Opera + Classical Music Features

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2022: Reflections on the first full-scale summer season in three years

Memories of the last few months mingle with excitement for the tour and a number of encores.


Les Mamelles de Tirésias (Photo: Bill Cooper)

Although we are not entirely out of the COVID-19 woods yet, the summer of 2022 has felt more like normal than any other since the pandemic began. While 2020 saw most summer opera festivals cancel, or vastly change, their programmes, and 2021 still featured a large measure of social distancing and contingency planning, 2022 has seen seasons presented as they would have been in years gone by. Glyndebourne Festival Opera was able to produce its first full-scale summer programme since 2019, so now this has come to a close it seems an appropriate time to reflect on all it had to offer.

The statistics are impressive as 68 principal singers, 53 chorus members and 178 orchestral musicians presented 78 performances to over 86,500 visitors. Not a single one was cancelled despite the disruption that was always threatened by train strikes and the pandemic. That the latter did not have a major effect in the end does not mean it could not have done as was illustrated when Longborough Festival Opera had to open Carmen with the covers for every main principal role except Don José after six performers tested positive on the morning of the first performance.

The festival really was an eclectic mix as classic revivals of Le nozze di Figaro (originally 2012) and Don Pasquale (2013) rubbed shoulders with a glitzy and innovative new staging of Alcina from Francesco Micheli, and Floris Visser’s highly original version of La bohème in which Death appeared not only at the end but as a character throughout. The two productions that stood out for us, however, were those that bookended the season and presented more rarely performed operas.

Written in the first decade of the 20th century, Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers had no outing at a major venue between 1910 and 1994. It has enjoyed a few more in recent years, but Melly Still’s new production at Glyndebourne this summer constituted the first time the opera had ever been performed in its original French. While opinions always seem to have varied over the strict quality of the opera’s music, hearing it in this form with around twenty minutes more music than its previous presentations in German and English have tended to feature made it feel like a far more substantial piece. Experiencing it thus, with a staging that seemed to fulfil the opera’s potential in every way, made it easy to come away with a very positive view of the work.

“…68 principal singers, 53 chorus members and 178 orchestral musicians presented 78 performances to over 86,500 visitors”

We were also taken with Laurent Pelly’s Poulenc Double Bill. While La Voix humaine is regularly performed, the way in which it was presented virtually in the abstract, coupled with the outstanding performance of Stéphanie d’Oustrac as Elle, made it feel very special. The composer’s more rarely performed Les Mamelles de Tirésias was equally impressive for entirely different reasons. It was extremely humorous but was played as a genuinely piece of absurdist drama as opposed to just a comedy. Some of the props and puppets, such as those that portrayed the 40,049 babies that The Husband in the story has in a single day, were brilliantly made, and it was pleasing to see several features online that documented their creation. Both pieces are short but, framed by the beauty of Glyndebourne and the picnic interval, these two individual hours felt like moments of total perfection nestled within the wider joys that the setting has to offer.

If anyone was at risk of feeling sad that all the excitement is now over, there is still much to look forward to. It is only a month until the Glyndebourne Tour, which features the Festival productions of Le nozze di Figaro and La bohème, gets underway (8 October-11 December). This also includes Mozart’s Requiem performed along with arias by Joseph Bologne, a new chamber opera glass human by composer Samantha Fernando and librettist Melanie Wilson, and the Glyndebourne Christmas Concert. With the exception of the final concert, all of these will appear at Glyndebourne, Milton Keynes, Canterbury, Norwich and Liverpool.

Those who really want to experience what the summer had to offer, however, may wish to subscribe to the new streaming platform Glyndebourne Encore. This will feature all four of the 2022 Festival’s new productions with The Wreckers and Alcina already being available, the Poulenc Double Bill arriving in October and La bohème completing the lineup in November. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2023 season has already been advertised, but we believe that with the Tour and Glyndebourne Encore there is plenty to enjoy from the venue before we even coming close to ringing in the New Year.

• For full details of events, dates and venues for the 2022 Glyndebourne Tour visit the website.   

• The 2023 Festival runs from 19 May to 27 August. For details of all productions and booking dates visit the website.

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