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Looking forward to the year ahead

Looking forward to the year ahead, new managing director Richard Davidson-Houston embraces Glyndebourne’s pioneering spirit.

Looking forward to the year ahead, new Managing Director Richard Davidson-Houston embraces Glyndebourne’s pioneering spirit.
The late George Christie told the designers of the new opera house that it should be ‘controversial to the point that does not alienate the majority’. In giving this bold instruction, he was invoking the spirit of designer Raymond Loewy whose philosophy was known as ‘Most Advanced Yet Acceptable’ or MAYA for short. The point is a simple one – that it’s no good staying still; one has to keep moving so as to stay alive. One must not, in a word, fossilise.

Backstage with (L-R) Richard Davidson-Houston, Gus Christie and Stephen Langridge, October 2022

We still affectionately refer to the opera house as ‘the new house’ today, 28 years later. It met George’s brief and, as I take up the mantle of managing director, it serves as a reminder of the pioneering spirit that lies at the heart of this place.

In my new role, working in close partnership with Stephen, I aim to underline Glyndebourne’s status as a cultural wonder; to ensure that we are unequalled in our endeavour to nurture and realise the full potential of human creativity; and to make these things – and more – happen in our own inimitable, sometimes eccentric way, with an eye on the past and an eye to the future.

Economic weather

The business of running a charity is every bit as taxing as operating in the commercial sector. We all suffer under the same economic weather. So it is that we are having to watch our costs while ensuring also that we continue to lead, to innovate and to meet the exacting demands of our audiences.

Thanks in no small part to my predecessor’s expert blend of watchfulness and innovation, we have built up resilience in the form of financial reserves. However, we are experiencing a concentration of ‘rainy days’; and of course, hard-earned capital is there for insulation and for investment, not to prop up the operating model. We are proud – fiercely so – of our prudence and independence and I will ensure that we can continue to think and act for ourselves.

Our Festival, which receives no public subsidy and underwrites everything we do year-round, did return a surplus in 2022. However, the economic outlook is challenging. We face the balancing act of trying to get as much money on stage as possible while ensuring that we look after the long-term interests of the charity and without asking too much of you. We have put top-price tickets up 2% in Festival 2023 but frozen the cost of Upper Circle and other lower-priced seats. We are therefore absorbing a huge proportion of the inflation – which in the case of some of our materials is 100% or more – and, nurse, it hurts a little.

We have decided to cancel the proposed build of the new Holloway Pavilion on the croquet lawn. With galloping inflation, the timing was off. One has to be hard-nosed about these things. Meanwhile the essential investment in backstage automation continues, ensuring we will continue to produce opera of the very highest standards to rival any house in the world.

Fundraising makes some people squeamish but it needn’t. It’s a fact of life if the arts are to thrive. We are hugely grateful for the increased commitment from our supporters and donors at different levels. The way I look at it is this: as a Member you are already a supporter. Your subscription, attendance and advocacy are all very highly valued. Thank you. Then, if and when you have the means and inclination, we hope you may consider joining your many fellow Members who choose to deepen their involvement by giving donations of any size towards everything from the Annual Fund to the Learning & Engagement programme, to introducing children to music and theatre, to developing talent from Glyndebourne Youth Opera through to young principals on stage or even the cost of a production. Take pride.

Photo: Graham Carlow

Decluttering in style

As the late footballer Danny Blanchflower – who won the double with Tottenham Hotspur – had it, ‘the great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It’s nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It’s about doing things in style.’

Our front of house team did a magnificent job during the pandemic, pragmatically and patiently managing the everchanging rules and regs to ensure that the show could go on. Now that the legislation has been lifted, we have taken the decision to strip away all remaining Covid paraphernalia. You will enjoy access to the Festival in 2023 as it used to be. It’s au revoir to the ‘welcome’ tent. The bulky garden chairs and tables – put on the lawn in 2021 to help with social distancing – were temporary and have now gone (please do revert to bringing your own furniture). Ugly hand-sanitisation units will be stowed away as will as many bossy-boots signs as possible. We will, in other words, undertake a general decluttering and prioritise the informal beauty of Glyndebourne. Even while we look to the future, some things should not be tampered with.

Some tents and marquees will remain, albeit largely on the periphery. These canvases are not universally admired. I myself prefer some to others. However, we must concede that they come in handy when the sun beats down aggressively or the heavens rudely open.

Upon reflection, we feel uncomfortable with the fact that tents and marquees were available only to those prepared to pay for entry. So next year will work like this: if you want to guarantee a table in a particular undercover space, you will have to pay something to reserve it in advance. All remaining tables in the marquees, tents and balconies will be available free-of-charge on the day. I think this arrangement is fairer, more generous and (hallelujah!) simpler to understand. The important thing is this: there will always be more than enough undercover space to provide comfortable shelter for you, for free, should you require it. Oh – and yes, the festoon lights, which were a bit too bright, will be dimmed and switched off until needed.

Photo: James Bellorini

Summer dining

We do need to talk about the restaurants. I am very aware that some of you – particularly in the early part of Festival 2022 – were disappointed. The industry-wide staff shortages are well understood but the fact of the matter is that the standards of service too often fell short in those early weeks. I would like to reassure you that normal service was restored and will resume in Festival 2023.

Middle and Over will continue as the flagship fine-dining restaurant with menus from the Michelin-starred brothers, Chris and Jeff Galvin. The new, controversial-to-some, beloved-by-others (MAYA!) planet-friendly dining in Nether Wallop will continue; albeit with the over-wide tables narrowed for closer, easier conversation. Mildmay, meanwhile, will go back to basics offering a simple, high-quality menu that can be enjoyed in one hour. This will leave you time to dine and to explore the gardens and galleries before returning to the opera house. The best of both worlds.

Picnics remain a preference for many – and there is no danger of this changing. Whether you’re carrot sticks or candelabras, it’s the al fresco option for all tastes and budgets. Next year we plan to make a new selection of ‘picnic top-ups’ available in the Hamlet area, which is beginning to find its feet. Meanwhile, for an easy option, Glyndebourne’s own classic picnics are increasingly popular – and come with a table and chairs thrown in.

Leading not pleading

As I write this, the Arts Council has just delivered the unwelcome news that they propose to halve their contribution towards funding our Tour and Learning & Engagement programmes, which do so much to bring people and opera together around England. Generations of audience and artists have discovered music and opera through these aspects of our year-round work. With the impecunious state of the public finances, so much of our media besotted with halfwittery and a deplorable lack of access to music education in mainstream schools, there is ever more responsibility on organisations like ours to secure the future of the arts. Glyndebourne is committed to continuing to do the right thing despite this setback, though the form it will take remains to be seen.

Photo: Graham Carlow

Festival 2023

This year’s productions were nothing short of exceptional and attendance was very good – although we saw a ‘dip’ in demand in August. I understand that a lot of people were making up for holidays lost to lockdowns. You will find in the brochure that we have introduced an incentive – available only to Members in the ballot – to encourage demand for weekdays in August in Festival 2023. I hope that you will use this opportunity to pay us an extra visit and introduce a new generation to Glyndebourne.

I look forward with wide-eyed enthusiasm to Festival 2023. As daily life seems to become ever more fraught, it will offer a chance to take one’s time, to escape the hurly-burly and to connect deeply with the extraordinary state of being alive.

For all the extraordinary embellishments that constitute the Glyndebourne experience, the opera is the sine qua non. Stephen has put together a mouth-watering Festival. A new Semele follows hot on the heels of the amazing Alcina, Danielle de Niese is back on the Glyndebourne stage in Dialogues des Carmélites, A Midsummer Night’s Dream will crown another flaming June, L’elisir d’amore romances us once more, stone-cold classic The Rake’s Progress ends the Festival while a brand new Don Giovanni opens it. We will celebrate the opening night of the Festival with fanfare and fizz as we did last year.

Endeavour is the word I use most often in telling newbies about Glyndebourne. It is most obviously visible in the creativity we see on stage but in fact drives all that we do. I have met with every member of the company since starting in post in November and can report that we have the most committed and creative team at this, your, place: this extraordinary, cultural wonder of the world, Glyndebourne. I look forward to seeing you here.

Glyndebourne Festival 2023 runs from 19 May – 27 August 2023

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