My colonial childhood brought opera to lifeby Richard E Grant / June 20, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Janácek’s opera The Cunning Little Vixen, left, is part of Glyndebourne’s 2012 season
In the “Best of British” tradition, the Glyndebourne opera festival began as an amateur undertaking, with a “for the love of music” attitude that has informed its ethos ever since. The festival’s origins go back to 1920, when John Christie inherited the Manor House at Glyndebourne, where he had built an 80-foot-long organ room to accommodate his great friend Dr Lloyd, a former Eton organist, whenever he visited Sussex. This purpose-built gallery quickly became home to amateur opera productions.
Until the age of 48 John Christie was a confirmed bachelor, but in 1930 he promptly fell in love with, and six months later married, Audrey Mildmay, a singer with the Carla Rosa company, who had come to Glyndebourne to perform in the Mozart opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail.
They honeymooned in Salzburg and Bayreuth, which inspired them to create their own small-scale opera festival when they returned to England. John planned to expand the organ room, but Audrey argued that if he was intending to spend so much money, why not “do the thing properly” and construct a theatre instead? Being a good egg, he wisely followed her advice and set about building a 300-seater. We have them both to thank for what continues to this day to be a uniquely personal “at home” opera-going experience.