Giulio Cesare: George Frideric Handel (1724)

Handel: Giulio Cesare

(directed by David McVicar, Glyndebourne, 20 July 2018)

It’s always nerve-racking when you go to see something you love live for the first time. What if it doesn’t live up to expectations? What if one of the cast has a sore throat? What if, horror of horrors, the manager comes onstage to announce a substitution? But at the same time, how can you resist? My opera buddy H and I had decided that we would pay virtually anything to see the revival of David McVicar’s marvellous Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne, and our resolution was put to the test when the more affordable seats were snapped up within seconds after going on sale. However, our budget-stretching seats in row B were absolutely worth the cost. Many of the cast from the 2005 production returned, with Sarah Connolly triumphant in the title role, and we could admire every little detail. Coupled with a lavish picnic and a gang of equally excited friends (inevitably christened Team Giulio), it made for a perfect day out, and I can promise you that it did live up to all those months of anticipation.

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Hipermestra: Francesco Cavalli (1658)

Cavalli: Hipermestra

★★★★½

(Glyndebourne, conducted by William Christie, 17 May 2017)

King Danao of Argos is troubled. His brother’s Egyptian troops have gathered on his border, forcing him to suggest a diplomatic match to avoid conflict. His fifty daughters will marry his brother’s fifty sons in a mass ceremony, cementing a peace treaty between the two nations. But Danao has given his daughters secret instructions. The Oracle at Delphi has warned him that one of his nephews will rob him of his life and kingdom. And so each of the fifty girls has been ordered to murder her husband on their wedding night. Each of them obeys. Except one: Hipermestra, who loves her new husband, her cousin Linceo, and urges him to escape. Her compassion will be rewarded by a tide of blood. In this thrilling premiere of an all-but-forgotten opera by Francesco Cavalli, Glyndebourne have updated an ancient story to a setting in the modern Middle East, giving it a punch that lingers long after the final curtain comes down.

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The Abduction from the Seraglio: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1782)

Mozart: The Abduction from the Seraglio

★★★★

Die Entführung aus dem Serail 

(Glyndebourne, directed by Sir David McVicar, seen at the Proms, 14 August 2015)

This post draws on two encounters with the same production: the live broadcast from Glyndebourne earlier this summer, and the pared down staged version presented at the Proms on 14 August. As has happened so often in recent months, I’d gone to see Seraglio without really knowing very much about it at all. I knew it was by Mozart and I knew it was about someone being rescued from a harem, but that was about it. It turned out to be rather different from what I’d imagined, and I’m delighted to say that I adored the production, largely due to its aesthetic beauty and the sheer verve with which the story was told.

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Giulio Cesare: George Frideric Handel (1724)

Handel: Giulio Cesare

(Glyndebourne, 2005, directed by Sir David McVicar, conducted by William Christie)

One thing’s for sure. Handel certainly didn’t imagine anything quite like this. With zeppelins hovering over the Alexandrian harbour in the final act and Bollywood-style dance routines thrown into the arias, this production is joyously exuberant and thoroughly addictive. It was the first time I’d watched or heard the opera and it was the perfect introduction: indeed, I ended up feeling quite jealous of the people who’d been able to see it in the flesh.

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The Turn of the Screw: Benjamin Britten

Britten: Turn of the Screw

★★★★

(Glyndebourne, 11-28 August 2011)

I have a huge debt of gratitude to repay to my friend who, on being given three tickets for this performance (the original purchaser having fallen ill), asked me to come with her. Glyndebourne is a remarkable experience and, for us, it was a brief glimpse into another, gilded, world.  As evening dress is traditional, it was easy to spot our fellow festival-goers on the 14:47 from Victoria.  Well-heeled couples carried Fortnum & Mason hampers and groups of young men, who might have stepped straight out of Brideshead Revisited, lounged in the aisles toting picnic rugs and bottles of champagne.  At Lewes station we all piled out of the train and onto some waiting coaches and then we rattled through narrow winding streets (it’s a picturesque little town; I’d never been before) to the house itself.

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