I’d often heard about Glyndebourne, the country estate where operas are presented at a very high artistic standard, but never dreamed I would actually be able to attend a performance myself. It wasn’t even quite clear to me where it was, somewhere out in the country outside London. It sounded like another realm of existence, one where one paid a lot of money for a ticket, and where ladies and gentlemen dressed in formal wear picnicked on manicured lawns (often getting rained on in the process, this is England, after all), and altogether belonged to another world. I come from a refugee background that, while cultured musically, was what you might call impoverished and far removed from the comings and goings of the world of opera, formal wear and upper-class mores.
And so, when the opportunity arose to join a group being organized to attend one of my favourite operas, Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro,’ at Glyndebourne and to attend a ceremony to mark the dedication of a plaque being installed there to honour the late Sir Rudolf Bing, himself a former refugee from Vienna and one of the founders of Glyndebourne, I jumped at the chance. For me it was as if a fairy had waved a magic wand and given me the chance to fulfill a wish that I had always thought was nowhere within my reach.
From its very beginnings in 1943 it was the custom at Glyndebourne (as it is at Covent Garden, too, I believe) for the audience to wear formal evening dress (‘black tie’ for men means a dark suit and bow tie), which is not the style of clothes that is found in everyone’s wardrobe, and certainly not in mine or my husband’s. The latter, in fact, was not at all happy at being required to ‘dress up’ in that kind of outfit, but calmed down once he saw that all the other men there were similarly attired. To be quite honest, I’d say that the outfit suited him down to the ground and he looked every bit the aristocrat in his dark suit and (borrowed) bow tie.
To be at Glyndebourne and feeling that one is blending in with the rest of the audience, all of us dressed in our most elegant finery, felt a bit like taking part in a period film, or even participating in an episode of ‘Downton Abbey.’ The well-modulated tones in which everyone around us was speaking only added to the dream-like quality of the experience. To tell the truth, the audiences at concerts and performances of operas I’ve attended all over the world, and that extends to the Tel-Aviv Opera, Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Teatro Massimo in Palermo and even La Scala in Milan, amongst others, are generally well-behaved and well-dressed (though not at the Proms, I might add), but there’s a certain something about Glyndebourne that sets it apart from all the others. Maybe it’s the typical Englishness of the event (though almost all the performers were from Italy, Russia, Romania and elsewhere) but somehow the ambience was particularly warm, cultured and welcoming.
To add to the general perfection of the event, the weather that evening, generally so unpredictable and inconsiderate, was as balmy and kind as anyone could have hoped for. Admittedly, since the construction of a new auditorium a few years ago the audience no longer sits in the open, but all the same the cooperation of the weather helped to make the occasion as memorable and enjoyable as anyone could wish for. And it goes without saying that the standard of the singing, acting and staging was of the highest order, though one or two dance sequences, in which Mozart’s sublime music was accompanied by dance moves and settings more typical of 1960s night clubs struck a slightly incongruous note. But nothing could spoil my enjoyment of the occasion and everything that it exemplified and embodied.