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Bold ambition

Relishing his role as artistic director, Stephen Langridge looks forward to an ambitious and very busy 2022.

It’s going to be an exciting year at Glyndebourne. I started as artistic director halfway through 2019 – as I write, that’s four culture secretaries ago – but 2022 will be the first full non-pandemic Festival of my tenure. I can’t wait.

Our beautiful theatre was built for shared operatic experiences, and as we head back to full-on opera, the joy of live, in-the-flesh performance has been palpable on stage, in the pit, backstage and in the audience. We’ve rediscovered that in a packed auditorium, laughter is more infectious, and tragedy plumbs deeper: experiencing extraordinary stories through music feels more important than ever.

So many things were turned on their heads. A full theatre was seen as a threat rather than a force of social cohesion; singing together was labelled a health risk rather than a profound group expression… These simple, universal human pleasures need nurturing, relearning, and Glyndebourne wants to play its part in aiding the recovery: bringing people back together, both at home and on tour, encouraging participatory music and theatre-making in schools, and, of course, presenting extraordinary opera.

So, what can you expect in 2022?

First you can expect creative ambition, and a pioneering approach across the board.

The arc of the year is defined by opera composed by women. Appropriately, we begin by handing the theatre over to the united voices of young people as they perform a new youth opera, Pay the Piper, composed by the four women who have been resident at Glyndebourne on our Balancing the Score programme for female composers. Anna Appleby, Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade, Cecilia Livingston and Ailie Robertson have joined forces to write an opera which will, unusually, be performed in the stalls with all the seats stripped out – making a virtue of the fact that the full stage is out of commission for a major development in the automation of our backstage systems: exciting possibilities ahead. Hazel Gould’s libretto digs into the story of the Pied Piper from different perspectives, and will star 70 members of the mighty Glyndebourne Youth Opera.

In stark contrast to the epic scale of Pay the Piper, as a part of our annual Tour next year, we have another newly commissioned opera at the opposite end of the scale: composer Samantha Fernando and librettist Melanie Wilson are writing an intimate piece of music theatre drawing directly on people’s experience of loneliness and social isolation. We were already thinking about this project before everything was dominated by Covid, but the pandemic has only exacerbated the situation and underlined the relevance of the theme.

The move from large scale participation to an intimate chamber opera is via the epic grandeur of Dame Ethel Smyth’s neglected masterpiece, The Wreckers which opens Festival 2022 – presented for the first time in the language it was written in, French. That’s so easy for me to write, but excavating the sources, finding the original scores, and piecing back together all the information has been an adventure in itself. The head of our music library Martyn Bennett, has done an amazing job, hard at any time, but during the pandemic, bordering on a mission impossible.

But the ambition for Festival 2022 doesn’t rest there. For the first time, we are presenting four new productions. This might sound foolhardy at this time but alongside The Wreckers, La bohème and the Poulenc Double Bill, we will be presenting Alcina too. Built for the cancelled 2020 Festival it has been waiting impatiently in the wings, alongside two others that we’ll stage in subsequent years.

Our ambition is, of course, to present extraordinary world-class opera, but we do not live in an ivory tower, and firmly believe that the way we make opera should have a positive effect on society.

Glyndebourne is already a major local employer, and we know that the Festival alone brings nearly £20m on an annual basis into the local economy, but we want to go further, and Festival 2022 sees a renewed and deeper commitment to working in a sustainable way on and off stage – indeed if you were to join one of our beach clean ups with Surfers Against Sewage in Seaford you might discover something which could actually find its way onstage as part of the set for The Wreckers!

We are also working hard to increase access to our performances, and to find and nurture diverse talent. We know that while talent is everywhere, opportunity is not. That is why we are building a new touring model with deeper connections to the communities around the country, it’s why we continue to expand our talent development programmes, and it’s why we have formed a partnership with Pegasus, an opera company which is focussed on providing opportunity for artists of diverse backgrounds. In one sense this partnership, while new, is also coming full circle, as the idea for the company was hatched when both Lloyd Newton and Alison Buchanan, the company’s first and second artistic directors, were performing in Porgy and Bess (1987) at Glyndebourne.

How can we achieve all this? First you need a great team, and at Glyndebourne we have that. But in the short time I have been at Glyndebourne, I have also found the crucial partnership with you, our Members, to be invigorating and encouraging. I know from many conversations that we share a passion for opera, and a belief that the art form we love can benefit many, enriching lives. Your generosity and engagement over the difficult past couple of years have enabled us to keep going with some style, and given us the confidence to be bold, knowing that you ‘have our backs’. That’s the context for our optimism, and this ambitious plan for 2022.

Festival 2022 runs from 21 May – 28 August

This article first appeared in Recit – the Glyndebourne Member magazine.

Image credits: Balancing the Score composers, photo by James Bellorini | Festival Illustration © Katie Ponder | Glyndebourne beach clean, photo by Sam Stephenson

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