"In Covent Garden Now" by Nancy Mitford in "The Lady" May 22nd 1930

The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, presents to the admirer of Victorian decoration one of the most satisfying interiors to be found in London.

So thought the Lady as she settled down into her stall to witness her first Wagner opera, Das Rheingold. This was, in fact, a great occasion in her fife. She had always regarded herself as a cultured and not unmusical person, but, until then, had never seen any of Wagner's portentous masterpieces, and was therefore looking forward with delight to a profound aesthetic experience. She knew what happiness many people derive from the Ring, and foresaw that the time would come when she herself would be the very embodiment of the Perfect Wagnerite, touring the Continent in the wake of her favourite singers with Bayreuth as her headquarters.

Meanwhile she chattered to her companion (a well?known Wagner enthusiast) and gazed about her at as smart a gathering of people as London can produce, all, like herself, in a twitter of happy expectation. Unfortunately, she omitted to read on her programme the story of the opera. If she had done so what followed might have seemed a little less obscure.

At last the lights went down, the overture began, and the Lady prepared herself for an evening of overwhelming delight. It is true that she felt a moment's apprehension on hearing her friend murmur to himself happily, 'Now for nearly three hours without one break.' But she felt sure that this could not be the case. Is not the entr'acte well known to be an indispensable adjunct to such entertainments? Do not certain people use Covent Garden almost as a club, in which to see and be seen? The Lady, of course, would never herself descend to such practices; but it is pleasant in any case to meet friends and enemies especially when dressed up in one's very best clothes.

The curtain slowly rose. The stage was in semi?darkness, but three women in diaphanous garments were just visible, floating about in mid?air. The Lady was forcibly reminded of something but of what? Of course; the aquarium at the Zoo. Oh, well, probably, in fact certainly, they were meant to be under the sea, or perhaps under a river ? probably the Rhine.

The Lady noticed that each of the women was supported by four strong ropes. As they hung about in the air (or water) they sang loudly. A sort of toad creeping on the rocks sang loudly, too. A charming spectacle, she thought, almost outdoing that breathless moment in Peter Pan when the grown?up actress, impersonating the 'boy who never grew up', is wafted by creaking machinery in and out of the window.

After about half an hour the Lady became just slightly impatient. The mermaids, or whatever they were, kept on floating in and out of rocks, but the recitative, she thought privately, was perhaps a little dull. However, anything might happen. They might turn out to be Valkyries and sing the song which she had heard on the gramophone; or they might even begin to spin. Somebody did light a bonfire behind one of the rocks, but it soon went out again ? as, naturally. it would under the water. Finally, with screams of girlish laughter, the mermaids floated away upon their straining ropes at immense speed and the curtain went down. The Lady felt tired but happy, and waited for the lights to go on; she thought it would be delicious to move again, and perhaps even have something to drink. But the music, instead of fading away, grew louder every moment, and soon the curtain rose once more. The scene had now changed to the sort of thing which our grandmothers used to reproduce so happily in water colour; rocky crags, one of them surmounted by a castle, rose on every hand beneath an angry sky.

In the foreground sat the inevitable two figures without which no composition of the kind is complete, dressed in white with long blue cloaks. The man's face was entirely covered with russet hair. As he rose to sing the Lady's companion hissed into her ear the word 'Schorr ? Schorr.' [Friedrich Schorr (1888?1953). Hungarian bass?baritone]

'Shaw,' she thought, 'George Bernard? Evidently not.' She recollected seeing photographs of GBS in which he presented a very different figure from the rather portly one before her. 'It's the name of the singer, I expect. Well, that's something to remember. Shaw.'

Now began, if the horrid truth must he known, a period of rather serious boredom.

The Lady began to he worn out with the loudness and dullness of the music. She felt stiff and tired and thought longingly of her bed. Presently a blonde in a green evening frock appeared from behind one of the crags. She seemed to he in some sort of trouble, and was soon followed by two lunatics dressed as Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday. Probably the blonde had escaped from a lunatic asylum and they were pursuing her.

They began a very long argument with Shaw. Once or twice it looked as though things might he livened up by a bit of a fight (Shaw had a spear in his hand), but they always ended by beginning mother song and seemed ton busy singing to do anything else.

The Lady kept on nearly going to sleep for what seemed like hours; but each time she awoke to find the same people still in the same positions and shouting their strange songs. Two men of the audience got up and left; the Lady envied them much. She longed to lie down on the floor and sleep. There were now some more people on the stage, a peroxide youth who appeared half?heartedly in love with the blonde in green, and another lunatic dressed as Shock?Headed Peter.

At last the blonde was removed by Robinson Crusoe in spite of the feeble efforts of the peroxide young man to retain her, and the curtain went down.

Still no entr'acte. The Lady was in a trace of leaden despair, she ached all over.

The near scene took place in the asylum, a son of cave, very dark and depressing, and might have been quite exciting if only the action had been speeded up a little. Two lunatics teased and tortured each other, others ran about with armfuls of firewood, and one got into a dark cupboard and kept jumping out at Shaw (who appeared with Shock?Headed Peter), waving electric torches in his face. The Lady slept a little during this scene and only really came to at the beginning of the next ? which brought her back again among the crags. All the same people were there: Shaw, the blonde in green, Shock?Headed Peter, Robinson Crusoe, Man Friday, and the other lunatics with their bundles of firewood.

Nature now had her way. The Lady fell into a blessed and profound sleep from which she was only awakened by the sound of clapping. All was over.

Stunned and shattered in mind, stiff and sore in body, she tottered towards her car.

'I never knew,' she moaned from the depths of disillusionment, 'that three hours could go so slowly.'

The Lady, May 22,1930