New opera house

Meeting the demands of audiences and artists

It had become increasingly obvious throughout the 80s, that not only was the old theatre struggling to accommodate the ever more technically demanding productions, it was also struggling to meet the public demand for a limited number of tickets. In 1987 Sir George Christie announced the idea of building a completely new, larger, opera house which would be able to meet these demands. From a short-list of nine architects, Michael Hopkins and Partners won the contract, and by 1991 the plans were well under way. There were many stipulations that had to be met – the new theatre should blend into its surroundings yet be unashamedly a building of its time; it was to have an enlarged auditorium and yet retain its intimacy; the acoustics had to be as good as could be found anywhere; and the facilities for staff, singers and audience needed to be improved. In addition there was a strict time limit, and the budget had to be adhered to.

The resulting theatre has won many awards for the quality of the architecture as a whole, and for the craftsmanship of its component parts. It is built from load-bearing, imperial size handmade bricks, the only exception is the fly tower – a steel structure clad in lead, and the most controversial feature of the new building. Acid-washed pre-cast concrete is the other prominent material used in the construction, and this has been used for floors and ceilings. The horseshoe shaped auditorium has been crafted out of century-old pitch pine, fashioned into elegant curves: lit by small lamps it gives off a warm glow. Despite the addition of an extra 400 seats the auditorium has not lost its intimacy, in fact the back wall is six feet closer to the stage than in the old house. Most importantly, the acoustic is vastly improved. The first purpose-built opera house to be constructed in the UK since John Christie had built the original at Glyndebourne, the new theatre opened on 28 May 1994, just as the old theatre had done precisely 60 years earlier, with a performance of Le nozze di Figaro .

Further development of the complex has continued, and in 2001 the Jerwood Studio was built, adjoining Glyndebourne’s main stage. Providing a second full-size rehearsal space, it allows singers to experience like-for-like performance conditions. Funded by the Jerwood Foundation, the grant of £1m outstripped any previous single donation in Glyndebourne’s history and was given in recognition of Glyndebourne’s continued dedication to the promotion of young operatic talent.