No SEASON would be complete without a visit to Drury Lane, which usually offers a full-scale lavish musical production in a theatre that has known three centuries of English stage tradition.
Actually the present building dates from 1812 when it was opened with a prologue written by Byron. The historic associations of Drury Lane are remarkable. The theatre has known murder, for Charles Macklin killed a colleague in its Green Room. A monarch boxed the ears of his heir in full public view. George the Third was the object of a madman's murderous attack. From its Royal Box came London's first intimation of the victory of Culloden Moor. Stories of romance, triumph and disaster crowd its past history, whilst, as befits such an historic building, it is haunted by a ghost of friendly disposition. The outside is disappointing, in fact, the street itself is dingy. No doubt the Georgian houses were once pleasant to the eye, but today they look black and grimy. It is difficult to visualize the scene described by Pepys as he strolled along the street on May Day in 1667, as he "saw pretty Nelly standing at her lodgings in Drury Lane in her smock-sleeves and bodice looking upon one: she seemed a mighty pretty creature". In contrast to the uninspiring scene outside, the interior is impressive with magnificent staircases, sweeping rotunda, lofty ceilings, and tremendous auditorium ... in every way a suitable background for scores of beautiful young girls accompanied by pink young men who sit in lively anticipation for the heavy curtains to part.
The second musical occasion takes us to the South Downs of Sussex where seven hundred years ago the beautiful old Elizabethan house . '. . the Manor House of Glyndebourne . . . came into existence. Part of that original house with its panelling still remains, and has belonged to the same family, without once being sold, during that entire length of time. In that sense Glyndebourne has always been well known in Sussex, but not until 1934 did the name appear in the news of the music-world when its owner, Mr. John Christie, announced a "Festival of Mozart and invited music-lovers to attend. The opera house was added to the lovely old Manor, which already had a magnificent music-room, a large organ and a musical library unequalled in any private home in England. The acoustics were perfect, and Mr. Christie was fortunate in being able to secure the services of Fritz Busch as conductor and of Carl Ebert as producer for his opera. The cast was selected, not only of the finest singers in Europe, but of some of the best in the world. During the rehearsals they had the complete freedom of the old Manor and lovely grounds, and by degrees became an almost perfect ensemble. The music-lovers who journeyed to Glyndebourne by private car and special train for the first performance expected an interesting evening. Instead they heard a performance of Figaro which equalled, if not surpassed, any previously heard, even in Mozart's home-city of Salzburg in Austria.
That Festival was brief. It lasted only two weeks, with two operas. The following year the Festival was held for five weeks, and four operas were played. The seating capacity of the opera house was doubled to six hundred. Such was the public response that the third Festival season was completely sold out before the first performance. In 1938 two Italian operas were added: Verdi's Macbeth and Donizert's Don Pasquak. The outbreak of war which wrought such havoc in the music world, turned Covent Garden into a dance-hall, and the State opera house in Vienna into a smouldering ruin, naturally closed Glyndebourne. The war over, John Christie turned once more to opera. It had long been his wish to discover outstanding British singers or operas, and his choice fell on a young Englishman, born at Lowestoft, whose new opera Peter Grimes successfully produced at Sadler's Wells, was making musical history. He invited Benjamin Britten to give his second opera at Glyndebourne. And so with The Rape of Lucretia the post-war history of Glyndebourne began.
Every year these performances are eagerly anticipated by connoisseurs of opera. John Christie's ambition has been to lift the production of opera in England to a level at which it can challenge all great Continental centres. That proud peak which he visualized has been reached. It is sheer joy to make the annual pilgrimage to this corner of Sussex, where not only can opera be heard at its best, but between the acts you can walk through the summer coolness of beautiful and matured gardens.
LONDON SEASON LOUIS T. STANLEY