If you need proof that there will always be an England, head to Victoria Station, book a return or round-trip ticket to Lewes, about an hour south of the city, grab the shuttle bus and take the 10 minute drive through the rolling hills of the gentle English countryside to Glyndebourne. But please remember to wear your formal wear. Tuxes and dinner jackets only for the men, unless your kilt is back from the dry cleaners. And for the ladies, wear whatever might be the nicest thing you own.
WHAT IS GLYNDEBOURNE?
It’s a world-class opera company located slightly southeast of the middle of nowhere. It began when John Christie, the grandfather of the current owner, Gus, began to invite friends and neighbors to classical concerts on his lovely estate. Over time, he built an opera house and then a second, even larger opera house to replace the first one, and Glyndebourne became a vital part of English summer culture.
You have never really seen anything like a train full of aristocrats in formal wear, toting their lawn chairs, Fortnum & Mason or Harrod’s picnic hampers, practically groaning under the weight of all the champagne in their backpacks. They’ll need all those victuals because there’s about an hour before the program begins at 5 p.m. to enjoy a picnic on the grounds and then a generous 90-minute interval or intermission, at which time you can go back to enjoying your lovely meal.
And for those who don’t want to bring food, no worries. You can dine in restaurants called Middle & Over Wallop, Mildmay and Nether Wallop. Why are the restaurants called those names? Who cares? It’s England, and it’s perfect.
Glyndebourne may be an hour from London, but there’s nothing provincial about the quality of the music. The singers are the best Britain and the world have to offer. The house orchestra is the London Philharmonic Orchestra. And the operas themselves are accessible and enjoyable even for those who have always found the idea of opera intimidating.
Performances run from mid-May until late August, with only a few days off each season. Glyndebourne rotates six operas each festival season, this year including La Damnation de Faust by Hector Berlioz and a gender-fluid Cendillon (Cinderella) by Jules Massanet.
The Glyndebourne staging of Cendillon is replete with selfies for Cinderella’s nasty stepsisters and stepmother, a chain-smoking fairy godmother, an EU flag, and an endless run of shopping bags, depicting the materialism and selfishness of the aforesaid stepsisters and stepmother. You also find Cinderella falling in love with her Prince …who is a woman. “So French, so convoluted!” an older British chap dressed in white tie and tails said, as he emerged from the opera house to get ready to tuck into his dinner.
Sure you’ve done London any number of times. You’ve seen the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. You took a ride on the big Ferris wheel. Maybe you’ve even wondered through the British Museum. But until you take that 1:46 train to Lewes, wearing your finest, and transferring to the luxury coach to take you on that 10-minute ride to Glyndebourne for you night at the opera, you cannot claim to have truly done London.
Have a great time, and don’t forget the champagne!