The Sun shines on Opera
I will always remember my first visit to Glyndebourne. It was a Sunday and I was the countertenor in Westminster Cathedral choir, so I must have somehow managed to get off singing vespers and benediction that day – the second after Pentecost (only three copes, but no doubt a fair waft of incense and quite a lot of camping around). I see from my diary that I picked up Michael Reynolds, assistant editor of Music and Musicians magazine who was giving me his second ticket, at his basement flat near Olympia at 2p.m. The deal was I’d drive him down. Not having done it before I’d no idea how long that would take.
It was 16 June 1968, a lively year for protest in some parts of Europe. The opera was Seraglio which I had never seen, and the prima donna was Margaret Price from Caerphilly – whom I’d never heard of – at 27 just two years older than me, and (though I did not appreciate it at the time) emerging through that role from her chrysalis. She had been a Cherubino, a mezzo. But Constanze’s ‘Martern aller arten’ is one of Mozart’s toughest soprano challenges, and Price was soon recognised as one of the most extraordinary and distinctive sopranos of the century. She had a unique directness and colour at the top, a purity and a strange exact resonance that was slightly hollow but telling and adorable. A good way to start summer opera experience.
Alas, we were late. I remember the enticing view as I put my foot down and we dashed across a bit of Ashdown Forest, where nine years earlier I had attended a summer corps camp and slept in a ditch on night op. The weather typically was overcast. How much further was it? We stopped for nature. Going to an opera house somewhere vague is a bit like a treasure hunt. Finally, we got to Ringmer and were going along the stretch of Downs to the House. They kindly smuggled us into the performance: embarrassing, upsetting. But I soon grew to love the old Glyndebourne with its slightly