There are three things to consider when preparing your trip to Glyndebourne in the summer. Firstly, your clothes. The website clearly states that guests should show up in evening attire. It’s a tradition that dates back to the first days of Glyndebourne when founder Sir John Christie said it was the audience’s way of showing respect to the performers. Yet, inevitably, there’s always one Old Etonian affecting a Jafaican accent and draped in clothes so shabby he could pass for a groundsman.
Secondly, the weather. As the opera I was to see was staged at the end of August, no chances could be taken with the unpredictable British climate. Umbrellas and shawls were carted on to the Tube and the train in the midday heat – which was no doubt teasing us before the dark clouds rolled in.
And thirdly,the food. “Just put it in a plastic bag.” “No.” “We don’t have time to trek to Fortnum’s for a bloody hamper on the day of the opera.” “We’re not taking a Sainsbury’s bag to Glyndebourne.”
True to form, my boyfriend and I had prepared little more than our livers for the opera. I was now having a meltdown in the living room, surveying all the food we’d panic bought at the last minute.
In the end, after much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, we compromised on a discreet ice bag which somehow, mercifully, managed to hold two bottles of bin-end Pouilly-Fume and two of granny’s vintage Taittinger, with food rammed on top and down the sides, before boarding the tube at Fulham Broadway in black tie and a ball gown respectively.
If ever you’ve been to Glyndebourne, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the acute “walk of shame” sensation when boarding public transport in evening attire at the stroke of noon.
If ever you’ve been to Glyndebourne, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the acute “walk of shame” sensation when boarding public transport in evening attire at the stroke of noon. People stared at me with a look somewhere between warped interest and contempt as I gathered my dress above my ankles, hopping from one platform to the next, while my boyfriend shouted obscenities at the ticket machine that clearly detected foul play with the library card he’d accidentally whipped out of his pocket in the rush to catch our connecting train.
“Are you going to some posh do?” asked a man carrying the pungent aroma of week-old Special Brew. “We’re going to Glyndebourne,” said David grandly, giving the bedraggled man in La Coq Sportif a knowing look. The vagrant gazed at him as if he had declaimed the Odyssey in Esperanto.
Interest in David’s stale conversation clearly lost, the smelly chap merely grunted and replaced his earphones, no doubt listening to Christina Landshamer’s much anticipated rendition of Lascia ch’io Pianga.
We cracked open the first bottle of Taittinger to make ourselves feel better once the rain began softly pelting the windows of the carriage. A little girl behind me, who clearly had developed a premature hatred of bourgeois pursuits, decided to kick my chair incessantly for the remainder of the journey, apparently determined to knock the champagne out of my hand before merely leaning over me to blow a raspberry in my face. I bet Sybil Colefax didn’t have to put up with this shit.
Upon arrival, do be careful not to try to barge your way on to the first minibus you see with ‘Glyndebourne’ emblazoned across the side: this is solely for the musicians’ use and an angry violinist brandishing a bow will tell you to get off. You will then be demoted to a coach with an array of passengers you’d certainly not encounter on a typical Megabus journey.
If, like the coach contingency, you are a mere peasant, then the ground certainly suffices very well. You will then scoff at the table-cloth and candles the picnic table assemblage had the foresight to bring
Once you enter the grounds, the first thing that will strike you is the sheer beauty of the estate. The verdant splendour of Sussex’s rolling hills is a refreshing sight after the dull, grey urbanity of central London. The lake winks at you in the afternoon sunshine, almost inviting the soon-to-be-inebriated guests to tarnish the lawns with spilt champagne and discarded smoked salmon parcels.
If you’re one of the lucky few to arrive at the grounds first, then you will be able to collect a limited number of tables and chairs from the Circle and Upper Circle levels and look down on the mere peasants scattered across the lawn atop blankets and coats around you. If, like the coach contingency, you are a mere peasant, then the ground certainly suffices very well. You will then scoff at the table-cloth and candles the picnic table assemblage had the foresight to bring – while you secretly wish you were their friends instead and not trying to balance your wine glass in a shoe.
After the merrymaking is complete and you’ve demolished all of the food and wine that you sensibly suggested saving for the second (and long…) interval, it’s time to make your way over to the opera house for the performance.
Rinaldo, a baroque opera written by George Frederik Handel in 1711, is supposed to be a serious (if magical) opera seria. Instead, it became a second-rate opera buffa, apparently in an attempt to appeal to the audience of mostly under-30s. Scantily clad schoolgirls, spankings, and flying bicycles were incorporated into the set, which resulted in a faint yet distinct rumbling from the Handelian tomb in Westminster Abbey.
Set in a St Trinian’s-esque backdrop, Rinaldo and his band of merry schoolboys set out to save his love interest Almirena from the evil Armida – who seemed to all appearances to be a dominatrix in patent leather boots presiding over a class of sex crazed vixens.
The lead male parts were originally written for castrati, male singers who had been castrated in childhood in order to stop their voices from breaking; a practice that continued well into the 19th century despite being illegal under both criminal and canon laws. In this production the parts were taken by countertenors Iestyn Davies and Tim Mead.
Scantily clad schoolgirls, spankings, and flying bicycles were incorporated into the set, which resulted in a faint yet distinct rumbling from the Handelian tomb in Westminster Abbey.
During the long interval it is customary to go back into the grounds and polish off the rest of your reserves, assuming that you didn’t get carried away nourishing yourself beforehand, or to head to the newly renovated dining room: Middle and Over Wallop.
It is advisable to book a table at the restaurant to get some much needed time away from the poor souls huddled up in coats on the lawn, as night starts to fall and temperatures drops substantially. Food orders are placed online beforehand so that the six hundred diners can be seated and served as soon as possible and nobody misses the start of the last act. Braised beef, pork ribs, confit duck leg and red mullet fillet are taken out to the happy diners with a flurry and a flourish by attentive waiters under a cloud of Swarovski crystal chandeliers. I gauged all this by staring in to the restaurant from the window like a wild animal.
When the last note is sung and the last reveller has stumbled out of the concert hall, so closes another evening of success and extravagance at glorious Glyndebourne. The journey to the opera, which was quite sedate apart from the passive-aggressive child behind me, might as well have been first class travel compared to the trip back to Victoria. The well-dressed congregation that arrived at the estate were replaced by swaying, hiccupping carousers singing O Sole Mio at the top of their voices while waiting for the last train home. I felt a pang of sympathy for the ticket inspector who mysteriously decided to lock himself in the control room for the entirety of the journey home.
Quite simply, if you’re thinking of booking tickets for a festival next summer, choose Glyndebourne. While the rest of the festival-goers pack their pop-up tents, wellington boots and boxes of beer for Glastonbury, opt for a festival with a difference where class, comfort and confit duck are very much the order of the day