The return of Glyndebourne: It’s a blessed relief to sit in the stalls after lockdown

Neither rotten weather nor the need to accommodate the pandemic by playing masked to half-empty houses can dampen the excitement of its reopening for business, says Michael Church

Tuesday 25 May 2021 14:53 BST
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<p>Michele Angelini as Don Narciso and Elena Tsallagova as Donna Fiorilla in ‘Il turco in Italia’ at Glyndebourne</p>

Michele Angelini as Don Narciso and Elena Tsallagova as Donna Fiorilla in ‘Il turco in Italia’ at Glyndebourne

One by one, Britain’s country house opera companies are preparing for rebirth after a year of hibernation – and it’s no surprise that Glyndebourne should be first out of the traps. This East Sussex idyll was the original exemplar for the genre and it’s spawned many imitations, but none so magical. Neither rotten weather nor the need to accommodate the pandemic by playing masked to half-empty houses can dampen the excitement of its reopening for business.

The first offering is a new production of Janacek’s Kat’a Kabanova directed by Damiano Michieletto, and although it has faults, it provides powerfully moving entertainment. Kat’a is married to Tichon, a booby whose mother Kabanicha hates her. Despite her horror at adultery, Kat’a loves Boris, and agrees to meet him in her garden; stress leads to a breakdown during which she publicly confesses her guilt, and finally, she throws herself into the Volga.

Taking his cue from the libretto – Kat’a wonders why we all can’t spread our wings and fly like birds – Michieletto pursues this idea throughout the drama, beginning with a single white feather drifting down from the heavens that Kat’a clutches at desperately. Then a male winged dancer appears, and a birdcage, and gradually the stage fills with such creatures, while the one birdcage multiplies to a thicket of birdcages. The whole thing becomes an elaborate piece of choreography.

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