The Glyndebourne Tour was launched by George Christie in 1968, with the aims of bringing first class productions to a wider audience than is possible at the house itself, and to offer young artists the opportunity to perform in them. Over the past fifty years, not only have audiences far away from Sussex been able to enjoy Glyndebourne’s work, but many young singers have begun their careers with the Tour. Some of them were here at the Queen Elizabeth Hall to celebrate this momentous occasion, together with the Glyndebourne Chorus and the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra.
After a sprightly performance of the Overture to Le nozze di Figaro, conducted by Louis Langrée, who is well known and loved by Tour audiences, the Chorus showed off its skills in the opening to Saul, under the baton of the Tour’s new Principal Conductor, Ben Glassberg. Two of today’s leading singers followed, both having begun their careers with Glyndebourne; Sarah Connolly and Thomas Allen respectively, gave very fine performances of Che faro senza Euridice and the Count’s aria from Figaro. A third member of today’s prominent artists whose early years included performing with the Tour, came in the form of Sir John Tomlinson, whose singing of Banquo’s aria was a highlight.
Then it was on to today’s young hopefuls, and what a talented bunch the Glyndebourne Tour has nurtured in them. Stuart Jackson first impressed in several minor roles in Saul, and his beautiful voice, full of expression and ringing with confidence, was heard to great advantage in Si, ritrovarla from La Cenerentola. Rosa Feola had wowed us all in the Tour’s La finta Giardinera, and she did just that again here, in duet with Thomas Allen and with Si, mi chiamano Mimi. Matteo Lippi’s Che gelida manina reminded us that there are still young singers around who possess italianità. Perhaps the most impressive of the younger singers was Jacques Imbrailo, whose performance of Yeletsky’s recitative and aria from The Queen of Spades showed not only how very beautiful his baritone is, but also how far he has come since he impressed us with his Billy Budd for Glyndebourne.
It is commonplace nowadays for opera companies to do ‘outreach’ and to include within their seasons at least some attempts to bring the art to audiences beyond London and the other major centres, but the Glyndebourne Tour was the pioneer in so many ways. For those who, as Gus Christie said, are unable to attend Glyndebourne itself due to reasons of distance or cost (and one might add, the difficulty of obtaining tickets) the Tour provides the chance to see innovative productions featuring singers who are just as talented as those on the main stage, but who are often at the beginning of their careers. The Tour prices are a fraction of those in the main house, thus neatly giving the lie to that hoary old myth that opera is only for the rich and/or the elite.
The 2019 Tour promises to be better than ever, with three full productions, beginning with Rigoletto, never previously performed at Glyndebourne, and then L’elisir d’amore and finally another outing for the superb Rinaldo. The 2019 schedule includes a visit to Liverpool, thus further widening the Tour’s reach.
It was Sir George Christie’s wish that the quality of Glyndebourne’s productions, with their relatively lengthy rehearsal times, could be brought to as wide an audience as possible, and this wish is being fully implemented by his son. In doing this, both Christies have been instrumental in furthering the careers of many singers who have gone on to great renown, and as Sir John Tomlinson says, “You never forget the company that first puts its trust in you when you are unproven and inexperienced.”