The operas of Mozart are synonymous with the festival at Glyndebourne, where exemplary performances are staged amidst the verdant landscape of southern England. Glyndebourne’s first music director was the distinguished conductor Fritz Busch, an exile from his native Germany. These pioneering recordings, deriving primarily from performances at Glyndebourne’s original theatre, date from the festival’s inaugural season (1934) and the years to 1951. Both Le nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte were world premiere recordings – indeed, Figaro was the first-ever complete recording of a Mozart opera. In newly remastered sound, these classic interpretations of the three Da Ponte operas and Idomeneo can be enjoyed with unprecedented immediacy. Fritz Busch (1890-1951) was one the greatest German conductors of the first half of the twentieth century, noted for his illuminating performances and his ethical principles.
He was famous for his performances and for enlarging the repertory and discovering new composers. He premiered operas by Paul Hindemith and Pfitzner very early in his carreer and when in 1922, he became music director of the Dresden State Opera, he premiered Strauss' Intermezzo (1924) and Die Ägyptische Helena (1928), Hindemith's Cardillac (1926), Busoni's Doktor Faust (1925), and Weill's Der Protagonist (1926). Busch’s open contempt of the Nazi government, which came to power in Germany in 1933, caused him to be fired from his post in Dresden – even though he was not Jewish. Then John Christie, a wealthy English landowner, invited Busch to become music director of a summer opera festival at his country estate in Glyndebourne. Glyndebourne soon became a prestigious summer festival, famous for meticulous musical preparation and astute casting. Mozart became they mainstay of Glyndebourne. After the outbreak of World War II (which closed Glyndebourne from 1939-1945), Busch withdrew mainly to South America, although he made appearances at the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera. He resumed his association with Glyndebourne in 1950 but died in London soon after, in 1951.
The curtain rose on the first Opera Festival performance at Glyndebourne on 28 May, 1934. It was intended as “not the best we can do, but the best that can be done anywhere”, in the words of the festival’s founder, John Christie, who built a 300-seat opera house with an orchestra pit and sophisticated technical and lighting equipment. The first Glyndebourne season in 1934 lasted for two weeks, and comprised six performances each of Le nozze di Figaro and Così fan tutte, a work that regained its place in the repertoire thanks to Busch’s advocacy. The artistic standards were astonishingly high. There were no star names among the singers (even though these recordings boast excellent singers such as Heddle Nash, Sena Jurinac, Erich Kunz, Blanche Thebom, Richard Lewis and so many others), but the emphasis was on the quality of the ensemble, built in that first season from outstanding, theatrically credible singers from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Italy, the United States and all over the UK. Le nozze di Figaro was recorded June 1934 and June 1935 (hence a « best of » both series), but a complete performance of course, Così fan tutte in June 1935, Don Giovanni in July 1936, while further excerpts from Cosi are dated June 1950, and from Idomeneo July 1951 – recorded not an Glyndebourne but at Abbey Road Studios in London, by the way.