The Sun shines on Opera

The London Magazine - - TOM SUTCLIFFE -

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

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