Stephen Langridge looks back at 2022
Artistic director Stephen Langridge looks back at Glyndebourne’s ‘bounce-back’ year and ahead to an exciting Festival in 2023.
This has been the bounce-back year. In 2022 opera at Glyndebourne returned to the full contact, extreme sport it should be: full pit, packed stage, and four new Festival productions instead of three as ‘normal’. And we challenged ourselves in the non-Festival parts of the year too – because Glyndebourne is a year-round operation, in case anyone still thinks it’s just a few weeks in the summer.
One of the highlights of the Festival was the sound of an excited, packed auditorium chatting away before curtain up, while the orchestra tuned. I’d missed this more than I realised in the slightly cathedral-like hush of the half empty theatre in 2020 and 2021. This year, it’s as if, after all the rehearsal and preparation, that beautiful soundscape said, ‘yes, we are actually doing this, we’re back’.
The year began with our youth opera, Pay the Piper, written by the four women who were resident on our composers’ scheme, Balancing the Score, to a libretto by Hazel Gould. We’d originally planned this for 2020, but for obvious reasons, we had to postpone it. Then in early 2022 when we were finally able to get together, the stage area was temporarily closed as work on our stage automation project took place. Undaunted, we ploughed on. We took out all the seats in the stalls and performed there, in the round (the first time in the theatre’s history) – and 65 young people sang and acted their hearts out. The whole process was joyful, but the moment we decided it was time to take the face masks off, about a week before we opened, is imprinted on my mind: it felt like dawn after a dark night; all those beautiful, quirky, cheeky, open faces, properly seeing each other for the first time after months of rehearsal. It was a great success, and I’m happy to report that Pay the Piper has received the Europe-wide Young Audiences Music Award for Best Opera.
In May, Festival 2022 launched with the LPO brass section playing fanfares by the composers of Pay the Piper on the opening night of Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers. What a night! Performing a relatively unknown piece, in a version never heard before was a risk – but our version of The Wreckers paid off, and the first night had a standing ovation. It was a challenging project; to get this never-performed version together took our heroic music librarian, Martyn Bennett, months of painstaking work, and then, during rehearsal, many cast and chorus fell ill – in fact the first time the whole company was present and correct was the premiere itself. Director Melly Still and conductor Robin Ticciati kept their nerve and humour, and gave every bar attention and love. We hope that somehow, somewhere Ethel Smyth and librettist Henry Brewster feel vindicated by our efforts, and that other opera companies are inspired to bring The Wreckers into their repertoire, and it can continue its march back from unjust neglect.
It’s hard to convey accurately the intricacy of planning and precision of labour required to run the Festival. The old analogy of the swan gliding serenely only because of the urgent paddling below the waterline applies here. At its peak we have six operas in house: three in repertoire, two having stage rehearsals, one in the studio, plus understudy rehearsals… It’s exhilarating. Perhaps this isn’t right to share in case it spoils the serene image you have, but the night crew is generally dismantling the set before the audience has left the auditorium – the team needs to ensure that the scenery for tomorrow morning’s rehearsal is ready at 10.30am. Then at 1.30pm the set for the opera in rehearsal is dismantled and the crew has a few hours to build and light the set for that evening’s performance.
The fact that each production garnered at least one five-star review (which I believe is a first) is of course because of what happens on stage and in the pit, but without our miraculous technical teams, there would be no show, and no stars!
All our new productions this year were filmed for our streaming platform, Glyndebourne Encore. Opera on screen can be a strange experience, especially if the theatre it was filmed in is huge, as the performance scale doesn’t always suit the small screen (to put it mildly). At Glyndebourne however, the theatre is already intimate, and the rehearsals intense, ensemble based, and detailed. The result is really exciting, and the films reveal dimensions which you may have missed in the excitement of the live experience. I was extremely proud, for instance, during the filming of The Wreckers watching in the outside broadcast (OB) truck, that in the crowd scenes each chorus member featured in close-up was giving a fully rounded, psychologically detailed performance: a crowd made of individuals. If you’re a Glyndebourne Encore subscriber it is well worth having a look at the production you saw, or to catch up on one you missed.
The new productions were extraordinarily diverse, both in terms of musical style – from Baroque to modern – but also in the production aesthetics. From Floris Visser’s austere La bohème to Francesco Micheli’s flamboyant, theatrical Alcina. It’s a wonderful thing that we have been nominated for International Opera Awards both for The Wreckers – epic, swirling, passionate, and presented with Melly Still’s driftwood aesthetic – and the Poulenc Double Bill – cheeky, tragic, surreal, seen through Laurent Pelly’s beautiful, tightly controlled and refined minimalism. They were both brilliant, but so different. Really the only things they had in common were our fabulous music director, Robin Ticciati, the Chorus, and the LPO!
At Glyndebourne we give enormous attention to how we revive productions, as a matter of principal. This year we brought back two favourites – Don Pasquale and Le nozze di Figaro – with a full rehearsal period, new casts, new conductors and even different orchestras: unusually for Glyndebourne, the LPO played Mozart, while the OAE played Donizetti. The result is that a revival can still surprise, and go deeper than before, showing that productions can mature rather than simply age.
One of the main challenges for us this year has been around visas for artists. We are not alone: it’s now a nightmare for all UK opera companies who work with international artists. Sometimes however there is a silver lining, and the great disappointment and frustration we felt when star tenor Long Long was so delayed by bureaucracy that he was unable to sing at the premiere of La bohème, was tempered by the fact that Sehoon Moon, his understudy, was able to step up and score a huge personal triumph as Rodolfo, singing performances while Long got up to speed. (As a side note the challenges go the other way too: UK-based singers are now excluded from the last-minute European breakthrough opportunities which have launched so many careers, because you need so much time to get a visa).
During the Festival we celebrated ten years of the Glyndebourne Academy with a masterclass on 25 June. It was fantastic to see so many alumni return to have a working session with our vocal talent consultant Mary King, and to share their experiences post-Academy.
The Academy is designed to help singers who face social, economic or other barriers to achieving what their talent promises. It’s been so successful, and the need is so great if we want to see singers from all sections of society on our stages, that we will be expanding the project dramatically over the next few years.
Next Festival promises to be a cracker. An exciting part of my job is seeing the extraordinary ideas that creative teams come up with, and how our technical department works to bring those ideas to the stage. Our intention is that every production is accessible to everyone – whether you’re completely new to opera as an art form, or if a particular opera is new to you – while also ensuring something new for Glyndebourne regulars, or those who have seen an opera countless times. It’s equally true of the three new productions for Festival 2023: Mariame Clément’s Don Giovanni, Adele Thomas’ Semele and Barrie Kosky’s Dialogues des Carmélites – and for our three revivals. Musically too it will be far from routine, with exceptional international artists, many making their house debut, and others, well known to Glyndebourne audiences, tackling a role for the first time, or conducting repertoire new to them.
So, whether you see a new production or a classic Glyndebourne revival it’ll feel fresh, with every angle explored as if for the first time. I look forward to seeing you here.
Image credits: Pay the Piper, 2022, photo by Richard Hubert Smith | The Wreckers, Festival 2022, photo by Richard Hubert Smith | Alcina, Festival 2022, photo by Tristram Kenton | La bohème, Festival 2022, photo by Richard Hubert Smith | Poulenc Double Bill, Festival 2022, photo by Bill Cooper | Don Pasquale, Festival 2022, photo by Robbie Jack | Le nozze di Figaro, Festival 2022, photo by Bill Cooper