What comes to your mind when you think of opera? Straight white posh people watching something they probably don’t even like that much?
I have to admit that’s what I used to think.
But then last year I went to go see Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne in Sussex – a life-changing experience.
I was a part of a crowd that is getting more diverse, younger, queerer and more intrigued by classic culture.
And now I can’t wait to go back this year. The Festival is all about fairy tales and transformation and there are plenty of delights to choose from if you’re looking for a ‘beginner’s opera’.
Public booking opens at 6pm on 3 March via the Glyndebourne website and tickets sell out fast!
If you’re a newbie like I was, don’t worry.
Going to Glyndebourne is an experience like no other, and here’s some advice:
- You don’t have to wear black tie – but it is encouraged! It also doesn’t have to be any old penguin suit or the dress you haven’t worn in years. Get creative.
- There’s a long interval that’s usually about 90 minutes. That’s plenty of time to tuck into your picnic or dine at one of the three restaurants.
- Make a day of it. The beautiful gardens open two hours before the show starts so plenty of time to grab a picnic spot, enjoy a glass of fizz or have a walk around.
- It’s super easy to get there. It’s just near Lewes (around one hour from London or a short trip from Brighton) and there’s even a shuttle bus from the station.
But what about the shows themselves? What should you see in the 2019 Festival?
La Damnation de Faust (The Damnation of Faust) by Berlioz
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the death of French composer Hector Berlioz. Berlioz didn’t call his take on Faust and his deal with the devil an opera at all – he called it a ‘dramatic legend’.
The score is cinematic – almost like a film – and the plot leaps around time.
Why should you see it? Christopher Purves, a mainstay of Glyndebourne, plays the devil with wide-eyed sweetness. Expect darkness, drama and high camp. It’s a lot of fun.
Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) by Rossini
The Barber of Seville is often considered opera’s funniest masterpiece.
If you like Shakespearean comedy, you’ll love the relationship swapping and disguises galore.
In Glyndebourne’s witty and stylish show, the princess is not just waiting around for her prince. She’s a fighter.
Why should you see it? For its energy and Mediterranean setting. And the silver-tongued barber of the title, Figaro. Expect surrealism. It’s got flying harpsichords.
Cendrillon (Cinderella) by Massenet
Girl in rags has the luck of being the only woman of her shoe size in the whole town. You might think you think you know the story, but this version of Cinderella will be told in a way you’ve never seen before.
Fiona Shaw’s production is exaggerated post-modern 19th century. Apparently, Shaw (of Harry Potter and Killing Eve fame) also got a bit addicted to Keeping Up with The Kardashians when planning the show. So don’t be surprised if you see a few similarities between the evil stepmother and Kris Jenner.
Why should you see it? The prince is played by a woman. Same-sex romance on stage? Yes please.
Rusalka (The Little Mermaid) by Dvořák
Rusalka is a version of The Little Mermaid story, but do not expect the Disney version!
This is based on the darker origins of the fairy tale of a water-nymph trading her voice for a pair of legs.
The visuals are also very eerie and striking. Much of the show is set underwater.
Why should you see it? For the gorgeous, watery costumes. And the way the performers move through the air as if they’re swimming. Expect magic – with an edge.
Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) by Mozart
The Magic Flute begins as many fairy tales do: a hero being sent off to rescue a damsel in distress.
But its big twists and knock-about comedy have made it a classic – especially among new opera fans.
Glyndebourne’s version of Mozart’s last opera promises to be a sight to see. Set in the kitchens of a 19th-century hotel à la Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, it re-works the opera’s gender politics with a suffragism theme. Expect puppetry from the team behind Cirque du Soleil and War Horse and spectacular scenery.
Why should you see it? This production is headed by a married French same-sex couple, director Renaud Doucet and costume and set designer André Barbe. It’s the first time they’ve ever created a production in England.
Rinaldo by Handel
Handel goes to St Trinians. Rinaldo, while it’s likely the least well-known of the six operas, is definitely one to catch.
The original story’s set during the First Crusade – but this irreverent production translates it to a Hogwarts-style private school. All of the crusaders are now schoolchildren on bicycles, for example.
Why should you see it? It’s a romp – a broad comedy that features a scheming sorceress teacher in dominatrix get up and soprano Elizabeth DeShong in the ‘trouser role’ (a woman playing a man) of Rinaldo. Not to mention one of Handel’s most famous arias.
If you’d love to see an opera but you’re strapped for cash, have no fear. There are £15 standing tickets. If you’re under 30, you also have access to subsidised tickets as well.
And if the full Festival experience isn’t for you, try the Glyndebourne Tour later this year. Less formal (you can wear what you like), it features three shows, Rinaldo, Rigoletto, and L’elisir d’amore, which are on at Glyndebourne for three weeks from 11 October before touring to Canterbury, Milton Keynes, Liverpool, Woking and Norwich until 6 December.
Glyndebourne is a sponsor of Gay Star News.