A Feast of Music – Mozart Festival – Glyndebourne 1935

Writing back to the Te Awamutu Congregation in June 1935 Molly Whitelaw delighted them with her description of the Mozart Festival held at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera Garden in Lewes, Sussex. Her excitement oozes through every line. Music on this scale she missed hugely since her arrival in New Zealand in 1921. First introduced to Mozart opera while she was attending school in Konigsberg, a welcome change from the regular diet of Wagnerian opera, she became a lover of Mozart’s music; ‘so calming, so melodious, so ‘entūzken’ [full of delight]. Under what she describes as ‘the most superb conditions’, Glyndebourne fulfilled Molly’s ‘feeling-good’ middle-class desires and aspirations in every way.

Besides the sight of the enchanting Sussex village of Glyndebourne, the grand old Tudor Manor house, which carried the name of the village, the gardens were exquisite. Molly had inherited her love of gardening from her father in particular. In each parish they served, Molly left a well developed garden, so the lily pond, the flagged paths with borders of blue and yellow irises, hedged gardens with flowers of numerous colour, large yew trees, velvety lawns, the roses and shrubbery bordering the river at the rear of Glyndebourne Manor filled her heart with great admiration. ‘Wherever you walk’, she wrote, ‘it is beautiful with that rich, tranquil, luscious beauty that one associates with the very name of England.’

As is normal with Molly, she is very aware of those she mingles with; the people attending were ‘in keeping with their surroundings’ she notes.   Good looking, well groomed men in evening dress with ‘white coats and ties’ and women, taller then she remembered from the past, in ‘backless dresses’, beautifully groomed hair something ‘most regal to observe’. She had never entertained such a standard in New Zealand. ‘There is something so distinguished about the appearance a certain type of well-born, well-breed men and women, which nothing but birth and breeding can give’… There is something indescribable which as long as the world will last money will never be able to buy’, she informed her rural church parishioners, many who may well not fully comprehend her enthusiastic observation of a class of people rarely found in New Zealand.

Although the tickets were expensive, Molly was prepared to squander her ‘last shilling on such a feast’. Words failed her when attempting to describe Cosi Fan Tutte and the conducting of Dr Fritz Busch, which was ‘par excellence’. She adored the character portrayal of the fascinating ‘Despina’ sung by the Czechoslovakian, Irene Eisinger, and the beauty of the Austrian, Luise Helletsgruber, who played Dorabella, she described as a ‘daughter of the gods’. Never she believed would she be satisfied with future productions. The production, staging, music, singing, and performance ‘combined [an] effort of unsurpassable completeness and beauty’.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera began in 1934, so Molly was attending its second season. The festival continues to be held annually to this day. Mr John Christie, an English businessman, contributed thousands of pounds to create his home into the beauty of ‘something of that “fellowship of all artists” which Wagner foresaw’. Besides the large garden, he built an Opera House that seated 300, and ‘barn like dining rooms paved with brick, and as Molly describes them ‘delightful in their combination of comfort, good service and rural simplicity.’ Food was served between the second and third acts where you could either have ‘a ‘table d’hôtel’ dinner, a cold supper or even take your own ‘provender’ and have your own servants wait upon you.’

The renowned Music Director Dr. Fritz Busch was appointed in 1934 after his politically motivated dismissal from his position at the Dresden State Opera in 1933. He remained with the Glyndebourne Opera until the outbreak of World War II; there were no performances through those years and he returned to Buenos Aires. After the war he conducted the New York Metropolitan Opera and the Chicago Symphony. Busch returned to Glyndebourne for two further seasons in 1950. He died September 1951.

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