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Glyndebourne’s top Shakespeare moments

We look back at some of our most memorable Shakespearean moments

Our connection with Shakespeare continues in Festival 2017 with the world premiere of Hamlet, a brand new opera by Brett Dean, which you can find out more about below.

Macbeth (Verdi)

Macbeth, 1938. Photo: Glyndebourne Archive

Not only was Verdi’s Macbeth the first Shakespeare-inspired piece performed at Glyndebourne, it was also the first non-Mozart work to appear in the Festival. Its 1938 debut marked the first professional production of the opera in the UK, and among the chorus was the young tenor Peter Pears, Benjamin Britten’s partner.

The vibrantly coloured original backdrop from the final act of the 1938 production of Macbeth was rediscovered in a storeroom at Glyndebourne in 2006 and is pictured below.

Photo: Mike Hoban

1964 saw a new production of Macbeth, with memorable design by Emanuele Luzzati, to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. The same year a production of The Taming of the Shrew was also performed at Glyndebourne.

Macbeth was also staged in 2007 in a new production by Richard Jones.

Falstaff (Verdi)

Verdi’s witty take on The Merry Wives of Windsor has been the most performed Shakespeare-inspired opera at the Festival, staged 11 times.

The first production debuted at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1955. Below you can see an image of Carl Ebert, Glyndebourne’s first Music Director, during rehearsals. Osbert Lancaster’s impressive set took inspiration from the windows in the Glyndebourne Organ Room.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Britten)

Peter Hall’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from 1981 is one of Glyndebourne’s most beloved productions. It made a long-awaited return to the Festival last summer. Benjamin Britten’s partner, Peter Pears, was moved to tears at the production’s premiere, commenting that ‘Ben should have seen this!’

Since 1981 the fairies have been played by members of the Trinity Boys Choir. Below you can see the 1981 choir in rehearsals for the original production:

Photo: Guy Gravett

In this photo from the 2001 revival you can see the Trinity Boys Choir queuing for their dinner during the interval:

Photo: Mike Hoban

Otello (Verdi)

Otello, Festival 2001. Photo: Mike Hoban

Verdi’s Otello came to the Glyndebourne stage for the first time in 2001 in a Peter Hall production. The role of Desdemona was sung by the incomparable soprano Susan Chilcott, who tragically passed away just two years later. The image below shows Peter Hall and Susan Chilcott in rehearsals:

Photo: Mike Hoban

The production was revived in 2005.

The Fairy Queen (Purcell)

In 2009 Glyndebourne marked the 350th anniversary of Purcell’s birth with a new production of The Fairy Queen, which is based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was directed by Jonathan Kent.

William Christie, who conducted The Fairy Queen for its 2009 run, returns to Glyndebourne this summer to conduct the UK premiere of Cavalli’s Hipermestra.

Macbeth (Luke Styles)

Macbeth, Festival 2015. Photo: Robert Workman

Festival 2015 saw the premiere of Macbeth, a new chamber opera composed by former Young-Composer-in-Residence Luke Styles. The production featured an all-male cast of singers from the Glyndebourne Chorus, presented in the Jerwood Studio.

Béatrice et Bénédict (Berlioz)

Béatrice et Bénédict, Festival 2016. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict made its first appearance at Glyndebourne in Festival 2016, in a production starring Stéphanie d’Oustrac and Paull Appleby as the sparring lovers.

While Festival 2016 may have been the first time Berlioz’s take on Much Ado About Nothing graced our stage, the piece has a history with Glyndebourne. In 1993 Glyndebourne staged a concert version of the opera at the Royal Festival Hall, the year the new opera house was being built.

Rehearsals for the 1993 concert version of Béatrice et Bénédict, with Andrew Davies conducting. Photo: Guy Gravett

Hamlet (Brett Dean)

Gravedigger (John Tomlinson) and Hamlet (Allan Clayton) in Hamlet, Festival 2017. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

In Festival 2017 Brett Dean’s Hamlet became the latest Shakespeare-inspired opera at Glyndebourne. With a libretto by Matthew Jocelyn, the opera was directed by Neil Armfield and conducted by Vladimir Jurowski.

The production met with critical acclaim, with The Sunday Times calling it ‘the operatic event of the year’.

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