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It’s important to try things at least once. So when the girlfriends suggested combining a weekend stay at one of their houses with a trip to see I Puritani at Grange Park Opera, I felt that I should go along with the consensus. As regular readers will know, I don’t particularly like opera. But Grange Park Opera stages its productions in a modern theatre built within the substantial remains of an 18th-century building, so my thinking was that the setting would be stunning and we could dress up, drink champagne and eat dinner in the highly civilised 100-minute interval. Plus, I had never been to the Grange Park estate before.
I Puritani is by Bellini (a name I confess I had previously associated only with a cocktail) and is based on a novel by Sir Walter Scott. It is set in the English civil war, a period from which the main part of my cottage dates. In fact, now that all three cost centres are back for the summer, an English civil war of sorts erupts every day at our home – over who has stolen whose cricket whites, who ate the last chocolate mousse and other matters of national importance.
But come the opera weekend, I had been in the wars myself. I had stood for too long in heels the week before and done something terrible to my back. This was the first time I had ever suffered a bad back, so I asked my Most Tenacious Girlfriend, bad back sufferer and connoisseur of remedies, whom I should consult. She personally booked me in to see James Pinkney at the Bowskill Clinic in London.
Without waiting to inquire further, I got there as fast I could, learning when I arrived that Pinkney was a physiotherapist. That sounded fine, but gave no warning of what was to come. It was only when I was lying in my underwear, face down on the treatment table, that I was asked,“how do you feel about needles?”
I called MTG afterwards and demanded to know why she had neglected to mention the needles. She reminded me that I had told her I once ran the length of a hospital corridor in Hong Kong when I saw the needle they planned to use for my amniocentesis. But there is a first time for everything, so I allowed Pinkney to wield the needle for something called Gunn Intramuscular Stimulation, which felt very much like a western version of acupuncture.
If the physiotherapy was a bit of a surprise, the opera was not. The setting was indeed magnificent, though I had been slightly alarmed by the FT’s review, which called the production “muddled” and said you’d be well advised to concentrate on the music. So I took that advice and shut my eyes, only to focus on the reducing, albeit still uncomfortable, pain in my back.
Even the wonderful singing of the lead tenor, the Mexican Jesús León, wasn’t enough to distract me. Grange Park, admirably, exists without public subsidy thanks to the generosity of hundreds of people who sponsor all manner of parts of the production. León had three sets of sponsorship – his legs, for example, were sponsored by Niall FitzGerald, former deputy chairman of Thomson Reuters and Unilever CEO. León, from what I could see when I opened my eyes, has fine legs but then so does FitzGerald, whose legs I have more than once tried to follow as they disappeared down a ski slope in Davos.
After the suitably gothic interval dinner with the girlfriends, I confessed that I could not face returning for the second half. I felt I had done the Grange Park experience, and further opera was not going to help my back. I went and lay supine, read Hello!, drank more alcohol and fantasised about needles. I may not have returned to the opera, but I am definitely going to be trying the needles for the second time.