Rain Stops Play
It was another steamy day in Garsington. I was looking after our conductor’s children for the afternoon and, along with the rest of the nation, we were waiting for the third game on Wimbledon’s centre court. Would we get to see the dour Scotsman under the new roof? we wondered as we watered the wilting flowerbeds of my B and B. I thought, with some sadness, that these two kids would never get to see Cliff Richard spontaneously entertaining the crowd, or hours of BBC footage of improvised head-gear when rain stopped play. It would be typical, just typical, wouldn’t it, we agreed, if he walked on court just as we had to walk in to the opera pit.
Murray, of course, walked on to a tennis court in South London at six; at exactly the moment I, in Oxfordshire, wove through the men’s chorus warming up (with the conductor's son) with a ball game and picnicking penguins squatting on blankets, and hauled my cello under the folded tarpaulin to add the squawk of my to the popping of champagne corks and the song of the blackbird in the gardens in preparation for Maestro Beethoven.
Our sixth performance was going well and I managed to forget my frustration at not seeing the match as we held the sublime sub-dominant chord for Leonora (the girl dressed as a boy employed as the prison turnkey in the hope of releasing her beloved Florestan) who sang like an angel about a rainbow.
In the break we rushed to the green room to see the score and witnessed Murray serving out the match. We shared leftover salads from tupperware containers, chatted for a bit about holidays, roses, children, motorways, and made coffee. And it was then that the rain came in fast moving sheets. Picnics were scooped up leaving flaked salmon and glasses littering the lawn, and out came the infamous English improvised headgear as we all rushed to the relative shelter of the opera tent. Florestan lay curled in his cell. We played our first pianissimo chord forte and the second fortissimo chord fortississimo to try and combat the sound of the rain. Fingers were damp, horsehair was limp, feet wet and bottoms cold. Peter Wedd belted his song noiselessly out into the sodden void: ‘Oh Gott…..’. Someone leaned over in to the pit and shouted. ‘You might as well stop playing we can’t hear a bloody thing.’ We continued, unwilling to cut the thread of this masterpiece and lost in our own submarine world of unheard mega decibels, until raindrops started plopping on seventeenth century varnish and putting our instruments at risk. There were hoots and cries from the punters above. There were gasps from the children. A clap of thunder sent a violinists’s son rushing for the safety of her knee and we had to stop. Then, just as we had fled to the only dry spot in the pit, the tarpaulin collapsed under the weight of the rain and a waterfall descended on the electrics at exactly the point where my colleagues and I had been sitting only moments before.
We waited. The audience waited. I think there may have been more improvised headgear and there were certainly some entertainers in the crowd. Eventually the cut-throat signal came from the manager. It was too dangerous to continue, he shouted above the sound of the pelting. We packed up and made our way to the Mole for an early pint leaving the debris of a half finished opera in the pit and an audience who had never even heard the hero sing.
Rain may no longer stop play at Wimbledon, but it can, and it did, stop play at Garsington, and that night two children were there to witness the thrill and the poetry of it.