February 5, 2016

La Traviata rules, or, Relief of the Lifelong Easily Offended Verdi Fan*

[THE ASTERISK IN THE TITLE SHOULD BE PINK.  BUT THE TITLE BOX APPARENTLY DOESN’T HAVE COLOURS.]

I’ve been having an unusually bad ME day. The ME has been surprisingly well-behaved the last six months*;  not that I haven’t had ME days but they haven’t been as severe or as frequent as recent stress/despair/grief levels might predict.  Today it decided to slug me with several at once.**  Unnnnh.  But I had tickets to the live-streaming LA TRAVIATA and Admetus to do the driving*** AND I WAS GOING ANYWAY.†

And we did. And this is a good one.††  If the Royal Opera House reruns it at a Theatre Near You and you have ANY finer musical feelings††† go. I didn’t know any of this cast—and the tenor took a little while to warm up—but they were splendid.  Violetta is a gift of a role, if you are a supernaturally dazzling soprano with a timbre richer than 85% dark organic chocolate who can furthermore out-act Ellen Terry‡, because you get such a range with her, from the resplendent but cynical courtesan at the beginning to the fragilely joyous woman in love at the beginning of the second act, just before it all comes crashing down, which is when you see what a real heroine she is, to the final act of loss, resignation, despair and a tiny flame of reunited rejoicing to make it more tragic.  But you have to respond to her as magnificent in the scene with the lumpen prig who is her (wet, puerile) lover’s dad or you’ll be frelling overcome by the blazing misogyny of the plot—I don’t mean that Verdi is the bad guy‡‡, but the story he’s telling‡‡‡ is major ARRRRRGH from start to finish.§  You need a Violetta that will make you love her anyway.

I could produce a few caveats about this production. But I won’t.  Much. §§  One of the dangers of La Trav is that if the tenor and the baritone are  too lifelike you’ll be so busy hating them you won’t thrill properly.  In this production the guys are actually sympathetic which is a good trick in the circs but it’s what you want so you can revel.  This is a very, very good show.  Go see it if you can.

* * *

* It’s February. I can no longer say ‘my husband died last month’.  However ‘my husband died just before Christmas’ still presents some faintest echo of how I’m feeling.

** I broke another plate today.  That makes five since Peter died, I who do not break things ( . . . very often).  With thanks to Gomoto, however, who suggested it, I did manage to replace the irreplaceable one by risking life and sanity on eBay.  The only drawback, that’s DRAWBACK, to this is that I had to join frelling eBay which I had thus far AVOIDED—yes, all these years, I have resisted eBay^ but apparently you can’t buy anything unless you join???  Big Brother isn’t just watching you, he has a slave torc around your neck.  And I suppose if I ‘desubscribe’ from the welter of emails encouraging me to BUY MORE and to SET UP AS A SELLER I’ll just have to rejoin all over again if I ever break another irreplaceable plate, which on present form I probably will.

^ I hate auctions, for one thing. All that SUSPENSE.+  Just tell me the price and I’ll pay it or I won’t, okay?  I also hate having to learn a whole new dadblatted system for some dadblatted web mogul.  Blogmom could tell you I have a meltdown every time WordPress has an update and Yet More Weird New Things happen back in the admin when I’m just trying to hang a blog post, you hyperactive creeps, will you LEAVE ME ALONE.

+ I just read a really, really annoying thriller. If I’d realised it was a thriller I probably wouldn’t have bothered, but it got all these FABULOUS REVIEWS and I acknowledge that it is stylishly written, it doesn’t just rudely go for your throat and sink its teeth in, it nibbles tenderly on your ankles a bit first, leaving dainty little lacy patterns.  But . . . SO ANNOYING.  Nothing and no one is ever what it or he or she seems to be, and several times in succeeding chapters.  Now, I hate suspense, all that waiting for which villain is going to leap out of which cupboard and in what order and bearing what weapons and what sordid tales of ancient wrongs or culpable desires, but in this particular case the agonisingly slow revelation of the true story through the endless lies, betrayals and labyrinthine motivations of all the characters stopped winding me up and just made me want it to be over with. I don’t think I followed the last sixty-seven monstrous discoveries anyway so when I finally got to the last shocking plot twist it was like, um, what?  Can I go now?

*** Peter was supposed to come too. Whimper.  That is, when I’d first brought it up when the tickets came available yonks ago, he’d rolled his eyes at the idea of another La Trav—I’ve told you before that he is not a natural opera lover—but I was planning to have a final assault on his artistic sensibilities/unreasonable obstinacy nearer time.

† Also despite the predictable waterworks at the end when she dies.  But lots of people cry at the end of La Trav.  Not so many for Beethoven’s Fifth.

†† I’ve seen this production at least twice before, both times live, really live, before cinema streaming. The first time when the production itself was new . . . with Peter.  The second time when I went up to London alone on the train to see Renee Fleming . . . which I’m afraid was more notable for spectacularly doing my back in in my unaccustomed high heels than for Renee Fleming whom I found brilliant but cold.^ I’ve never worn high heels since.^^  Just by the way.  And rarely have back trouble any more.^^^

^ She makes a great courtesan: not so much the dying heroine you’re going to cry over when she takes the final dive.  Which, for me, brings the essential appallingness of the plot into snarling feminist focus and kind of wrecks the cathartic wallow aspect.  You want the wallow.  That smug middle-class boys are a right pain you can get elsewhere.

^^ I wore my fabulously floral Docs to the funeral and memorial service.

^^^ She says nervously. Since there’s a lot of Hauling of Boxes of Books during a house move.

††† !!!!!! NOT THAT I’M PREJUDICED ABOUT THE ESSENTIAL SUPREMACY OF OPERA OVER ALL OTHER MUSICAL ART FORMS OR ANYTHING.

‡ Or possibly Tessa Gratton. Any of you who don’t follow me on Twitter

@tessagratton I performed some Shakespeare in honor of Peter Dickinson, for @robinmckinley, who asked for grief and despair: http://tmblr.co/ZVrdrw20wWkL5 

Or, since I’m having my usual trouble with links, the original Twitter one opens but this one seems to open better:

http://tessagratton.tumblr.com/post/138420610373/this-is-dedicated-to-peter-dickinson-kidlit-and

‡‡ I very much doubt Verdi was a modern feminist. Ha ha.  But he did live with and eventually marry a woman with a background a bit similar to Violetta’s but much better health.  And they took stick for it from the lumpen prigs.

‡‡‡ And for anyone who isn’t a regular Days in the Life reader or opera goer^, La Trav tells the story of a high-end Parisian courtesan who is dying of consumption, and knows it.  She lets herself fall in love with a callow young twerp who adores her and they retire to the country where they’re busy burning through all her money when his dad shows up to dispose of this trollop who is not merely ruining his son’s life but preventing his virginal daughter from marrying her fiancé because the fiance’s parents will call it off if the son doesn’t throw the whore back in the ditch where he found her and return to polite society.  Well, she gives him up, but doesn’t tell him why, and he has a meltdown and insults her publicly at a demi-monde party back in Paris where they met.  Last act is her dying, broke^^^ and lonely, rereading the letter from the prig saying that he and his disgusting son, whom he has told the true story of her leaving, are going to come see her now that she’s dying and won’t embarrass them much longer, presumably they aren’t going to tell the sister’s husband’s family about this little departure from the straight and narrow?, although the letter says, oh, take care of yourself, you wonderful woman, you should have a happier future ARRRRRRRRRRGH.#  And then she dies in the wet twit’s arms, and the curtain comes down.  Before dad and son exchange the look of relief and the ‘well that’s that then.  I wonder what’s for supper back home?’

If you’ve got a Violetta worth the diamonds she sold to keep her country villa## you won’t care. You’ll be slurping up all the melodrama with a large shiny spoon.  It’s only later when you’re stuffing the wet tissues in your pocket to leave the theatre tidy that your intellect catches up with events and starts wrecking your fun.

^ Do we want to know each other?

^^ Note: ARRRRRRGH.

^^^ It also makes me crazy, every time+, when she tells her faithful maid to divide up her tiny remaining store of money and give half of it to the poor.  WHAT IS THE MAID GOING TO LIVE ON AFTER VIOLETTA GOES?  I don’t think a glowing rec from a dying penniless prostitute is going to get her a good place right away.

+ Also the doctor saying authoritatively that Violetta only has ‘hours’ to live. Unless of course modern medicine has lost the amazing predictive powers of Italian docs of Verdi’s day.

# That’s an editorial ARRRRRRRRRGH, you understand.

## If they were so enamoured of the rural life why didn’t they just buy a COTTAGE?

§ Although if you’re a modern humour-challenged feminist cow like me, you couldn’t enjoy La Trav nearly so much if you didn’t know it was all going to go horribly wrong. If Violetta had a sudden deathbed recovery and she and the wet went back to their villa^ and the prig and the rest of their family, including the sister’s in-laws, realised that Violetta had a Beautiful Soul whatever her background, and had them over to tea on high days and holidays . . . nooooooo. Ewwwwwwww.

^ or cottage

§§ The last act is a particular ratbag to stage. She’s dying of consumption so she shouldn’t be flitting lightly around the stage, which Violettas usually are. There’s a famous, or possibly infamous, staging where she spends the entire act in bed, which is more realistic, and which makes the last moments of her sudden sense of joy and strength much more dramatic, when she finally does stand up and walk—just before she falls over for the last time—but it also makes the act static and (apparently) directors shy away from this. This particular staging has gruesome blood spatters on her pillows and the maid’s apron—but not on Violetta’s snowy white nightgown—which doesn’t make me think ‘ah yes consumption’ it makes me think ‘the devoted maid wouldn’t allow this NOR would Violetta be carelessly dragging her snowy white nightgown or her long luxuriant locks^ across these besmirched pillows.’  Personally I think they’re missing a trick during the orchestral doodah by not having her notice the stains and react.  But hey.

^ Also unlikely in a woman dying of consumption. And while opera companies are getting better about remembering the effects of close-up cameras for cinema transmissions YOU COULD SEE THE JOINS where Violetta’s hair extensions were attached to her real hair which is the sort of thing I find distracting.

* * *

* This should have gone up last night, of course, but the ME got me before I could proofread, especially since that involves, as it so often does, sorting out the footnotes. Which I’m not always successful at even when the ME isn’t eating my brain.  Which it still is today although not as badly.

But this gives me the opportunity for a GARDEN UPDATE! I had TWO robins in my garden this morning [sic]!!^  Maybe they’ll finally forgive me the Epic of the Falling-Down Wall and nest in my greenhouse again??! There’s been a determinedly kept-clear nook^^ just waiting for a nest, the last what’s it been, two years?  Three?  Since the Epic of the Wall.

^ Anyone not acquainted with British robins, they’re very territorial and the only time you see more than one—unless they’re fighting+—is when they’re breeding and raising the next generation.

+ And they aren’t kidding: they’re exacto knives with little round feathered handles

^^ And that’s not easy in my greenhouse

 

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