Stories from the Archive


As Halloween approaches, we’ve braved the darkest corners of the archive to discover some of the terrifying secrets that lurk within…

‘Double, double toil and trouble…’

It’s Halloween this month – a time of ghosts and witches, dancing skeletons and demons, bonfires and hell-fire. 

Nowhere do these burn brighter or haunt more menacingly than on the opera stage, where evil comes dressed in beguiling costumes, and the Devil gets all the best tunes.

To celebrate, we’ve braved the darkest corners of the archive to discover some of the terrifying secrets that lurk within…

Costume designs for Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo

These designs may look delightful – exotic, furry animals – but are actually the sketches for the hideous Furies from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. Peter Hall’s 1982 production conjured an enchanting Classical world, but before the audience (and Orpheus himself) could bask in the calming blues and greens of the art deco Elysian Fields, they first had to brave the horrors of Hades.

Dancers costumed by Liz Bury paired their black bodysuits with these striking masks, whose hairy blackness is offset by piercing red eyes. Having resolved to rescue his wife Eurydice from the underworld, Orpheus must do battle with the Furies – infernal goddesses bent on vengeance. But rather than fight his enemy, he instead plays on his lyre, calming them into surrender.

Hall’s 1982 production plays a particularly important part in Glyndebourne history. The title role was taken by Janet Baker – the great mezzo-soprano’s final stage role. The last night of the run was her farewell to the stage, and she was presented with her lyre as a thank-you from Glyndebourne. Baker’s decision to end her career here reflected the very personal significance of a company she had first joined as a young member of the chorus, before returning in major roles.

L’Orfeo costume designs by Liz Bury, photographed by James Bellorini. L’Orfeo 1982 production photos: Guy Gravett/Glyndebourne Archive.

Witch costume from Dido and Aeneas

In 1965 the BBC commissioned three operas from Glyndebourne to be specially devised for broadcast. One of these (seen for the first time in the Festival the following year) was Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.

The tragic tale of the Queen of Carthage, abandoned by her faithless lover Aeneas, was directed by Italian stage and television director Franco Enriquez with lavish designs by Lorenzo Ghiglia, including this spectacular costume.

Intended for one the witches who act as devilish handmaidens to the Sorceress, whose jealous scheming and incantations bring about the end of Dido and Aeneas’s love affair, the costume (made on site by Glyndebourne’s costume department) pairs an angular felt bodice with a skirt made from strips of different fabrics. Muted colours give the dress a murky quality, and the outfit was topped off with spectacular headdresses to create a dramatic spectacle.

Witch costume from Dido and Aeneas photographed in Glyndebourne Archive by James Bellorini.

Ghost Lane by Jane Louise Curry

On a dark autumn evening at Glyndebourne, it may cross your mind that it is the perfect setting for a ghost story. If you’re looking for a spooky Glyndebourne story to read by candlelight this Halloween, look no further than Ghost Lane by prolific children’s author Jane Louise Curry. Published in 1979, the book follows the adventures of eleven-year-old Richard, who spends his summer in a small (fictional) village near Glyndebourne. He uncovers a mystery involving ghostly figures, a haunted mansion and secret passages, all set against the backdrop of the Festival.

The copy of the book we hold in our archive is signed by the author, with the inscription ‘For Glyndebourne, where for over forty years I have had the pleasure of splendid music and the best of all settings’.

Ghost Lane is now out of print, but you may be able to hunt down a second-hand copy online. Happy ghost hunting!

Written by Alexandra Coghlan, Julia Aries and Andrew Batty

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