George Hall: Glyndebourne’s new director will need to strike a balance between old and new
Next spring, the British opera director Stephen Langridge will take up the position of artistic director of Glyndebourne – not only one of the country’s leading opera festivals but by common consent one of the finest anywhere.
With Langridge’s appointment, managerial responsibility has been split for the first time in many years. As artistic director he will share the task of steering the organisation with long-term insider Sarah Hopwood, until recently the company’s finance director but appointed managing director in May.
Recent predecessors – such as Anthony Whitworth-Jones, who held the job from 1989 to 1998, David Pickard (2001-15), who now runs the BBC Proms, and Sebastian F Schwarz, who disappeared almost before he began in 2017 – held the top job alone.
Founded in 1934, Glyndebourne is the original country-house opera as well as the best. The summer festival receives no public money, but there are relatively small subsidies for touring and education work. In its financial model, box-office income, sponsorship and donations are its sole sources of income – despite which, the company has managed to be imaginative and even daring in terms of repertoire and production style.
Well-liked within the profession, Langridge has a more-than-respectable track record, having quietly built up a career as a director and administrator over more than two decades. Since 2013, he has headed the Gothenburg Opera in Sweden – after Stockholm, the country’s second company – with whom he is planning a Ring cycle.
Born in 1963, he has been steeped in music since his childhood. His father was the distinguished tenor Philip Langridge, who died in 2010. Stephen has previously worked at Glyndebourne on major education projects – Misper in 1997, Zoe three years later and Tangier Tattoo in 2006 – operas written for and largely performed by local schoolchildren, led by professional principals and musical and dramatic teams. He remains an eloquent advocate for the value of such projects both to those taking part and the companies involved.
Over the years he has worked in several major houses: the Salzburg Festival for an Otello in 2008 conducted by the rigorous if conservatively inclined Italian maestro Riccardo Muti. Three years later, he was at the Lyric Opera of Chicago for La Damnation De Faust, and worked more than once for the Royal Opera in London.
Langridge has enjoyed particular success in works by the leading modernist Harrison Birtwistle: his premiere production of the large-scale The Minotaur was universally liked at Covent Garden in 2008, as was the same composer’s chamber-piece The Io Passion at the Aldeburgh Festival in 2004.
Other productions have received a more mixed reception: his 2013 Parsifal at Covent Garden was both mystifying and visually undistinguished, while that same year his I Puritani for Grange Park Opera showed little sympathy for the piece itself.
His plans for Glyndebourne won’t take effect for a while – before his abrupt departure, Schwarz had apparently sketched out the seasons up to 2021. Thereafter, Langridge is going to need to strike a balance between his own stagings and new work by other directors, satisfying Glyndebourne’s demanding existing patrons while developing new and especially younger audiences.