Sir George Christie, Beloved Glyndebourne Opera Chief, Dead at 80

By James Inverne on May 08, 2014 01:32 PM EDT

A pillar of the world opera establishment, Sir George Christie, has died. Inheriting the Glyndebourne festival from his father John, after a brief apprenticeship in the world of arts funding (he once told me good-humoredly that "as a young man, having people like Laurence Olivier come to make their case for money to me was rather gratifying"), he built on the legacy with a robust touring company and, above all, an award-winning new opera house.

Defying the traditionalists by knocking down the old barn and building a venue that is the pride of Britain--and without public subsidy--Christie showed mettle and resourcefulness. Under his watch, the summer festival made something of a speciality of rare Rossini, a slew of great Janacek stagings and Handel alongside the traditional Mozarts. They groomed star singers such as Gerald Finley, Mark Padmore and many others. However, he also had his bugbears--under his roof, he insisted, Delius would remain Glyndebourne persona non grata.

Christie, who handed over the festival to his son Gus some years ago, was a kindly and popular figure. If one arrived early at Glyndebourne for an opera or an interview, he would often be seen bestriding the hills, sometimes attended by his beloved pug dogs. There are those of us who grew up with the name George Christie synonymous with all that is great about opera. Many of us, I suspect.

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TagsGlyndebourne, George Christie, Rossini, Mozart, Handel

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