This is another of the numerous festivals that are typical of the city where we live, and perhaps – with the exception of the International Music Festival –the most prestigious. Well financed by a charitable trust and other generous donors, it attracts some of Europe’s finest musicians and is supported by enthusiastic devotees, many of whom seem to be as pleased to see each other as to hear fine music.
Last night we were present at a concert performance of Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’ by the Glyndebourne Touring Company with an excellent array of soloists and their superb touring orchestra and choir, conducted by Douglas Boyd. Glyndebourne is a guarantee of quality – set in the Sussex countryside and in the grounds of the 700 year old home of the late John Christie. His wife was a professional singer and they shared a love for operatic music (the two spent their honeymoon attending the Salzburg and Bayreuth festivals!). The Opera House – the second that the Christie family have built – has a summer season patronised by the wealthy; there is a dress code, and people bring their hampers and have picnics on the lawn.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra becomes their resident players, but the Touring Company have their own orchestra. The company is currently singing ‘Carmen’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and ‘The Magic Flute’, and have been on the road since mid October and continue until early December. No doubt a strange life for them, but a cultural treat for their audiences around the country.
So here they were in Bath performing Mozart’s last and surely most incomprehensible opera. I saw it once in an imaginatively staged production, but was still baffled by it. Last night it was sung in the original German, but we were helped to follow the plot line such as it is with an overhead translation, but it only served, for us two at least, to emphasise how contrived and unreal are the characters and their story.
The performance was in The Forum, originally a huge art nouveau cinema now owned and splendidly maintained by the Bath City Church. There the congregation would have been in the morning celebrating their strong evangelical faith, whilst in the evening strange musical adventures through myth and paganism, and much talk of amorous intentions and threatened suicide and with hidden Masonic messages, was entertaining us. Ironic, I thought. But we enjoyed the music!