One of the glories of the English summer is the all-too-brief opera season in this Sussex village and the elaborate strawberries-and-champagne ritual that accompanies it.
Strauss, Rossini, Verdi and above all Mozart play in a gem-like theater next to a sturday Wisteria-covered Tudormanor house.They are set, moreover, among soft green lawns, sculptured hedges and flower beds bursting with roses, pansies and more.
It all began when the late John Christie, a shrewd and enterprising landowner-entrepeneur, began entertaining his friends in 1934 in the mock Tudor room he had built for his organ, in time, Christie acquired a wife from the opera singers he imported and created a center of impeccable musicianship 80 minutes from London.
The rites of a Glyndebourne summer begin with the 2.55 to Bournemouth.
Along with day-trippers for sea resorts, well-heeled men and women in dinner jackets and long dresses assemble on the gloomy, grit-ridden Victoria Station platform. Most are carrying Hampers and fat wallets. They need them. The cheapest seat at Glyndebourne is $12 and the top is $27.
The train stops at Lewes or Glynde, and a bus carries the opera-goers through a few miles of sunny landscape to Glyndebourne's arched entrance. In the outbuildings a tenor and a contralto can be heard, polishing arias.
Inside is a British version of the last days of Marienbad. Couples in evening dress stroll by the lily pond, sit under trees, sprawling on lawns. As the hampers come out, it all has the feel of a country house weekend.
Some pack chicken sandwiches and Sancerre, but the fare for most is bubbling champagne and lucious English strawberries. A prominent journalist and her friend try vainly for a pair of last-minute seats. Fat chance. The season is sold out until August.
If the music was not so compelling - the London Philharmonic Orchestra is in the pit - it would be hard to break away from this enchanted setting. The women may be more stylish at La Scala and more striking at the Staatsopera in Vienna, but there is a reassuringly understated solidity about the formally clad couples on these tree-shaped lawns. It is theatrical yet proper, almost a metaphor for Britain.
This year's star turn is Mozart's "Magic Flute," brilliantly designed by David Hockney, the British painter. Hockney and producer John Cox have had the novel idea of taking Mozart and his librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, at their word. They have fashioned a "Flute" that faithfully mirrors Enlightement optimism, is sheer entertainment, playful and serious, and above all, is as clear and uncluttered as Mozart's crystalline music.
Hockney has painted his gauze sets in naive magic realism. The dazzling colors - green, scarlet, purple, sand, blue, orange, white gold - are as free from shading as Papageno's glockenspiel. Mozart is direct: So is Hockney.
Boy Meets Girl in Masonic Temple sounds like an unpromising idea for a drama. But Mozart and Shikaneder, in the hands of Hockney, Cox and a splendid company drawn from the world's opera houses, somehow make it convincing.
After the first act, Glyndebourne'saudience pours out into the still-brilliant evening sunshine. Those without hampers troop off to cheerful dining rooms, the jellied madrilene and wine they have ordered already on the table. Poached salmon or cold chicken and ham are almost obligatorily topped off with strawberries cream and the rest of the wine. And there is still time for a brief stroll through the gardens before the second act.
After Hockney's blaze of blue and gold bands for the finale, ther ide back on creaky British Rail is a let-down. But the two young couples in the car next door have solved this one too. Out comes the hamper and, of course, what is left of the strawberries and champagne.