Day 98 of the marathon and I'm watching my first opera. Not my first opera ever, you understand. Just the first opera of the year. I've seen rather a lot of opera, as it happens. I went through a bit of an opera phase a few years back. I spent a good chunk of my mid-twenties running back and forth between the ROH and the Coliseum to watch them. Strange now, that when you click those links - you don't find a post about me watching an opera. When it came down to it, my official marathon visits to the twin opera houses of this city, were to see ballets. Nowadays, ballet will always win out when it comes to a direct choice.
But I still like opera. Some opera. Okay, three operas.
Tosca (she refers to herself stabbing the #metoo award-winning prick in her life as ‘Tosca’s kiss,’ which surely has to be the greatest come-back line in history). Magic Flute (I'm basic, okay), and L'elisir d'amore (What can I say? I love, love).
I first saw Elixir of Love a million years ago, in an OperaUpClose production at the King’s Head and loved every minute of it. I loved it so much that I actually stole the heart-vision glasses that they handed out to audience members (I’m really hoping we’ve passed the statute of limitations for nicking audience-props here).
So when I heard the company where doing another Donizetti opera, and in a marathon-verified venue that I’ll admit, I’d never heard of before, well… I was there.
Except, where is there?
“We are on the corner of Clissold Park, opposite St Mary’s New Church,” says their website.
Well, that sounds simple enough.
I strike out. It’s a nice evening. The sun’s still up and the rain has retreated for the time being. I have a nice stroll. Walk along the New River Path. It’s nice. There are ducks. I like ducks. Everyone likes ducks. Ducks are great. The way they waddle about on land and preen in the water. Ducking marvellous.
Even with my leisurely nature walk, I still arrive at Clissold Park far too early. So I take a short turn along the paths before the crowds of joggers chase me away again, back on to the narrowest excuse for a pavement that could be conjured up as a concession to pedestrians. A jogger comes my way and I have to clutch at the railing to avoid being sent flying into the wall.
Right. The corner of the park. That had to be coming up soon. I’ve been walking for bloody ages.
The Old Church is an Elizabethan church. The last surviving one in London, apparently. That shouldn’t be so hard to spot.
In the distance, a towering steeple looms over the tree-line.
I check the website again.
“We are on the corner of Clissold Park, opposite St Mary’s New Church.”
I laugh. I can’t help myself. Those have to be the most perfectly useless directions that have ever been committed to pixels.
Let’s ignore the logic of signposting to one church by pointing out its proximity to another. That’s a nonsense, but not worth lingering on.
The more important point is that St Mary’s New Church can only conceivably be thought of as a new church when placed directly opposite a building dating from the 1560s. The new church is a friggin’ Gilbert Scott and is over 150 years old.
Here I am looking for some greenhouse with an oversized cross stuck on top, and instead I’m getting early Victorian Gothic revival served at me.
Feeling a little bemused, I turn my attentions to the old church, sat back from the road and lurking behind a veil of trees and ivy-covered graves.
The church is long. A country church. It reminds me of the one in the village where I grew up. Long and low, with proper mullioned windows that glow with warmth.
I have a little walk around the churchyard, admiring the heavy stone tombs, but people are going in and seats are unrestricted.
Through the arched doorway, I catch a glimpse of the interior. But I try not to look. I'm holding back. Saving it.
There’s a little desk set up just inside. I give my name. “Just the one?” asks the lady sitting behind it. “You’re in band C, which is in the back row over there. Pick any of the seats with a yellow sticker.”
Sounds simple enough.
There are a couple of programmes propped up on the desk.
“Can I get one of these?”
“They’re £4,” she says. “They have the full libretto in them,” as if to justify the cost, but I am fully on board already. “Card or cash?”
That’s not a question you get asked often when buying a programme, let alone in a church. I thought there were rules against that.
I pay by card.
Right, now I can look at the church. A really long, savouring look.
It’s lighter than I imagined. Despite the narrowness and low walls, it feels bright and airy. The walls are painted white. This truly is a church of post-dissolution England. That’s not to say it’s bare. Quite the reverse. The walls are packed with intricately carved memorials, dedicated to parishioners who passed hundreds of years ago.
Here’s one for Sire John Hartopp and his first wife, Sarah, who died in 1793 and 1766 respectively. Their names united in marble for eternity. There’s no indication of what his second wife thought about that.
There’s a bar in the corner. Selling wine, appropriately. And crisps, which feels altogether less appropriate.
Through the centre of the aisle is a raised stage, with that mirror like finish that I’m beginning to associate with theatres with pretensions of antiquity. The stage in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse had similar reflective properties.
I wander around, taking photos. With all the pillars and recess and the stage, it’s impossible to find an angle that captures this place in all its glory.
People are starting to pour in now. I should probably stake a claim on a seat.
Where had the box office lady pointed? The back row?
There are four rows of seats towards the left of the aisle.Read More