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Backstage at the opera

Before I watched Glyndebourne opera house’s L’elisir d’amore at the Marlowe Theatre on Tuesday 5th November, I was very kindly invited backstage to go behind the scenes of the production. The ‘Glyndebourne Tour’ involves taking three operas on the road and L’elisir d’amore was the first opera of the tour to be shown at the Marlowe. Eleanor from Glyndebourne welcomed me backstage ahead of Tuesday’s performance, showing me the costume departments, the orchestra pit and a sneak preview of the performance itself. Starting at 4:30pm a few hours before the performance, the tour started at stage door.

Backstage at the opera with Eleanor from Glyndebourne
Photo credit: The Marlowe Theatre

To a visitor, backstage at the Marlowe Theatre seems like a maze. Over multiple floors you have dressing rooms, production departments, the all important green room for the performers, the stage wings and the orchestra pit, all hidden from the eyes of Marlowe audiences. The tour started with an introduction to Glyndebourne, where I learnt about the origins of the opera house, the family who started it all and why the company decides to go out on tour every year. The goal of the Glyndebourne Tour is to make opera accessible to a wider audience and the Marlowe is one of the theatres that the tour stops at. Equipped with some opera background knowledge, I followed Eleanor into the backstage areas.

1940s costumes for Glyndebourne's L'elisir d'amore at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

The female dressing rooms were full of beautiful 1940s dresses and it was here that I found out that the classic opera had been brought into a new era. L’elisir d’amore was to be set in 1940s Italy during wartime. Along the corridor from the dresses, wigs were being prepared for some of the other operas later in the week. Even the most natural of hair styles were being created as wigs and most of them were being made with natural hair.

Glyndebourne production wigs in one of the Marlowe Theatre dressing rooms

The orchestra pit was very busy as the musicians were doing some last minute rehearsals. We stood on the edge and heard the conductor in action, preparing the team for the evening’s performance.

The score for L'elisir d'amore

In the stage wings I was able to see some of the L’elisir d’amore props. Flowers, a pheasant and an Italian flag umbrella looked so bizarre lying at the side of the stage, but once I saw the performance they were a natural fit.

L'elisir d'amore props at the side of the Marlowe Theatre stage

Watching the singers warm up from the stalls was a highlight of the tour for me. This was the first time that I heard the opera sound live and I was amazed at the purity of the vocals. Unlike other performances I’ve seen at the Marlowe, Glyndebourne had opened up the orchestra pit, removing some of the front rows to provide enough room for the musicians and orchestral sound to rise through the theatre. The conductor ran through snippets of the opera with the cast and even this close to the performance start time, he was still offering last minute advice and critique. It was great to watch such attention to detail in action!

Glyndebourne's set for L'elisir d'amore at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

A fantastic way to be introduced to the opera, I am so grateful to Glyndebourne and the Marlowe for the backstage tour. Taking three operas on the road is such a huge task and it was fascinating to see how quickly the opera house had made the Marlowe Theatre their own. Glyndebourne are based at the Marlowe Theatre until Saturday 9th November and tickets can be purchased on the theatre’s website.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx



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