Glyndebourne, a Celebration, edited by John Higgins (Jonathan Cape £12.50).
GLYNDEBOURNE'S small and plain theatre is an ideal environment for performers, producers and artists alike, and has been the essential element in the consistent excellence with which Glyndebourne has presented opera as music drama since the house's first performance on May 28, 1934 of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.
It was a dry and still evening, auspiciously so for a festival which was as well known for its al fresco dining as for its music. The audience was, for W J Turner of Music and Letters, at collection of Philistines of no particular "class, stratum, occupation or profession."
Mr Turner exaggerated: The Tatler was there, but the first fighters, drawn from London as well as the surrounding Sussex country, contained many music lovers, including Lady Diana Cooper — who had worked extensively with Max Reinhardt and Hugo von Hofmanstahl — and the cultured and receptive ,writer Maurice Baring. Like most of the audience they were amazed at the prospect of fullblown opera at a country house in a fold of the South Downs, and little imagined the significance of that performance.
But, from the first, Glyndebourne was decidedly unparochial. Fritz Busch, the evening's conductor, and the producer Carl Ebert, a disciple of Max Reinhardt's, were sons of Europe's finest tradition in musical and dramatic direction, and the first night was as much an international artistic success as it was a triumph with the audience.
The qualities which characterised that performance have become the hallmarks of 'the Glyndebourne tradition and as Isaiah Berlin explains int his engaging contribution to 'Glyndebourne, a Celebration, the sign of a first rate music festival: a central and precise
conception which generates a recognisable style expressed by a high quality, which has itself been established by intense concentration on aims and artistic preparation.
When, after weeks and months of rehearsals, a Glyndebourne production is complete, it is presented in a theatre small enough for the singers' eyes to be seen, on a stage where every detail of scenery and costume is as near as possible genuine. There is no skimping on real hot chocolate or actual steaming irons, any more than there is on intonation or rythmical values, which goes a long way to guarantee success in an art form where the total should be very much more than the parts.
This is a generairecipe, but a very definite one, and one that has been carefully maintained and balanced by John and George Christie. John Christie, the Festival's founder, was a difficult act to follow — -a bold and independent visionary who swept aside all practical objections in the pursuit of excellence — but his son has done so intelligently and effectively, and he shows how in a fascinating essay to open the anniversary collection. It does, like all 13 contributions, show great affection without being gluttonously of the place.
It is all very well to say that ensemble is important to opera, but to find out why, one could do no better than refer to Peter Hall's essay on Mozart in Glyndebourne, a Celebration. His exposition of the Mozart and Da Ponte operas as a combination of social lies and personal emotional truth, and of how arias should thus be open declarations of true feeling to an audience, and ensembles the combination of numerous such declarations, is masterly.
It is a well worn truism that Glyndebourne is exclusive and for the few, but its contribution to music outside its corner of Sussex has been considerable. As well as providing revelatory musical and dramatic insights 'into the works of Mozart, Rossini, Richard Strauss and
Monteverdi, not to mention other composers we now take for granted as dramatic geniuses, Glyndebourne has reached a wider audience through radio, television and an annual tour of Britain, playing a large part in turning England from what John Christie described in 1941 as -musically 'an underbred country" into what we smugly regard as the centre of the musical world.
Glyndebourne has also acted, through its chorus and tour, as an essential nursery for homegrown stars like Janet Baker, Thomas Allen and Rosalind Plowright, and as an introduction to Britain for rising young foreign singers ranging from Luigi Alva and Luciano Pavarotti to Sena Jurinao and Elizabeth Soderstrom.
That such an institution, founded by an individual and, in the right way, at once amateur and professional, should be flourishing today and be the "nearest answer today to solvency in the opera" is surely a cause for jubilee celebration.