Music lovers enjoy opera and picnics with the sheep at Glyndebourne

Opera fans attempt to light candles as they enjoy a picnic, during a 90-minute interval for Bizet’s “Carmen” on the opening night of the Glyndebourne Opera Festival, in Glynde, Britain, May 16, 2024. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

By Dylan Martinez and David Milliken

Nestled in the English countryside 50 miles (80 km) south of London, the Glyndebourne opera festival‘s setting is a world away from the city-centre opera houses which dominate the art form.

“It’s kind of us and the sheep out there,” said Lauren Snouffer, a soprano from Austin, Texas who is performing for the first time at Glyndebourne in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” as Pamina.

The festival at the country estate celebrates its 90th anniversary this year and has a global reputation among opera lovers. Around 150,000 people attend across the summer and autumn seasons, which can sell out fast.

Some tickets cost over 250 pounds ($318), though there are half-price offers for opera-goers under 40.

The gardens open from 3 p.m. and performances start early, around 5 p.m., with a 90-minute interval when many patrons in black tie and evening dress head outside to enjoy luxurious picnics in the grounds, with sheep looking on from the surrounding fields.

The opera house itself seats 1,200 people – small by the standards of major venues – which Snouffer, 36, said allowed a more intimate vocal style.

“You really get to play with more colours and you can speak directly to the audience,” she said.

Visitors bring hampers, candlesticks, white table clothes and expensive treats.

“It’s picnicking on a different level,” said Yana Penrose, 31, who operates marionettes and is strapped inside a giant puppet weighing more than 40 kilograms (88 lb).

Sheep graze as opera fans enjoy a champagne picnic during a 90-minute interval for Bizet's "Carmen," on the opening night of the Glyndebourne Opera Festival in Glynde, Britain, May 16, 2024. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

This is Penrose’s first time on stage at an opera after eight years puppeteering and acting since leaving drama school.

“It creates an experience which is different to just me hopping on the Tube from my flat in south London and going into town and doing a show,” she said.

Unlike most opera in Europe, Glyndebourne’s main summer season receives no direct public subsidy.

Sara Eppel, 62, has attended Glyndebourne with her husband since the 1980s and has been drawn back by the standard of the music.

Preparing a picnic, sometimes for as many as 11 friends and family, adds to the occasion.

“It’s not just the opera, it’s the whole day,” she said. “For us it’s always been a feature of our summer.”


Chorus members rush backstage to prepare for a dress rehearsal for Mozart's "The Magic Flute," at the Glyndebourne Opera Festival in Glynde, Britain, May 11, 2024. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
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