutte.

By 1939 the festival had established itself as an important opera festival but between 1945 and 1950 Glyndebourne fell silent as John Christie ran out of funds to pay for the festival.

'Reputation'

In 1951 the Glyndebourne Festival Society was formed and helped to ensure that each year opera could be performed.


Glyndebourne now does radical things

Michael White

The festival became well-known for its repertoire for Mozart's opera but after 40 years it was danger of becoming staid and stale.

Mr White said: "Glyndebourne used to have a reputation of being traditional but it has changed.

"It is still a bastion of privilege and something special in the English social calendar.

"But when they pulled down the old auditorium [in 1990] the company changed.

Dark opera

"It became much more professional and focussed on being right there on the cutting edge of what is happening in opera.

"Glyndebourne now does radical things."

Glyndebourne
Glyndebourne has a unique place in the social calendar
Mr Lebrecht added: "Glyndebourne has an eternal appeal and it has managed to retain its quality.

"They have very carefully balanced development of new talent with existing talent."

The festival will this year stage a Harrison Birtwistle production, The Last Supper, a challenging and dark opera.

"The working circumstances of Glyndebourne are very special, unlike a working opera house in a big city," said Mr White.

He added: "The amount of time and effort put into productions are very high.

"The Last Supper is not the kind of work that necessarily appeals to traditional Glyndebourne opera goers who like to sit back and listen to some nice Mozart-y pieces."

See also:

13 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Bright young team at Glyndebourne
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