This one: http://www.metopera.org/opera/la-donna-del-lago-rossini-tickets [If the link dies at the end of the season: LA DONNA DEL LAGO by Rossini]
In the first place it was fabulous. I’m enormously glad I went. The singing from the four principals was AMAZING.**
In the second place, however, it’s way up there on the silly scale—not quite ERNANI but close. REALLY SILLY PLOT. REALLY REALLY SILLY. REALLY. SILLY. I also felt the translation was more cack-handed than was strictly required.*** We want to know what’s going on, we don’t necessarily want the exquisitely precise rendering of the Italian, which word choice may have more to do with how it sings rather than whether it makes any sense at all as something anyone might ever say, even two hundred years ago in a Walter Scott novel. †
In the third place, it’s all about Joyce Di Donato’s breasts.
I admit I wasn’t expecting this last. I’m fine with the fact that she has breasts, but I wasn’t expecting them to be Triumphant Before Everything, aka Beware the Bustier.†† I suppose the designer/costumer might be trying to make sure we know that Di Donato is the girl, since her boyfriend is played by another mezzo soprano†††, and the boyfriend is, furthermore, in a kilt, which is perhaps not the best choice for a girl playing a trouser role. I mean a kilt role. It turns out that the entire Highland army—you got it that this is Sir Walter Scott, yes?—is in kilts, but you haven’t taken this in yet when Malcolm first strides on stage/screen and starts mooning over Elena. Even knowing that Malcolm is going to be a mezzo the urge to giggle is powerful when she appears in a kilt. It took me about four bars into her, um, his, um, her first aria however to become her drooling slave and beyond that I couldn’t care less. ‡
But I get ahead of myself. The first bloke we see on stage is Juan Diego Florez ‡ in really icky plastic leather.‡‡ He’s the king, who has allowed himself to be distracted from stamping the crap out of the Highland rebels by tales of a mysterious beauty, whom he has disguised himself to get a glimpse of. I mean, you don’t expect to see your king in plastic leathers, do you? Elena is picking plastic‡‡‡ heather in another one of production/design’s curious choices for stage business. She, for some reason, thinks he needs help§ and offers to take him home with her. That loud bang you just heard was plot credibility exploding. HONEY. YOU’RE OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE WITH A MAN YOU’VE NEVER MET BEFORE§§ WHO IS, FURTHERMORE, SHOWING SIGNS OF FINDING YOU HOT §§§. I THINK YOU MIGHT AT LEAST MENTION THAT YOU LIVE WITH YOUR DAD, AND THAT A CHORUS’ WORTH OF HENCHPERSONS IS JUST OVER THAT PAPIER MACHE HILL. I think. The operatic geography remains a trifle underexplained. Because the show is called The Lady of the Lake~ there has to be a lake, which our heroine rows across every day, apparently, to gather plastic heather and have random encounters with gleaming-eyed strangers. After that, beyond a throwaway reference to taking the current random stranger back to the shore~~ the characters just hop around from set piece to set piece. Special non-points are awarded for Elena’s cottage, which is a small roof on two walls, like a capital letter ‘E’ stood on its front with the central bar removed, plonked down in the middle of the stage, and through which the henchpersons/chorus eventually swirl, and to give themselves something to do, set up some banqueting tables out back. Hope it doesn’t rain.~~~
I was regularly distracted from all the nonsense by the sheer glory of the music. I like Rossini, I like bel canto, and I’m now passionately in love with not one but two mezzos.= But this is one of those evenings when I came away thinking, It does not have to be this daft. It does not have to be this daft. It’s hard to do a lot of acting when you’re a girl in a trouser role dressed in a kilt, the king is mainly required to flounce variously, which is fortunately one of Florez’ skills, the superfluous tenor has nothing to do, poor man, but stomp about looking heroic== and be spurned by his affianced bride, who wants to marry the other mezzo. But Di Donato is a really effective actress, and watching her creating small shining bits of sense within all the doolally is almost worse than if she’d been a student of the Leontyne Price school.&
Let’s also just take a moment to contemplate the character of the king. Okay, he falls for Elena big time in that insta-whammy way popular in both opera and Hollywood romcom. He’s the king. What is he planning to offer this small-time laird’s daughter, before or after he finds out she’s one of the revolting scum raising arms against him? I kinda doubt it’s anything her dad would recognise as honourable, even if her dad weren’t a member of the revolting scum. And this is an era when the male relatives get to dispose of the bodies of the females, you know? And when the short hero she doesn’t want to marry objects to her clear loathing of him, her dad tries to play it off as virginal modesty. Uh huh.
But the king is supposed to be a good guy. Well, I think. I think he’s supposed to be being a good guy when he leaves the battle to go hunt up Elena and give her a ring that he says, rolling his eyes theatrically, if she shows to the king he will be merciful and give her safe passage to somewhere or other. Tahiti. Guam. But there’s this hilarious exchange between them when he’s trying to go for her again&& and she says No no no! I’m in love with the other mezzo! And he replies, in what I feel is not wholly inexplicable bewilderment, Well, why didn’t you discourage my ardour when you took me HOME WITH YOU the other day? Well, yes. Although possibly because she’d only set eyes on him half an hour ago and she was wrapped in a sweet naïve mist of Scottish hospitality and concentrating on her rowing. Oh, and she’s already in love with the mezzo named Malcolm. But I repeat . . . what exactly is the king of Scotland OFFERING her? A big fat dowry to cover up the fact that she may be pregnant when he pats her on the . . . head and sends her on her way again?
I’d forgive either the story or the staging a lot if the last scene weren’t quite so determinedly demented. So, the rebels have been crushed absolutely, the (short) heroic rebel tenor has been conveniently killed, and Elena, with the safe-passage ring&&& has gone up to the palace to try begging for the life of her dad and her beloved. And she meets the bloke she last saw in plastic leathers now all decked out in white and gilt and she says, oh, hi, I’m here to see the king, um, I have this ring that this random guy gave me . . . um, you gave me. You’ll see the king, the random guy says. Grandly.% So now we have languours of daftitude while the court all processes in and does galliard-y type things around Florez, who stands there looking like a stuffed prat, while poor Di Donato has to go on and on and on and on and on NOT GETTING IT. She doesn’t get to get it till one of the courtiers plonks a frelling crown on Florez’ head.
Okay, whatever. Cue general rejoicing. The king pardons both dad and Malcolm and is apparently not requiring them to emigrate to Tahiti or Guam, which is very nice of him, and proves that he is supposed to be a good guy. And if he draws Malcom aside later and mutters something about droit de seigneur, it doesn’t happen till after the curtain comes down.
I’m glad I went! The music was spectacular and my head is still full of it!%% I just wish—um—I just wish—um!
. . . And if not writing regular blogs causes me to write three thousand words when I finally get around to it again, even under the extreme provocation of an opera to rant about, I’d better rethink. Um. Again.
* * *
* How Christianity Ruins Your Life. My Saturday evenings are now dedicated to sitting in the dark with monks. The thing is that I want to sit in the dark with monks, but I miss my Live at the Mets.^ I have not figured this out yet. ^^ There are slowly more live opera broadcasts at your friendly neighbourhood cinemas but the New York City Met is my opera company and they broadcast to the distant punters on Saturday afternoons in New York, which is Saturday evening sitting in the dark with monks time in Hampshire, England. Also, most cinema web sites are possessed by demons. For example, apparently the ROH^^^ is streaming a Guillaume Tell which I would love to attend and THEORETICALLY it’s coming to my cinema but my cinema’s web site won’t discuss it. ARRRRRRGH. And since it’s a chain, you can’t get a local on the phone—and because something is coming to the chain, that does not mean it is coming to all the individual theatres belonging to that chain. ARRRRRRRRRGH.
^ Including the prosecco and knitting in the interval. There’s no reason I couldn’t do prosecco and knitting at home, I just don’t. Way too self-indulgent somehow. Because of course I am never self indulgent. Ever. About anything.+
+ Choooooooocolate. Also how many books in the TBR pile(s)? And we’re not even going to mention yarn. # Or All Stars. ##
# Or for that matter furry four-legged creatures of the night.~ Some people would consider three of these somewhat self-indulgent. Personally I just call it dangerously insane.
~ Although the ‘of the night’ part is kind of my fault. I go to bed late.
## I had to THROW OUT A PAIR OF PINK ONES recently. I’m still in mourning. But the amount of water they were letting through the holes in the soles was getting kind of extreme.
^^ I have told Alfrick that they should lay on more silent sitting-in-the-dark contemplative services. Only one a week seems, you know, careless. Unprofessional. For a bunch of monks.
^^^ Royal Opera House. Which is one of my problems. The ROH tend to be up-themselves scum-sucking banderglizzards. When I first moved over here a quarter century ago and was bouncing all over the landscape with JOY at the prospect of two, count ‘em, TWO, world-class opera houses only a little over an hour away+, my heart was quickly won by the English National Opera, which was the other one, both because it was CHEAPER++ and because they hired real human beings who answered phones and personned the front of house if you wandered in off the street and who were nice. The ROH hired scum-sucking banderglizzards. And, guys, in today’s economy, including twenty-five years’ ago economy, you can’t afford not to take the money of vulgar Americans who want to buy full-price+++ seats and you should behave accordingly. Vulgar Americans don’t necessarily think brass-balled rudeness in a British accent is charming. Some of those memories linger. Although the memory of going to The Huguenots at the ROH on what I think was my first birthday in England, with Peter in a dinner jacket and me in green velvet, also rather lingers. I’m not sure what Peter has done with his dinner jacket but I still have the green velvet.
Anyway. The ROH does beam some of its screenings down here to the one cinema within my driving range, but the ENO does not. Yet. I hope they’re planning to cast their webby net wider soon.
+ Especially the way Peter used to thunder up the motorway when he and Wolfgang were a lot younger.
++ And before any ROH supporters tell me, with lashings of dudgeon, that the ROH offers cheap seats too, it didn’t use to. And I’m only taking it on faith that you can actually hear and/or see anything from the cheap seats.
** I admit I didn’t think the supporting-role baritone was quite up to the standard set by the two tenors and two mezzo-sopranos, but that may be the sheer physical facts of a low voice emerging from a human voice box. Are there coloratura baritones? I don’t know.
*** But I think I’m losing my grip on the whole translation question as a result of struggling with the Bible. There are a lot of WHAT? moments about the Bible anyway and groping hastily for some other translation usually only makes it worse.
† What is it with opera composers and Sir Walter Scott? Surely they could have got their silly from a wider range of sources?
†† That’s bust-ee-ay as in corset, not bust-ee-er as in possessing more bust.
††† And as the off-duty operatic soprano doing the backstage introduction to us nonpresent audience drones finished her plot synopsis by saying: and so the mezzo gets the mezzo, and tough luck to the two tenors.^
^ Note that this opera has a HAPPY ENDING. YAAAAAAAAY. Mind you this happy ending requires the killing-off of the awkward superfluous tenor, but hey. He starts breathing again in time for the curtain calls.
‡ Her name is Daniela Barcellona. And it’s just as well she doesn’t have an enormous back catalogue or I’d be taking out a bank loan.
Just for the record, they kiss. Which I like to think is another blow for irrelevant-detail-blind staging.^ Like the Oscar Wilde play—I can’t even remember which one—I saw in London about twenty years ago where the actor playing the female lead was black: which I’m afraid is the first time I’d seen historical-drama colour-blind anywhere but Shakespeare. Yessssss. But while Wilde plays don’t call for black actors and Malcolm in DONNA DEL LAGO is written for a mezzo, Di Donato and Barcellona’s duet that the kiss is at the end of is so frelling ravishing you’ve probably forgotten everything but ohmygodohmygodohmygod, and also, Barcellona is TALL, so she can do the male-swagger thing, including the looming protectively over the girl, pretty well. Better, in fact, than most tenors, who tend to be bandy-legged midgets. Barcellona towered over both of last night’s tenors. Just by the way.
^ Maybe Rossini was thinking about gay sex really. But the story on stage is het.
‡ Who is a SHORT TENOR. Di Donato, who doesn’t look very tall herself, was in flats. Florez’ boots had substantial heels on them. But he is a bloke.
‡‡ Or if it was real leather, the Met needs a new buyer.
‡‡‡ I perceive a pattern. Not in a good way.
§ HE’S IN PLASTIC LEATHERS. IF HE WERE A GOOD GUY HE’D BE WEARING A KILT.
§§ WHO IS WEARING PLASTIC LEATHER.
§§§ I know you’re a legendary beauty and all, but the bustier is not really supportive^ of the modest Scottish virgin thing. And while Florez does the overheated Latin^^ lover persona very well the character he’s playing in this case would be forgiven for the thought bubble appearing over his head saying NOBODY TOLD ME THE LEGENDARY BEAUTY IS FAST.
^^ He looks about as Scottish as Barcellona looks like a bloke. I can deal with this. The plastic leathers must go.
~ Um, why? The Lady of the Lake as an Arthurian trope has been around a long time, and Scott must have known Malory’s Arthur? Surely? Or is there some Arthurian resonance in the Scott novel that I’ve forgotten?^ And if Rossini’s librettist cut it out why didn’t they CHANGE THE TITLE?
^ I read shedloads of frelling Scott at various times in my misspent youth, but in my memory, never my best feature, the stories have all mooshed together in one gargantuan wodge of forsoothly, studded with hopelessly wet, floppy heroines. Don’t Rebecca me. She only looks good in comparison.
~~ And leaving him there? What?
~~~ It’s the Scottish Highlands. IT NEVER RAINS THERE. NOOOOOOO.
= The tenors are fine. And I’ve been a fan of Florez for a long time. But . . . give me one of those mezzos. Please.^
^ I am of course Giving Up Singing Forever again. Had a voice lesson today. . . . No, no, this blog post is already reader-numbingly too long.
== which is harder still when you’re the shortest person on the stage. Pav is taller than this bloke.
& Stand Like Fence Post, Wave Arms and Sing. I adored Price and have a lot of her recordings but she was not an actress.
&& Nothing like a little rumpy-pumpy to soothe those battlefield nerves.
&&& I mean, how much can you trust someone wearing plastic leathers?
% Trying not to take a cheap shot here. But grandly is not Florez’ metier.
%% To the extreme detriment of my own singing. Sigh. Why didn’t I take up the xylophone?
. . . NO NO NO NO I CAN’T POSSIBLY START WITH THAT FIRST LINE, SOMETHING MIGHT BE LISTENING. . . . ::DANCES THE FANDANGO IN A DISTRACTING MANNER::* . . . It’s been a pretty crappy almost everything lately, you can hardly blame me for being paranoid. So, what I was risking saying was, I’ve had two surprisingly okay, engaged, useful, whatever, voice lessons in a row . . . just in time however for a three-week holiday break during which I will doubtless go to flat, unrhythmic little splinters again. So the powers of entropy don’t have to be paying attention. The gremlins can just lie back and giggle. Throw the occasional brickbat if they feel inspired. Although I may dare to hope for metaphorical brickbats.**
My attitude = not great.
I managed to whomp the whatsit out of myself with a not-very-metaphorical brickbat just before last week’s voice lesson and I mean whomp. The gremlins would have been proud of me. You may recall that this is A New Computer.*** I was rummaging a fortnight ago, in the scary dark interstices of the EVERYTHING folder, where files you haven’t seen since before you had a computer may lurk undetected for centuries, or at least till they make the next gazillion storage media redundant.† And, lo and behold, I unearthed a couple of the recordings I’d made of voice lessons YEARS ago, or at least I hope it was years. And I made the very nearly fatal mistake of listening to one of them.††
DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN I KNEW I WAS BAD BUT I HAD NO IDEA I WAS THAT BAD.††† I also remember that when I played them back at the time I was a little discouraged‡—also I had some other great emotional drama playing out in my life at the time and I’m learning that this always has a Florence-Foster-Jenkins-izing‡‡ effect on my singing—but I don’t think I wanted to find a bridge to jump off of. I should have wanted to find a bridge to jump off of, or at least to stop singing forever and let Nadia fill my slot with someone she can teach to SING. AAAAAAAAAAAAUGH.
About the only thing to say for this utterly demoralising experience is that I didn’t consider giving up singing forever. It’s too late. I sing for sanity.‡‡‡ But I pretty much went in for my lesson on my hands and knees last week and Nadia, bless her, said I FORBID YOU TO LISTEN TO THAT RECORDING. EITHER BURY IT IN THE BACK GARDEN OR—RECOMMENDED—DELETE IT. YOU’RE JUST HURTING YOURSELF LISTENING TO IT NOW. . . . The real point being she did NOT say, actually, I’ve been meaning to discuss giving your slot to someone I can teach to sing. . . . She did say that I’ve improved. WELL I COULD HARDLY HAVE GOT WORSE.
I came out of this at last week’s lesson like a bull terrier going for her supper Kong and SANG.§ It may not have been pretty but it was energetic. And this is the time of year when you can probably even sing (audibly) on the street without people thinking you’re the Crazy Singing Lady§§ and I’m having my annual frenzy of learning all the rest of the verses to my top favourite 1,000,000 Christmas carols§§§—which I admit is cutting into proper practise time but it does mean I’m singing.#
And . . . (re)learning Christmas carols## this year, I came to In the Bleak Midwinter and . . . hmmm. It hadn’t really registered with me till I moved over here, but it’s (perhaps) Peter’s favourite and has become one of mine. But this year, singing it, I thought, this isn’t a carol, this is a song that happens to be about Christmas. So I’m going to learn it properly—I took it in to Nadia today—and sing it all year. And become the Crazy Singing Lady who sings carols in midsummer. If I’m going to become the Florence Foster Jenkins of the 21st century I might as well do it with some flourish and swagger.
* * *
* And me dancing the fandango would be very distracting.^ Not in a good way.
^ Eh. You need a partner for the fandango. ::Eyes the hellmob+:: Hellhounds get that ‘oh help and glory she’s not going to shove FOOD at us again is she??? But we just ate last week’ look on their faces, delicately rearrange themselves to face the wall and appear to be deeply preoccupied with going to sleep. Hellterror throws herself up on her hind legs and starts demonstrating her idea of a fandango, shouting, ME, COACH! PUT ME IN! I CAN FANDANGO! ALL I NEED IS A CARMEN MIRANDA HAT!
+ Or hellhorde, as some enterprising forum poster suggested.
** You probably think gremlins are metaphorical. NOT IN MY LIFE.
*** The old one is still in a box under Raphael’s desk because he’s going to find time to resuscitate it any minute.^ You know, like maybe March. 2016. Not that I feel that I’m not getting my contract support hours out of him however: it’s a good day when I have texted/emailed/screamed-so-they-could-hear-me-in-Dorset him about the ultrabook’s^^ latest little ways fewer than 4,612 times.
^ Yes, since you ask. There’s still stuff on it that I’m missing.+ And you’re totally up to date with your back ups, your files are flawlessly labelled and you’re all ready for Christmas, right? GO. AWAY.
+ Besides the remnants of my sanity. Sanity, computers and I are really not an integrated whole. We’re kind of this universe, the anti-universe, and a third thing nobody’s discovered yet but it makes an even bigger bang.
^^ I’ve already complained to you about how you can’t say LAPTOP any more? That’s just so turn of the century. No, it’s ULTRABOOKS now. Ewww. I thought ‘laptops’ was naff, but ultrabooks has that Marketing Genius pong about it. Go away.+ Go shed your fuzzy, asthma-inducing fashionability on someone else’s carpets. I just want a computer that will fit in my knapsack.
+ I probably shouldn’t be repeating ‘Go away’ so often three days before Christmas, right? . . . GO AWAY.~
~ I know. You saw that coming. Sorry. It’s been a hard year.
† So, how about all those cassette tapes and floppy discs?
†† Well, I had a row of knitting to finish. And then about a skein and a half of rows after that.
††† May I grovel in apology here to the two or three people I’ve taken along to my voice lessons. In my pathetic defense I took them because I wanted them to meet Nadia and see/hear how totally cool and interesting and exact and responsive she is, and the way she can adjust what she says to what the student can take on.^ It’s true that part of the experience is that they have to hear me sing, but . . . well, I knew I wasn’t good, but . . . GROVELS EXTENSIVELY. I’LL NEVER DO IT AGAIN. NEVER EVER. I PROMISE.
^ I get a lot of horse riding metaphors.
‡ I also remember I blogged about it, but I don’t want to go back and read what I said.
‡‡ One of the things I might have found interesting if I hadn’t been having a nervous breakdown is what Nadia has been telling me for years about what she tactfully calls my ‘tuning’ issues which is to say that I spend most of my time going flat, not because I have no ear^ but from nerves. No no I can’t possibly do that whatever it is! FLAT!!!! And she’s right. It’s the exposed notes that go flat; it’s got pretty much nothing to do with pitch. I’ll go flat on a frelling C if it’s the top note of the bar; in the next bar I’ll sing an F on pitch if there’s a G above it I can go flat on instead. Why don’t I stick to knitting?^^
^ I haven’t got much ear but I generally recognise flat when I hear it. Except when I’m deaf from the throbbing in both ears.
^^ Because I’m also a lousy knitter? Sigh. Although until my life placids out a little I’m not even interested in doing anything more exciting than stocking or garter stitch with maybe the odd bit of ribbing for variety. I knit for tranquillity+. But then I sing for sanity.++
++ Um. Yes. And I’d be even less tranquil without my error-liable knitting. SIGH.
‡‡‡ Yes. As previous footnote. Also, for some inexplicable reason, my church likes my singing. They are even more desperate and/or tone deaf than I realised.
§ Any of you know Brother James’ Air? It is so pretty.
§§ Which they think the rest of the year. Crazy Singing Lady with a Variety of Dogs.
§§§ Every year they come back a little quicker. How long have I been taking voice lessons, and singing increasingly shamelessly on the street?^ By the time I die of extreme old age I’ll probably be quavering my way through all sixteen verses of everything at Christmas.
^ It’s done me serious good the last few months, I think, despite what the neighbours think, because of the adjusting-to-new-sitting-room-with-new-acoustics thing which was a much bigger issue than I’d expected. Silly me. Of course it was going to be an issue. In a little tiny sitting room I can—and do—make the blasted lamps rattle, because I have so little frelling control. I’m either loud or shut down to a faint creak. Sigh.
# Singing for sanity. As I keep saying. Thank God for singing (if badly) and knitting (if badly).
## There’s also the ever-interesting topic of the way the British keep jerking the tunes around. An exploration for some other evening.
I’m just back from church. Hurrah. I haven’t been in yonks and yonks. I’ve thought for the last three Sundays—I think it’s three—that I would make it this week and then I have one of my unscheduled collapses and don’t.* I felt deeply guilty** a fortnight ago when my name was on the [singing] rota again and Aloysius could have really used some support—St Margaret’s, like most of the rest of the northern hemisphere where people live, gets thin on the ground in August while they’re all on holiday in someone else’s home town.*** So if that shocking failure was a fortnight ago, my name would coming up on the rota again . . . yes. Hmm. Buck was leading. And there was no one else on the list.
. . . Pav, go lie down.†
I looked the music rota up on Thursday and blanched. Also I’d had no song list so I could look the stuff up on YouTube and complain. But possibly I had had no song list because I had been a no show for so long they’d drummed me off the rolls. Which in August when there is an insufficiency of people on stage to hide behind is maybe quite a good thing.
Friday. Still no song list. I began the day feeling pretty good in brain and energy terms, so I emailed Buck. WHERE IS MY SONG LIST [I might come, you never know]?
. . . And then Saturday I had another frelling lying-down day†† ARRRRRRGH . . .
Pav, go lie down.†††
So I got cautiously out of bed today wondering what was going to happen. One of the things that happened was that I FINALLY had a return email from Buck saying he’d only just got back from holiday to 1,000,000,000 emails and sure, come along tonight and we’ll party.
So I went early like a good girl and found him practising ALL BY HIMSELF. Where would you like to be? he said, brandishing a music stand. In the middle? On the other side of the stage? BEHIND YOU, I said clearly. And you have to sing what I’m supposed to sing. No messing around with the tune.‡ He gave me his Steady Look, which is never a good sign. But we gambolled through the music, some of which I knew and some of which I did not know. One of the ones I did not know has a long embarrassing spell of Woah woah woah where you just sort of emote with your mouth open, torturing innocent variations of the so-called tune in whatever manner seems good to you. Ad lib. You know. Eh. Gah. Buck can do that one.
I didn’t know how much voice I was going to have, because I’ve been too feeble lately to do much singing beyond folk songs while hurtling, but since for some reason they refused to turn my microphone off tonight you could certainly hear me.
As it happened it wasn’t as dire as all that. One of the blokes who plays a keyboard was unwise enough to turn up for the evening service and Buck nailed him. So in fact we started a few minutes late while Jethro frantically dragged his keyboard out of the cupboard and started plugging things in with his hands going so fast he looked like an octopus with fingers. Which may explain why, when we got to the woah woah woah and Buck shot off into parts unknown I not only shot after him but soared past—he’s a nice strong tenor with some top end but I’m a soprano. I win.‡‡
And having been winding up cables that hate me since I first started this singing shtick, tonight I had a lesson from the ex-roadie and ex-member-of-the-band Buck in how to wind up a cable so it doesn’t hate you. Who knew this was a skill?
Pav, GO LIE DOWN.
Yeah. I think I’ll do that too. Preferably in a bed however. With lots of pillows and books. Pav will probably prefer a chew toy.
* * *
* I haven’t been to the monks in forever either. Siiiiiiigh. If you have ME, don’t join a church frelling MILES from where you live or fall in love with a bunch of monks who are even farther away. I thought I was finally going to make it to the abbey last Saturday . . . and got an email from Alfrick saying, don’t come if you were planning to, there’s a doodah^ on and night prayer is cancelled. And then Sunday, possibly from disappointment, I had another lying-down-in-a-daze day, and didn’t make it to church again.
^ This is of course the deep theological usage of the term ‘doodah’.
** Which does not improve the lying-down-in-a-daze experience
*** And the evening service is the little one. Apparently the earlier services still teem pretty well, even in August.
† Poor Pav’s training has gone totally pear-shaped the last two months or so what with Everything Else Going On and I swore that as soon as things even BEGAN to settle down I’d start doing something more with her again.^ And fabulously amusing as rolling over on command is, the thing that would make a significant difference to both her quality of life and mine is if she would learn to GO LIE DOWN on command, so I have a better alternative when she’s winding herself up to start bouncing off the ceiling than to lock her up in her crate again. Even bribing her with foooooood gets a little oppressive after a while and I need her to like her crate because she inevitably spends a good deal of time in it. And I don’t want to make a huge deal of it when she’s just being a bull terrier and put her in her harness and make her Long Down at my feet. ‘Go lie down’ is just another off button like Southdowner-trained Olivia’s holding is.^^
^ Her walking more or less at heel and sitting and looking up at me when I stop is getting not at all bad except, of course, when I start to think so. But people who know bullies tend to fall down laughing when they see us doing our somewhat erratic trick+. I’m usually smiling even without onlookers++. The little evil eyes do enhance the experience of being stared up at—and the way a bullie’s back legs are built how bullies sit down often provokes hilarity even in the clueless onlooker.
+ Ie successfully.
++ No NOT in surprise. You rude person.
++ Holding still works fine, by the way. If she gets too turbo-charged about another dog—and with her personality I am not going to risk her being ruined by too many encounters with stupid people’s off lead ugly citizens the way my poor sweet hellhounds have been ruined—I don’t just pick her up I hold her.
†† Possibly due to the extreme frustrations of Friday, which included, after learning of the third mortgage I was going to have to take out to pay for the new boiler, belting into Mauncester at the last possible minute to pick up our NEW CLEAR GLASS SPLASHBACK^ for the gas hob/stovetop at Third House which Ignatius had already promised to screw in on Saturday . . . AND THEY FRELLING MUFFED THE JOB. And are going to have to do it all over again. On their penny, but even so. Arrrrrrgh.
And then I rang handbells with Niall for the first time in months and it TOTALLY wiped me out. No measurable trace of brain function after. I used to be able to ring handbells without having to be rolled home in a wheelbarrow. . . .
^ Ordering same having taken somewhat longer than it might have when I arrived last Friday at 3:55 to find that despite the stated hour of closure as 4:30 the only person still there was locking up as fast as he could turn the key.
Finding someone who could provide a clear glass splashback has been a whole other saga as fashion presently dictates that the only splashbacks any cool up to the minute person would want are brutally glossy things in really harsh grisly in your face colours or the even more in your face polished steel uggggggh. I get enough of the dentist’s office/torturer’s look at my dentist’s office/torturer’s tea parties, okay? AND I WANT TO SEE MY TILES. They’re nice tiles and they cost a lot of money.
††† If you stirred Pav and me together you’d get . . . one very extraordinary looking creature who lay down precisely the right amount in precisely the right circumstances.
‡ Aloysius perfectly well can sing harmony, and often does. Buck, however, is dangerous. He gets carried away.
‡‡ I had two people tell me after how lovely my singing harmony was.^ They’re so nice at St Margaret’s. And they so really need singers they are eager to be encouraging.
^ Wrong. Trust me on this.
It was going to be a really bad day.** The ME is using me as a punching-bag again*** and I got out of bed in stages, saying, it is Monday, and I am going to my voice lesson. I am going to my voice lesson. All I have to do is crawl to the car, unlock the door, and put the key in the little hole. Wolfgang knows the way.
It has been a really bad week for—not for singing, see previous about singing for sanity, but for attentive practise, so that I don’t feel a total fool going to sing for Nadia.† After my voice slammed shut on me last Monday—which was actually rather alarming—I gave it two days off anything but folk songs and Leonard Cohen†† . . . and then I had stomach flu and all those deep breaths and gut-disturbing diaphragm action for singing seemed like a pretty bad idea, although I could (maybe) stop worrying about the slamming shut, which was probably germ related. †††
I did sing over the weekend—a little—and I noticed at church last night that I was making a noise.‡ But this morning, warming up, I felt like I’d Never Seen Any of This Music Before in My Life‡‡ and did not set out for my lesson in a very positive frame of mind.‡‡‡
But fate and body parts are often perverse little creatures. I don’t even know how to explain what happened; if I try it’ll sound like gibberish to non-singers and will probably make those of you who would understand what I was talking about if I could explain it properly fall down laughing. The point is I made what Nadia herself called a Technical Leap Forward having to do with waking up the ‘mask’ sinuses and persuading all the various bits and pieces—tongue and soft palate in particular—to clear out of the way and let the sound resonate. Gleep. And she took me up to the high B-flat I need for both Batti, Batti§ and I Want to Be a Prima Donna—I didn’t know it, of course, although I knew we were getting up there—and which I do erratically have at home when I’m focussed on not paying attention and shutting myself down because I Can’t Possibly Do That, so I know the frelling thing exists. And as she pointed out, grinning, I sang it with no strain and no muscle tension. It’s the lack of tension that was so astonishing—she said, yes, your support has come a little adrift, but we can fix that.§§ You’ve made real progress today.
And . . . golly . . . you know . . . I may yet make a singer.
* * *
* Although everything is relative. See next footnote.
** It’s been a bad hellhound day for weeks. With the very, very occasional exception, Darkness more often than Chaos, neither of them is eating. The only reason they haven’t starved themselves to death by now is because I keep force feeding them. They haven’t eaten a scrap of anything today, voluntarily, for example. This is utterly demoralising for me even when the ME isn’t bad. It’s not the taste of the drug; they get three meals and only two of them are dosed. If they are having a unique nauseous reaction to this stuff—nausea which lasts through the third meal—that would explain it, but I doubt it’s that simple, and neither the vet nor I can ask them how they feel or why they’ve decided food is the enemy.^ Meanwhile although their output is improved it’s still far from . . . um . . . a neat pick-up so we persevere. Wearily.
^ Although if it were that simple, anorexia in humans would be less scary and less difficult to treat. I remind myself of this sometimes, on my knees beside the dog bed, stuffing cold sticky food down recoiling hellhounds.
*** I did survive^ my first official Samaritan duty shift, thank you for asking. It was a relatively quiet night which given that I was not at my best is probably just as well,^^ although I need some demanding shifts to get through the list of things your mentor has to support you through before you’re turned loose to function mentor-less. I did write a few texts^^^—and I hope you eventually get over that initial shock of, oh, you poor thing, let me give you a cup of tea and a biscuit.#
The next fortnight is going to be a little unnecessarily exciting however since I’m still at the tremulous beginning of learning Sam weekly duty-shift stamina and I’ve got Street Pastor shifts two weeks in a row too. This is from the swap with Eleanor—she took my Friday night before a Saturday-morning Sam training in June and I’m taking her Saturday in July while she’s touring great swathes of America with her husband. Meanwhile the ME needs to clear off.
^ . . . I’m here. I’m writing a blog entry. This is not the new Zombie McKinley. Breath on the mirror and everything.
^^ And I’m going to assume that hang-ups are not in response to my American accent.
^^^ My mentor, whom we will call Pythia, has a very good line: if you had written what this person has written, is this the response you’d want to read? —Since ‘I have a magic wand and I’m about to make it all go away’ is ineligible, like the cup of tea, if for different reasons.
# Tricky, of course, since they could be texting you from anywhere. New Guinea. Mars.+
+ A CUP OF TEA AND A BISCUIT?? I’M SO BRITISH.~
~ I have no idea what the cup-of-tea-and-a-biscuit equivalent is in either New Guinea or Mars.
† Although I continue to be tempted to take . . . probably Matty Groves in to Nadia. Some folk song with drama. I told you, didn’t I, that I asked her how you sing a maddened nobleman who is about to off both his wife and her lover when you’re a soprano? And she said it’s all in how you release the consonants. And. Glory. Yes.^
I may not have told you since I don’t remember admitting that I’m not a big Sandy Denny fan^^. I know. Heresy. I am, indeed, so lost to all finer feelings that I wonder if the Sandy Denny cult might be somewhat based on the fact that she died young. Nice enough voice but . . . eh. Give me Maddy Prior or June Tabor or Norma Waterson. The Matty Groves take that makes my blood beat hard and my hair stand on end is Fairport Convention after Sandy Denny, with the blokes singing. And they can roar, which is not an option available to a soprano.
But I think I’m still not quite up to eating the scenery for Nadia. Maybe a few more weeks. Months. Years. . . .
^ ‘ . . . And I shall Strike the very next blow, and I will Kill you if I Can.’
^^ But when the ME is this bad I don’t have any memory either.
†† Famous on twenty-three continents^ for having a vocal range of two and a half notes, and tends to write songs accordingly.
^ This includes Mars
††† Your Body Is Your Instrument. Why didn’t I stick with the piano?
‡ I mean . . . singing. Melodic. More or less. Probably. I wasn’t in the band this week so it didn’t matter.
‡‡ Mozart? And he was—?
‡‡‡ Although the presence of non-eating hellhounds in the back seat, looking forward to their Monday afternoon post-lesson walk somewhere interesting, probably was not helping. They like me wrecked by ME: I’m much more willing to noodle along while they investigate every clump of grass for the recent presence of other dogs and/or fascinating pieces of litter.
§ Oh—that Mozart
§§ She also said that if I can’t do this free resonating thing at home this week—don’t panic. But that I should only sing new music—stuff I’m working on for the first time now—if I break out Che Faro, for example, which is absolutely my longing and desire, I’ll just revert to old habits. Wait a little now, she said. We’ll go back to Che Faro later, I promise.
There is a person, let’s say Person A, we will call him Abelard, who is doing a Project. He is canvassing reactions and seeking input from a variety of Other Persons. I am on this list. Recently I received an email from Abelard that was to everyone on the list. I answered. Most of our answers go to him individually—occasionally one escapes and comes to the entire list—and he then posts round ups about what everyone is saying about this or that. I noticed that my input had not been acknowledged. Hmm. Then there’s an email saying that he hasn’t heard from everyone and he’s hoping the rest of us will get in touch. !!!!! So I emailed him again.
Then I emailed asking for acknowledgement that he’s receiving my emails.
So I emailed his boss, Person B, whom we will call Bozo, saying that Abelard was not receiving my recent emails about his Project. Bozo did not deign to reply to me, but he copied me forwarding mine to Abelard. Next round-up email Abelard adds a paragraph saying Robin, I’m not getting your emails.
I forward this back to Bozo and say now what?
There is a pause, and then Bozo emails grandly, well, since you’re not really necessary to this Project why don’t you just let it go?
I stare at this in disbelief for a moment (Bozo and I have had our little differences before—just by the way). Then I write him again. Then I take out all the adjectives and I send what I have written, including a copy of my original email to Abelard, to demonstrate that I might conceivably have something to contribute.
There is another pause AND THEN I RECEIVE ANOTHER EMAIL FROM BOZO SAYING THAT ABELARD IS RUNNING THIS PROJECT AND I SHOULD BE CONTACTING HIM DIRECTLY.
DO I GET TO SAY AT THIS POINT THAT BOZO IS AN INCOMPETENT TWIT?
Then I took my two shifts of hellcritters out and sang like crazy.*
I told you last week that I was going to experiment in turning over a new leaf about my singing—well maybe blow on a new leaf or wave it around a little—or maybe turn over just a new petiole—although I suspect if you turn the petiole over the leaf goes with it. Whatever. But I was going to stop pretending I didn’t have any voice just because I don’t sound like Nadia or Joyce DiDonato, and I was also going to stop pretending that the only time I had any voice was during my voice lessons after Nadia had done her teacher magic and that it all went away again as soon as I was at home and it was just me and the piano and an assortment of beady-eyed hellcritters.** And, since I do have a voice, such as it is, I was going to work on developing singing stamina.
And what better exercise aid than very long folk songs?*** I had another little epiphany about singing folk songs too, and this makes me look like even more of a nincompoop† than the ‘oh woe is me I have no voice’ thing. I’ve taken folk songs in to Nadia off and on right along pretty much from the beginning and she’s even said (repeatedly) ‘find what works for you’ but noooooo I’m not going to let myself get away with it being easy. So I keep trying to find THE EXACTLY PRECISELY RIGHT VERSION of whatever, which I will then learn slavishly . . . but folk songs being the slippery little devils that they are I rarely do find the exactly precisely right version which means that . . . I can’t learn them. No! Not allowed! It must be the ultimate perfect rubber-stamped passed-in-triplicate official THE VERSION!!!!! How pathetic is that. Very, very, very slightly in my defense, the problem often is that I have the version I like and I want to sing in my head and/or my imagination’s ear, from Maddy Prior or Jean Ritchie or someone, and the available sheet music is never it. McKinley. It’s folk music. Make it up. Good grief.
To be continued again. . . .
* * *
* Or, you know, like sanity. Till I felt better. Hey, it works. A good murder ballad. . . .
** At Third House the critter beds will not be slap next to the piano. WILL. NOT.
*** I sang for service again this past Sunday. This clearly counts as vocal press-ups, since over the course of a long evening you’re singing hard for probably an hour and a half. Riordan, who was music leader for the evening service, sent us the playlist Monday evening. Usually I’m whining for it Thursday or so and on at least one occasion we got it Saturday afternoon.^
It’s a mixed blessing however, having it that early. You have so much less excuse for not spending serious time learning the latest rash of driv—I mean, these earnest, committed songs of modern worship. ARRRRRGH. What I have found, however, is that power ballads for God have the same effect on me that power ballads about everything else do—which is to say they depress the crap out of me.^^^ It’s all so moany.
So I maybe didn’t get quite as much practise in as I might have done for having had the playlist all week. But the funny thing was that in the heat of the moment Sunday evening with everyone else singing and twanging and thundering~ . . . it all became quite jolly. Aside from the whole ‘worshipping God’ aspect. At the end of service as I was crawling around on my hands and knees coiling up ENDLESS, Midgard-Serpent-length frelling cables, Buck sauntered past nonchalantly and said, if you get too good at that, you know, we’ll put you on the rota permanently.
In six months I’m going to have a voice like iron.
^ People have lives. Christians too.
^^ I would much rather sing Are you working in the vineyard of the Lord?, which isn’t on YouTube, which is very sad+ or When the roll is called up yonder, of which there are a gazillion versions on YouTube, many of them not fit for much beyond making you a Hindu++, although I rather like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIB0xL-ejQk&index=11&list=PLD747A0359ACA320E But then I have a weakness for the banjo after a misspent childhood listening to the Kingston Trio.+++
+ ‘From the desert wilds of sin/ Are you bringing lost ones in?’ Gospel lyrics don’t mess around.
++ Although if student performances of Voi Che Sapete can’t put me off Mozart—and they can’t—the Singing Goldfish# of Goodgodville shouldn’t shake my faith.
# Glub glub glub glub
+++ YES. I AM THAT OLD.
^^^ I had a friend a million years ago in another life+ who used to call the soft rock radio station his wife favoured ‘suicide music’. This is perhaps a little strong but I know what he meant.++
+ YES. I AM THAT OLD.
++ Although I like this video:
~ Serious drum kit. Golly.
† Not to say an incompetent twit.