The disguised gardener

I was sorting through some old sketchbooks, and I found this drawing.


It's a sketch of Sandrina, the heroine from an opera called La Finta Giardiniera, which roughly translates as The Disguised Gardener. It's a complicated plot of love triangles and several disguises, so I won't go into the details here – suffice to say that I worked on this show a few years ago at Glyndebourne. This particular production was directed by Frederic Wake-Walker and designed by Antony Mcdonald. It was beautiful, like an elegant blue ghost edged in gold gilt.

The role of Sandrina was sung by a German soprano called Christiane Karg. Every night, she would don the cloud-like blue wig, the silvery-white make-up, and I would help her with corsets and the secret strings, pulleys and fastenings that made that dress appear to float so beautifully.

Early into the second half, Sandrina – who at this point has gone mad - would make an appearance by bursting through a wall, and proceed to reel about on stage with rolling eyes, wailing in insanity. I would watch Christiane standing behind the wall, which was made out of paper, waiting for her cue and readying herself. One, two, three – bam! She would take a running lunge and go for it.

Except one night, she landed on her hands and knees and even though she kept singing, she didn't get up. After a few moments the stage manager took a big decision and stopped the show. He walked out onto the stage and bent down to check in with Christiane, and she told him that she'd dislocated her knee.

The curtain came down.

It just so happened there was a doctor in the house, and he came backstage. The call was put out for a bag of frozen peas, which was duly delivered from one of the restaurant kitchens.

By this time, it was too late to summon Christiana's understudy, but Christiana said that she could go on and complete the show – from a chair. With a bag of peas on her knee. And this is what she did. Needless to say, she received huge applause at the end of the show.

Back in the dressing room, Christiana was on her phone. 'Mum,' she said, 'I've hurt my knee. But it's not that bad... really, I'm fine.'

The wall-burst was cut from the show, and Christiana went on to complete the rest of the run with a huge knee brace which, fortunately, was hidden by the dress.

This episode really went to underline that famous idiom, the show must go on. And now when I feel I may be having a crisis, I think of Christiana – calm, cool, collected, dignified – and I work to find a way forward.