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Member Memories: Joakim Hermansson

We spoke to Joakim Hermansson about his first visit to Glyndebourne, and a very important bowtie.

For some visitors a trip to Glyndebourne is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But for many more that first trip ignites something deep inside – an emotional tie that has its source in the music, the singing and the place. As part of our Member Memories series we spoke to Joakim Hermansson about his first visit to Glyndebourne, and a very important bowtie.

Joakim Hermansson was a young Swedish student back in 1982. He grew up with a ‘substitute grandpa’, a Hungarian neighbour who every third year or so went to Bayreuth. ‘Between our talks about integral equations he introduced me to opera to balance out my teenage disco life.’

Before university Joakim applied for a travel scholarship to ‘learn about English culture for two weeks’. His neighbour mentioned ‘what seemed like a mythical and inaccessible festival in the UK and said I should write to them and ask if I could visit. Although he had never been there, in his mind there was no way ‘Dickens, 1066, Kipling and Covent Garden put together would give me as much as a visit to Glyndebourne would’ Joakim wrote to Glyndebounre, explained his trip, asked to visit and had little expectation of hearing back. Unbelievably for him he was invited to see La Cenerentola and L’amour des trois oranges, in 1983.

Assured by his mother that his white linen graduation suit would suffice to meet the ‘evening dress recommended’ note included with his tickets he set off on his bike and travelled by ferry from Gothenburg to Harwich ‘from where I cycled to London for the National Gallery and a Shakespeare performance before arriving in Brighton on my second day.’ Packing a blanket, a picnic from Waitrose, cutlery and crockery borrowed from his B&B landlady and that white suit, he cycled from Brighton to Glyndebourne for his first performance.

Once he was in the car park he ‘noticed a Jaguar, a Bentley… Although it was a really nice racer, my bike didn’t really fit in. For the first time I wondered, would I? I then noticed something else – a black bow tie and black suit seemed obligatory – if there was one thing I minded it was to stand out, to not blend in. I took my holdall and left it in the cloakroom. I told the ladies that worked there that I felt a bit awkward. They told me to go to Box Office and they would help me out. Once there I explained I had misunderstood the dress code. They told me I looked fine, but they could lend me a bow tie and did I know how to tie one? I didn’t. An elderly gentleman was found to help me and after several attempts he was satisfied with his efforts.

‘I had been to the Royal Opera in Stockholm but had never experience such a rich performance as La Cenerentola that evening. I had looked forward to hearing Kathleen Kuhlmann in the title role but she was ill and a young Jenny Miller filled her place. It was the first and only time I have felt in love at the opera. Together with Laurence Dale’s promising tenor she turned La cenerentola into my benchmark production, which after 34 years and around 80 visits to Glyndebourne, it still is.’

‘At the interval I found a place at the far end of the garden, where a tree had just been planted, and I enjoyed my picnic in what I experienced as a dream world, as if I had been transported to Brideshead or Pemberley. Today the tree is fully grown, and I still try to find a spot under it for my yearly picnics. In the same interval I bought a book about Glyndebourne and the shop staff told me a bit about Glyndebourne’s history and the Festival Society, so before I left I filled out a form for the waiting list. After the performance, I was told to keep the black tie. Perhaps I would come back.’

‘The following autumn, I applied for tickets the regular way, when they arrived it was with a personal note attached to them: “Looking forward to seeing you again!” I bought a second hand evening suit at auction, and used the black tie. The ladies in Box Office made me visit them when I returned for several years, still on my bike, and every time they made me feel like I was visiting my grandmas, as if I was coming home’

Mr Hermansson wore the same borrowed bow tie for 20 years when visiting Glyndebourne until a seam split: ‘Once again, I found myself at the Box Office desk asking for help with a black tie. This time they returned with a needle and thread. Nowadays, when I leave home for Glyndebourne (I now arrive by coach) I always do a last check: Money, passport, the black tie. Everything else can be replace – even the tickets, I have learnt!’

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