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 canapés. 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.