Glyndebourne Festival etiquette guide
We can’t think of a much better way to spend a day than at Glyndebourne; reclining on a picnic blanket, pottering around some idyllic country gardens, doing a little people watching and listening to some world-class opera. If you’ll be attending the festival this year, our etiquette guide will make sure you’re thoroughly prepared.
What is Glyndebourne?
One of the oldest and most celebrated opera festivals in the world, Glyndebourne reaches about 150,000 people each year and features over 120 live performances. This year, the schedule spans Cinderella, Rinaldo, La damnation de Faust and more. It doesn’t stop at the music, there are acres of private gardens for ticketholders to explore, as well as curated exhibitions in the Stalls Gallery which feature a diverse mix of work: everything from short films to paintings and sculptures.
What to wear to Glyndebourne?
There is no designated dress code as such, but formal wear is customary at the festival. This tradition originated from its founders, who felt it was an appropriate way to pay homage to those performing. As a result, you’ll see most people dressed in black tie. You’ll be spending time outdoors, so it’s wise to be prepared for all the nuances of the British weather; both sun cream for the daytime and layers for after dusk are a must.
The history of Glyndebourne
Glyndebourne was founded in 1934 by John Christie, a landowner and theatre producer, and his wife Audrey Mildmay, an opera singer; they decided to build an opera theatre as an annex to their house. Whilst the festival was thought of by many as another playground for the rich, it quickly gained a much more prestigious reputation. By the end of the first season the foundations were laid for making it the institution that it is today. Guests were in awe of the standard of the shows, achieved by rigorous practice and attention to detail; from the orchestra to the set. In the early years, improvements and alterations were continuously made to the theatre and the grounds, and performers expanded their repertoire.
Glyndebourne food and drink
As it’s in partnership with Leith’s, there’s no end of things to eat and drink at Glyndebourne; there are 90-minute intervals between performances, so you have plenty of time to make the most of them. With sustainably sourced three course meals, traditional roasts, and decadent afternoon teas, there’s something for every taste bud. For those who would rather dine alfresco, you can reserve a picnic or bring your own; picnicking on the lawns in front of the huge lake is something of a custom at Glyndebourne.
- Originally the theatre was built to seat 300, by 1994 it had expanded to 1200 as it was so popular
- The first performance was of Mozart’s ‘Le nozze di Figaro’
- The plaque dedicated to Audrey Mildmay that you’ll find outside the Mildmay restaurant used to live in a garden
- If you come across a curious ‘IW’ engraved in stone on the steps on the Mulberry Terrace, it stands for Irvine Whitlock: a contractor company who generously provided new paving
- The Christie family had a bit of a penchant for pugs; you can find a pug statue in the Organ Room
- During the war, the opera house was turned into a refuge for evacuee children
- In 2019 MasterChef’s semi-finalists went to Glyndebourne to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the new opera house, cooking for a range of opera singers and guests
When, where and how to get there
The festival runs from the 18th May to 25th August this year. The grounds are located in East Sussex, a short drive away from Lewes train station. If you are travelling from London, the train from Victoria takes just over an hour and, conveniently, Glyndebourne offers a complementary coach service that can ferry you to and from the event. Alternatively, you can drive there; there is free parking and if you have an electric car, you can recharge it during the performance.