[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
Or, since I’m having my usual trouble with links, the original Twitter one opens but this one seems to open better:
‡‡ 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.
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* 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
That’s the end of the memoir bits. You had mine first, which came last on the day, followed by some of his poetry, and the grandson with the amazing voice sang Linden Lea* and then it was over except for the champagne and fireworks.**
And then all of us left behind stumbled back to our lives. It’s funny what catches you out.*** Up till this week when it turned suddenly cold at last† it’s been insanely, unseasonably warm†† and all kinds of plantlife has been shooting out—my snowdrops are going to be over before they usually start—we had purple sprouting broccoli in November instead of February, and I’ve just been shelling my first broad beans of the year . . . broad beans? That should be like . . . May.†††
Broad beans were one of my early revelations about life in England. The only big fat round green bean I knew were frozen limas—preferably as succotash—and while they were fine the earth did not move and rainbows did not explode behind my eyes when I ate them. But broad beans . . . yowzah. YOWZAH yowzah. They are so spectacularly awesome they are worth the incredible faff of shelling the beggars. Those of you accustomed to this task will know whereof I speak. They grow in these massive great pillowy pods and you pick one up and think, YES! Big fat broad beans! And then you grapple your way into the thick uncooperative husk‡ and discover it’s mostly the plant version of bubblewrap and you have to lever out the few beans embedded therein. ARRRRRGH. Only the fact of the essential divinity of broad beans keeps any rational person at this desperate activity.
Peter derived some amusement out of my naïve horror at the process. And I did get used to it. Greed helps. But the thing is . . . it’s something we did together. We certainly did it literally together back at the old house, podding our very own broad beans out of our very own sweat-of-our-brows garden‡‡ And even since we moved into town and our broad beans come by organic-grocer delivery we at least had each other to moan at, whoever did the actual shelling that meal or that week or that season. Hey! the one would say to the other, shaking a pot with a modest layer of broad beans spread across the bottom. It took me forty five minutes to shuck that many!
Not this year. And telling the hellmob just isn’t the same.
* * *
* Peter had eccentric tastes in music as in most things. He would tell you he ‘wasn’t musical at all’ and didn’t care for music, or didn’t care one way or another about it.^ But if you put the wrong CD on you would hear about it and there were certain things he did really love, Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings for example.^^ I still wasted quite a bit of time believing that he didn’t care for music and, for example, originally assumed that the mum in SEVENTH RAVEN was a cellist because he needed her to be something, not because he was susceptible to a well-played cello. Oh. Anyway. He was sufficiently unmusical to like listening to me sing, and I’d been learning Linden Lea shortly before one of Percival’s visits. Peter certainly knew Linden Lea; I don’t think you can live on these islands without having some vague idea about King Arthur, Stonehenge and Linden Lea, but I don’t think the last had particularly registered with him before I started doing my dying-pig routine with it. Percival is always happy to take requests and he knew Linden Lea. Golly. So while Linden Lea was introduced at the memorial service as one of Peter’s favourites it might be more accurate to say it was one of his favourites for about the last year of his life.
^ And long-term blog readers will recall that he did the loyal-husband thing and accompanied me to many operas although this was not his idea of a fabulous night out and he usually complained about the libretto. Well I complain about most librettos. Any story-teller who doesn’t complain about opera librettos is an alien from the Crab Nebula only pretending to be a human story-teller. Well, a human story-teller with any pride.
^^ Which I learnt to pay attention to and then to love because Peter thought so highly of it. I wasn’t a Britten person when I moved over here; I knew his operas a little because I know most standard-rep operas at least a little, but their emotional reality is mostly too real for me. There’s no dazzling melodramatic catharsis at the end of Britten’s tragedies the way there is at the end of Verdi’s. And, just by the way, if I never hear the four sea interludes from Peter Grimes again, my life will be a little brighter. I should think Mr B would be rolling in his grave at the idea that something he wrote has been essentially turned into a frelling lollipop. Although I think he was the one who turned them into a concert piece in the first place. We all make mistakes.
** Well, prosecco. But definitely fizz.^ And yes, fireworks. Advantages of having a memorial service in January, generally speaking a quite depressing enough month in the northern hemisphere without any help: It gets dark early for fireworks. I’ve been saying that we blued the estate on the send-off. It was worth it.
^ I had two glasses and could barely walk. Maybe I should have eaten something. They even had a plate of gluten-free and I saw it like once before it ran away and hid in the shrubbery or under the piano or something.
*** No it’s not funny. It’s not funny at all.
† And I found out again how many frelling gazillion geraniums I have when I had to bring the suckers indoors to save them freezing. I had visitors coming and the sitting room floor was suddenly wall to wall to bookshelves to sofabed with geraniums. I spent a day that might have been better spent cleaning the house^ hacking and repotting and wedging, got the floor clear enough to open the sofabed and the windowsills JAAAAAAAAAMMED . . . and then there was a family crisis and I have a nice clean sitting room floor and no one to admire it but me.
^ I lost the will to live on the subject of the kitchen floor of the cottage several muddy months ago. Now I know the hellmob do walk into the little garden courtyard to pee and so it is not surprising they come back in again mired to the elbows but I SWEAR the flaming mud can jump. I’m standing in the doorway just making sure that no one with a high-angle aim pees on a rosebush and the mud makes a sudden lightning raid and gets all over the bottoms of my house slippers. Arrrrrrgh.
†† AND WET. AND MUDDY.
††† Not that I wouldn’t be glad to have May’s daylight. This time of year, bad weeks the hellmob and I barely see the sun.
‡ The how-tos tell you blithely to run your fingernail down the seam and split it open. LIKE HELL. The how-tos, which have obviously never podded a broad bean in their lives, neglect to tell you that you have a better chance of seaming one open if you start at the rear end rather than the stem end, but even so, at least one pod in three disintegrates in nasty messy little spiral flakes as you claw at it. Think about running your fingernail down a line of bubble wrap and expecting it to pop open. Ha ha frelling ha.
‡‡ Note however that I personally did almost nothing in the vegetable garden. I was flowers^ all the way. Our broad beans were the sweat of Peter’s brow. I admit however that I’ve started surreptitiously growing a few broad bean plants in pots in my little garden. I get about one good plateful from them, but they’re not fussy as plants, it’s only when you’re trying to extract the frelling beans that their depravity manifests.
^ Hey. Only about 85% roses. Okay maybe 90%.
MY APPLE TREE FELL DOWN. FELL. DOWN.
This would be the apple tree (I only have one: it’s a very small garden) that grows—or anyway grew, I am still hoping still restorably grows*—against the flapdoodling wall that fell down with an almighty roar at 2 am two? three? years ago. And in the former instance, even when I went out to have a look around I didn’t see anything amiss . . . it was dark and there was an apple tree between the faint kitchen-door light and the fallen-down wall. The apple tree, so far as I am aware, made no sound at all in the falling. It was still standing this morning at (mumble mumble mumble) when I let the hellmob out for the last time and when dawn was (ahem) beginning to make her presence felt (ahem) and I would have SEEN if there was an apple tree lying across the courtyard. There was not.
When I staggered downstairs again some time later I was vaguely aware that there seemed to be less courtyard than usual and more sky . . . but I was busy tying off a vein and getting ready to shoot up my first hit of caffeine** and it wasn’t till a little later (after the caffeine had gone around poking my neurons with a small but pointy stick) that it finally registered THERE IS LESS COURTYARD AND MORE SKY OUT THERE. WAIT. WHAT.
So I went out and looked. In the pouring rain. Just by the way. Briefly accompanied by Chaos, who was equally offended by the rain and the encroaching foliage, both of which of course he expected me to make go away.
. . . Oh. Oh dear. OH BLINKETY BLINKETY BLINKETY. ALSO ARRRRRGH. AND BOO-HOO THAT’S MY TREE.
I’d stopped worrying about my tree’s roots when it had produced not one but two good harvests of lovely apples after The Year of the Wall (okay so it must be coming up three years). It’s even got a nice sturdy prop as cut and fitted by the inestimable Atlas to hold it up because it does get rather splendidly carried away by the whole Apple Production thing. I can still see the prop . . . it came down with the tree. Siiiiiigh. And I had noticed that the branches were hanging pretty low . . . but they do, this time of year. The gazillion apples still on it now were due to start getting ripe in less than a month, and for six weeks or two months if I was lucky, I’d be eating two or four or for maybe a mad week mid-season six apples off my tree nearly every day. ***
And this is only the beginning. I can’t actually ascertain the extent of the damage because this suddenly-gigantic† tree is blocking all access. It has subsided gently, face forward, into the courtyard . . . and I can’t get around it. The garden generally is a trifle . . . erm . . . jungly, and the path round the back of it is now obliterated by Tree. The obvious way to get behind the tree ought to be through the greenhouse. Except that the top bolt on the greenhouse only opens from the inside. Which I can’t get to because there is this tree now occupying the space.†† Generously. Comprehensively. I don’t want to think about what’s been crushed to oblivion underneath it in that corner. Several painstakingly staked and trussed-up dahlias, for example. And possibly several roses. The irony is that I’d just about got that corner sorted out and was bracing myself to venture past the apple tree to the back path where the triffids lurk. The shrub roses I can replace if I have to but the tree also has a fabulous Dreaming Spires climbing up through it which I do not want to lose. Dreaming Spires is a classic but getting hard to find and the rumour is she’s losing her vigour. Mine took a few years to get going but she was MAGNIFICENT this year and hearty as anything with thumb-circumference stems . . . one of which I noticed, trailing in the courtyard as she now is, was coming into a fabulous second flush of flowers. WAAAAAAAAAH.
At least I got the 1,000,000,000 microscopic pansy seedlings potted into a tray yesterday (potting up requires greenhouse access) mere minutes after they arrived in the post. This is not the way things usually go around here. Better yet they are sitting in their tray beyond crash circumference.
Meanwhile it’s still raining. No doubt washing away what remained of the ground holding the tree up. I’m not going to try to do anything till it STOPS RAINING.†††
Note that it is still raining today. –ed.
* * *
Well clearly I had to tell the not-quite-ex blog about my apple tree. I still don’t mean to let it—the blog or the tree—become entirely ex but I admit both are looking a little buffeted by fate at the minute.
The problem with getting enmeshed in volunteering for charitable organisations is that they are by definition short-staffed and perhaps especially when God Told You To it can be difficult to differentiate between default guilt‡ and the Voice of God. ‡‡ So there’s that. Also Niall’s answer to all matters of low morale is More Bell Ringing. I still haven’t been back to Forza but he and I are now regulars at Crabbiton‡‡‡ and lately Niall, whom we all know is relentless and furthermore can smell weakness, suggested brightly that we add the tower at Tir nan Og to the list so most weeks we do. And then there are handbells. Do you remember Titus, our one-handed handbell ringer? He is CHALLENGING to ring with because handbells go such a lick and your poor overheating brain has to try to decipher a whole new set of signals from two bells in one hand. I got pressed into service this month because all his regular regulars are away on holiday, except Niall, and Titus has now apparently decided I’m fun to watch—I’m not a good handbell ringer, okay? And there aren’t many mediocre ringers who are willing to make fools of themselves ringing with him—and so Pressure Is Being Brought To Bear that I should continue amusing him on a weekly basis. Niall, of course, always has diary space to squeeze in more handbells.
If I agree it will be because Titus’ wife Andromache makes fabulous cakes for the tea break, and when I’m not in gluten-free purgatory, tucking into one of hers is almost worth looking like a twit with bells in my hands. Also, it’s nice to see Haro again. I think he frelling REMEMBERS me as a dog nutter. Maybe it’s just the way my jeans smell of the hellmob. He’s all grown up but he still wants to play tug-of-war and have his belly rubbed.
And with Admetus still mysteriously willing to do the driving, Peter’s and my cultural event calendar is revolutionised. I told you about EVERYMAN. We saw two live-streaming Glyndebourne operas AT A TOTALLY UNFINDABLE BY RATIONAL THIS-WORLD MEANS LIKE MAPS AND STREET SIGNS cinema, which labyrinthine adventure(s) could have been a blog post in themselves: Mozart’s ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO and Britten’s THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA.
I will pretty much watch/listen to anything that has anything to do with Mozart although a LOT of his operas make me eat the scenery not in a good way—MAGIC PATRIARCHAL THUG FLUTE? COSI MISOGYNIST FAN TUTTE? Yes I know the blokes don’t come off well either but I think the women are portrayed more meanly. DON EWWWWW ANNA EWWWWWW ELVIRA EWWWWWW GIOVANNI? Also EWWWW OTTAVIO. But, you know, the music . . .
I think I’ve only seen SERAGLIO staged once and . . . was not impressed. There are a plentiful sufficiency of major plot problems: the comedy and the non-comedy collide rather than mesh; and Constanze is supposed to have some difficulty resisting the pasha’s beguilements and—this is the cranky modern feminist thing of course, but still—I’m all Hello? Twelve wives already? He may want you today but next week he’ll be on to number fourteen. Think about it. It’s not like you have friends at court. —Also one minute he’s saying, darling I will wait for you forever and the next minute he’s having a tantrum and saying DO ME NOW OR DIE. Poor impulse control. Not surprising in a man who can add wives at whim.
However. In the first place this one was beautifully sung—from Glyndebourne, better had be—but the acting was of a, er, surprisingly high calibre as well. If you suspended your disbelief with adequate earnestness you could find the comic bits funny. But the revelation was the pasha. It’s a non-singing role. I hate non-singing roles in opera. There are operas where falling into spoken dialogue works pretty well—CARMEN comes to mind§—but non-speaking roles even if whoever isn’t on stage that much bring the whole show to a crashing, sucking-black-hole stop for this opera fanatic. And the pasha is one of the worst. So when Mr Pasha came on stage and he’s a blatant piece of beefcake I’m trying not to spit and throw things at the screen§§ but SPARE. ME. ARRRRRRGH.
But . . . this particular fellow is a, you know, real actor. He has presence. He has authority. Even without his shirt. I still don’t see the attraction of someone with twelve wives already even if he does strip well, but as a fulfilment of that role, Mr Beefcake is ace.§§§ And in the last act when Konstanza and her dull stick of a boyfriend and their two servants are trying to escape and the pasha catches them and there’s the awkward discovery that the dull stick of a boyfriend’s dad is the pasha’s worst enemy . . . The pasha pretty much has to do the ‘miser leans against wall and becomes generous’ cliché to let them go because the libretto says he lets them go. But Mr Beefcake brings it off. He brings it off. He does say that he isn’t going to be the disgusting creep that his worst enemy is, but he invests that declaration so you believe it. And when he says to Konstanze, I hope you will never regret your choice . . . I know his dad, my back hair stood up and briefly and for the first time I thought so, maybe twelve wives isn’t an insurmountable obstacle.
I’ve heard THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA before, but I’ve never seen it staged. It’s a powerful, and very rough experience; Britten and his librettist pull no punches about what’s happening, and about the emotional reality of his characters, so that you are helplessly right there with them as heavy, inexorable fate crunches over them. Especially over Lucretia, who kills herself, because she cannot bear the shame of what has happened to her. In my careless modern-feminist way the story has always made me sad and angry: she was raped. It’s not her shame. Only in a society where women only matter for their genitalia is suicide the victim’s inevitable outcome, blah blah blah. It’s not that simple here however. I should have had more faith in Britten even if I know zip about his librettist#—although I’m curious about the British zeitgeist Britten was writing for, just-post-WWII, when there was still not enough of anything—including money for the staging of new operas—and the men were coming home and throwing women out of the jobs they had been doing in many cases very competently thank you while all the men were out blowing up other men, and during which Britten had mostly been in America which was not looked on charitably by many of the British. Also he was gay in an era that didn’t readily accept gays. All kinds of tensions in the local atmosphere to build a difficult, morally ambiguous opera out of.
It was again beautifully sung; also the role of Lucretia was written for Kathleen Ferrier so there are some thrilling low notes. Not enough contraltos in opera. Say I. I thought this staging sucked, however; I don’t care that it was Fiona Shaw and everyone speaks in hushed reverent tones about her taking the drama back to the bare bones or whatever the frell. It was dark and ugly and stupid and I’m tired of fake stage dirt.## But the singing was not just superb but convincing### —convincing in that holding on despairingly with both hands way of people at, and over, the edge. We came out of the cinema shaken~ which is what you want from this piece. If you don’t want to be shaken, don’t see this opera.
And this Thursday we’re going to see . . . Prokofiev’s WAR AND PEACE? Berlioz’ LES TROYENS?
No. Pixar’s INSIDE OUT.
* * *
* It produces VERY GOOD APPLES
** Ahhhhhhh. Mmmmmmmm.
*** I am not kidding that I am an apple junkie.
† Apple trees can be pretty huge. This one isn’t, till it falls over in a little garden. I don’t know if it is naturally not huge or if it’s on ‘dwarfing rootstock’ as they say, but it’s still a good ten feet tall. And ten feet wide. And bushy. And covered in apples.
†† When I told Peter this he laughed. I am going to hide his favourite mug and steal the fuse out of the toaster plug^ before I leave tonight. Oh, and back at the cottage bury my landline mobile in the pile of (CLEAN) hellmob-bed blankets^^ and turn Pooka off.^^^
Okay, I forgot to do this. Opportunity wasted. Sigh. –ed.
^ Reminder to Americans: Britain has vicious, bloodthirsty, megastrength electricity. Therefore all your appliances have GIGANTIC plugs with individual fuses in them.
^^ You can’t TURN OFF the freaking ring on my landline phone. YOU. CAN’T. TURN. IT. OFF. WHAT THE WHAT THE WHAT THE. I believe I did some blog screaming about this when I first bought the thing. But the ring emerges from the mobile, for some reason, so the idiotic recourse is to BURY the mobile. And since I never USE the mobile—I couldn’t get the message machine I wanted WITHOUT a mobile—I have to remember to unbury it occasionally because if it runs out of juice the phone dies. IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT THE MAIN UNIT IS PLUGGED INTO THE MAINS. Technology. Feh. The wheel was a good idea. Why couldn’t we have stopped there?
^^^ Which doesn’t work as well as it might since even turned off an iPhone will burrrrrrr at you mercilessly. I take it to bed with me just in case Peter needs me at an inopportune hour+ and the way I sleep I hear it anyway. So if Pooka goes off and the caller is identified as Peter Dickinson I guess I have to answer it . . . oh well it will be worth it. I can be too sleepy to remember what mug. And the toaster doesn’t work? Gee. That’s odd.
+ You know, like 9 or 10 am.
††† The ladder lives in the garage. I could prop it against the outside of the greenhouse . . . but I’m not at all sure the gutters are cleared for full-grown human weight, even scrawny-hag weight. I could ask my neighbour if I could put my ladder on their side of the wall . . . but I’d need frelling rappelling gear to get down the other side. Heights are not my thing.
‡ Whatever It Is It Is My Fault Because I Am Stupid and Useless and I Must Pay.
‡‡ Which seems to be saying something like I NEVER TOLD YOU YOU CAN NEVER SIT DOWN, SLEEP, OR EAT CHOCOLATE SLOWLY AND THOUGHTFULLY. BELIEVE ME, YOU WOULD KNOW IF I HAD.
‡‡‡ Where Wild Robert is MAKING ME LEARN TO CALL ANOTHER TOUCH OF GRANDSIRE DOUBLES AAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH. I’m sure I told you about learning the first, baby touch where all you really have to do is count your leads because the method work you do keeps repeating in a nice limited keep-trackable-of manner^. That was YEARS ago. I’m now being compelled, hot pincers at the ready, to learn a REAL touch where you have to make your way through the standard mazes of the wretched method yourself WHILE you’re trying to remember what to call and when to call it.
^ Although I wouldn’t think it was keep-trackable if I weren’t a handbell ringer, where slicing your brain up in pieces is de rigueur.
§ The version with recitative is later
§§ Peter is used to me. Admetus is not, and I want to keep him driving.
§§§ The one other time I’ve seen it the pasha was played for laughs which did not work at all.
# Ronald Duncan, who, according to Wiki, is also responsible for the film script of Girl on a Motorcycle, which even when I was young, horny, heavily into leather and motorcycles and moderately into mood-altering substances, I thought was one of the silliest movies ever. Mostly LUCRETIA’s libretto is a big plus—it’s intelligent, evocative and poetic. But there are a few big WHAT? moments: the whole drawn-galloping-out metaphor of Tarquinius and his, ahem, stallion^, goes on way too long in a piece this short and even as a metaphor it’s a little too off the wall about the reality of horses. Also, ‘the oatmeal slippers of sleep’? OATMEAL? As in PORRIDGE? What does oatmeal have to do with footgear or sleep?
^ Tarquinius is the rapist. You guessed that.
## See: GUILLAUME TELL. Which also had way too much metaphor-laden stage dirt.
### Okay, I had some reservations about the drama. I didn’t think the sexual tension between Lucretia and Tarquinius worked, for example, but then I also suspect Lucretia may be an impossible role. Also I was busy hating the staging. But in a moment not totally unlike the pasha saying ‘I knew his dad’ when the game suddenly changes, during the final confrontation between Lucretia and her husband when she is saying she can’t deal with it and he is saying there is no shame in her, the shame is in the lust and the taking, in Tarquinius . . . there’s a word usage that really caught my ear. Her husband says ‘what Lucretia has given can be forgiven’. Given? Forgiven? What? Anyone who can write about oatmeal slippers can’t be trusted, but I did wonder if that’s the moment when she knows she has to go through with it, kill herself.
~ Although the prospect of finding our way home from Cinema in Another Universe might have contributed to the emotional vertigo.
If you have a chance to see these dangerous lunatics*, I mean, this exceptionally talented and engaging AND ENERGETIC troupe of young men, do climb into or onto your internal combustion engine vehicle of choice, bring along a large picnic hamper of high-calorie comestibles and, if you’re sensible, a bottle of fizz, and several blankets because this is England after all**, and possibly folding chairs, if you’re ancient and decrepit***, and GO. The HandleBards are a hoot.
Admetus and I went last night. I admit I was not instantly overwhelmed with desire to see four men doing the stripped-down bicycle [sic] version of Shakespeare, since it sounds like a dumb-ass idea and I am not a Shakespeare fan, but I watched a few clips on YouTube, as above, and . . . well, I am rather drawn to insanity. I still can’t get my head around the 2000 miles on a bicycle thing, carrying all your kit, from show to show, plus setting up, doing your play at a hundred million miles an hour of adrenaline-cranked frenzy, striking it all down again, getting some food and sleep and then doing it all over again tomorrow, but then I am ancient and decrepit.†
What we saw last night was Midsummer Night’s Dream††. Now you go knowing that there are only four of them and they play ALL the parts. But I still spent the first scene with fathers, lovers, Theseuses and other riffraff milling about not having a clue what was going on, except that some of the people who were supposed to be on stage were being indicated by empty coats on poles which the four, you know, live actors would swirl into and back out of in a hurly-burly of something or other AND AFTER THEY’D CYCLED HALF A GAZILLION MILES EARLIER THAT DAY? Beulah, peel me a grape.
You do tune in pretty quickly to the mayhem. They also pad out a few scenes by shanghaiing members of the audience††† The two additional blokes cavorting in rainbow wings as Peaseblossom and Mustardseed deserve special mention and will probably never live it down. Since all I had was a blanket to keep me warm I was particularly taken with the armful of borrowed dog, bewildered but good-natured. The tallest and the shortest of the four principals were also the two with the facial hair . . . and who played Hermia and Helena, so they can get off the dwarf and painted maypole‡ lines.
You also start laughing before the show even starts. The ‘stage’ is mostly pegged-out bunting, but they do have a proscenium with arch equivalent, which must be their heaviest piece of kit. From audience-eye view it looks like a lot of long spidery legs with joints for folding up bicycle-pannier-sized‡‡ and a kind of mobile circular rail suspended above the not-much-bigger-than-handkerchief-sized curtain that gives them somewhere to hide not-that-scene’s bits, and behind which some of the split-second costume and character changes occur. They hang some of the scene-specific background bits on the rail—heraldic looking banners for Theseus, village-amateur props for the rude mechanicals. Someone pins or drapes that scene’s background to the stretch of rail at that moment behind the curtain . . . but the rail is connected to one of the long-suffering bicycles, and one of the longer-suffering bicyclists pedals the rail around, so the new scene background comes whizzing out from behind the curtain.‡‡‡ Snork.
It may take you a little while, somewhat stunned by the energy level as you will be, also to tune into the fact that these guys are not merely corybantic fruit loops but good at what they do.§ When they decide that 2000 miles on a bicycle carrying the complete works of Shakespeare is a bit excessive§§ I hope they’ll go on to be famous actors. §§§ They’ll deserve it in several more than the usual hard graft and working up from the Bottom ways. May their tyres never puncture and the weather maintain a little fair patch hovering over them wherever they go. It was perfect last night. Only one blanket required.
* * *
* Wrong country? The UK is a great place for a holiday! We have Stonehenge! We have the British Museum! We have skylarks! We have lots and lots of rosebushes! And we have more method ringing bell towers than in the entire rest of the world combined!^
^ Although you’ll probably need to take a rather long holiday to learn how to ring while you’re here.
** And, speaking of England, an umbrella, or possibly a tent
*** Or perhaps might be distracted by wondering what you’re sitting on. You know, ON. Even before I lived in town with three dogs I used to be a trifle wary about sitting on bare ground . . . although pre-three-dogs-in-town this was mainly because it was likely to be damp. A few weeks ago the hellterror and I rounded the corner from the main street into the churchyard and found a large number of serious walkers^ bestrewn about the grassy triangle you come to first. The same grassy triangle that every dog within miles rushes to with little whimpers of joy on sight—including mine.^^ Not all of whose owners are as pathologically over-supplied with plastic bags and paranoia as I am. And damp may come from a variety of sources. I hope when the walkers arose from their respite no one was too . . . unhappy.
^ Not a pair of All Stars in sight and I’m sure denim jeans and cotton socks are anathema. Proper hiking boots with proper hiking socks turned down at the tops and Nordic walking sticks and proper breathable sport clothing and the whole ninety-seven yards.+ Scary.
+ Or 88.69 metres.
^^ The hellterror on this occasion was bemused. She was willing to be generous, however, since people usually mean petting+ and furthermore, full length upon the sward they are at her level.
+ There is always someone(s) who goes ewwwww bull terrier VICIOUS FIGHTING DOG it’s in the GENES don’t tell me they can EVER BE TRUSTED they’ll RIP YOUR THROAT OUT in your sleep but there are fewer of these than I feared when I took delivery of my little shovel-headed# badger-faced bedspring-legged bundle of mania## getting on for three years ago.
# While shovel-headed is the term of endearment I’m accustomed to, the unique bullie profile is more, I feel, trowel-headed: those wide trowels for planting rather than the narrow ones for weeding. Or possibly pooper-scooper headed.
##Maybe the HandleBards should get their own bull terrier.
† Even if I do hurtle many miles every day in pursuit of the members of the hellmob. I have tough, case-hardened feet. But 2000 miles on a BICYCLE SEAT?
†† From our CHAIRS. Admetus has FOLDING CHAIRS. Folding chair technology has come a long way since my last attempt, specially imported from Maine with the eighty cartons of books when I arrived on these shores, and which I think died in the shrubbery somewhere at the old house.
††† If you go I recommend you do not go too early nor sit in the front row.
‡ I have always been fond of the painted maypole. I’d forgotten that the canker-blossom, always a good sound Shakespearean insult, had come from this scene.
‡‡ I’m assuming the spider legs fold, and the bicyclists don’t also have to bolt them together every night.
‡‡‡ If you’re hopelessly confused, watch the proscenium set up in the YouTube clips. I don’t think you see the rail moving, but you can see the hitched-up bicycle
§ And while the four on show are the only ones who climb on the bicycles the directors and adaptors and whoever else back at base are brilliant at what they do too. The cut down, ridiculousnessed-up version really works. I was surprised at the amount of physical slapstick and roughhousing: given the whole bicycle thing I would have thought—even allowing for the fact that this is a young man’s^ game—that they’d need to be a little careful of the bruises. Nobody is so flawlessly accurate about at-speed contact work that there won’t be any. But they freely grapple and throw each other around and fall melodramatically to the ground. I hope they’re taking their vitamins. And arnica for bruises.
^ I can’t help but hope that one of the personnel changes some day will include an insane young woman willing to engage with the imprudence and balderdash and 2000 miles on a bicycle seat.
§§ There have already been some personnel changes as you will see if you work through all the clips.
§§§ Peter and I went to a very beautiful, very grand garden today—one of the private-gardens-open-to-the-public-for-charity that are so popular over here. It was huge, with wild bits and orchards and meadow and views of the surrounding, and then nearer the (grand) house, clipped-hedge-differentiated ‘rooms’ of glorious flower borders, professionally designed and meticulously kept.^ And it really was beautiful . . . but it was also rather too gorgeous and definitely too relentlessly primped and weeded, although this may just be my guilty conscience about my tiny nettle-infested patch.^^ But . . . the HandleBards are better value.^^^
^ And tea with cake.
^^ Although my roses are fabulous.
^^^ And I don’t know if it’s a venue by venue thing or a head office thing but they could be a lot better advertised. So look them up and go if they’re anywhere near you, okay? And pass it on.
Sorry everyone. I’m just so freaking tired.* It’s been a somewhat action-packed week/ten days/fortnight/century. The good news is that I haven’t knocked Peter over with the car again recently. YAAAAAY. But we’ve had three lots of visitors** and assorted emergencies.*** And Niall and I seem to be teaching more people to ring handbells.
Also, it’s definitively spring. The weather is still jerking us around† but the primroses are flowering like mad—AND MY SNAKESHEAD FRITILLARIES YAAAAAAAAAY—and the early pansies, and the early tulips and there are daffodils and hellebores everywhere as thick as marmalade on toast and it is unmistakably SPRING. So I’m out there frantically potting up little things that keep arriving in the post†† . . . and occasionally I’m also potting up things that I stuck in some perlite because I was REALLY IRRITATED that I or a member of the hellmob or some discourteous frelling typhoon broke off a perfectly good branch of something or other and if I sliced it up in pieces and stuck them in perlite . . . well, they’d die, of course, but at least I’d’ve tried.
Occasionally they live. I now have five abutilon megapotamicum. If they’re happy, they can get to eight foot. The original one—the one that got blown off the kitchen window shelf and snapped off a long limb—is getting on for six foot. It’s a terrific plant—it flowers all year. But FIVE of them??? This is just possibly superfluous to requirements.
And now, if you’ll excuse me again, I have to go sing something: voice lesson tomorrow.††† I’m supposed to be learning Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise . . . but it’s in four sharps, and I don’t like sharps, and it’s all foolhardy lines of unusual intervals—these blasted great composers are so frelling unpredictable—and he keeps flatting and/or double-sharping things that in some cases don’t have a black key there anyway AND YOU HAVE TO KEEP TRACK OF ALL THIS STUFF and . . . my brain hurts.‡ I may be leaning on YouTube a little more than I should be. Was that a chromatic scale when you strip out all the persiflage or wasn’t it? No. It wasn’t. That would be too easy. Quack. Quaver. But possibly the most annoying thing . . . Nadia told me I can just miss out the line with the high C in it—unless it’s a C flat which would make it some kind of B, and I occasionally have a high B—and I was wibbling along with YouTube and not thinking about it . . . okay, maybe the singer I was yodelling with had knocked it down a semi-tone or so but I got to the end and thought . . . wait a minute. I sang that line.
Haven’t been able to do it again of course. Your body is your instrument. Your instrument is a gibbering neurotic nutso. Sigh. . . .
* * *
* I’m reading a nice restful book^ in which our heroine winds up briefly hospitalised and is driven mad by having nothing to read, and when a sympathetic nurse loans her a copy of HELLO! magazine . . . she reads it as a desperate alternative to ripping her sheets into long thin strips and using broken clothes-hangers as knitting needles^^. And I read this with a feeling of cold deep horror and thought again THIS IS WHY MY KNAPSACK WEIGHS MORE THAN A HELLTERROR. It’s my phobia about being trapped somewhere WITH NOTHING TO READ.^^^ And given the number of times Peter has closed his hand in a door—never mind the serious stuff—and we’ve spent several unscheduled hours in A&E/Emergency, I am not being paranoid I am being practical.
^ THE JANUS STONE by Elly Griffiths which is the second in her murder-mystery series about Ruth Galloway who is a forensic archaeologist. And which are fabulous. Ceridwen loaned me the first one and when I read it in about forty-eight hours+ laughed in an evil and knowing manner, and loaned me the second.
+ despite not being able to read it in the bath because it belonged to someone else and IT WOULD NOT BE GOOD IF I DROPPED IT. I have quite a few paperbacks with curly pages . . . and I barely have a knitting magazine that doesn’t have curly pages.
^^ Okay, I made the extreme knitting alternative up, but personally I might have gone for it over HELLO!
^^^ Or knit.+ Granted most knitting weighs considerably less than three paperbacks and a fully charged iPad,++ and I don’t think they’ve started commercial production of ununseptium needles, possibly because they would be a trifle unstable as well as heavy, and my knitting doesn’t need any help in instability, but the Scarf as Big as the Universe sure takes up a lot of space. I keep being tempted to take it OUT of my knapsack and finish it at home where it can have its own room+++ but I know this way madness lies. I would just have the 1,000,000,000th unfinished woolly object lying around somewhere for me to trip over in the middle of the night.
. . . But starting NEW woolly objects is fun. Especially during that early halcyon period before you’ve made any really ghastly errors that you can’t figure out how to fix.
+ I actually went to an AGM recently.# WITH MY KNITTING. THANK YOU, GOD, FOR KNITTING.
# Reasons not to join things: the dreadful possibility of an AGM.
++ Note that I take my charging cable with me everywhere too. Just in case.
+++ Mind you in my house it would be sharing that room with 1,000,000 other yarn projects, 1,000,000,000 books and 1,000,000,000,000 All Stars. Plus assorted miscellaneous items.# But the rooms at the cottage, while small, are all larger than a knapsack.
# The miscellaneous-item problem is worse than usual at the moment because the American government in its wisdom~ decided that I had to re-prove that I live here and have lived here for quite some time and so you find salient documentation of ten-plus years ago, especially less than a year after a major house move when everything that CAN be shoved into the back of an attic HAS been shoved into the back of an attic including gruesome old paperwork. My tribulations began with the question which attic?, but more or less climaxed with insane-even-for-me tottering piles of everything all over my office floor at the cottage. Sigh. Which, the adrenaline of panic having worn off, I have no enthusiasm for sorting out and putting away again.~~
~~ Putting away WHERE? %
% Er. ‘Putting away’?
** NECESSARY HOUSEWORK. NOOOOOOOOO. Failing this activity would certainly be a way of ensuring that people don’t come back, but unfortunately anyone who gets as far as being invited to stay is probably someone I want to come back which leaves me in a terrible predicament. I keep trying to teach the hellhounds to pull the hoover. And the hellterror to mop the floor. Nobody does much about the cobwebs. Or the dust.^
^ Ways to Tell What I Am Really Truly Currently Reading: it’s not dusty.
*** See *, ^^^, +++, # above
† If I put long johns on in the morning^ I will be hot and cranky at 3 pm. But if I don’t put long johns on^^ I will be cold and cranky at . . . 3 am.
^ Oh all right, when I get dressed. There are drawbacks to sleeping in something you can answer the door in, because you can also put your gardening apron and your wellies on and do some gardening—just while your tea steeps, you know. Today this innocent activity led to my realising I was due to ring handbells in an hour while I was still in my nightgown equivalent and hadn’t had breakfast/lunch or hurtled any of the waiting hurtlables in this household.
I was late for handbells. Never mind. This fresh victim is catching on way too quickly and will be ringing Surplice Maximillian while I’m still trying to sort out the details of Basic Stupid. Which I have been for the last . . . decade. Siiiiiigh. And Niall is, I fear, only too accustomed to me being late for handbells. He may have a much-punctured dartboard somewhere with my face on it but . . . he doesn’t let even lumpy, brain-fogged semi-handbellers escape without a struggle. AND HE’S PUT AN AWFUL LOT OF HOURS INTO ME OVER THE LAST DECADE. I think I’m doomed. No, I know I am. But so is he. However as he throws darts at my face I’m sure he murmurs to himself, If I can teach her to ring handbells I CAN TEACH ANYONE.
I’m a good thing, really I am. Really. I set the standard. Ahem. . . .
^^ When I get dressed
†† More, or sometimes less, suitably attired. Hey, what’s wrong with a simple cotton jersey dress with a BLUE HILL MAINE sweatshirt over, a muddy apron and hot pink wellies?
††† Okay, I am now loud. When do I get to the hits the right notes part? I went off and stood in a corner and sang into the wall again tonight at church. I’m assuming God doesn’t mind, but the congregation might.
‡ It’s not just handbells.