Monday, 14 September 2009

Culture al fresco

Last night we went to what may be the last part indoor, part open air entertainment of the year, held in the grounds and ballroom of a local manor house. It was billed as an Opera Gala, performed by a quartet of young opera singers and their accomplished pianist. Opera Gala seems to mean a selection of ‘your favourite tunes’, performed one after the other, with a short introduction to each aria, duet, etc. The singers did very well and the evening was a success. The audience was enthusiastic in their appreciation and many felt it necessary to clap with their hands above their heads and get up for a standing ovation at the end. The lady in the seat behind me hummed and sang along with one well-known aria and I turned round to admire her rendition. She stopped instantly, bless her.

During the interval everybody brought out their picnic hampers, bottles of wine, chairs and, in some cases, tables, all having been carried from the distant car park for the purpose. Napkins were unfolded, corks popped, glasses clinked and plates filled

It was a glorious evening after a sunny day, the park looked splendidly green and very English with its manicured lawns and tidy shrubberies.

A summer that has gone by without al fresco concerts, theatrical performances, fireworks, has somehow been lacking in one of its essential ingredients. A bit like going to the seaside without taking a bucket and spade. or maybe a picnic in a meadow without the wasps.

I have sat on plastic or canvas chairs, ground sheets and blankets in all weathers, in many places, attended grand concerts in Kenwood on Hampstead Health, in the park of Stately Homes and noble palaces; I have watched plays in Regent’s Park in London, and a number of castles, ruined and otherwise, Ludlow Castle included. One of the most memorable occasions and one of my first, was a performance of Heartbreak House at Shaw’s Corner in Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire; the house where Shaw lived.

It had been threatening to rain all day, so all came prepared with coats and hats and covers. On this occasion the picnic was to be eaten before the performance; about half way through the heavens opened. Gamely, the picnickers donned coats and hats, huddled under tarpaulins and large umbrellas and resumed the meal, water dripping into the wine and canap├ęs. I was quite shocked, I had assumed everyone would run for cover and call the whole thing off. Nothing of the sort happened. The performers appeared on the roofless terrace, which was also the stage, and calmly announced that they were willing to go on if the audience was. The audience was willing, very willing. In fact, it seemed to me, that the deluge added to the entertainment value of the evening and sitting on soggy grass with rapidly forming puddles was a mere bagatelle to be taken in one’s easy stride.

Luckily, the rain eased off fairly quickly; we all enjoyed a splendid performance. Squelching to the cars afterwards, under a starbright sky, the general consensus was of an evening well spent.

A memorable occasion indeed, but not as memorable as a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream in Ludlow Castle during the Festival. For once the weather was kind, the night was warm, the sky dark and velvety purple. A few stars twinkled in competition with the sprinkle of lights illuminating the brooding walls of the castle, forming the backdrop to the stage. Insects like tiny sparks of fire darted through the night air, miniature meteors extinguished the instant they flew into the darkness between beams of light.

A night of magic, both on and off the stage. And it didn’t end there. Leaving the castle at the end of the performance we came out into the silent market square, the ancient houses lining it bathed in the warm light of old-fashioned street lamps. We hardly spoke, preferring to hold on to the suspension of disbelief and remain wrapped in the magic of the night.

Evenings like this one and an afternoon of music and sunshine like yesterday, or a splendid display of fireworks after a concert, inevitably ending with the 1812 Overture, make me forget all the other occasions, when I’ve been huddled in the cold and damp, miserably wishing myself back home with a glass of wine and a good book.


  1. Those do sound like moments to treasure Friko - very English and full of magic.

  2. How lovely; wish I'd been there too! Many thanks for sharing your outing.

  3. hi friko - i really enjoyed reading this lyrical depicition of an evening out. your observations of the behavoour of the audience during the rain was intriguing. because yes, you would expect everyone to pack up but somehow in your words there's the sense that it's alright. eat up, drink up, listen up and ignore the rain!!!! so cool. have a lovely evening. steven

  4. Oh thank you for bringing us along on this magical evening. I smell the grass, feel the breeze and the wine. You are a lyrical companion, Friko!


    Comfort Spiral

  5. I love an open-air concert - especially one that has time for a picnic at the intermission. On the weekend we were at our local fair and there were several musicians, bravely belting it out to an inattentive crowd. How civilized your afternoon sounds in comparison. You make no mention of mosquitoes - are you sure you were really outdoors?

  6. Thanks for sharing that with us. You really make us feel there with you. Lovely. A x

  7. Sounds a great evening. I love al fresco plays and concerts. I went to a performance of Much Ado in the park in Lancaster which has stayed with me far more vividly than other more polished productions because of the use of torchlight (flaming not battery powered!). Magical.

  8. We have sat through many open-air performances too - of opera, Shakespeare etc. in various kinds of weather. But I promised myself after the occasion of 'A Winter's Tale' at Goodrich Castle where we sat in torrential rain for the duration until our underwear was saturated that I would never do it again if there was the slightest suggestion of rain.
    Fennie blogged about it afterwards (August 2008) it was so memorable.

  9. Sounds great - Saturday was such a glorious day. We spent it with old school friends - perfect.

  10. Sounds like you had a great time. You know we all need to appreciate those times.

  11. I do so love al fresco dining at an outdoor concert. I adore filling a proper picnic hamper with home made gourmet goodies and sharing the feast with good companions, especially with good entertainment. Sadly, we do not have many such events here in the back of beyond, but make the most of what we can, whatever the weather throws at us!

    Thank you for letting me share a wonderful evening with you!

  12. I like these kinds of events too. The Maestro of our orchestra is from East Germany. You write "inevitably ending with the 1812 Overture" - just as ours do, with fireworks. It would seem this is a European tradition?

    You've written this beautifully.

  13. What a beautiful way to enjoy music instead of being stuck in a stuffy auditorium. The acoustics may not be as good, but to have a picnic al fesco would more than make up for that. We have concerts in the park here and everyone takes a picnic (wine is not allowed in the park, sadly) and when my daughter lived here we would go. I loved those evenings.
    Rain is rarely a problem in the desert.

    The Hollywood Bowl also has outdoor concerts with al fresco dining. I have only gone to one, but it was a magical evening.

  14. Hi Friko,
    What a lovely post.

  15. I absolutely love the stories of your life, Friko, such beautiful, elegant times.

  16. 'The lady in the seat behind me hummed and sang along with one well-known aria and I turned round to admire her rendition. She stopped instantly, bless her.'

    Life is made up of little moments like this, the admiration of the viewer, the terrified and confused state of mind of the executor. Many thanks for such a humane and fun post.

    Greetings from London.

  17. Hey Friko - i was just thinking about you this morning and then logged in to find that you had visited me! How weird!!!

    I went to one of these events a few years ago - it was at a stately home and they had fireworks once it got dark and a Spitfire flew over. The pilot reckoned that it was the greatest plane in the world to fly - but bloody difficult to take off and land!

    So glad you are still posting - keep up the good work

  18. I keep promising myself that one day I'll got to an event like this in the open air, but sadly it hasn't happened so far. Still, your elegant descriptions made it seem like I was there with you. Thanks.

  19. Bonnie - special treats indeed. when it's not raining.

    Alaine - thank you ery much for your comment.

    steven - very stiff upper lip!

    Cloudia - and you are too kind!

    Pondside - mosquitos? Do you know how cold it gets in the summer?

    Wipso - thanks, do come along to them next year, there are quite a few in the Marches.

    elizabethm - Yes, there is always something magical about these occasions. One enjoys the leisurely pace, I suppose.

    Arosebyanyothername - go on, go again next year. it doesn't always rain.

    Twiglet - I saw your post, sounded great.

    Lucy - we sure do.

    Celtic Heart -That's the idea, make a very special occasion of it.

    Prospero - with a name like yours you should know all about magic.

    Mark Kerstetter - thank you for the compliment. I'm not sure that it's particularly European, the English do it, particularly the fireworks and the 1812 overture.

    Darlene - yes, it's always a special treat. Why no wine?

    Herrad - thank you, my dear, wish you could join me.

    Margaret - elegant? not really, you should see me in my wellies and waxed jacket.

    Cuban - oh dear, I more likely glared at her for her bad manners.

    Hungry pixie - thanks for visiting; a spitfire and fireworks, I hope he didn't land in the middle of the fireworks?

    Argent - they are fun, you should go, if only to collect grist for your people-watching mill.

  20. What a wonderful description of your evening out.
    I saw a documentary on Public Broadcasting here in Atlanta that featured an English castle which was used at times for just the sort of concert and happenings that you described. I forgot the name.


  21. I have been to outdoor concerts in our beautiful Bernheim Forest, The Orchestra set up in a huge tent on the Great Meadow. I would take my children back stage to meet the musicians. Had to take blankets and chairs and sit on the ground. Loved it.

  22. It sounds wonderful. I think you are having more fun than I am. I want to go to outdoor concerts. I haven't been to any this summer. Nor any fireworks either. I feel deprived.

    Lovely post!

  23. You made me feel as if I was right there with you. Except I'm not sure if you'd want me tagging along.

    I always hum. And not very well...


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