Why is Glyndebourne So Famous?

Glyndebourne has been a favorite of opera fans for nine decades.

Get to know what makes this countryside opera festival so special.

What is Glyndebourne? 

Glyndebourne is a strikingly beautiful opera venue and festival nestled in the green English countryside. Think opera meets Downton Abbey meets a quaint sheep farm. The venue is located on an old estate in East Sussex, UK. Surrounded by green fields full of adorable sheep, the grounds are home to a six hundred-year-old Grade II-listed house, beautiful English gardens, and a stunning 1,200-seat opera house fit for opera’s very best. You may be asking yourself, how in Figaro’s blade did opera end up here? That’s all thanks to an eccentric aristocrat by the name of John Christie, and his opera singer wife, Audrey Mildmay. 

In 1920, Christie inherited the estate and grounds from his grandfather. An avid music fan, he decided to expand the original house to make room for the largest organ, outside of a cathedral, in the U.K. Of course when you have such an impressive organ room one must hold enchanting evenings of music and opera. It was on one such evening that he met his wife Audrey. After the two were married the idea for the Glyndebourne Festival was born. In May of 1934, Glyndebourne opened its doors to its first-ever six-week festival with none other than Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro.

The Home of Le Nozze

Since its first production in 1934, Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro has become Glyndebourne’s most-performed opera, earning the festival the reputation as the ‘Home of Le Nozze’. The festival’s co-founder Audrey Mildmay helped open the show in 1934 in the role of Susannah. Since then, countless opera superstars like Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Renée Fleming have performed The Marriage of Figaro on the Glyndebourne stage. The opera festival has put on every staging of the opera one can imagine from traditional 17th-century settings with corsets and powdered wigs to their most recent production staged by Michael Grandage set in the groovy 1960s.   

Sopranos Sally Matthews and Lydia Teuscher sing the famous duet, Sull’aria, in Glyndebourne’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro.

Groundbreaking Productions

From the moment the Christie’s opened their doors to the festival, Glyndebourne has prided itself on producing top-tier productions. The rural setting and high-class romance of the venue have attracted best-in-class directors, singers, and orchestras. They have also established world-class Young Artist training programs, awards, and talent development opportunities for young singers and musicians alike, to be supported through the festival. The result has been 9 decades of eye-catching operas that have launched the careers of opera stars like Dame Janet Baker, Gerald Finley, and Sarah Connolly. In the 1960s the London Philharmonic Orchestra became their first resident orchestra, and later, The Orchestra of The Age of Enlightenment joined to provide historically accurate Baroque and Early Music pieces to life, bringing the quality of Glyndebourne’s music to a new standard. 

Soprano Brenda Rae, as Armida, sings the aria, Furie terribili, in Glyndebourne’s production of Handel’s Rinaldo.

It’s not just the music that has set Glyndebourne’s productions apart. The festival has produced innovative, imaginative, and often, wonderfully zany stagings of classic operas. As their production of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie set inside a fridge complete with giant broccoli, hatching eggs, and freezer-burned sopranos, or their production of Handel’s Rinaldo imagined as a schoolboy’s fantasy full of lacrosse sticks, unrequited love, and the occasional sexy teacher. 

This excerpt from Glyndebourne’s production of Jean-Phillipe Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie shows off the incredible set and costume designs. 

Glyndebourne isn’t afraid to break the mold when it comes to opera which is why they’ve also taken to commissioning new works from contemporary composers, like Brett Dean whose opera Hamlet won countless awards after its premiere on the Glyndebourne stage. It is this dedication to operatic innovation that has kept Glyndebourne at the top of people’s lists when it comes to world-class opera. 

Soprano Barbara Hannigan and tenor James Newby as Hamlet and Ophelia in Glyndebourne’s production of Brett Dean’s Hamlet.

What it’s like to attend Glyndebourne

If sipping champagne in an English garden surrounded by the gentle bays of sheep and brilliantly dressed folks from, increasingly, all walks of life sounds like your cup of tea then Glyndebourne is the opera venue for you. At its start, Glyndebourne was a bit of an exclusive dig. The strict black tie dress code, high ticket prices, and remote location earned Glyndebourne a reputation for being, as the English say, a very ”posh” venue. In recent years however, the festival has relaxed its dress code, opened up lower priced tickets for those under 30, the convenient train from London to Glynde, and digital and streamed recordings of their very best operas have made the festival’s productions more accessible than ever. Some of Glyndebourne’s most incredible productions are available to watch on Marquee TV. 

Marquee TV enables you to get up close and personal with Don Pasquale, set your heart aflutter with Madama Butterfly, or fall in love with L’elisir d’amore without ever having to make the trek to the English countryside. So, grab a glass of bubbly, put on your very best black-tie pajamas, and watch Glyndebourne’s most popular productions from the comfort of your very own sofa.

Watch full Glyndebourne productions anytime

Join our community newsletter for the latest content and offers