Wednesday 2 March 2016

Task 24: A night at the opera at Glyndebourne, East Sussex

As with the other 'Culture clubbing' tasks, the reason for choosing Task 24 was to address a yawning crevice in my cultural education. After dithering for weeks over whether I had more of a yearning to visit Glyndebourne or the Royal Opera House in London (such a first world problem), I decided to keep my options open.

I quickly encountered two major obstacles to the successful completion of Task 19 - a) ticket availability and b) ticket cost.  Carmen at Glyndebourne sounded wonderful, but the only remaining tickets were an eye-watering £250 each!!   La Traviata at Royal Opera House sounded equally splendid, but tickets had been snapped up within hours by the great and good operatic in-crowd.  Back to the drawing board...... 

Then three months ago I received an email from Glyndebourne promoting their annual Youth Opera. I instantly experienced a powerful flashback to a dank and dreary February morning in 1997. Lucy had just received her 11 plus results in the post, and the news wasn't good. It turned out that her good friend Alistair (see below Ali and Lucy at their, er, circus-themed joint 7th birthday party) had received a similar letter.  As chance would have it, Linda, Ali's mother (and yes, my Graham Norton fixer friend!), had just been given 4 tickets for the Glyndebourne Youth Opera for that evening's performance. We decided to take Ali and Lucy as a form of distraction therapy and it worked a treat - 11 plus woes were instantly forgotten by all of us. 
The flashback got me thinking. Perhaps there was a way of having a very special sixtyat60 night at the opera without breaking the bank. My cunning plan? To re-create that '11-plus' Youth Opera evening. A few phone calls/emails later, four tickets were duly booked for the premiere performance of 'Nothing', a production based on a novel for young adults by the Danish author Janne Teller

Last Thursday evening Linda, Ali, Lucy and I arrived at Glyndebourne for our Youth Opera Grand Reunion. The night was dry, still and freeeezing cold. As a predominantly summer venue Glyndebourne is designed to be open to the elements, which is a lovely idea - but maybe not in February.  Added to which Ali and Lucy, now busy young professionals in London, had both had very stressful days at work. There was only one thing for it - make a dash to the Long Bar for a glass of champagne/Sauvignon Blanc to soothe the mind and insulate the body. 

The curtain went up and 'Nothing' began.  At first, it all seemed jolly and upbeat, as a class of cheerful Danish teenagers returned to school after the summer break. Then the existential nihilism began to creep in. One boy, Pierre, announced that nothing had any meaning and climbed into a plum tree. His classmates tried to prove he was wrong through creating a massive pile of meaningful items that they planned to burn. Things went from bad to worse. A dog corpse was dug up, a finger was cut off and a rape was inferred. Pierre emerged from his plum tree, clambered up the 'meaning' pile, the class laid into him (elements of Lord of the Flies there), and he appeared to be burnt alive. Blimey, talk about Scandi-noir. What would Sarah Lund have made of it? The curtain came down. There was a brief stunned silence as the audience gathered their thoughts, followed by rapturous applause. Ali and Lucy felt it made their own work stresses seem relatively insignificant. I was a little relieved that we hadn't seen Nothing when they were 11 years old.

The quality of the production was stunning - the small team of young professionals were brilliant and the group of young singers and musicians, all from local schools, didn't put a foot wrong. At just £15 a ticket, it represented fantastic value.  And I'm glad to say that it was relatively warm in the auditorium, although my coat remained firmly buttoned up throughout the performance. 

Before heading back to the railway station, Ali and Lucy decided to formally mark the occasion by replicating a second photo I'd brought along, this one taken at their joint 6th birthday party (probably just as well they didn't attempt the clown one.....)   


I'm very touched by Ali and Lucy's willingness to be two of my companions on Task 19, especially as it meant having to travel to the outer reaches of East Sussex at the end of a long day's work. As Linda and I looked over at the two of them, heads together in full catch-up mode, we thought back to 1997 and agreed that they still know how to behave themselves, that they're a pleasure to spend time with - and that they seem to have done pretty well for themselves in life, 11 plus or no 11 plus!    A huge thank you and bravo to Linda for her inspired idea of taking our two downcast 11 year olds to Glyndebourne 19 years ago.  And I'm still determined to see an opera at the Royal Opera House one day.....   

I'm doing the sixtyat60challenge to raise funds for Shooting Star Chase children's hospice care in memory of a gorgeous little girl called Thea Redford. 

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