Glyndebourne will be without its leading lady this season after Danielle de Niese, the star soprano, pulled out of the company’s most eagerly awaited production.
De Niese, who is married to the festival’s executive chairman, Gus Christie, cited “a conflicting engagement” as her reason.
Her withdrawal from Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites is a blow to the festival, where she is the star name.
There is said to be some unhappiness at the last-minute nature of the announcement, but sources said de Niese had received another job offer outside the world of opera that was “impossible to refuse”.
The soprano has been attached to the production of Dialogues des Carmelites, directed by Barrie Kosky, since the beginning of 2020 and was prominent in the promotional material.
Glyndebourne’s YouTube channel features two videos – one posted last month – in which the soprano enthuses about her role in the production.
“I think it will make most people want to cross oceans to come and see exactly what the combination of Barry, myself and all of the wonderful cast and wonderful creative team are going to do,” she said in one of the videos.
Glyndebourne has said that the opera, the tragic story of a young woman who seeks refuge in a convent during the French Revolution, is one that Kosky “has waited his whole life to direct”.
De Niese will be replaced as Blanche in Dialogues des Carmelites by Sally Matthews, a highly regarded soprano who has sung the role at the Royal Opera House.
Details of de Niese’s new project are being kept under wraps. A source close to the situation said: “An unexpected opportunity arose which was impossible for Danielle to refuse.
“Glyndebourne have been very gracious in releasing her for the summer. She has always been a cross-genre artist. At the end of the day, they’re a tight-knit family there and she will be back at Glyndebourne again in years to come.”
The 43-year-old is keen to expand her career beyond opera. She has appeared in film roles, presented documentaries and been a face of BBC Proms coverage.
Last year she starred in a one-woman film version of Poulenc’s La Voix humaine, broadcast on BBC Two.
Glyndebourne declined to elaborate on de Niese’s reasons, saying only: “Danielle de Niese has withdrawn from the Festival 2023 production of Dialogues des Carmelites due to a conflicting engagement and the role of Blanche de la Force will now be performed by Sally Matthews.
“We look forward to working with Danielle on future projects.”
Glyndebourne added that Matthews “is recognised as one of the foremost lyric sopranos of her generation”.
For his part, Kosky had indicated that he was not wedded to the idea of a particular leading lady.
“I don’t care what shape, size, race, colour an opera singer is, all I care about is: are they willing to open themselves up in the process of creating opera? That’s all I ask,” he said when discussing Dialogues des Carmelites.
The production opens on June 10 and runs until July 29, with tickets on general sale from next Sunday.
De Niese, who was born in Australia and brought up in Los Angeles, began her career as a teenage television presenter and made her debut at the New York Met aged 19, playing Barbarina in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.
She first performed at Glyndebourne in 2005, called upon to sing Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare after the original performer dropped out. She married Christie four years later, and they have two children.
It was a case of history repeating itself as Christie’s grandfather and founder of the festival, John Christie, married the Canadian soprano Audrey Mildmay after she performed there.