The first Glyndebourne dress rehearsal of the season, it's Falstaff, and there are cats. Fuzzy ones, but they move. The dominant cat in Act I sits curled up on the bar, and lifts its head when Falstaff tickles its ears. Then gently washes its paws and puts its nose under its tail. Later, it gives someone a sharp nip - very authentic. And it's ginger and white, so it must be Solti! Is it computer-controlled? Or a glove puppet with well-concealed handler? I hasten to add, though, that kitty's presence is not gratuitous - Boito's Shakespeare-derived text carries more than a few feline images, and the cats are ever-present, watching and waiting...
It's bad luck (or something) to review dress rehearsals, so I'll say further only that the production, by Richard Jones, is set in the Forties, last year's Hansel and Gretel are now Meg and Nanetta, Vlad is conducting, the string sections in the pit have been significantly rearranged, the opera is the most f***ing incredible thing Verdi ever wrote in all his long life, and I loved every second of it.
And here's what it's like being an orchestral spouse on such an occasion.
2.30pm Arrive Glyndebourne from train, wheeling erratic new fold-up picnic table. Pitch camp in reasonably sheltered red-brick spot on the terraces because rain is forecast, despite bright sunshine. Tom has a cold and I have dregs of pleurisy, so we must be careful.
3pm Kaffee und kuche in the sun and the wind; walk round lake, marvelling at marvels. Glyndebourne is still there! Glyndebourne is real once again!
4.30pm show begins. From my seat I can see left side of stage. All significant action seems to happen on right, except for ginger cat. Everything sounds and looks wonderful, however, there's bonus of Solti lookalike, and I am amazed all over again that even after hanging out here every summer since 1997, I can still be entranced, absorbed and thrilled by whole damn thing.
6pm-ish Dinner interval. Tell Tom about cat. He's incredulous. Is it perchance really Solti, moonlighting?! We bolt down thermos of soup, supermarket felafel, Greek salad and vaguely nasty ready-canned version of Pimms (me, not Tom, who's got to concentrate) at fold-out table, wrapped in coats and scarves. 10 minutes later everything is gone. Wander to lawns and discover it's significantly warmer down there in the beautiful sunshine with views of green hills, lambikins in the field and a giant, incongruous horse's head sculpture on the grass beyond the ha-ha.
7.20pm We try to investigate train times for going home. There's an 8.50pm train and a 9.50. Nobody seems sure whether there is also a 9.20. Tom instructs me to run for it at the end so we can get early train.
7.30pm I look at cast list and wonder why I'd thought Christopher Purves was a Blue Peter presenter. I must have been iller than I realised.
7.40-ish Second half. Tip-off about a spare seat bang in middle of front row of stalls has sent me scurrying for it. Brilliant spot, but getting out fast at end will be difficult. Frantic gesturing from back of first violin section as Tom sees me and indicates relaxation, no need to run, there's a 9.20 train and we'll get that one. When orchestra begins, I am so close to the sound that I nearly hit the ceiling.
8.30ish conclusion. Shouts, cheers, laughter, delight. I'm high as a kite, but the pain in my side is back, I'm coughing & could use a pain-killer and some sleep.
8.35 I saunter to stage door. The staff minibus is about to leave and we could get on it. Nah, let's relax and get 9.20 train.
8.37 Minibus vanishes over hill. Then news arrives that 9.20 train is fictional and we must get the 9.50. Oh, say other violinists, never mind, let's go to the pub. We hit Glyndebourne staff pub. Halfway through drinks, announcement blares out that last transport for Lewes will leave front of house in 5 mins. We scarper. At front of house, bus is full. House manager assures us there'll be an extra minibus. Spats about whose fault it was that we missed train/came out of pub too early/thought there was a 9.20 train/thought there wouldn't be another bus.
9.15 Arrive Lewes station in minibus. 35 mins til train. Oh, say other violinists, never mind, let's go to the pub. We hit Lewes's Royal Oak pub. Alcohol and crisps flow. Group includes 2 French, a Bulgarian and a Hungarian. Everyone wants to know why a ha-ha is called a ha-ha. The two of us who are English have no idea. Three quarters through drinks, we realise train goes in 5 minutes and scarper.
9.50 Train arrives. Violinists unwrap Polish beer, cheap wine and some very smelly cheese. I keel quietly over in the corner, but these chaps are just getting going and it's only the first night of the season, and not even that because it's a dress rehearsal. Is this what Tom does all summer while I'm innocently scribbling away in my study?!?
11.30pm Arrive home to miaowing Solti, who says it wasn't him on stage, honest, guv, but he wants extra food prontissimo per favore, grazie molto. Wonder how cat has learned Italian.
UPDATE: And to get you in the mood, here's the absolutely unbelievably astonishing fugal finale, from Covent Garden starring Bryn Terfel et al: