Stories from the Archive

The Opera Cup judges

We delve into the Glyndebourne careers of Opera Cup judges and international stars Dame Janet Baker, Dame Felicity Lott and Sir Thomas Allen.

This month sees the return of the Glyndebourne Opera Cup, an international competition to find the opera stars of tomorrow.

The Opera Cup continues Glyndebourne’s rich history of discovering and supporting emerging artists. To celebrate, this month’s Stories from the Archive looks at the Glyndebourne careers of Dame Janet Baker, Dame Felicity Lott and Sir Thomas Allen, three of the world’s most celebrated opera singers who enjoyed early success on our stage.

All three singers are returning to Glyndebourne to help judge the competition and launch the careers of the next generation of opera stars.

Dame Janet Baker

Dame Janet Baker is the honorary president of the Glyndebourne Opera Cup.

Dame Janet’s debut at Glyndebourne as a member of the Chorus was in 1956. With a world-class reputation, the Glyndebourne Chorus plays a significant role in developing talent, often giving singers the chance to perform small roles or to understudy.

Following her stint in the chorus, Janet Baker’s first main role was as the titular queen of Carthage in 1965’s TV broadcast of Dido and Aeneas, part of a season of one-act operas recorded for BBC 2.

The production was mounted especially for the broadcast and was staged in the following Festival in a double bill with Ravel’s L’heure espagnole.

A photo of Janet Baker alongside co-star Thomas Hemsley appeared in the October 7 1965 edition of the Radio Times publicising the broadcast.

In their review of the programme, The Guardian called Janet Baker ‘a superb Dido’ and said that she was ‘able to transmit the full emotional impact’, noting ‘How rare that is in a televised opera’ (The Guardian, 13 October 1965).

A long and distinguished international career in opera (including many roles at Glyndebourne) as well as lieder singing and recitals followed. Appearing as Diana in Cavalli’s La Callisto in 1970, Dame Janet was a key part in Glyndebourne’s pioneering rediscovery of early Italian opera.

She chose to complete the circle and make her final operatic appearance at Glyndebourne in Orfeo ed Euridice, directed by Sir Peter Hall, in 1982. Dame Janet took the role of Orfeo, who legendarily charmed people and animals, and even trees and rocks, with his singing and playing of the lyre. Her costume for the production, designed by John Bury, is held in our archive collection. At the curtain call of her final performance, the Chorus presented Dame Janet with the golden lyre.

Janet Baker in Orfeo, 1982. Photo: Guy Gravett/Glyndebourne Archive | Costume from Orfeo. Photo: Glyndebourne Archive

In recognition of our honorary president, the 2020 Opera Cup trophy is inspired by the golden lyre, which has been painstakingly recreated by Glyndebourne’s Head of Props, Paul Brown. The trophy symbolises the excellence of the competition winner and the part that Dame Janet and Glyndebourne have played in their future operatic career.

Dame Felicity Lott

Dame Felicity Lott is part of the Opera Cup judging panel.

Dame Felicity made her Glyndebourne main role debut as the Countess in the 1976 Tour production of Capriccio, visiting Norwich, Oxford, Manchester, Bristol and Southampton. She is just one of the numerous artists who gained exposure in the early stages of their career thanks to the Tour. Lott was a hit with the local critics – the Manchester Evening News praised her ‘beguiling performance’ (8 October 1976), and the Lancashire Evening Post & Chronicle called her ‘the triumph of the evening’ (8 October 1976).

International stardom followed, and her performances of the Strauss and Mozart roles in particular have led to critical and popular acclaim worldwide.

Dame Felicity continued to perform at Glyndebourne, taking on a host of roles between 1976 and 2002.

In 1983 she memorably played the role of Christine in Intermezzo, and donned a succession of fabulous costumes designed by Martin Battersby. One of the original costume designs is shown below, alongside a shot of Dame Felicity on stage.

Martin Battersby’s costume design for Intermezzo. Photo: Glyndebourne Archive. | Felicity Lott in Intermezzo, 1983. Photo: Guy Gravett/Glyndebourne Archive

In 1987 she returned to the part of the Countess in Capriccio, reviving the very first role she played at Glyndebourne, and again in 1990 and 1998. Her costume, again designed by Martin Battersby, is held in our archive.

Felicity Lott in Capriccio, 1990. Photo: Guy Gravett/Glyndebourne Archive | Costume from Capriccio. Photo: Glyndebourne Archive

Dame Felicity’s connection to Glyndebourne continues to this day. Along with judging the Opera Cup, she is also an ambassador for the John Christie Society, a group for those leaving a legacy to Glyndebourne in their will.

Sir Thomas Allen

Sir Thomas Allen is part of the Opera Cup judging panel.

An established international star, Sir Thomas has appeared at opera houses around the world and has also turned his hand to directing.

Sir Thomas joined the Glyndebourne Chorus in 1969, and in 1973 took on his first Glyndebourne solo role as Papageno in the 1973 Festival production of Die Zauberflöte. The Telegraph were ecstatic about Allen’s performance, with the headline of their review calling him the ‘finest English Papageno’, going on to praise ‘His excellent German and a natural gift for comic gestures and expression… [and] a firm, warm voice which he uses with great intelligence’ (31 May 1973).

Our archive holds a limited edition print of Emanuele Luzzati’s costume design for Papageno:

Emanuele Luzzati’s costume design for Papageno from Die Zauberflöte. Photo: Glyndebourne Archive | Thomas Allen in Die Zauberflöte, 1973. Photo: Guy Gravett/Glyndebourne Archive

Sir Thomas has appeared as a host of characters in the Festival, including the title role of Don Giovanni and Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro. His most recent appearance was as the Music Master in Ariadne auf Naxos (2017).

Thomas Allen in Ariadne auf Naxos, 2017. Photo: Robert Workman

The Glyndebourne Opera Cup Final will be broadcast live on Sky Arts on Saturday 7 March.

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