Past the exquisitely tasteful brickwork and wood beams of the Bury Court barn I drift. Whitewashed plaster and a hint of glass – surroundings as neat as the clipped winter garden outside. The unmistakable sound of a soprano reaches me, as I stumble into what turns out to be a raised orchestra pit – rather like a musicians gallery, at one end of the barn. Well, it used to be a barn. These days it’s an opera stage.
Today I am visiting a stage and piano rehearsal. The chorus boys are on stage doing a choreographed jive to one of their numbers. Yellow pages, fish n chip newspaper and ketchup litter the back of the stage – and I’m confident they’re props. Everybody down there seems to be having a lot of fun.
But suddenly, in the way that opera can get you when you least expect it, I am frozen in my seat. Cenerentola’s father has just declared that his daughter is dead, in front of the Prince, and to her face.
A hush descends across a performance that was a second previously full of laughs. A shiver of goosebumps and grief passes through me. I am aware that everyone in the room has stopped what they are doing to listen. Perched on a bar stool at the edge of the stage, protected only by a corner of the set, our heroine looks as forlorn and lost as any rejected daughter you could image.
Soft blonde hair falls around her shoulders framing painfully sad blue eyes, as even the music itself suspends its relentless activity in its own gasp of empathy and grief.