I have lived in the UK now for nearly 14 years and I had pretty much thought I had seen it all when it comes to the social scene in this part of the world. However, earlier this week I had a true “pinch me” moment in being exposed to what has officially become my favourite social event of the summer. Picture this: a country house, men in tuxedos, women in gowns, picnic tables spread out across lush green lawns surrounded by fields of frolicking sheep, champagne flowing freely and an opera house waiting to provide you with stellar entertainment for the evening. Such is the way of life for those who frequent The Glyndebourne Festival Opera.
We made our way out to Glyndebourne on a Thursday afternoon. I was invited by Anthropologie, to take part in the night to remember and we were to have a few surprises from the brand along the way. Our train departed London Victoria at just after two and we arrived at Lewes station at just after three. It’s about a 5-10 minute cab ride to the actual house, so our feet officially set onto the grounds at around 3:30. While the opera doesn’t actually start until 5:30, guests arrive early to set up elaborate picnics with friends and family on the surrounding lawns of Glyndebourne.
Our picnic, we learned, had been set up for us already. Upon arriving, we were led through the beautiful countryside to our table and chairs, which had been set up with a view of the beautiful lake on the grounds. We were most certainly spoiled with a table set by Anthropologie for the occasion. Glyndebourne’s own champagne was being poured upon arrival and we sat and took in the beauty of our surroundings as we sipped and marveled at how 14 years had passed and somehow never before had this been a part of FFG’s official summer event calendar.
To start with, it should be said that The Glyndebourne Festival Opera is not an event people take lightly. This is a serious night out, from planning one’s attire to inventing the perfect three course meal to accompany your pre-opera, intermission and post-opera socialising. I, as you might expect, wore all Anthropologie (all details of outfit and table settings below). Compliments were passed back and forth between the women in attendance on their ensembles. My choice of a bold yellow seemed to go down a treat with the regulars. And, as one would expect, our table setting received a great deal of attention. I think we were most definitely classified as “women in the know” with a set up that was on par with the finest of diners in the area. The only thing I wished we had brought was a set of candles. Yes, there were dozens of diners that took the opportunity to make this a romantic evening, complete with a dining experience by candlelight. I can’t possibly put across in words how very Jane Austen this whole experience is. It truly does feel as if you have stepped back in time in one of the most romantic centuries in existence. I could have stayed there forever. Alas, the night’s true entertainment was just ahead.
At 5:30pm, the bells rang to alert guests that the Opera was about to begin. We left our table and picnic basket and made our way over to the concert hall. Naturally, we stopped for one glass of champagne with friends on the grounds before making our way to our seats, just in the nick of time. The opera of the night was Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and let me just tell you that we had been forewarned that we would be seduced by Figaro’s swaying hips. Hips aside, I was completely seduced by the whole experience itself. The opera is truly a beautiful form of art that I do believe everyone should experience at least once in their lives. This emotional rollercoaster ride, all shared through song on the stage, is beautifully set to live music from the London Philharmonic Orchestra and saw much laughter, many tears and more than one moment of true and complete adoration for the talent displayed on stage. Before we knew it, however, the production had come to a halt to allow us all to rejoin our picnic parties and indulge in the beautiful picnics that had been provided by Glyndebourne for the evening.
Awaiting us at our Anthropologie picnic table was a surf and turf setup. Didn’t I tell you this wasn’t your ordinary picnic? My guest and I shared plates of lobster and beef, with sides of fresh tomatoes with mozzarella and new potatoes. Dessert was a very typical english setup – strawberries and cream, as well as an elaborate cheese plate. And of course all of this was being washed down with more decadence – champagne. See where I’m going here with the “pinch me” moment. With the British sun setting over the patchwork hills of England and the sounds of lambs roaming around the fields, this just couldn’t possibly have been a more incredible moment to remember.
As 8:30 came around we were once again summoned into the Opera House to see how this epic romance would end. Now, it must be said that there is a reason why Glyndebourne itself seems so hopelessly romantic from the start. It’s foundation is actually found in a love story. In the early 1900’s, John Christie, owner of the manor since 1913, was holding regular amateur opera nights in the organ room on the estate. This is a room you can still enter today on the grounds. In 1931, soprano Audrey Mildmay attended one of the evenings and left with the owner’s heart. Christie and Mildmay were married that June and during their honeymoon they attended several opera festivals in Europe, which gave them the idea to start one of their own at Glyndebourne. 80 years later, here we stand.
Of course, a lot has changed in 80 years. For starters, Glyndebourne receives 100% of the energy needed for the company from a wind turbine on site. And, what started out as a relatively small gathering of people has evolved into a theatre that now hosts 1200 guests for each performance. Ticket prices, I imagine have increased as well, ranging now from £10-300 now, and selling out regularly. Although that doesn’t mean Glyndebourne isn’t constantly trying to engage the masses. The opera tours around the country, as well as showcasing performances in 200 cinemas. They even have a special scheme for the under 30s to try and attract and keep a younger audience. They’ve thought of everything.
People of the world – this is an experience not to be missed. I must say it now has an official place on my calendar, whenever I can get tickets!
Thank you, Glyndebourne and Anthropologie, for a true night of magnificent memories.
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