Glyndebourne: An Operatic Celebration

Renowned mezzo-soprano Jean Rigby has a relationship with Glyndebourne that goes back years. She even met her husband at the world-famous opera house. This month she returns for a Gala Concert highlighting the work of Young Epilepsy.

JEAN Rigby first appeared at Glyndebourne in 1981. “They phoned and said they were short a mezzo, and would I come and cover Cherubino,” she says in her mellifluous voice. “I have been coming back ever since.”

Jean met her husband Jamie Hayes at Glyndebourne, so its peaceful meadows hold special memories. Other personal highlights include singing in an Eighties production of Britten’s Albert Herring while she was pregnant. The 2008 premiere of Love and Other Demons, its libretto based on a novel by Gabriel Garc�a M�rquez, was special, too. Jean played an insane nun: “It was very challenging theatrically!” she says.

As well as appearing in Jan�cek’s The Cunning Little Vixen at this year’s festival, Jean will perform in another landmark production, this one rather more personal. At the end of the month, a stellar cast will unite at a gala concert to raise money for Young Epilepsy, a charity dear to Jean’s heart.

Jean and her husband have three sons, Daniel, Matthew and Oliver. Their middle son, Oliver, was just two when he was diagnosed with epilepsy. He is now in the second year of a further education course at Young Epilepsy’s St Piers College.

There are 200 students across the college and its associated school, with more than 700 staff. Some residential students, like Oliver, return home for holidays, while some suffer complications so severe that they are there 52 weeks a year. There are more than 40 different types of seizure, and more than 112,000 people under the age of 25 are living with epilepsy in the UK.

Jean says: “A few years ago, I told someone at Glyndebourne that I wanted to raise some money for Young Epilepsy. Somebody took it to the Board and I got a letter out of the blue asking if I would like to put on a concert here. I came for a meeting and started emailing people last summer. I started with Joanna Lumley, who agreed, then I moved on to the operatic dames and knights. Eventually we got Dame Felicity Lott!”

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The concert will begin with a film about Young Epilepsy and the work that they do. An outreach group, including Jean’s son Oliver will be selling programmes.

“The first half is classical and opera,” says Jean. “There is a lot of Mozart – I have asked people to sing what they like. In the middle, General Director David Pickard will play some piano duets with his brother, a conductor.

“The second half will include Lieder and songs from the shows, finishing with an ensemble piece, Make Our Garden Grow, from Bernstein’s Candide.”

Jean herself will sing Summertime from Porgy and Bess, and a trio from Cos� fan tutte.

Tickets for the concert are selling out fast. “We have now raised enough money for a transporter, and we still have more than 70 tickets left.” The voracious response is not surprising considering the quality of the performers and repertoire. Singers include Gerald Finley, who earned triumphal reviews for his performance in last year’s spectacular Die Meistersinger von N�rnberg and international star (and wife of Chairman Gus Christie) Danielle De Niese.

Even Glyndebourne’s General Director David Pickard has been roped in, although he is not sure how. “I still don’t know how Jean found out I play the piano!” he says ruefully. Jean interjects: “We talked about it during Love and Other Demons…”

Theirs is a friendship that extends back years: “I remember, as an opera-mad twenty-something, seeing Jean singing the title role in The Rape of Lucretia. I used to admire her from afar!”

David read music at Corpus Christi College Cambridge. “But I was lucky, because I realised very early that I couldn’t be a performer. I always carried on playing the piano, though. My brother and I used to play piano duets at home because, if we played for long enough, it meant we got out of doing the washing up.”

In his 11 years as General Director, David has introduced many new initiatives, many of which, such as the Guardian’s live streaming of Die Meistersinger von N�rnberg and The Turn of the Screw aim to make Glyndebourne accessible to a wider audience.

The provision of a limited number of �30 tickets for under 30s had a personal connection: “That was important to me, because I saw my first Ring Cycle sitting on the floor in Covent Garden at the Midland Bank Proms.”

Last year’s production of Die Meistersinger had a deep resonance for everyone at Glyndebourne. It was the favourite opera of the house’s founder, John Christie, who never staged it. Having realised Christie’s dream last year, David is staging the opera again in 2015.

The 2012 season includes a revival of the 2005 production of La Cenerentola and a new production of the Jan�cek opera in which Jean appears. “I am very much looking forward to The Cunning Little Vixen. Our very nice and talented director, Melly Still, saw her first opera at Glyndebourne. It was The Cunning Little Vixen, so we have come full circle,” says David.

 Of the concert, and despite his nerves, David says: “We are very happy to do it. We try to do something for charity once a year because we have this amazing resource, and there is a personal link here as well. It’s really nice for us to be involved.”

Concert and booking information

The Young Epilepsy Gala Concert will run from 3pm to 5.30pm on 29 April, including an interval. Guests will be able to wander the famous gardens in the interval and experience the history and majesty of Glyndebourne. Glyndebourne’s gardens will be open to visitors from 1pm. Ticket prices start at as little as �15, with prices going up to �85. Book online at the Glyndebourne box office at

There are a limited number of exclusive Premier Seat Packages available at �175, which includes a souvenir programme, interval champagne and a post-performance reception with the cast.  Premier Seats with Dinner at �250 include an additional three course dinner with wine, previewing Albert Roux’s new menu for the 2012 Glyndebourne Festival season.  To book Premier tickets or for more details call Young Epilepsy on 01342 831261 or