PAS­TORAL SYM­PHONY A sense of in­no­va­tion keeps Glyn­de­bourne at once clas­sic and cut­ting edge

While re­main­ing true to its tra­di­tions, Glyn­de­bourne con­tin­ues to ex­plore un­charted ter­ri­tory, with this sum­mer’s stag­ing of the world pre­miere of a new ver­sion of Ham­let, along­side the re­vival of a lost opera clas­sic and an ex­hi­bi­tion of the best of Brit

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Contents - By SASHA SLATER Pho­to­graphs by HARRY CORY WRIGHT

The gra­cious­ness of civil­i­sa­tion here surely touches a peak where the arts of mu­sic, ar­chi­tec­ture and gar­den­ing com­bine…’ So said Vita Sackville-West of Glyn­de­bourne in 1953. Cer­tainly, the white wil­lows on the banks of the or­na­men­tal lake, the guests in flow­ing silk dresses pic­nick­ing un­der the tulip-trees and the sheep placidly graz­ing in the field just beyond the ha-ha give the idea that noth­ing at the home of English coun­try-house opera ever re­ally changes.

That im­pres­sion, though, is quite wrong. For in­no­va­tion and dis­cov­ery have al­ways been part of the charm of Glyn­de­bourne, as much as the El­iz­a­bethan house and the rolling South Downs that sur­round it; and this is a par­tic­u­larly ground­break­ing year for the com­pany.

The high­light of the sea­son is a global pre­miere of an opera of Ham­let by Brett Dean star­ring the Pre-Raphaelite beauty Bar­bara Han­ni­gan as Ophe­lia. ‘This is a fan­tas­tic opera with a won­der­ful Ham­let in Al­lan Clay­ton,’ she says. ‘I’ve never sung here be­fore, and Glyn­de­bourne is on the world stage. And of course, it’s a lovely set­ting and a spe­cial at­mos­phere.’ Though it is a brand-new work, Han­ni­gan de­scribes the mu­sic as ‘beau­ti­ful. It’s not some crazy an­gu­lar de­con­struc­tion. This is sto­ry­telling for a tra­di­tional au­di­ence and they’ll un­der­stand and love it. Plus it feels very good to sing.’

An­other opera that view­ers won’t know – though it is far from new – is Hiper­me­s­tra by the 17th-cen­tury Vene­tian com­poser Francesco Cavalli. This baroque mas­ter­piece, writ­ten in 1658, has lain ne­glected for more than 300 years and now re­ceives its Bri­tish pre­miere in Sus­sex this sum­mer. It could sound dry, but Glyn­de­bourne has a rep­u­ta­tion for lav­ish pro­duc­tions with Covent Gar­den-level bud­gets, filled with visual wit and sheer joy that send its au­di­ences out to­wards the cham­pagne pavil­ions on the lawns dur­ing the long in­ter­val in a rip­ple of laugh­ter.

And Glyn­de­bourne is not just dy­namic and am­bi­tious in re­la­tion to its mu­si­cal choices. In the past, it has hosted pro­duc­tions de­signed by David Hock­ney and Anish Kapoor; today, along­side the ham­pers and pic­nic ta­bles in the gar­dens is a sim­ple struc­ture by the Lon­don ar­chi­tec­tural stu­dio Car­mody Groarke, which houses the White Cube at Glyn­de­bourne.

In 2015, the lead­ing con­tem­po­rary-art gallery came to the coun­try-house opera for the first time, bring­ing the German painter Ge­org Baselitz to the at­ten­tion of the au­di­ence on the rea­son­able as­sump­tion that, if they had a taste for high cul­ture, they might also en­joy some chal­leng­ing con­tem­po­rary art. This proved to be the case. This year, White Cube in­tro­duces the Bri­tish artist Rachel Knee­bone and her ex­quis­ite Rodin-in­spired white porce­lain sculp­tures to the South Coast. (These will be works that ref­er­ence Ham­let and Hiper­me­s­tra and thus all the more in­trigu­ing for opera-go­ers to en­joy.)

Of course, there may be tra­di­tion­al­ists who ob­ject to, say, the new LED-light­ing scheme in the Fi­garo Gar­den, or the in­clu­sion of pop­corn panna cotta on the menu at the Mid­dle and Over

Wal­lop restau­rant, but they would be wrong. For, as Gus Christie, the ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of Glyn­de­bourne Pro­duc­tions, and grand­son of the fes­ti­val’s founder John Christie, says: ‘Opera is alive, and the way Glyn­de­bourne ap­proaches this art form is ex­cit­ing and in­no­va­tive at the same time as be­ing re­spect­ful. We’re not just do­ing the old ti­tles, we’re com­mis­sion­ing new work, and we’re un­cov­er­ing oth­ers that have hardly been per­formed, which is what we’ve done right through our his­tory, with Mozart, Han­del and the baroque.’

More­over, a re­mark­ably stel­lar list of singers started their ca­reers at Glyn­de­bourne, dis­cov­ered by the com­pany’s con­duc­tors and di­rec­tors. That ros­ter in­cludes Lu­ciano Pavarotti, who sang in Mozart’s Idome­neo here in 1964 when he was just an un­known young twen­tysome­thing from Mo­dena. Janet Baker and Joan Suther­land, Thomas Allen, Si­mon Rat­tle, Sarah Con­nolly, Wil­lard White and John Tom­lin­son also owe early star­dom to the opera house. And then there’s the rav­ish­ing Danielle de Niese who not only had a suc­cès fou as a saucy Cleopa­tra in Gi­ulio Ce­sare (one of those slightly un­promis­ing-sound­ing Han­del op­eras that Glyn­de­bourne man­aged to make both beau­ti­ful and hi­lar­i­ously funny) but also then mar­ried Gus Christie. ‘This is his­tory re­peat­ing it­self, be­cause my grand­fa­ther was mar­ried to an

‘Opera is alive. We’re not just do­ing the old ti­tles, we’re com­mis­sion­ing new work, and un­cov­er­ing oth­ers’

opera singer,’ says Christie of the ben­e­fits a world-fa­mous so­prano can bring as chate­laine of a mu­si­cal house. ‘When Danni is singing at Glyn­de­bourne, she’s ob­vi­ously around and the au­di­ences are very in­ter­ested in see­ing her. As for me, I see the other side and ap­pre­ci­ate what it’s like be­ing a singer. She’s not a diva off stage, of course. Peo­ple think be­cause she’s an opera singer, she must be a diva. Wrong! But when she’s able to help me with en­ter­tain­ing, it’s a huge tonic to the party. Peo­ple want to see her and get to know her. She livens up an even­ing.’

The other essen­tial el­e­ment for the au­di­ence is the dress­ing up. For Sebastian Schwarz, who be­came gen­eral di­rec­tor here last spring hav­ing built his ca­reer in Vi­enna, a heart­land of opera, ‘Peo­ple can wear what they like, nat­u­rally, but the gar­dens are an­other part of the stage for me, and the au­di­ence are part of the per­for­mance.’ For what­ever dra­mas are hap­pen­ing on set, once the sun be­gins to dip and the shad­ows lengthen, lit­tle can­dles will glow among the flow­ers on pic­nic ta­bles so laden with fruits, glasses and bot­tles that they have some­thing of the feel of a fête cham­pêtre at Le Pe­tit Tri­anon. And watch­ing the men in black tie and women in sweep­ing gowns and sum­mer furs as they en­joy their night is un­doubt­edly an in­ex­tri­ca­ble fea­ture of Glyn­de­bourne’s charm. ‘It’s the acous­tic, the com­fort, the in­ti­macy,’ con­cludes Christie. ‘They’re what set us apart.’ Glyn­de­bourne Fes­ti­val (www.glyn­de­bourne.com) runs from 20 May un­til 27 Au­gust. Bazaar read­ers can re­ceive a free glass of cham­pagne; turn to page 210 for de­tails of how to book, and terms and con­di­tions.

The White Cube at Glyn­de­bourne pav­il­ion

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