Clive Agran on the 2011Glyndebourne Festival

PUBLISHED: 17:00 29 November 2010 | UPDATED: 11:53 28 February 2013

Clive Agran on the 2011Glyndebourne Festival

Clive Agran on the 2011Glyndebourne Festival

In the second of his new series Clive Agran is seeking more cultural fun. So where better than Glyndebourne?

In the second of his new series Clive Agran is seeking more cultural fun. So where better than Glyndebourne?

Although not wishing to sound immodest, I would describe myself as a moderately cultured man. I can hum chunks of Beethoven, have twice visited the National Gallery, can more or less follow the plot of most of Shakespeares plays and am such a fan of French cinema that I dont even object to subtitles. On the other hand, I think modern art is a gigantic con and cant see the point of poetry, especially the stuff that doesnt even rhyme.

There are also significant omissions in my cultural GLYNDEBOURNE HAS A REPUTATION NOT ONLY FOR FIRST-CLASS OPERA BUT ALSO FOR WORLD-CLASS PICNICS experience that are nothing short of embarrassing for someone who reads a quality newspaper and listens to Radio Four. Most of the time I am fairly adept at concealing these gaps but occasionally, for example when watching University Challenge with my family, they are exposed. How come Clive never attempts Greek mythology and always wrongly guesses Verdi in answer to every opera question? We need not concern ourselves here with Greek mythology which, if you feel as I do about what amounts to a bunch of freaks mostly indulging in unnatural practices, will no come as a relief.
My ignorance of opera, however, is harder to excuse. Okay, I find people suddenly bursting into song stretches the willing suspension of disbelief a couple of octaves too far and that they should choose to do so in a foreign language makes it even harder to fathom. But, like everyone else, I was stirred by Nessan Dorma during the 1990 World Cup, quite enjoy the Go-compare TV ads and so like to believe that I have the capacity to appreciate a moving aria, recognise a quality cadenza and can stay awake right thorough until the celebrated fat lady sings.
However, because I have never been to an opera, I dont know for certain how I would cope. And so theres nothing else for it other than to dress up very smartly and accompany my wife Rose to the world famous Glyndebourne, which is tucked away in the leafy lanes just east of Lewes.
Glyndebourne,
of course, has a reputation not only for first-class opera but also for world-class picnics. Although this is my first ever opera, I have a wealth of picnic experience upon which to call and am consequently less nervous than I might otherwise have been. The opera we are coming to see is Don Giovanni about which, I confess, I know nothing. A moderately conscientious journalist, I had considered doing some research but, fearful that knowing the plot might spoil the surprise, I instead concentrate on finding out whats in the picnic Rose has prepared. In case youre interested, its coronation chicken and couscous salad followed by fresh strawberry tarts, all washed down with a cup or two of Pimms.
Since the opera starts at 5.30, I imagined turning up at five would be just about right, but the car park is full and we are obviously one of the last to arrive. The suspicion is that a lot of these so-called opera fans are double picnicking. That is to say they have had one (presumably tea) picnic this afternoon before the performance and are proposing to have a second (dinner) picnic in the extended interval.

Glyndebourne virgins, were unsure of the form and dont know whether to hump the picnic now and grab a space on the lawn or leave it in the car and come back for it later. Our decision to opt for the latter is soon vindicated as a stroll around the stunning grounds reveals that there is, literally, acres of space and therefore no need to panic.
The other crucial decision I had already taken to wear a dinner jacket is also proving to be the right one as nearly all the men are in DJs. By contrast, the women and the spectacular borders are very colourful. There are dozens of tables scattered around the edge of the lawns, some even complete with candelabra. Its a gloriously balmy evening and the whole scene is very attractive, extremely elegant and thoroughly British.
Inside the impressive but intimate auditorium, the orchestra is warming up amidst much chattering. The lights suddenly dim here goes, at 61 and a half my very first opera.
Within the opening five minutes theres been both a rape and a murder, which I suppose is the operatic equivalent of two early goals. Members of the cast are singing loudly at one another which, on reflection, is hardly surprising. However, I was expecting there to be more or less ordinary conversation punctuated by occasional singing outbursts, as in a musical. Here, however, all the communication is operatic. Although rather strange, it is immensely powerful and an extraordinarily high level of energy is maintained throughout.
Despite a hard-earned Latin O level, my Italian barely extends beyond spaghetti bolognese and Im therefore extremely grateful for the supertitles that appear on a screen above the stage. Im less enamoured of a spotlight that partially obscures my view of them. Consequently obliged to frequently move my head from side to side, I must give the appearance of someone who really knows the music so well that he is unselfconsciously rocking to its rhythm.

Quite how the performers slender frames generate such a magnificent sound is a mystery. While Ive been pondering that, Don Giovanni has had his wicked way with yet more vulnerable women and the first half ends in a magnificent crescendo as the whole cast turns on the loathsome Lothario. Although the performers are clearly not, the interval is of Pavarotti proportions and weve consequently well over an hour to ferry food, table, chairs and, for some, Champagne to and from the car. If you dont fancy preparing your own picnic or lugging loads of stuff, you can buy hampers and hire furniture on the premises. And there are several restaurants that further widen the dining options.
As far as I could tell, there were no rapes or murders throughout the entire extended interval further highlighting the contrast between the gentility of this delightful Sussex scene and the Mediterranean mayhem that is taking place inside.
Suitably refreshed and extremely eager, Rose and I return for what must surely be Don Giovannis inevitable and deserved demise. Perhaps now would be an appropriate moment to mention the spectacular set, which switched from one dramatic scene to the next faster than Don Giovanni can put his trousers back on.
After much anguish, a lot more singing and a fair bit of blood, its
all over without so much as even one fat lady opening her mouth. Brilliant encore!

See for yourself
Don Giovanni will open Glyndebourne on Tour on 9 October, with further performances at Glyndebourne on 11, 16, 22, 25 and 28 October. There are also revival performances of La Cenerentola from the 2007 Festival and The Coronation of Poppea from the 2008 Festival as part of Glyndebourne on Tours three week run at the Sussex opera house from 9-30 October. Tickets are available via www.glyndebourne.com or box office 01273 813813.

The 2011 Glyndebourne Festival runs from 21 May to 28 August 2011 with new productions of Die Meistersinger von Nrnberg and Rinaldo, plus revivals of Don Giovanni from the 2010 Festival, LElisir dAmore from the 2007 Tour, Rusalka from the 2009 Festival and The Turn of the Screw from the 2006 Tour.

You can join the 2011 festival mailing list to receive advance email information about productions and increase your chances of securing tickets for the Festival. Contact 01273 815000 for more details or visit www.glyndebourne.com

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