For some, it's Ascot time; for others, it's time for Glyndebourne.
Ascot wasn’t helped by this year’s summer manqué, so I had some reservations when my invite to Falstaff at Glyndebourne appeared. While I am a fan of music, the whole truth is I really fancy the picnic interval in Glyndebourne.
When the weather is nice, nothing is better than the rolling Sussex hills, and the sheep happily chewing the grass while the audience gathers around small picnic tables and big hampers in high spirits. You get 90 minutes of blissful munching and imbibing the best bubbly you can afford before art beckons again.
The smart set is exceptionally smart here; no one dressed to kill, but all rather nicely turned out and happy to relax in this wonderful place. I wonder if when John Christie and Audrey Mildmay had the idea of opera in the countryside in 1934, if they envisioned it becoming such an event, giving joy to so many people, and still having the very high musical standards set back then?
To see conductor Mark Elder arrive at the pit, and musicians of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment stomp their feet in approval; to hear the voices of accomplished singers like Roman Burdenko, Suzanne Restmark, not to forget the Glyndbourne Choir; it's like a small miracle for me still. To feel the hush in the audience even after their rather convivial intermezzo is to realize that this festival is not for people wishing to network or pose, it’s for people who love their opera (and love good food and friends, too).
So even on a somewhat dull night outside, they made the best of it with a stylish picnic under a set of umbrellas. Only in England! And there was much bonhomie, people smiling at the slight inconvenience of it all, but having a good time. Keep calm and carry on indeed, and have a good time whatever the weather. But with a hamper as good as ours (from Leith's) it was no hardship.
Falstaff itself was a major accomplishment on so many levels, and it was an ingenious idea to set the opera in 1950's Britain. The stage set made the performance so vivid,and the scene in the woods was set so beautifully. The costumes were highly inventive and a total success, and the singing was glorious, especially the young lovers, Antonio Poli and Elena Tsallagova; a joyous performance with accomplished tones and natural acting. I hope we will hear a lot more from Ailyn Perez too, the American Mezzo playing Alice. She was so seductively charming she could easily have been quite a vixen, and the power of her voice amazed doubly when seen emanating from her tiny frame. And of course the man himself, whose oversized statue shocked us when arriving at Glyndebourne, huge, as huge as his voice, Laurent Naouri. What a brave artist he is to play that role so honestly, as a very fat, very aging, very shabby Lothario who just does not learn. But this huge voice was so mellow, so elegant, and sometimes so wistful that we listened and didn’t feel overwhelmed as those booming bass voices all too often do.
A true pleasure rewarded with enthusiastic applause, and many a ‘Bravo’ from an audience that left beaming.