All about the music
'And so I said to her,' the woman went on, leaning back in her chair and waving her flute of champagne, 'it's absolutely dreadful, you know. How some people have no consideration for their loved ones, no consideration at all.' The voice was low and mannish, the sort you associated with country homes and horses and another gin and tonic, Muriel, if you please; it seemed to float out at us not just from the other side of the tree under which we had spread out picnic, but from another era. She continued: 'I myself think, personally, that the best thing you can do for a loved one is make your own preparations for your funeral. In fact I myself have already picked out all my hymns.'
Glyndebourne is one of the most magical places one can visit during the summer in Britain. It was a wonderful excuse to buy a new dress, something which I am always up for; and Kate Royal was singing the soprano role in Carmen. It's an easy opera in the sense that one knows it well and doesn't really need to watch the surtitles intently and can enjoy the music. And while one cannot fault the standard of artistry at Glyndebourne, the music really does take second priority to finding a good picnic spot and lounging about in its transcendentally beautiful gardens. It was a bit like being back in college: one did have to go to class, which could be enjoyable in its own right, but the real learning that happens at university occurs while lounging about in the quads with friends. Glyndebourne is like Glastonbury for the fat cats of the land, the well-heeled, the men with protuberant tummies who have feasted well on the fruits of the world, the women, coiffed and manicured, who have also feasted well but dieted even better. 'For instance,' she continued, 'I am sixty-seven. My sister was sixty-nine when she died and her affairs were completely in order.'
We tuned out from the conversation and set about unpacking our picnic. We felt we knew something about picnicking from our outings at Oxford, but we were surrounded by professionals, who arrived with coolers, giant hampers clinking with bone china, crystal glasses, salt shakers and pepper mills, and tables that magically erected themselves like Transformers, folding chairs, and I swear I saw one family of picnickers who brought a little houseplant that they ceremoniously installed as the centrepiece of their table. We had ordered a picnic from the in-house provider, and had unwisely declined the offer to rent us folding tables and chairs. The ground-rug they had provided was generously spacious in its tartan splendour, but the dinner in the cooler, when unpacked, was more resplendent than the mat could handle: potted lobster, cold roast beef with horseradish, and a summer pudding the way it should be, puckeringly tart yet sweet and lusciously fruity at the same time. I also learned that there is a subtle art to sprawling in the ground while dressed in formal clothes and eating a picnic while making it all seem casual and summery.
As for Carmen itself, it was not bad. Kate Royal's eagerly anticipated aria at the beginning of the third act was articulate and moving, while the rest of the cast was more than competent. But like the Proms, which we had attended the previous evening (Julia Fischer playing Brahms's violin concerto), there was less of a sense of engagement with the music than at an average evening during the concert season, or, in this case, the opera season. The venue, perhaps? The festival setting? The general atmosphere of summer and of being on holiday? Whatever it is, I'm looking forward to the start of the concert and opera season and my favourite row at the Festival Hall stalls. And I really do wonder if there is any festival that can bridge the gap between Glastonbury and Glyndebourne: I still think there's a lot I can do for my loved ones besides picking out the hymns for my funeral. How terribly inconsiderate of me.