Every summer the British operatic scene moves out of the city and into the stately homes of England, and there seems to be a new contender almost every year. Yet the original and grandest of them all is the Glyndebourne Festival Opera. Launched in 1934 by John Christie and his wife, the company has a legacy of important performances.
The premiere of Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia took place there in 1946; the 1947 performance of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice with Kathleen Ferrier helped establish the composer’s place in the international repertoire. An important cycle of Mozart operas under Fritz Busch in the 1930s is still cherished as one of the finest in history, whilst Vittorio Gui‘s Rossini operas in the 1950s is similarly acclaimed by some as definitive. Raymond Leppard brought Monteverdi back into prominence as the first great opera composer, with some controversial interpretations in the late 1960s. And in more recent times there have been renowned performances of works by Jancek, Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess under Simon Rattle, and even the first Glyndebourne appearance of an opera by Wagner, Tristan und Isolde (no mean feat for a theatre of this size).
The Summer Festival for 2006 offers a veritable feast of both challenging and popular operas, with something for almost every taste. It’s good to see them eschewing the temptation of going Mozart-mad in the year of the composer’s 250th anniversary, making a single but welcome offering of the most underrated of the Da Ponte trilogy, Cos fan tutte. The production is new, thank goodness, and the best news of all is that the manager of the National Theatre, Nicholas Hytner, is to direct. Let’s hope for something of the light touch and insightfulness of his ENO Xerxes, which would provide Glyndebourne with a long-lasting winner. The spirited Ivan Fischer will conduct the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, with a cast including Miah Persson as Fiordiligi and Nicolas Rivenq as Don Alfonso.
The smash hit of 2005 was David McVicar’s new production of Handel’s greatest opera, Giulio Cesare. However irreverent, the Bollywood-style staging gave the work vitality; and a star was born in the form of Danielle de Niese, who embodied Cleopatra in both ravishing looks and voice. Happily, she is to return to the role, but other members of the cast are new. Katarina Karnus should suit Sesto’s music down to the ground; Sara Mingardo is Cornelia; and the role of Julius Caesar will this time be sung by a countertenor, the popular David Daniels. Emanuelle Ham is the conductor in what can only be another knock-out show.
Conversely, Stephen Lawless‘s staging of Strauss’ Die Fledermaus bombed when it was unveiled in 2003, not least because of the overlong and turgid German text. There is hope for its first revival though, because Lawless is to use an English translation (co-written with Daniel Dooner), which should help to communicate the opera’s humour and humanity somewhat more effectively. Thomas Allen returns as Eisenstein (for the first eight performances only), Danielle de Niese makes her second appearance of the summer season as the maid Adele, and ENO veterans Bonaventura Bottone and Alan Opie play Alfred and Dr Falke respectively.
Glyndebourne’s music director Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Philharmonic in both Fledermaus and the second new production of the season, Prokofiev’s Betrothal in a Monastery. Jurowski has a flair for operas by his fellow Russians, as he showed in 2004’s The Miserly Knight, and Betrothal is the most interesting entry in the 2006 season. A mixture of British and Russian talent finds Alan Opie and Peter Hoare rubbing shoulders with Sergei Alexashkin and Viacheslav Voynarovskiy.
Rounding the season off are two further revivals. Beethoven’s Fidelio returns in Deborah Warner’s 2001 staging, conducted by the effervescent Mark Elder. Anja Kampe is the Leonore, Torsten Kerl is playing Florestan, and the former ROH Young Artist and Cardiff Song Prize winner Andrew Kennedy makes a further bold step into operatic territory in the role of Jaquino. Also of note is Brindley Sherratt, whose recent Covent Garden appearance was one of the saving graces of Maskarade.
Finally, one of the company’s classic productions from the days of Sir Peter Hall‘s directorship makes a welcome comeback – Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Ilvan Volkov conducts an interesting cast of mainly young singers in this most evocative of operatic stagings. More former ROH Young Artists are appearing – Tove Dahlberg as Hermia and Jared Holt as Demetrius, with Matthew Rose no doubt bringing the house down as Bottom. Rounding things off, Bejun Mehta (Oberon) and Timothy Robinson both make notable appearances.
Covering repertory from the Baroque to the twentieth century, it promises to be a lively and varied season – the prospect offers some consolation now that winter has arrived!
Glyndebourne’s public booking opens on 10 April.