Tales from the Oriental


Dusklit opera on one of London’s busiest streets? Whatever next. Nick Hammond laments summer’s passing in his latest Tale From The Oriental…

YOU know, sometimes only a pint of ale, thirstily swigged, will do.

When you’ve completed a sweaty task or finally reached Friday teatime and can breathe that familiar sigh of relief.

And yet at other times, a glass of palo cortado or some delicately dancing bubbles is just what the doctor ordered. And today is definitely one of the latter days.

On a breathless English Summer’s day when flags have hung limply above the soaring façade of Stratford House; when pigeons looped desultorily around St James’s Park and ducks quacked in a melancholy stupor on The Serpentine – the demon has finally gone out of the day.

Heat still fills the courtyard, pooling slowly from the warm stone and rising, shimmering into London’s dusk air. But now it’s a pleasant heat; like a warm bath or your favourite sweater.

Condensation rivulets drip daintily down long-stemmed flutes as Champagne is served at The Oriental Club.

These outdoor events are many in the Summer months, sporting event following social occasion as is the wont in June, July and August. Test matches on the big screen, strawberries and cream in front of Wimbledon; barbecues, jazz suppers and Shakespeare have all played their part on this little stage in the heart of London’s West End. Tonight it is the turn of operatics.

As light fades across nearby residential rooftops, the unmistakable timbre of a harpsichord rings out, announcing unequivocably that we are about to be bewitched by baroque.

Alcina Oriental

Handel’s Alcina – first performed not far from here in Covent Garden in 1735 – is the offering from Ryedale Festival Opera and it matters not a jot that I have as much grasp on the thin plot as on a bar of soap in a bucket of blancmange.

You can, I imagine, surmise the general lie of the land; there are girls dressed as boys, boys singing like girls, fanciful animals, love triangles, a sorceress and pathos aplenty.

This young cast, with the barest of stages and an intimate group of musicians, still manage to weave a spellbinding couple of hours and some beautiful, soaring arias that fill the courtyard positioned discreetly at the back of Stratford House. It’s covered during Summer months with a wonderful awning to protect from our ahem, slightly inclement weather. And it’s a civilised spot to enjoy a spot of lunch or a refreshing glass after fighting one’s way through central London.

At one point during tonight’s fare, I spot a denizen from one of the surrounding properties sitting outside his front door, soaking up the atmosphere. It is one of those nights.

Executive Chef Wesley Smaller has been spotted prowling around, his staff expertly wielding spinach and ricotta tartlets, legendary Club pork and eel sausage roll (which, amid much gnashing of teeth, I manage to miss, again), tiny bowls of butter chicken masala and braised lamb with mash and Summer beans.

As the final, impossible notes from Handel’s wondrous mind fade into the ether, we rouse as if from a dream and look at each other knowingly.

Oriental Calcutta Light Horse

We’re staying in our pied-à-terre tonight, so the good lady and I retire to the Calcutta Light Horse Bar and find a quiet corner to dissect the evening. Beautifully presented, wonderfully enacted. A great collaboration.

Finally, we drag ourselves gratefully up the stairs. I’m not sure how you Londoners manage. As an out-of-towner, I find myself exhausted after just a day of train, tube, pavement schlepping and pedestrian dodging.

Yet another reason to thank the Gods for The Oriental and drift off tonight with echoes of Alcina softly ringing in one’s ears.

For more information about The Oriental Club, including details of forthcoming events and, of course, membership, visit www.orientalclub.org.uk.