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Glyndebourne Magic comes to the Proms

22 August, 2019 — By Michael White

David Portillo (Tamino) and Sofia Fomina (Pamina) in the Glyndebourne production of The Magic Flute. PHOTO: Bill Cooper

NOT everyone is privileged enough to get to Glynde­bourne – it’s expensive and the dressing up, the picnic and the getting there can be a chore. But once a year Glyndebourne takes up its bed and walks (in a manner of speaking) to London – to the Royal Albert Hall where you can find one of its latest festival productions playing next week at the Proms.

The show it brings is the new-this-season Magic Flute, in a production that’s had mixed reviews for the ingenious/ gimmick-filled (depending on your point of view) way that it relocates the action to the kitchens of a fin-de-siecle Viennese hotel. Like Masterchef with tails and bustles.

If this prospect doesn’t thrill you, don’t despair: when Glyndebourne travels to the Proms you don’t get a full staging, just the basic moves and a few props. So much of the potentially offending visuals will have been stripped away, leaving the spotlight on the singing. And the singing comes from a young rather than starry cast that nonetheless features a notable Norwegian soprano Caroline Wettergreen reaching for the top Fs as Queen of the Night: a super-charged role whose dog-pitch fury feels (she says) like “standing in the middle of a tornado” when you sing its two big arias.

Among the more seasoned cast-members is celebrated British bass Brindley Sherratt singing the same role, Sarastro, in which you might have seen him earlier this year at English National Opera . And if you missed that, he was also singing the demonic John Claggart in the Royal Opera’s recent Billy Budd: a role where, as he told me at the time, “you’re never going to get a trace of audience sympathy. When I’m killed, I feel relief rising from the stalls, and the audience get so gripped that when you take your curtain-call they forget you’re not your stage-character and boo. It can be very disconcerting.”

As Sarastro, a conventionally wise if daunting character, there won’t be any boos. Except perhaps for what he’s wearing on his head: a chef’s toque. Naturally, Sarastro rules the kitchen, so he’s dressed like a Victorianised Gordon Ramsay (unless Glyndebourne opt to leave that detail of the show at home).

• The Magic Flute plays the Proms, 7pm, Tuesday August 27. Royal Albert Hall and live broadcast on BBCRadio 3.


Other Prom highlights this week

During the 1960s/70s Duke Ellington did an extraordinary thing in bridging the worlds of the jazz club and the church. He devised three so-called Sacred Concerts that played respectively at Grace Cathedral San Francisco, St John the Divine New York, and Westminster Abbey here in London, attracting a great deal of attention in their time.

They weren’t services as such, and certainly weren’t settings of the Mass. But they were spiritual in intent. The texts were drawn from holy writ. And they combined theology with big band jazz, a touch of Broadway, and exuberant gospel singing – in a way that Ellington himself described as “the most important thing I have ever done”.

Next Thursday they get re-enacted in a late-night Prom, by forces that include the BBC Singers, a gospel choir, and a tap-dancer! And it promises to be one of the more interesting Proms in a season that, frankly, hasn’t been as attention-grabbing as we’ve had in previous years.

• It runs 10.15pm to 11.40pm, Thursday August 29 at the Royal Albert Hall, with live relay on Radio 3. And if that’s past your bedtime, you can watch it on a delayed TV broadcast, BBCFour, on September 6.

• Details of all Proms at

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