Angus McBean at Glyndebourne 2014

Glyndebourne Festival returns for its 80th year and to celebrate the momentous anniversary the opera house will be exhibiting rare images of Glyndebourne in the 1940s and 1950s from surrealist photographer Angus McBean.Visual art and sculpture have always played an important role at Glyndebourne, which runs between 17 May and 24 August in the stunning Sussex Downs.

Landing his first stage photography commission from Ivor Novello in 1936, McBean began his career as a mask and prop maker. He was particularly innovative and he made a number of improvements, including giving performers directions and lighting them specifically for photography purposes. His experimental nature was coupled with his understanding of the physicality of theatre, and he consequently became a visionary in his field. The artist would go on to become Vivien Leigh’s official photographer and work with The Beatles but it was in the West End and at Glyndebourne where he first made his name.

It was in 1934 when Glyndebourne began staging opera in Sussex, after John Christie fell in love with soprano wife Audrey Mildmay and built her an opera house. During World War II Glyndebourne closed its doors and became a home for children evacuated from the East End, and in 1940, when it reopened, a young McBean was commissioned to photograph its first post-war production The Beggars Opera. Throughout the 1940s, 1950s and into the 1960s, the photographer continued to document Glyndebourne, producing an incredible body of work of which this exhibition offers a rare glimpse.

The carefully curated show includes images from 1946 of the world premiere of Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia with Kathleen Ferrier in the title role. A 1947 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, arguably the opera most closely associated with Glyndebourne, also appears in the show, as does an early photograph of John’s son, George Christie, in a 1947 production of Verdi’s McBeth. George took over the running of Glyndebourne from John in the 1960s and was responsible for beginning Glyndebourne Tour and, in 1994, overseeing the construction of a state-of-the art 1,200 capacity auditorium.

Glyndebourne is now run by John’s grandson, Gus Christie and has spent the last 80 years producing world-class, inventive opera. This year’s festival presents three new productions including the first ever staging at Glyndebourne of La finta giardiniera, a rarely performed early Mozart that premiered two weeks before his 19th birthday. The production will be directed by Freddy Wake-Walker, who has been putting on site specific opera in London for a number of years with the Mahogany Opera Group. New productions of Verdi’s La traviata and Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, last seen at the opera house in 1982, will also be staged as will revivals of Eugene Onegin, Don Giovanni and Rinaldo.

Tickets are still available for Glyndebourne and Der Rosenkavalier, Don Giovanni and La traviata will also be streamed online. Prints of the exhibition are available to buy via Glyndebourne’s online shop. For Glyndebourne Festival tickets and streaming details visit

1. ©Angus McBean courtesy of Glyndebourne Archive.