Glyndebourne - Arias for the crunch

Glyndebourne's 75th-anniversary season hopes to beat the recession, writes Michael Church

Great oaks from little acorns: the old proverb rings particularly true of Glyndebourne Festival Opera, whose birth in 1933 was noted in The Daily Telegraph under the faintly surprised headline "THEATRE BUILT BY OWNER: Mr John Christie's 'Private Bayreuth'". "An interesting venture," opined Musical Opinion cautiously, "the building of a miniature opera house, combining beauty with the last word in utility, in the heart of the Sussex Downs." But people were soon aware that something momentous had occurred. "Whoever cares for the supreme things of opera supremely well done," said The Times, "and can afford, perhaps at the expense of some other pleasure, to cultivate their taste, will find their answer there." That was after the curtain had fallen on the first Glyndebourne Figaro.

Not everyone thought Glyndebourne was worth sacrificing other pleasures for. When Idomeneo got its first professional British staging at Glyndebourne, London's Evening News looked into its wallet and took umbrage: "Our Festival visitor will find that a visit for two persons, taking into consideration railway and coach fares, the price of the seats, the dinner and other amenities, will leave very little out of a £10 note. Is the entertainment of a quality to justify such expenditure? With Idomeneo, definitely not." Moreover, that judgement came prefaced by a snide blast which is still echoed in some quarters today: "Glyndebourne Opera is a rendezvous of fashion – some have called it by a harsher name – for which musical people, and people who wish to be thought musical, climb into evening dress early in the afternoon." But that "wish to be thought" was just sour grapes: as EMI's new box set The Very Best of Glyndebourne on Record incontrovertibly proves, performance standards were stratospherically high from the start. And how could they not be, with the brightest operatic exiles from Nazi Germany at the helm?

The Glyndebourne of today has massively extended its scope – with the annual tour, the cinema broadcasts, the CDs and DVDs, and the groundbreaking education projects with their collaboration with the local high-security jail. It's worth remembering that Glyndebourne was the first British opera house to screen its productions through the Odeon, Empire, and Vue chains, as well as through a string of independent cinemas with ticket prices starting at £10. Screening its performances all over North America and the Antipodes, and even in Japan, Glyndebourne has spread its message far and wide. So much for the charge of "exclusivity".

Moreover, it looks as though Glyndebourne is going to be one of those home-grown British luxuries (such as caravans and Waitrose canapés) which are doing fine despite – and maybe even because of – the recession. Corporate bookings are slightly down on last year: boardroom belt-tightening applies to Glyndebourne as it does to all other cultural frills at present. But ticket sales are up, with ordinary punters getting a better-than-usual chance of seeing the most popular shows, and all this year's productions are fully sponsored. And there's no mystery about why this should be. Like all top opera houses, Glyndebourne books its stars and plans its financial activities four years ahead, so it's no surprise that the recession has so far caused nothing more serious than a reduction of the planned fundraising gala (with ticket prices from £1,000–£2,000) to a mere "celebration concert" (at £100–£500). On the other hand, this year's recession may have a substantial impact in two years' time – but now is too early to tell.

Moreover, as Glyndebourne's general director, David Pickard, points out, the grim reaper hovers ominously. A Mori research poll in 2003 found that the average audience age was 67, "and now it will be significantly older, so we have to replenish from below". Hence the "under-30s" nights offering the best seats in the house for £30; hence the fact that they are filming three of this season's shows – Richard Jones's directorial take on Verdi's Falstaff, a Jonathan Kent/Paul Brown version of Purcell's The Fairy-Queen, and Annabel Arden's production of L'Elisir d'Amore.

Dropping in on technical director Dave Locker, I discover that The Fairy-Queen is this year's big backstage challenge. "I've just been forced to veto the late addition of three extra flying figures," he says, warily. "We couldn't afford them. 'Health and safety' dictates that you have to bring in specialised companies to install such things, which would have raised the cost by thousands." Props manager Paul Brown (no relation to the designer), meanwhile, is wrestling with how to realise a vintage coxed-four shell for a Forties Falstaff. A real one would have been very expensive, as well as being too long for the set, so the Henley rowing museum is advising on a foreshortened version.

This year's season includes a revival of Nikolaus Lehnhoff's exquisite production of Tristan und Isolde, with Vladimir Jurowski on the podium, but there's no question which show will sell quickest. That will be the revival of David McVicar's smash-hit production of Handel's Giulio Cesare, starring Sarah Connolly in the title role and with the effervescent Danielle de Niese – now, as the bride-to-be of John Christie's grandson Gus, the crowned queen of Glyndebourne – as her paramour.

The season starts with 'Falstaff' on 21 May. Tickets £10-£210, and £30 for under-30s for certain performances. For details call the box office on 01273 813813.

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week