In sad news that will cast a shadow over Glyndebourne's 80th anniversary celebrations, it has been announced that Sir George Christie died early this morning, Wednesday 7 May.

The only son of Glyndebourne founders John Christie and Audrey Mildmay, Sir George succeeded his father to become Chairman of Glyndebourne in 1958 when he was just 23. He held the position until 1999, during which time he together with his wife Mary transformed his family business into the world-renowned opera house it is today.

Sir George was knighted in 1984 for services to music, and was subsequently made a Companion of Honour in 2001, an honour he shared with his father before him. In 2000, after standing aside to allow his son Gus Christie to become chairman, he was appointed President of Glyndebourne.

In 1968 Sir George launched Glyndebourne Touring Opera – fulfilling his desire for greater accessibility to the art form by taking operatic productions around the country and thereby widening Glyndebourne's reach and reputation. In 1986 he established Glyndebourne's award-winning education department that is renowned for its work in the community, with schools and youth opera programmes, and for launching new works.

The pinnacle of his vision and determination was the building of the new opera house, now twenty years old. Hitherto Glyndebourne had performed to the highest musical and dramatic standards in a small, intimate theatre; by 1994 Glyndebourne was home to one of the world's finest, state-of-the-art opera houses.

Gus Christie said today: "My father passed away peacefully this morning after a hard fought illness. He will be remembered as a visionary leader and a great champion of the arts in this country. His achievements were immense and his friendship cherished by many, not least by those lucky enough to have worked with him directly.

"As a family we listened to the first act of Der Rosenkavalier from the 1965 Glyndebourne recording last night with him. He has been Glyndebourne's guiding spirit throughout its history and we will dedicate this Festival to him."

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