Gus Christie and Danielle de Niese on why Glyndebourne is like an artists' commune, and having a cup of tea with Ravel

They're the husband-and-wife team behind one of opera's most iconic festivals. Gus Christie is the chairman of Glyndebourne and the grandson of the festival's founder, John Christie. Soprano Danielle de Niese will be taking one of the leading roles on stage this year. As booking for the 2015 season opens, we dropped by to ask opera's star duo a few questions.

Gus Christie and Danielle de Niese

Gus, first of all – what was it like to grow up in a home with an opera house attached?
It was unique growing up at Glyndebourne, we got used to having strange people in the house from a very early age. So it would feel odd to be living without them in the main house now during a Festival. 

Now you're overseeing the festival and, Danielle, Glyndebourne has been your home for a few years now. What do you both most look forward to about the start of the rehearsal period and festival each year?
It’s great when the gardens start buzzing with new people. We live at Glyndebourne so we’ve been watching the garden evolve over the autumn and winter seasons and we have been part of its gradual evolution. It’s always wonderful to see everyone gasp in amazement at the many ways the garden has changed!

What's it like to share your house with so many opera singers each summer?  
Danielle: We invite all the operatic teams – conductors, directors, lighting, costume, set designers, repetiteurs, choreographers, and assistants – to stay with us in the house if they wish. That adds up to a lot of people so we wouldn’t have room for all the singers. So truth be told, I’m the only "opera singer” in the house! It’s wonderful to have all that creativity in one place – it makes the house feel like an artistic commune and it is very much part of the ethos and fabric of Glyndebourne. It can be like juggling at times and I imagine this summer it will be quite something with a little baby on the way this summer for us! But it will also be a haven of dear friends and colleagues to surround the baby with lots of love and music.

Glyndebourne has a reputation for being very tradition. Danielle, and what more does the opera world need to do to make opera more accessible?
I think the opera world has really embraced the media age we live in and there are some really exciting things happening – like live streaming and cinema broadcasts which allow fans and new audiences to see opera through a very intimate lens. Of course nothing can replace almost tangible energy of a live operatic performance, but it’s great that audiences can get tickets at a wide range of prices to suit all budgets.

And what about Glyndebourne specifically?
This summer I have invited bus loads of kids and their parents from 'Opera Quest', a project I worked on in Birmingham, to come down to Glyndebourne this summer to see me perform in a double bill of one-act operas by Maurice Ravel – I’m so excited to host them and share this experience with them! Glyndebourne’s education department also do youth operas every year including – in 2010, Knight Crew by Julian Philips – which involve local Sussex kids, so everyone in the opera world is reaching out to spread this beautiful art form! 

And social media is also a great way to reach new audiences…
I love Glyndebourne’s twitter feed! @danielledeniese is often in contact with @glyndebourne and I have yet to discover who is running the feed!! I should definitely find out this summer but I kind of like the mystery of it…

One of the most visual traditions at Glyndebourne is that audiences really dress up. Gus, why's that – is it compulsory?
We love the fact that the audience dress up— if you think about it – artists come to the theatre hours early and go into a great deal of preparation getting into wigs, costumes and character for the opera. An evening at the opera is the work of so many moving parts from the singers, to the musicians, to the chorus, to the crew, technicians, stage managers – it’s a real treat for us all, performers and audience. So it’s actually really nice that people take the time to put on a nice dress or suit – after all, it is an event! A little-known secret that I absolutely adore about Glyndebourne is that our stage managers backstage dress up in black tie just like the audience – it’s one of the most charming things!

Danielle, when you starred as Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne, you were a rising star who took audiences by surprise – so which up-and-coming singers are appearing at the festival this year that you're excited about?
I’m looking forward to hearing tenor Michael Fabiano and soprano Ana-María Martínez sing together in Donizetti's Poliuto, and I’m also very excited to work with conductor Robin Ticciati [the festival's music director] on Ravel's L’heure espagnole/ L’enfant et les sortilèges – it will be our first collaboration together and we’ve been waiting forever to work together!

You must be surrounded by music all the time – but what music do you listen to in your free time?  
I am almost medically attached to my iPod and I have loads of playlists that I listen to on shuffle in my free time – if I ever have any!. Generally the music will underscore my work time, I don’t really have time to spend solely listening to music unless I’m driving or on a walk.

Finally, if you could have a cup of tea with one composer whom would it be?
Currently, it's Maurice Ravel.

Danielle de Niese appears in Ravel's L’heure espagnole/ L’enfant et les sortilège at Glyndebourne 8-30 August. Booking is now open for this year's Glyndebourne Festival.