The Glyndebourne sun shone on the opera goers in their evening dress. When the 90-minute interval commenced, they laid out their picnic hampers on the glorious, sprawling lawns, and began to eat oysters and imbibe Pimm's and champagne.
Then, unmistakably, the smell of hamburgers, sausages and onions wafted over the South Downs and Britain's most glamorous summer opera festival was faced with one of the most embarrassing moments in its long history. An opera goer had done the unthinkable. He had constructed and lit a barbecue.
For the staff his move presented an excruciating dilemma. As a measure of the New Labour creed of widening access to the arts, the arrival of "barbecue man" at Glyndebourne could be seen as a notable achievement. But in the interests of preventing a riot among the audience who had paid up to £130 for their seats, the smoke, the smell and the apparatus had to disappear. As the number of people hurrying to complain to stewards became a torrent, senior Glyndebourne staff decided to take action. A fire officer was dispatched on to the lawns and the barbecue was extinguished with the style one would expect in such classy surroundings. Two bottles of mineral water were used to do the job.
Glyndebourne has been having one of the most critically acclaimed seasons in its 70-year history.
The new opera house, which replaced the country home venue for performances a few years ago, has seen a broadening of the audience base. But there has been no change to the much-loved tradition of the "long interval", with fine wines and a lavish picnic, which is usually longer than the individual acts of the opera. The barbecue incident happened in the interval of a performance of Otello. Since then, Glyndebourne staff have been agonising over what to do about it. Yesterday a spokeswoman said it had been decided to put a note in next season's programme warning that grand opera and barbecues do not mix happily.Reuse content