Opera: Not so stuffy and a lot like Bollywood

5 Aug

Two weeks ago if you’d asked me what I thought of opera, I would have come up with the usual stereotypes.  It’s slightly stuffy and for more affluent audiences who enjoy watching fat people singing entire stories in Italian.  I also love Andrea Bocelli and Elmo’s duet on Time to Say Goodnight courtesy of my baby nephew.  That was pretty much the extent of my knowledge about opera. 

Culturally, it’s not a very Asian pastime.  When I told my mum I was going to see opera for the first time, her main concern was that I might fall asleep. 

Having now been to an opera, I think Asians would enjoy it more than most.  Opulent sets, warbling singing, actors in lavish costumes bursting into song – it’s not so different to the Bollywood films I watched growing up. 

And incidentally most of the singers aren’t fat.  On the contrary, some of them are so tiny you wonder how they can belt out such a powerful voice.

The Fairy Queen

I went to see The Fairy Queen by Glyndebourne, an opera house which prides itself on reaching new audiences by presenting opera with a contemporary twist.  The performance though is just one part of the Glyndebourne experience. 

After a journey past green fields and lambs (coming from the East End of London that in itself was a treat!) the first thing I saw as we pulled up was the country manor.  This is the home of Gus Christie, grandson of Glyndebourne’s founder John Christie. 

Gus is certainly in the thick of it.  He lives next door to the opera house and he offers his 30 bedrooms to the staff working on Glyndebourne operas.  For several months every year, there are coach loads of visitors pulling up outside his home to enjoy the opera.  It takes a certain level of passion and dedication to blur your work and personal boundaries to this degree.

The gardens surrounding the manor are beautiful and an enchanting backdrop for opera goers to enjoy champagne picnics. Sadly, I went on a day during the incessant rain that has plagued us this summer but even in the miserable weather, I could see what a stunning setting this was.

Glyndebourne’s gardens in summer

After a tour of the gardens, we settled on a damp bench by the lake to have our M&S goodies with the rain and the wind whipping my hair into my sandwich. In keeping with the feel of the place, it was all so British!  People had come fully prepared with picnic hampers, deck chairs and even candelabras.

 It’s as if the surroundings have been designed to get you in the right frame of mind for enjoying the opera and on a sunny day it must be magical. 

Picnics at Glyndebourne

The Fairy Queen is a semi-opera based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and as expected it was weird and wonderful. 

The story follows two simultaneous dramas in the world of humans and fairies.  The main comedy factor is provided by a group of labourers, who are amateur actors planning on putting on a theatrical performance.

The labourers

Hermia has been told by her father to marry Demetrius but she is in love with Lysander.  She is given the choice of marrying the suitor chosen by her father or submitting to a life of chastity as a nun.  To make matters more complicated, Helena is desperately in love with Demetrius but he is determined to marry Hermia. 

Meanwhile there is quarrel between Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the Fairies over a young Indian boy who Titania has taken into her care. Oberon wants her to give the boy up to him but she refuses. 

Oberon asks his mischievous servant Puck to find the purple flower Love in Idleness.  When rubbed on a sleeping person’s eyelids, the victim falls in love with the first creature seen on waking.  Oberon’s plan is to exact revenge on Titania by making her fall in love with an animal of the forest. 

What ensues is chaos as mistaken identities and the magic of the flower cause mayhem with everyone.  It is dramatic, funny, passionate and surreal with some laugh out loud moments (one of my personal favourites is the rabbit scene below).

One of my favourite scenes

My friend Vix, who works for Glyndebourne and invited me to the opera, was worried the baroque music would be too traditional, but I loved it.   The choral singing was uplifting and filled the entire room, and the arias (solo vocals) were so peaceful that I could happily listen to the singers lulling me to sleep every night.  My only word of caution would be that the first half is quite long so make sure you have a loo break before going in. 

If it’s the price that’s putting you off, tickets can be as cheap as £10 for standing tickets which is less than the price of most cinemas in central London.  If you think opera is too stuffy, then the alternative festival feel of Glyndebourne is for you.  And if you’re worried it’ll be full of uptight people then don’t be, there was a really friendly, relaxed atmosphere.  

Having had a gentle introduction to opera, I really want to see a more traditional perfomance.  So Vix, if you’re reading this I think you should invite me along to another performance.  This could be the start of a new love affair with opera…

Tickets for Fairy Queen are still available from www.glyndebourne.com  

All photos courtesy of Glyndebourne

The gardens and boathouse

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4 Responses to “Opera: Not so stuffy and a lot like Bollywood”

  1. Muliha August 5, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    Sounds like fun! Maybe Ank and I should check out the local opera. It’s supposed to be decent. Can you imagine how angry the husbands would be if we took them?

    • notsuchagirliediary August 5, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

      You should go!! Not a problem with my husband, he loves Bollywood so that would persuade him. Do it.

  2. Muliha August 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    Ps. Your nephew also loves the ricky gervais lullaby!

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