January 26, 2012

Um, SHADOWS

 

SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS FRELLING SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS GAH SHADOWS SHADOWS MAGGIE SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS BLEEEEUUUUH SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS I HAVE WRITTEN AT LEAST 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 FRESH NEW SHADOWS SHADOWS WORDS TODAY SHADOWS MORE GAH MORE SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS LOVELY LOVELY MONGO BUT I CAN’T AT PRESENT REMEMBER IF I HAVE ANY MORE SPOILER-FREE MONGO SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SO YOU’LL FORGIVE ME IF THERE IS NO BLOG TONIGHT? THERE MAY BE A FEW MORE BLOG-FREE NIGHTS IN THE NEXT WEEK BUT I’LL TRY TO LOOK OUT MONGO BARS ONE NIGHT SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS JILL SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS VAL SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS A LITTLE KISSING SHADOWS BUT NOT MUCH SHADOWS SHADOWS MAGIC AND TECHNOLOGY AND CRITTERS AND WEIRD SHADOWS CRITTERS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS TAKS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SILVERBUGS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS ORZASKA SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS AND MAGGIE’S MOM GROWS ROSES SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS COBEYS SHAAAAAAAAADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS CASIMIR  SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS SHADOWS THE 31ST OF FRELLING BLOODY JANUARY IS NEXT TUESDAY HAVE I MENTIONED SHADOWS IS DUE THE END OF JANUARY?  I MEAN HAVE I MENTIONED IT LATELY?  LIKE IN THE LAST 200 WORDS?

Extreme Brain Death, etc

 

Blah erg eh gah erfft groan snivel.  I’m pretty sure I’ve used this title before, although the ‘etc’ may confuse the ’bot waiting to title it ‘extreme-brain-death-1407’ when I turn it into a shortcut to hang as a thread in the forum.*  There get to be a lot of extreme brain death days toward the end of writing a novel, especially when the deadline is beetling down on you and you’re not done yet.  What I haven’t been telling you, because there’s no point, is that I ran aground on SHADOWS with a horrible grinding noise about a week ago.**  This is why I try not to write novels in a hurry, because forcing them along at a pace they don’t want to maintain tends to lead to this kind of thing.  This is what I originally thought had happened with PEG II:  I knew it was going to be long (ahem) and I thought it was just demanding a more leisurely pace, and I could wait it out.  Politely.  *** 

            You can miss signposts if you’re going too fast.  I’ve been going pretty fast on SHADOWS, but mostly it’s been doing the mettlesome-steed thing and galloping along willingly.  With the result that I was pretty far down the wrong byway when I realised that the landscape was going all peculiar.  You may not know the difference between Piddling-on-Slepton and Greater Hatchflummery—they both have village greens and duck ponds—but you can make a good guess about whether you’re in a rainforest or the Riiser-Larsen ice shelf.†  And furthermore while the story is delivered by the Story Council, some slack, not to say grace, is given to the scribe for rootling for vivid details, and I have a fertile little mind.††  I can not only have gone extremely wrong, I can have plucked all kinds of seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time-details out of the surrounding dramatic dazzle by the time I realise it should be parrots, not penguins.  Oops.  And of course the blizzard has eradicated my tracks. . . .

            So, not to flog a poor innocent metaphor to death or anything, I’ve been kind of crouched in my tent, pushing earlier details around like checkers on a small travelling checkerboard, and waiting for the wind to die down so I can get my compass out and figure out where I went wrong.  It’s a TOTAL FRELLING BITCH, waiting.  It’s even a total frelling bitch when you’re not staring at a deadline.  But there’s not a lot I can do until the blizzard subsides/the dust settles/the story forgives me for being a dork.  Last few days I haven’t been listening to quantum physics while hurtling†††, I’ve been trying to, as you might say, deplot myself.  Today I finally heard the parrots. . . . 

So let’s have an Ask Robin to celebrate. 

So I’ve been wondering this one for years, and I think I’ve checked everywhere else for the answer. In Hero, after Aerin defeats Agsded, she falls asleep and dreams three different scenes. One is of Hetta from Water and one is Harry, I thought. But the last one is of three men, one of whom we hear is called Tommy and one called Leo. Is that a story that is published somewhere and I missed it, or is it a story not yet written, or is it in a drawer somewhere? 

I would totally swear that I have answered this one, but one of the new tenets of the rejuvenated Ask Robin, a bit like the rather inescapably evolved basic tenet of this blog, is that stuff inevitably comes round more than once. 

            No, that is not Hetta from POOL IN THE DESERT.  Good grief.  Check it out, people, I hear this a little too often.  Even if you can get ‘the white walls around her were so high there seemed to be clouds resting on their heads’ out of a tatty little suburban garden, Hetta’s pool is specifically described as being surrounded by crazy paving, which is not ‘the flat earth around the pool was covered with squares of white stone.’‡  This wouldn’t matter, at least not till I finish writing the story about the girl in the other garden (Hetta doesn’t have long black hair either, but I don’t think that’s mentioned one way or another, since I’m mostly allergic to physical descriptions of my characters), whereupon everyone who’s assumed it’s Hetta is going to be confused.  And I read stuff wrong in other people’s books all the time, and you can’t focus your best brain power on everything‡‡, and I write (and mean to write) curled-up-on-the-sofa, downtime kinds of books.  But I do suggest you check this kind of thing if you’re going to write to the author, you know?

            And yes, that is Harry.

            Leo and Tommy and their companion are from the very first story I started writing about Damar . . . the one I lay aside because I realised it was too big and complicated and probably several books’ worth and I couldn’t cope . . . and wrote BEAUTY instead.  Then when I went back to Damar I decided to start at what you might call an angle, with SWORD, and HERO was always going to follow immediately after SWORD (yes!  It’s a prequel!  I wrote it that way deliberately!).  So Leo and Tommy are now one of the umpty-jillion Third Damar Novels still waiting in a series of beat up paper files and spiral notebooks.‡‡‡  If I live long enough. . . . 

* * *

* Alternatively I could wait till a mod hung the thread for me, and then I wouldn’t have to notice.  

** This is not wholly a bad thing, as it gave me a kind of break in concentration to get my bell tower resignation letter polished up and sent, which had to be done more or less right then.  For all I know bits of my subconscious had been holding high level consultations about this.  Including the bit that was holding my throat hostage and getting increasingly frustrated that I was ignoring the ransom notes.  I feel this situation could have been arranged better but then I would think that, wouldn’t I?  And by the way, about 75% of what Nadia did to me yesterday is still working—I was singing out hurtling today^ for the first time in weeks—and I may even practise tonight before I crash. 

^ I wasn’t singing, however, when I frelling slipped in the frelling mud and fell frelling down squish.  ARRRRRRRGH.  At least I was wearing my raincoat which is old and falling to ruin anyway and I don’t have to worry about how it’s going to wash.  (It probably isn’t.  It is probably going to take this excuse to fall apart.)  My jeans however brought half the frelling landscape home with them.  Hellhounds were bemused.  Usually they like me at their level but not so much when I’m screaming and floundering.  

*** Convulsive shudder.  Not infrequently in the last five months when I’ve been getting mental whiplash at the pace I am trying to make^ I’ve thought that having a story that WANTS TO BE WRITTEN even if it doesn’t want to be written quite this fast is ENTIRELY to be preferred to a story that . . . well, all right, it wasn’t PEG II’s fault I was refusing to listen to the whole ‘another two more books’ business.  Still.  I kind of feel it could have just let me write to the end of II and then stare into the abyss when I got there.  

^ I know, I know, there are lots of authors who write two books a year, and some of them are even good books.  I am not one of those authors.  This is totally trampolining my tiny intellect.+ 

+ OH FOR PITY’S SAKE.  Listening to Late Junction on Radio 3.  Some intellectual# has taken AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells and turned it into a thoughtful piece of drooling ambient nonsense.  Who are you trying to fool here.  Those lyrics are not up to being whispered resonantly into a microphone too close to your mouth.  GAAAAAAAH.## 

# ‘An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex.’  —Aldous Huxley  

## Note that BACK IN BLACK is one of my all time favourite albums.  Right up there with the Beverly Sills LA TRAVIATA.  And equally patriarchal tripe in their different ways. 

† Oh, look, there’s a penguin.  Probably not a rainforest then. 

†† Not much intellect.  But lots of imagination. 

††† SINGING is very good for encouraging brisk blood flow through the brain. 

‡ One of the reasons I specified the crazy paving was that I thought I was preventing people from assuming it’s the pool—and the girl—from Aerin’s dream.  Oh well. 

‡‡ I think about this every time I go horribly wrong on a bell method I know perfectly well, possibly because I’ve been working too hard and have No Brain.

‡‡‡ There are some dead floppies^ involved in a few of the Third Damar Novels too, but I print everything out, so it doesn’t matter;  if I picked any of them up now, I’d start a new draft on page one. 

^ Floppy discs.  Remember floppy discs?

I sang. I rang.

 

Yessssssss.

            I got up this morning convinced I was doing a really dumb, time-wasting-when-I-have-even-less-time-to-waste-than-usual, thing, going to my voice lesson when I’m still totally croaking.*   I told myself that I had to go to Mauncester anyway, to pick up more organic composted farmyard manure for the garden(s) so I might as well tack a voice lesson on the end of it.**  I looked dubiously at my music, which positively has dust *** on it, and decided to take the easy end of it along in case Nadia wanted to recommend this pathetic baby thing rather than that.  And I took my notebook, of course, to write down her pearls, rubies and sapphires of wisdom.

            So I got there and she said blandly, I think it would be a good idea just to attempt to warm your voice up a little—I may be able to advise you about how to work this week.  Croak, I said.  That’s fine, she said.  We’ll start with the nnnn sound.  We can add an actual pitch in later.

            Nnnn, I said. . . .

            Teacher magic.  It’s amazing.  Oh, I still have a throat full of crud † but my larynx isn’t made of cement after all and by the end of the hour I was SINGING.  I was not singing well††, but I was indubitably SINGING.  Nadia said (possibly a trifle smugly) that one of the reasons some of the notes just weren’t there—open mouth, nothing comes out—isn’t about my throat at all, but about the fact that because of all this emotional stuff I’ve shut down, and specifically I’ve shut my voice off from my air supply.  And she taught me the Lip Trill, which she says is very good for reconnecting with your air supply because it’s so hard to maintain.   All you singers out there will know the Lip Trill.  What it really is is a blowing-horse imitation:  you blow out through your lips so they go Pbpbpbpbpbpbpb†††  It’s also supposed to relax the muscles around your mouth.‡  Which probably explains why I can’t do it.  So now it’s homework.  I have to learn to pbpbpbpbpbpbpb.  She also made me do the opening-curtains thing to make me more positive, and the drinking-a-glass-of-water-on-a-hot-day‡‡ thing, which I hadn’t done before, to open my throat.  Why does this stuff work.  It is insane.

            I had already noticed that what notes are available—and they’ve been creeping home one by one like party-goers after dawn, the last two or three days—are mostly the upper-middle of my register.  I’m not even trying the top end, but my voice starts cutting out again around middle C, and I should have a whole octave below that.  Nadia kept coming back here and I’d go croak and she’d move back up again.  Finally at the very end of the hour something shifted and I began singing in my chest voice—usually, as these things go with me, the gear change into chest voice is not all that big a deal.  Ah, she said, that’s what I was hoping for.  And I was thinking chest voice = speaking voice = not speaking up for myself = duuuuuh.  As I had said to her in my email asking to come for a non-singing singing lesson, I even wonder if the appalling revealingness of singing, depressingly unconnected with any excellence of said singing as it is, is the reason my body chose this method of trying to get my frelling attention.

            Nadia said, I was planning on getting you singing today, you know . . .

            I had about an hour between singing lesson and Penelope and Niall picking me up to go ringing at Glaciation.‡‡‡  Whapwhapwhapwhap:   person trying to reorient.  Whap.  Which—ringing—felt totally normal . . . and really, really weird and sad and creepy.  I haven’t got a tower any more.  I’m just some random bell ringer who knows some people in this area.  Brrrrr.  But ringing rounds for beginners is always grounding as well as making you feel you’re contributing to the community§ and we managed to ring Cambridge even if I then went on to make a pig’s ear of an innocent touch of Stedman which I ought to be able to do in my sleep.§§  Slightly in my defense I was ringing on the one remaining bell I don’t know for Stedman—the three—and there are always moments of vertigo as you figure out where you are on a new bell in a familiar pattern.  But mostly I just blatfarging botched it.  But they didn’t tell me not to come back, so hey. 

            And I have gone around today thrusting my knitting under everyone’s noses and saying, Look!  Ribbing!  Real ribbing!  

* * *

* Although there is a little Freelancers Must Stick Together too.  Nadia doesn’t charge for legitimately missed lessons, so she’s losing money when I don’t come.  This preys on my conscience. 

** Going to the local farm shop would have absorbed about forty minutes out of my day.  Plus voice lesson made it about three hours.  Being really, really bad at arithmetic^ has its uses. 

^ Possibly I mean ‘logic’ here. 

*** And hellhound hair.  But everything in these households has hellhound hair on it, including me, and I am in almost constant use. 

†  ::Grossness alert::  And I was gacking up horrible gunge on the drive home, after having all those secret inner bits stirred up by Nadia’s intervention.  MAJOR DISGUSTING EWWWW.  One of the oddities of this illness anyway has been how obsessively focused on my throat it’s been so I didn’t even know there was all that crudiferousness lurking.  I find myself wondering if I went down a few archaeological layers and was ripping out stuff from some previous occasion when I didn’t speak up for myself when I should have.  

†† But then I never sing well.  Sigh.  

††† When in doubt, YouTube.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gt7eTRyRKpA 

‡ I don’t think there’s any of me that DOESN’T need relaxing.  My hair needs relaxing.  My fingernails need relaxing.  Possibly especially a week before the book I’m working on is due.  

‡‡ Beer if I preferred, she said.  No, I said, the way I get into this nonsense of yours, I need to be sober to drive home. 

‡‡‡ My voice lesson got moved later when it got made an hour long, and Colin’s practise has had a quarter hour added to the front end because he has a nice fresh growing crop of beginners who need cultivating.  This is not ideal for me.  On a bad ME day I’ll have to miss Colin, although give me a shooting stick to lean on and I can probably ring rounds for beginners even if I’m seeing double. 

§ Contributing!  To the [ringing] communityAAAAAAAUGH

§§ Although given how well I’m sleeping lately. . .

 

Sunday

 

I went to bed late last night even for me*, having closed all the windows and curtains, hung a blanket over the back door (well, hey, it’s January) and closed the bathroom door since its window tends to funnel sound through into my bedroom.

            The bells still woke me up.  Siiigh.  And then of course I couldn’t get back to sleep.  This is going to take some getting used to. . . . **

            HOWEVER.  I wrote to Nadia saying, I still can’t sing, but could we maybe have a NON-SINGING SINGING LESSON?  You can tell me about singing Micaela in a field full of sheep in Ghent in the rain and the Escamillo was old and fat and one of the smugglers had a terrible head and kept sneezing.***  Just so I could feel I was reattaching.†  She wrote back saying, erm, maybe some language/pronunciation practise?  FINE.  WHATEVER.  So I’m going to my voice lesson tomorrow for the first time in what may be a month . . . and never mind I still can’t sing a scale—only about every other note is even present—as I said to her, the larynx is about as flexible as cement.  But the sore throat is GONE and the rest will come. † 

Diane in MN

The EnchantedIsland
. . . is fabulous. FABULOUS.

YES YES YES!!!

I loved the production, thought the singing was fabulous, and generally had a splendid afternoon. I had never heard Danielle De Niese 

She had a big push for what may have been her first album?, over here, called Beauty of the Baroque, which I bought because it has Dido’s Lament on it which is one of those arias I sort of collect.  It’s nearly all very, very standard repertoire—Dido herself of course, Come again sweet love, Ombra Mai fu, Let the bright Seraphim and so on and I thought I was probably being a fool, but in fact I like her voice and her interpretations a lot.††  She’s got a new album out.  Hmmm. 

and was seriously impressed. (Ariel? Androgynous, but of course s/he’s a spirit, so gender may be irrelevant.)

I’ve seen the Shakespearean Ariel played both as male and as androgynous.  Female would be fine.  I don’t care, just make up your mind, which I felt they didn’t do in ISLAND. 

I thought Costanzo’s voice worked for Ferdinand because Ferdinand is very young, and they wouldn’t have wanted another countertenor who sounds like David Daniels.

 

I might have bought his voice, despite my dubiousness about the salon-and-harpsichord type of countertenor—which I like fine, in a salon with a harpsichord—on the operatic stage, but the way they handled him, with the peach-satin-lined cape and the uniform emphasizing how slender he is, I thought in that context just made him a nebbish.  He and Miranda are going to rule?  I.  Don’t.  Think.  So.  But I’ve seen at least two reviews praising him particularly, so . . . I’m a cow.  This is not news.††† 

And I love David Daniels, but I don’t quite get why they cast a countertenor as Prospero, who’s an old guy.

Er—what does old have to do with being a countertenor?   James Bowman is semi-retired at 70, but he’s still giving concerts.  I thought this was a stroke of genius, myself, to cast a Baroque Prospero as a countertenor—and then get David Daniels, who actually has a voice strong enough to cope with operatic demands and the personal authority to go with it, to sing the role.  Of course there’s not a lot he can do with the repulsiveness of the character, but that’s how it’s written. 

He’s not a particularly nice monster, but he still has his feelings and his dreams, and he’s the only principal at the end who hasn’t got what he wanted.

Agreed. They should have conjured up a Papagena for this Papageno. I was kind of hoping that’s what Ariel stepped offstage to do.

Yes.  Maybe they can do that in a later edition.    Maybe we should write letters. . . .

. . . The singers–part of the Met’s young artist development program–who sang the Dream lovers were very good, and I especially liked the young mezzo who sang Hermia. She sounds like someone to pay attention to.

Agreed!  She was the stand-out to me too.  I was thinking, hey, this chickie could grow up to be a contralto.  Mmmmmmm.

This was altogether a great show. I’d see it again, too, any time. 

Let’s hope there are enough of us to make it so.

blondviolinist
 
I’VE BEEN KNITTING FOR A YEAR AND I HAVEN’T FINISHED ANYTHING YET.

Heh. Definitely a process knitter, then, as opposed to a product knitter.

Oh, absolutely.‡  I knit at traffic lights, remember?  And waiting for stuff to happen.  (Like very long lights to change.)  Some people meditate.  I knit.  It’s soothing. It’s also a Positive Time Out From the World thing, which is why it’s so perfect for opera intermissions, which are too long for those of us who think we should be doing something.  That there might conceivably be a PRODUCT at the end of one of these long yarny tunnels would be awesome.  Slightly in my defense, you know, I bit off way more than I could chew with my Three Secret Projects.  I eventually decided I couldn’t inflict them on anyone, and kind of collapsed in a damp little heap on the floor.‡‡  And I started with the idea of leg warmers, as some of you may (unfortunately) recall, and when I had an instant nervous breakdown about the ribbing, Fiona had the brilliant idea about the hellhound blanket.  And now, a year later, I’m maybe ready to try again.

If you can knit for an entire year without a single finished object to your name and still enjoy knitting, then you are definitely a Knitter with a capital “K.”

 Snork.  But it’s process Zen knitting, you know?

 

RIBBING! IT'S RIBBING! It's not very even ribbing, but it's RIBBING!!!!

* * *

* Made easy by reading BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver.  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Before-I-Fall-Lauren-Oliver/dp/0340980907/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1327273485&sr=1-1

Yowzah.  This is another of those books—like WINTERGIRLS, say—that I had zero interest in—I might almost say violent, bigoted zero interest in—get away from me with that thing.  It’s a Sensitive Teen Age Novel About Learning The Important Stuff.  Oh, And The Heroine Dies.  Since this is the most famous part of the set up, I don’t consider that a spoiler.  Anyway, I frelling hate sensitive teenage novels, and one of the sub-categories I particularly hate is when the main character dies (sensitively), but FALL is another book that reached over my prejudices, grabbed me immediately and doesn’t let go.  It’s just a very, very good book.  I had about a million people tell me to shut up and read it.  ALL RIGHT.  I’LL READ IT.  FEH.   You could argue that I’m too old to have a clue about the spot-on-ness of Oliver’s take on the spectacular horribleness of the high school popular crowd—but I’m not too old to say that she’s deadly accurate about people and the misuse of power.^  And while a lot of the reviews emphasise how horrible Sam and her crowd are—because the point is that as Sam relives her last day over and over, she becomes less horrible—one of the things that struck me was how easy they were to find sort of (horribly) likeable.  Far more human than you might have thought if they were laughing at your shoes/knapsack/hair or not inviting you to their parties.  But then Oliver has bags and bags of style, and I’m a sucker for style.  I sometimes think it’s the rarest writing gift of all.  

^ And the antics of the popular crowd have not, in fact, changed all that much in the last half century.  The big local high school, which is pretty much first choice for anyone in this catchment area, is about four blocks from here.  I see a lot of teenage group activity and it all looks pretty familiar.  A bit more personal tech is all. 

** I want to get this mostly off the front page, however.  Anyone riveted by my private soap opera, the conversation continues in the forum. 

*** Opera singers—and Nadia isn’t chiefly an opera singer, but she’s done some—always have amazing stories. 

† The president/secretary/oddsbods man/assistant director of the Muddlehamptons has kindly kept me on the mailing list.  They’ve got a wedding in late April, singing three old war horses of the standard choir repertoire and I so want to be there. 

 †† One of the idiot reviews of ISLAND that I saw said that de Niese couldn’t sing Baroque music.  What?  

††† I also acknowledge that being a major character who only comes on at the very very end and has to give a kind of And All Will Be Well From This Day Forward Because I Am Here aria out of nowhere is a rough one, and he did it with poise and charm. 

‡ I think we’ve had this conversation before.  I feel a little^ . . . embarrassed.  Surely knitting ought to be about product? 

^ NO NO.  NOT SHEEPISH. 

‡‡ It’s not all bad.  It’s significantly slowed my rampant stash acquisition.

The Enchanted Island*

 

. . .  is fabulous.  FABULOUS.** 

            When I was signing up for this season’s Live from the Met operas I ordered a ticket for this one automatically when I read the cast list and it included Joyce DiDonato, but I wasn’t very happy about it.  It’s a pastiche, or a mash-up if you want to be groovy***, with the storyline bodged together from THE TEMPEST and MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM and music stolen freely from all over the Baroque (I believe):  Handel, Rameau and Vivaldi (I think†) are the chief sources.  And there are Baroque costumes.  And Baroque sets.  I’d seen some stills and . . . ewww.  However, I had the ticket, and there was going to be Joyce DiDonato.

            I loved it.  And the production, which is way, way, WAY over the frelling top, is one of the best things about it—and therefore proves that not merely low-key or tactful things but positively reckless, attention-grabbing and silly things can be done successfully on the opera stage.††  Yesss.

            The singing is delicious, and even if I am prone to DiDonato worship, Danielle de Niese nearly steals the show.   The story:  Prospero, countertenor David Daniels, is sulking on his island.  This is one of the interesting choices ‘writer and deviser’ Jeremy Sams made:  this Prospero is a jerk.  I’ve never liked Prospero—all right, all right, I’ve never liked Shakespeare, but I’ve thought that the whole mage thing was over-emphasized:  he’s a self-pitying bully with some (fading) magic powers.  Which is exactly what comes through here.   Daniels does it very well:  I had no problem with his voice on that stage, and he has authority which Prospero must have.  He sends Ariel, played and sung with enormous charm and humour by de Niese, to shipwreck Ferdinand and then do the Puck trick with the potion to make sure he and Prospero’s daughter Miranda fall in love with each other.  But Caliban††† has stolen Prospero’s dragon’s blood so that his mother, Sycorax, can reclaim her powers, which Prospero, that fine upstanding gentleman, stole when he stole the island from her.  Without dragon’s blood the spell goes wrong, and Ariel instead wrecks a ship containing two honeymoon couples:  Helena and Demetrius, Hermia and Lysander.  Add Miranda and Caliban and there’s lots and lots of inappropriate pairings-off.  Ariel, in a panic, with Prospero having tantrums and threatening to lock her‡ back up in her holly tree, asks Neptune for help.   Neptune finds Ferdinand and gives him a shove in the right direction, the lovers are sorted, Prospero frees Ariel, Sycorax regains youth as well as power‡‡ (and her island), and all ends with general rejoicing except for poor Caliban who liked having a girlfriend and doesn’t have one any more.

            There isn’t enough of Sycorax.  Her first aria is amazing.  DiDonato goes from being a crippled hag to being a powerful woman in the prime of life over the course of the opera‡‡‡ but that first aria when she gimps out and yowls about what has happened to her—DiDonato makes some genuinely ugly noises, snarling below her range, and it’s riveting.  ISLAND is such an ensemble piece nobody gets a lot of solo time . . . but I still wanted more of Sycorax.  One of the dumb reviews that I’m refusing to link to says that ISLAND is all fluffy and throwaway—um, Sycorax is not fluffy.  And Caliban really is the one who isn’t saved.  He’s sung with dignity and pathos by Luca Pisaroni, who I had some caveats about as a rather too twitchy Leporello, but he’s excellent here.  He’s not a particularly nice monster, but he still has his feelings and his dreams, and he’s the only principal at the end who hasn’t got what he wanted.§  

            . . . I can’t frelling believe that the Met is so cheap and/or careless not to produce a complete cast list, but I’m failing to find it, and the synopsis they give you at the door of the theatre does not include the four MIDSUMMER NIGHT lovers.  How totally crap is that?   Miranda and Ferdinand are present, however;  poor Miranda, Lisette Oropesa, has one of the most thankless roles I’ve ever seen.  She comes on at the beginning singing, oh, dad, I Yearn For Something I Know Not What, and then wanders around falling for a new bloke every time Ariel makes another mistake with the fairy dust, till at the end she falls for Ferdinand.  It is done for laughs but I found it still a bit cringe-making.  I thought Ferdinand, Anthony Roth Costanzo, was one of their few real mistakes.  He’s another countertenor, but of the exquisite variety which does not do well on the opera stage, and furthermore he’s a willowy young man and they dress him in gold, white and peach.  Ick. 

            I’m trying to think how to tell you about the ridiculously glorious staging.  It’s—well, it’s Baroque.  There’s too much of everything, and it’s all curlicued and then super-curlicued.  But it’s also gorgeous and appealing, and the special effects, of the island and the high seas, are terrific—when the MIDSUMMER lovers’ boat is drowned it’s genuinely scary.  But the best—the best—is Neptune’s court.   Ariel comes on stage wearing a diving helmet so you know you’re supposed to be underwater, and there are mermaids floating overhead to reinforce this idea.§§  And the chorus breaks into ‘Zadok the Priest’ and everyone in the audience breaks up:  Neptune is played by Placido Domingo.§§§  But his court . . . well, there are all these ladies in semi-transparent leotards with scallop shells over their boobs, making wafty hand gestures, and behind them most of the chorus is standing behind, with only their heads showing, this gigantic series of painted props of naked people getting it on both with each other and with a variety of Things with Tentacles.  I loved it.  And Domingo is a cranky Neptune:  at one point he says, I’ll listen to you but I may be too old and tired and irritable to help you.  Here’s a god I could get along with.

            It was a splendid evening out.  I would guess ISLAND is still a work in progress;  it seems to me there’s stuff they haven’t quite figured out yet—the duet between Sycorax and Caliban at the beginning of the second act, for example, to my sensibility, isn’t quite there yet.  But it seems to me very much the best of Baroque:  the lovely music without all the sing, sing with twiddles, sing something slightly different, sing the slightly different with twiddles, then do it all over again several times, that tends to weary the uninitiated.  I was dismayed to hear the two women behind me not liking it and saying, well, why?  What is it for?, and that they wouldn’t see it again.  I’d see it again like a shot.  I want to see how it goes on evolving, and wholly in love with DiDonato (and now de Niese) as I am I’d also love to see what other singers might do with those roles.

              Yaay.  Five stars. 

* * *

* http://www.metoperafamily.org//opera/the-enchanted-island-tickets.aspx?icamp=Enchint&iloc=hpbucket

** Also, I knitted a fresh eight rows of my LEG WARMERS during intermission which I think I’m not going to have to rip out.  Which would be a first.  This is also my first attempt after having shifted to easier yarn—this is just basic, uh, pink, cheap, acrylic, 6mm.  Hellhound-blanket yarn in fact.  No variable threads, no confusing heathery colour notes. I can see what I’m doing and I’m not forever getting hung up in weird little fuzzy artistic filaments.  I’VE BEEN KNITTING FOR A YEAR AND I HAVEN’T FINISHED ANYTHING YET. 

*** Feh. 

† I could look all this stuff up, yes.  But I wasted way too much time trying to find a sensible review to link to and failed, and even if I don’t have to get up for service ring tomorrow morning^ I would like to get to bed some time.  

^ Waaaaaaah.  I was thinking, on my way to the theatre tonight, that it is a small kindness I have an opera on the night before my first official Sunday morning non-ring.  Sunday mornings after an opera, and especially after blogging about an opera, are—were—especially gruesome.  

††Moron from FAUST, take note. 

††† Somebody tell me why Microsoft Word has Prospero and Ariel in its dictionary but not Caliban. 

‡  Her?  Him?  There are plenty of trouser roles in opera, so that de Niese is a girl is not definitive.  But Prospero calls Ariel ‘son’ and ‘boy’ in the first few minutes so I thought, okay, boy.  But at the end, when Prospero has done the miser-leans-against-wall-and-becomes-generous thing and gives Sycorax back her island, Caliban says he wants a queen, and Ariel looks nervous and steps backward into the shadows.  What?  Since Caliban had spent a happy scene or two as Helena’s lover, I don’t think we’re supposed to be second-guessing Caliban’s gender preferences. 

‡‡ Where can I buy some dragon’s blood?  Is it good for writing novels? 

‡‡‡ And oh how I want her dress from the beginning of the second act.  Not the bright upbeat one at the end, which is too cheerful, although it’s a very nice cape.  I want the dark cranky one with the sparkles. 

§ In this version Prospero and Sycorax got it on before Prospero cast her aside like an old shoe and stole her island, her son, and her sprite.  Such a nice guy.  I believe his apology at the end about as much as I believe the Count’s at the end of FIGARO.  Get out fast, Ariel, before he changes his mind (again), and Sycorax, keep your flying piranhas handy, and don’t be afraid to use them.  But because I have a low mind^ I’m thinking this may cast an interesting light on the father of Caliban and the mother of Miranda.  I totally see Prospero’s character coming through in his son. 

^ So what do fanged muffins get up to when no one is around? 

§§ Although the mermaids come back in the last scene, which is supposed to be on dry land.  Never mind. 

§§§ Maybe this is an in joke.  Never mind . . .

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