Family Day at Glyndebourne

12 Oct

Last year, Glyndebourne did their first Family Day – an opportunity to look round and see backstage. I couldn’t make it.  This year they did it again – free entry for people with tickets for that evening’s Traviata (though nobody seemed to be checking).  A perfect opportunity to take a niece and build on the Hansel and Gretel experience last year.  I’ll write about Traviata in the next posting, but I did want to give a special piece to praise Glyndebourne for giving us a fabulous day out and to wonder if other companies couldn’t build on it.

The setting helps, of course: there’s the space, the gardens, the sheep and the facilities and that relaxed friendliness about the place.  The weather started off threateningly but actually wasn’t too bad for most  of the day – we could walk round the gardens and get some fresh air when we felt like it.

There were a lot of events around the garden, and I hope that these were popular.  We arrived early and slipped in a demonstration of how to take cuttings – I think Emma wasn’t quite expecting that, but it gave her a nice souvenir to take home and I just hope it roots.  That filled in the time before the first event.

This was a show called Songs about Us devised, directed and presented by Dominic Harlan.  I thought this was an outstanding event.  He takes eight songs in the original languages and plays with them – telling us what they’re about, inviting us to act them, to direct them and to add new bits.  So we were all advising Heine’s hero in Morgens steh’ ich auf… to “Get a new girlfriend, drink lots of beer, go to the opera” to get over his lost love.  Pretty good advice if you ask me.  There were favourites of mine – Britten’s setting of At the Railway Station, Upway, Schumann’s Der Contrabandiste and Die beiden Grenadieren and Sibelius’s Var det en drom. together with Barber’s Solitary Hotel, which I didn’t know but loved and a really lovely song, Utah 1975 by Harlan himself.  Harlan has that incredible energy and ability to think on his feet that you need when dealing with an event of this sort, massive charm and wit and he’s a very good pianist – all the accompaniments by heart.  Paul Carey Jones and Sarah Gabriel were the splendid and very game singers.  As an encore the did Anything you can do and that was Emma’s favourite.  A lovely hour and I strongly recommend you to take any half willing young people to Harlan’s future shows.

There was an activity event surrounding La traviata, but that appeared to have been booked out within about 48 hours of booking opening.  It didn’t matter.  We could wander round the Jerwood studio and sit on the massive armchair from Enfant et les sortileges, admire the car from Nozze di Figaro, the stick of broccoli from Hippolyte et Aricie and open a box to see Banquo’s head.  We could print costumes, see how they made wigs and have our faces made up. Then there was a session in the auditorium where Sarah Lenton took us through the elements of lighting, scene shifting and dressing, talking to the articulate and passionate members of the team.  After that, we could go on the stage, touch scenery and play with the lights.  If we’d had the time there was a talk about the history of Glyndbourne.

You need refreshment during this and there was an ideal, simply, pretty inexpensive menu perfect for children and for adults looking for the equivalent of a decent pub lunch and really well done.

Finally, Sarah Lenton gave us an excellent half hour introduction to La traviata.  She told the story in a way that worked for ten year olds, made me think a bit more about the opera – I’d never quite got the catholic element of the Germont/Violetta scene before – and showing a passion and love of the opera that really whetted the appetite for what was to come.

So it made for a smashing day out – not too rushed, friendly, relaxed and great for me and for Emma.  There weren’t as many people there as I’d feared but enough for me to be pretty sure it’s worth their while doing again.  If you live within striking distance of the place, do go next year.  It would be great if other opera houses were to follow suit.

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