Ex 70s punk and eternal fan of indie music, I’m lured down to Glyndebourne by the promise of a picnic in the sun and an aria or two.
They call it an earworm in Germany, the song that won’t get out of your head even if you don’t actually like it. Well I’m stuck with Toreador from Bizet’s opera Carmen and I’m actually finding myself making up my own words to it. ‘Stupid iMac, why won’t you pick up speed. That’s what I need. That’s what I need.’ It’s the result of just seeing Carmen at Glyndebourne, a magical afternoon and evening in the heart of the most beautiful English countryside, one spent in blazing sun and adorned with a superb picnic from Leith’s
I had never thought of going to Glyndebourne before, I had vague ideas of it being somewhat elitist, expensive and as far as opera went somewhat incomprehensible too. I have now changed that opinion radically. The audience was wonderfully mixed, the price not too bad considering the wonderful time we had, and opera, at least in the case of the accessible ones like Carmen, a magical thing to behold.
Glyndebourne is unique; a self-sustaining and self-financed, by ticket sales and private sponsorship, modern opera house attached to a stately home, the creation of John Christie back in the day as almost a hobby. It has grown since then to have a state of the art opera house, built a short while back, and has gained an international reputation for excellence while still retaining its uniqueness and is run by Christie’s descendants.
Situated a couple of miles outside Lewes in East Sussex, Ringmer is the nearest village, the opera house is powered by its own wind turbine and made almost entirely of natural, recyclable materials. It’s big enough to house a reasonably sized audience yet small enough to be intimate for performers and audience alike.
Outside the gardens and countryside of the South Downs sprawl languorously away from view, begging to be enjoyed with a glass of chilled wine and fine food, and that is exactly what the majority of Glyndebourne goers do. The men in evening dress, the ladies merely in dresses, they lie on picnic blankets or at folding tables with their cool boxes pouring forth food and drink, to be taken before the performance, or during the long interval as the sun slowly slides behind the great house.
Well we didn’t have to bring our own picnic because Leith’s had it all laid on. Recognising that in the week many people come straight from work and have no time to prepare food, but at the same time don’t want to eat in the range of indoor restaurants, Leith’s have a range of options that can be collected on arrival.
The choice is wide and tempting but must obviously be made in advance. We went for a sharing platter – three courses, porter service and picnic furniture option. This provided us with a sturdy chap to carry the cool box and set up the table and two chairs in a nice spot in the Sunken Garden, but there are lots more lovely spots to choose from. Here we gazed out over the lake, a cheeky breeze occasionally threatening to blow us in, but in England one is grateful for the fact the sun is blazing down, or indeed shining, at all. Glyndebourne does have plenty of sheltered spaces to eat when the weather really acts up though.
We ate the shared starter platter first, after a bit of a struggle getting it out of the cool box. The platters were very tightly wedged in and so very prettily laid out that it would have been an awful shame to tilt and mess them up on extraction.
Underneath came the crockery, the linen napkins, a range of glasses and cutlery of very classy kind and we tucked into the starter platter accompanied by a bottle of wine from the bar: Chargrilled asparagus, mange tout, pea shoot salad, smoked tomato mayonnaise, Langham cured smoked salmon & mackerel salad, Heritage beetroot, horseradish dressing Confit chicken & duck terrine, Dukkah crust, artichoke, orange & mint salad.
All very nice and as I say, excellently presented. Others looked on with what I feel was justifiable envy as we ate and then it was off to the opera house for the show.
This is not an opera review site so all I can repeat is that it was superb, quite superb. We came out for the long interval, around ninety minutes, to eat the main platter and dessert with the sun now fading and the grounds looking even lovelier.
The main grazing platter was a selection of continental sliced meats, glazed figs, pressed quince, marinated olives, dehydrated plum tomatoes, chargrilled artichokes, parmesan shavings
Cheesecake with herby goat’s cheese, caramelised balsamic red onions, rocket leaves, all again excellent and despite not looking all that much, very substantial.
A trio of dessertsofdark chocolate black cherry dome, pistachio custard, Kent strawberries & cream, salted caramel panna cotta, gingerbread crumble were delicious.
Coffee and chocolate came forth; we finished off the wine and wandered back to the opera house for the last acts. One of the very big advantages of the Leith’s picnic is that somebody else clears up after you.
And so an hour later, still humming the tunes, and with dickey bow loosened, we headed happily home.
Glyndebourne is quite magical, well worth the money for a once a year treat and Leith’s have the picnic sorted superbly as you might expect
Now all together, ‘Toreador, L’amour t’attend! Et songe bien, oui, songe en combattant’.Discover more about Glyndebourne and Leith’s picnics at their website