How Does the Garden Grow?

Daniel Snowman on commerce and opera over fifty years at Covent Garden.

'Tanner a pound! Tanner a pound! -- Tanner a pou-uuund!' was the barbed and decidedly unmellifluous riposte of my father when 1, a young teenager, announced that one day I would sing at Covent Garden. He loved opera and venerated the great old theatre in Bow Street to which he and my mother had first taken me as a child. But, as a gentle puncturing of inflated teenage ambition, he invoked the institution for which Covent Garden was probably even better known in those days, at least to the non-musical public: its fruit and vegetable market.

Something of the Pygmalion image survived well into the 1960s, and I recall (as do some of the older generation of singers and dancers) the amiable bonhomie that could develop over a late-night mug of tea between the theatricals swarming out after a show and the overnight fruit-flower-'n'-veg porters.

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