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.
Admetus, Peter and I went to the live cinema screening of the National Theatre’s EVERYMAN tonight—yes, the medieval morality play*, yanked into the present day and adorned with bad language and cocaine by Carol Ann Duffy, of whom I am a besotted and drooling fan**, and when I saw this play existed and that, furthermore, the National Theatre was going to live-screen it I WANTED TO GO.***
IT IS WONDERFUL AND AMAZING AND POWERFUL AND TERRIFIC. GO IF YOU HAVE THE CHANCE. They do rescreenings for these live things some times . . . check your local listings.
* * *
* Which I read in college. Hey, it’s shorter than Bunyan’s frelling PILGRIM’S PROGRESS. Even us English majors have our limits. Although I read most of Bunyan too.^
^ And I like Spenser, who usually appears on the same class syllabus. Sue me.
* I admire both her poetry and her politics. Generally speaking I remember a pressing engagement on the other side of the planet as soon as some arty type starts coming out in political activism like a rash, but there are a few who do it with aplomb, Duffy being one of them. The fact that she’s hot on women’s and sexual and gender rights AND HAS A SENSE OF HUMOUR WITH IT might have something to do with this.^
^ Also my wet-liberal tendencies are getting larger and meaner and shorter-tempered+ as my Street Pastor and Samaritan duty hours rack up.
+ Frightening. Yes.
*** There followed several months of frustration. I cannot BELIEVE the level of meatloafhood in many and possibly most arts and entertainment web sites. ARRRRRRGH. I think I only found out about either the play or the live screening because I’m on the NT’s STREET MAIL CATALOGUE LIST. But you have to buy your tickets from your local cinema, supposing you can find the right local cinema, since the cinema list on the NT site will not match the local cinema’s information when, the NT link being dead or missing, you try your local cinema’s own web site. This tarantella of frustration is further enhanced by the original performance site—in this case the National Theatre, but it is by no means the only perpetrator of this variety of on line crime—whining continuously in obtrusive pop-up boxes for your location so it can give you a personally tailored web site experience, and, when you cave and give it to them, and it is, let’s say, Hampshire, immediately offering you 1,000,000 cinemas in London. THANKS EVER SO. I KNOW IT SOMETIMES LOOKS LIKE THE ENTIRE SOUTH OF ENGLAND IS A LARGE BEDROOM COMMUNITY FOR LONDON BUT SOME OF US REALLY LIVE HERE.^
Meanwhile . . . I could not persuade my local cinema to take my money and give me some seats for EVERYMAN, and since it’s a flapdoodling cinema chain, you can’t get a local human being on the phone—nor is the on-the-ground ticket office open during ordinary town-errand-running day hours—to tell you if it’s coming to your particular local. The chain’s theatre local to a town 300 miles away is not really what you are after. ARRRRRRGH. So the NT web site went on saying it was here, and here went on saying Page Not Found. So I finally threw up my hands^^ and bought tickets at a theatre in Greater Footling, which isn’t impossibly far from here.^^^ I didn’t find out that yes, indeed, EVERYMAN is coming to the local scion of national cinema glory until we walked in to see the Royal Opera House live screening of GUILLAME TELL~ there a fortnight ago, and saw large flashy posters for EVERYMAN on the walls. AAAAAARRRRRRRRGH.
BUT THE STORY DOES NOT END HERE. In the first place, there are two theatres belonging to this other incompetently head-officed and web-sited cinema chain, AND with nearly the same name, ie the Toadstool and the Toadstool Phoenix, both of them not merely in Greater Footling but the same end of Greater Footling and Greater Footling is not exactly a gazillion-citizen megalopolis AND BOTH OF THEM WERE SCREENING EVERYMAN. Go figure. Admetus had looked up how to find the Toadstool Phoenix and I had looked up the Toadstool, and there was a certain amount of frantic cross-checking yesterday.
Well we got that sorted and we even successfully arrived at the Toadstool~~. Now my on line booking was, according to what I printed out to take with me, only a booking and we had to get there HALF AN HOUR EARLY to pick up the tickets. Fortunately, having wasted time going in several wrong directions, we got there only about a quarter hour early . . . fortunately because the box office was not open. The ticket machine did not show EVERYMAN. The androids behind the snacks counter were only programmed to provide snacks. The whole dranglefabbing complex was pretty comprehensively deserted and since there are 1,000,000 screens at the Toadstool Stepford we might still be there wandering hopelessly down identical corridors except the screen number was on my booking page. We went there. We decided we didn’t like the seats I’d booked—who can tell anything from a web schematic—and sat somewhere else. Since there were only about ten of us perched randomly in a theatre that would probably seat 200 it didn’t matter too astonishingly. And no one ever checked our booking, or asked for our tickets, or offered us a wet fish or a glass of Prosecco, or anything else. But there must have been a Stepford minion pressing the button for the show to run, because it did run. Yaaaaaay.
^ The worst offender in the web site visitor location category however is the frelling New York Metropolitan Opera. I don’t know what the frelling doodah is going on with the Met Live this year—tickets should be on sale by now—and I can’t find a cinema anywhere around here that admits to screening it, including the one I’ve always used in the past. But if you click through all the dazzle to the Met Live page on the Met Opera site, and ask it to find you your local cinema, it will ask you for your country and then for your city. I clicked hopefully on Mauncester, which is even on the Met Live drop down menu of Hampshire cities . . . AND THE CINEMA LIST STARTS OFF IN AUSTRIA. THEN GERMANY. THEN . . . Belgium, I think. I forget. But you’ve scrolled down several pages before you ever get to the UK at all. If they’re trying to impress me favourably with the number of cinemas worldwide that screen the Met Live this is not having the desired effect.
^^ There may have been language.
^^^ Especially when Admetus is driving. Ahem.
~ The now nationally if not internationally notorious new ROH production of GUILLAUME TELL. Yes, yes, William Tell, but Rossini was an Italian writing for the French opera, okay? Whatever you call it it’s supposed to be Rossini’s unknown masterpiece, never put on because it’s five hours long and you’re only allowed to write operas longer than four hours if you’re Wagner.+ I was THRILLED when I heard that the ROH was going to do it, and QUADRUPLY THRILLED that they were going to live stream it and live stream it at a cinema close enough for me to drive to. YAAAAAAAAAAY. I bought tickets more or less the moment they went on sale and was enormously looking forward to it. ENORMOUSLY.
The beginning of that week I got a text from Admetus saying, erm, have you seen the reviews for the opening night of GUILLAUME TELL? I hadn’t. The hot young director++ in his creative capacity as an enormous flaming asshole had decided that the bad guys’ bad-guy-ness—whatever else you do with it, the story is still basically about a bunch of locals being stomped by an invading army—needed to be heightened, and never mind that Rossini and his text provider actually took quite good care of making the bad guys bad in the libretto—and so staged an extremely graphic rape scene during the chirpy ballet+++ at the beginning of the third act. A local woman is harassed and molested by a gang of the bad-guy officers . . . and then stripped naked, thrown on the banqueting table and gang raped. BECAUSE THE AUDIENCE NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT THE BRUTALITY OF WAR.
Opening night was booed so thoroughly that (according to reports) you couldn’t hear the music. Quite a lot of ink, newspaper and virtual, was spilled subsequently (most of which you can still find on line if you’re interested) and I spent rather too much of that week reading reviews and feeling ill. I almost didn’t go. I don’t need to understand about the brutality of war, or about the gross inhumanity of man to man or men to woman# and I don’t think the first night reaction was anything about British parochialism, which is one of the things that was elitistly suggested.
They’d toned it down some## by the day of the cinema broadcast . . . but I did go, and that scene still made me feel physically sick and I almost walked out. The only reason I finally went at all was because the reviews were also universal that it was exquisitely sung AND I WANTED TO FRELLING HEAR IT which is where we came in. And it was exquisitely sung, and I in fact came home and ordered the CD with the same cast and conductor which gets about twelve stars in the Penguin Guide as well. But for gratuitous, inappropriate, stupid, pretentious shock value, the rape scene takes some kind of gigantic toxic biscuit. I’m also happy to say that the controversy did not put bums on seats around here: I’d never seen the cinema so empty for an opera screening.###
+ I will probably never see Parsifal, partly because I’d be throwing rubbery carrots and small dead animals at the stage by the end of act two, but also because, supposing I hadn’t been ejected yet, I’d have pressure sores by the end of act twelve, or whenever it finally stops.
++ On whose head let there be a positive avalanche of small dead animals in an advanced state of decomposition
+++ French operas of that period apparently HAD to have ballets. There are a lot of standard rep grand operas that seem suddenly and startlingly to come to a thundering [sic] halt for the ballet. Good time to sneak out for another glass of Prosecco. Especially if it’s GUILLAUME TELL under this director.
# Oh, and? The actress does not—or at any rate did not—get a mention in the credits. Several of us saw some further symbolism in this.
## After both director and ROH head did the blustery bit about artistic integrity and said they weren’t going to change a thing
### There was a lot of raging stupidity elsewhere in this production. Why the freedom fighters took their shirts off—rarely a performance plus in a large group of opera singers—to smear themselves in blood and dirt before they went into battle was not clear, and went CLANG in a production that had more or less updated the story to the 20th century. And there is a scene at the end that I’m surprised was even allowed, when the villagers’ children are stripped down to their underwear and bathed in a series of small tubs dotted across the stage. Presumably it was to indicate Fresh Young New Beginnings, the bad guys having been against the odds seen off, but it was creepy in the extreme.
~~ Some of our wrong turnings tonight looked very familiar since Fiona and I had made them a while back when we tried to find the Toadstool. We had of course complicated the issue by stopping at a yarn store first which for some reason Peter and Admetus were not interested in. Men. Sigh.
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?
I think I haven’t been to any of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s live-streaming cinema broadcasts this season, for a variety of reasons, including being fired by my dog minder, but also . . . and I realise how pathetic and lame this sounds . . . because Saturday night is my favourite frelling church service, sitting silently in the dark with monks. Saturday night is the only service all week that has the silent-sitting thing. I’ll try to catch an extra service at the abbey, I hope tomorrow night**, but if I want to sit silently in the dark I’ll have to do it by myself. Whiiiiiiine.
But this run at the Met is probably Joyce DiDonato’s last performance of La Cenerentola, and last night was the broadcast. And Radio 3, which would be airing it only without the eye-candy part, has been advertising it pretty hard. And there are, in fact, limits to my dedication to God (and monks).*** Joyce DiDonato, you know?† Not to mention Juan Diego Florez, who is adorable aside from the high Cs††.
Because I bought my ticket at the last minute I had a choice between being at the extreme end of one of the back rows and thus seeing the screen as if reflected in an unfunhouse mirror . . . or the aisle of the second row and thus needing a neck like a giraffe to tip my head far enough back to see the screen at all. I went for the second row. And brought a large tote bag with two big fat pillows in it—much to the hilarity of the guy behind me in row three†††—and lay down for the show.‡ Worked a treat, thanks.
AND THE OPERA WAS FABULOUS. STAGGERINGLY, GORGEOUSLY, JAW-DROPPINGLY FABULOUS. If they rerun it—which they sometimes do, and I would expect DiDonato’s final go at one of her signature roles would be a good candidate—and you have the FAINTEST interest in opera or classical singing or music—GO. GOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGO. GO.
And . . . just by the way . . . not that this has anything to do with anything . . . but there are three cute guys in it. This doesn’t happen in opera. You’re lucky if you have one who, compared with a dead fish, comes out slightly ahead. Florez, as previously observed, is darling.‡‡ Dandini is also pretty frelling cute.‡‡‡ And Alidoro . . . ::fans self::§ I mean, gleep.§§
. . . . Anyway. I have now spent over an hour sifting through YouTube clips§§§ because I am so devoted to the welfare of my blog readers, and I HAVE TO GO TO BED. Maybe I’ll get back to CENERENTOLA in a footnote sometime. . . .
* * *
* The etc is chiefly that we went to a National Garden Scheme garden today . . . and took Pav. I’ve been wanting to take her to an open garden but there aren’t that many that allow dogs—fewer than there used to be, I would have said, but maybe it’s just around here, or we want to go to the wrong gardens.^
This one was gorgeous, mellow old stone house on the bank^^ of one of England’s pencil-thick so-called rivers, but winding romantically, with waterfowl and reeds.^^^ The garden then extended back across fields with vistas and benches and the occasional outburst of perennial border. And the weather, which was forecast to be grouchy and streaming by turns, was glorious, bright blue sky and big fat scudding clouds.# I barely saw any of it, since Pav was trying to see, respond, engage, EAT all of it simultaneously and you couldn’t see those little short legs, they were churning so fast. ADVENTURE! WE’RE HAVING AN ADVENTURE! Pantpantpantpantpantpantpant. She did not seem to be sorry to sit in my lap for tea, however, where she was more easily suppressed than if I tried to make her lie down under my chair##, although I did have to keep a sharp eye on the cakes. NO. NOT FOR DOGS. NOT EVEN FOR HELLTERRORS. Cute is not enough. —She was much admired by several aficionados of the breed, however, as well as cringed away from by several people who think they know that all bull terriers are evil biting machines. Sigh. We saw Labs (of frelling course), Goldens, poodles, gazillions of ordinary boring hairy terrier terriers . . . but we were the Supreme Only Bull Terrier present.
^ We used to allow dogs when we opened our garden at the old house. Just by the way. We also offered free plastic bags. Ahem. Today this aspect of the presence of dogs was pretty funny. Pav in the heat of excitement had an unscheduled defecatory moment which—since I always have plastic bags secreted about my person in several places in case I forget and run out in the standard coat pocket location—I recovered. But there wasn’t anything like a bin to deposit the securely wrapped morsel in. I can’t now remember what we did when we had our garden open; did we expect people to carry canine excreta home with them? Surely not. Anyway. No bin. So Pav and I went back to the gate while Peter bought tea+, and inquired there if there was a public bin nearby? The car park this private garden was using for their open day was attached to some public wildlife preserve, you’d frelling expect there’d be a bin.
You’d’ve thought I’d made an improper suggestion++. Both ladies looked alarmed and revolted and the nearer one edged her chair away from Pav doing her I-am-a-lunatic-and-I-have-no-manners shtick but clearly secured by a thick+++, heavy, short lead. No-no-no-no-no, quavered one of them, clutching her twinset to her bosom.
I was tempted to make little dashes at them—like the bully in the playground waving a poor confused harmless snake at the wusses, although I would not describe Pav as poor or confused, or harmless if you’re wearing clean jeans—but I didn’t want to be told to go away before I’d had my tea. So I restrained myself (and Pav).
And took our parcel back to the car. Which was kind of a frelling walk. Next year the owner, whom I heard saying jollily that they’d had a lot of dogs today, should consider both the suitability of the volunteers on the gate and the provision of a small bin with a lid.
+ Including the all-important Cake Selection process
++ Live in a yurt! Buy an armadillo! Get legless on a night you’re wearing stacked stilettos and make the Street Pastors give you a pair of flipflops!
+++ and spectacularly gaudy. So gaudy I had a pair of meek little English men creep up to me and ask softly where I’d bought it. Oh, the States somewhere, I said loudly in my rich American accent. I forget.
So maybe it was the (pink) harness and rainbow-dazzle lead that the ladies on the gate were disturbed by, and the drooling hellterror exhibiting them was incidental.
^^ High enough, I guess, that they did not have water in their cellar this winter.
^^^ Rushes? Tall strappy-leaved edge-of-river plants.
# The best thing of all was how easy it was to find. It looked in the directions like it should be easy. But that doesn’t mean anything.
## HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. But she lies down very well if there’s cheese or chicken involved. And I did have chicken jerky in my pocket in case of emergencies.
** As I wrote to Alfrick, emailing to warn him I wasn’t coming last night, I start jonesing for monks if I go much over a week without a hit.
*** I’m a Street Pastor! I’m about to become a frelling (nonreligious, but God still told me to) Samaritan! Cut me some slack here!
††† And I wager my neck was in better shape than his at the end of the four hours
‡ Leg stowage I admit can be a problem in these situations, but as it happens there was no one in the front row, so I could rest my raised knees against the seat without anyone objecting.
‡‡ In the interviews I’ve heard with him he sounds like a decent human being too. I refuse to find darling people who are clearly major creepazoids.^
^ I’m old. My hormones are under control.+
+ Except for the ones involved in hot flushes. I thought you STOPPED HAVING hot flushes/flashes after a few years. I’m waiting. . . .
§ Hot flush. No, really.
§§ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pr2LBjN7K10 Gah. I have wasted a lot of time trying to find a clip where you can not merely hear but see him. There’s also quite a good one of him singing poor Cherubino off to battle but you don’t get a close up. This one is fairly explicit. He’s the one doing most of the singing, making up to the girl in the grey dress. ::fans self more:: Oh, Dmitri [Hvoroskovsky], you may have a rival.^
^ I’M OLD. MY HORMONES ARE UNDER CONTROL.
§§§ Okay. Some knitting also occurred.
I lay in bed last night listening* to Aethelstan playing chimney-pot rugby with his buds. And today pretty much the entire Soggy Bottom road is under water, not just the bridge over the ford—and the lake at the Gormless Pettifogger** crossroads is back. You can just turn around and go the other way, as some people do, and in another couple of inches I will too, but at the moment the small sea still passable by anyone who isn’t glamorously low-slung. Wolfgang is neither glamorous nor low-slung. So having ascertained there’s no one in the immediate vicinity who is going to plunge in before you, you take a deep breath, aim for the centre of the ominously shimmering water***, put your foot down and hold your nerve because your bow wave will briefly wipe out the view through your windscreen and if you stop you’ll stall.
Diane in MN
. . . Years ago, I took someone who didn’t have any experience of opera to see Butterfly, and it just about knocked her over. . . .
The first Butterfly I ever saw live, which was well into my opera-going career—largely because it wasn’t a favourite and so I wasn’t in any hurry to spend opera-ticket prices on it—included a Butterfly tittuping briskly onto the stage just before she sings Un bel di, wearing some kind of faux-Japanese footgear and . . . taking a spectacular header full length on the floor. WHAM. Ow. Suzuki, who didn’t have a stage direction for this, just stood there with her mouth open†. Butterfly, poor thing, pulled herself together, staggered to her feet . . . and sang. In her defense, this was a touring company—I think it may have been the Met, back in the days when the Met still toured—so this was an unfamiliar stage with unknown hazards. This sort of thing must happen to touring companies kind of a lot. But I remember almost nothing else of the production—haven’t a clue who was singing, for example.
But opera doesn’t lend itself to realism (say I), it’s not what it’s for.
I think this is quite right. . . . I’ve always felt that the plots are secondary to the music anyway: the texts chosen by a composer might not hold up for a century or more, but the music is about emotional truth and that stays relevant and keeps us coming back.
Boldface mine. TAKE THAT, RICHARD STRAUSS. Yes. Absolutely. You can’t worship at—say—the Verdian shrine, which I do, faithfully, and maintain any dignity arguing in favour of equal textual validity.†† But the music is about emotional truth. Yes.
. . . About ugly Americans and Kate showing up completely inappropriately off a US Navy warship… it’s an exotic opera, right? 19th (and early 20th) century Europe was obsessed with the Exotic Other… anyone outside the pale of “civilized” Europe. There are so many exotic tropes: childlike, naive (Butterfly) cruel, barbarian (Turandot), controlled by feelings more than reason (Butterfly and Turandot both), and over-sexualized (Pinkerton). The thing that’s hard to remember (at least if you’re American alive during US-as-world-superpower era) is that Pinkerton is every bit as exotic as Butterfly in that opera. It’s an Italian opera… Americans were exotic to Italians. So I don’t find it at all surprising that the librettist wouldn’t’ve checked his facts about who would’ve been allowed on a Navy warship: facts don’t matter when you’re writing about exotic peoples. They are the Other—we get to project on them whatever we want. . . .
I know you’re the professional musician with the PhD in music history and I’m not but . . . I don’t agree. Or don’t accept this argument as adequate. Chiefly for two reasons: first. Butterfly was written after the turn of the last century, and Puccini lived till the ‘20s. I know they didn’t have the internet yet (!) but sheer bloody parochialism is always with us and is no excuse—just by the way, Americans are still exotic in, let’s say, rural Hampshire, England, in 2014, which blows my mind. But a hundred years ago is not the Palaeolithic. By 1900 you had precious little excuse for officially having no clue about the reality of other nations—or for not bothering to check big fat crude factoids like whether or not wives are permitted on US Navy warships. Second. These verismo bozos don’t get to have it both ways: either there’s a veneer of genuine realism on their work or there isn’t. I still call it a melodrama, not verismo†††, but part of what makes Butterfly both so effective and so infuriatingly manipulative is the gloss of ‘reality’. The reason Butterfly works for me is because her role is so devastatingly magnificent: her last aria, as she’s about to kill herself, is shattering. And it carries me over seeing Kate trailing up the hill behind Pinkerton calling Butterfly! Butterfly! A lesser piece of work and Kate would throw me out of the story—and the agony—altogether.‡
I love Un Ballo in Maschera—which premiered the year after Puccini was born, in the mid-1800s—and that it’s supposedly laid in Puritan Boston doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But, as I said about La Trav the other night, Verdi never wrote anything close to verismo as it’s usually defined: he gets into people’s hearts amazingly‡‡ but most of his librettos are trash. I’m also aware that Un Ballo got moved to a Boston locale for tricky European political reasons—speaking of exotic: oh, the barbaric North Americans won’t care—but my point is it doesn’t matter. It’s backdrop. That’s all it is. Fifty years later operas are beginning to be integrated into their storylines. I know the march of progress isn’t a united front, but for example Jenufa was pretty much contemporary with Butterfly!!
And I’d better shut up before you get your PhD off the mantelpiece and wallop me with it. . . .
. . . my most common stabby thought while playing opera was always along the lines of “Can we PLEEEEASE stab the soprano now (maybe even by the end of the first act!) so we don’t have to play for her dying for the next 15 pages (exaggeration but not by all that much!)??” My biggest frustration with playing opera in general is that, yes, there are some absolutely ravishing parts of operas, but there is so much else that is just plain endurance on the part of the orchestra! At least the audience has the floor show (so to speak) to watch while the tenor or soprano repeats things over and over. . . .
NOOOOOOOO. YOU ARE A PHILISTINE. YOU ARE AN EVIL PHILISTINE RATBAG. PUTTING MY FINGERS IN MY EARS SO I AM NOT HEARING YOU. LALALALALALALALALA.
Hey, that’s a thought. It’s still (comparatively) early. I could sing.
* * *
* ‘Sleeping’? What would that be?
** Not my favourite pub.
*** Maybe it already is that extra couple of inches deep and I’m about to be very embarrassed and have to ring the RAC to send someone with chains and very high tailpipe clearance to rescue me.
† Not very living the role of her.
†† Ernani? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Il Trovatore? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. La Forza del Destino? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. . . . Stop, stop, you’re killing me. . . .
††† Il Tabarro? Verismo? Oh, right, wrapping your wife’s lover, whom you’ve just murdered, up in your cloak, so you can have the big reveal and spook her the frell out^, YES. VERY REALISTIC. VERY, VERY REALISTIC. Melodrama. One of the things that bites me about this story is that you have that sad and touching (in that manipulative way Puccini is so good at) scene earlier where the jerk of a husband turns all wistful and says they used to be happy together before the baby died and you think, oh, poor them, no wonder they’re having problems . . . and I’d even go with the murder. Unhappy husband presented with worst fear: his wife’s much-younger lover. I DO NOT GO WITH THE WRAPPING THE CORPSE IN HIS CLOAK. Husband is still wearing the cloak, you understand. GROSS ME THE FRELL OUT. Melodrama.
^ How to ruin someone’s day big time
‡ I may also be a trifle preoccupied with what a thankless role Kate’s is as it’s usually presented.
‡‡ I will take one Verdi to seventeen Puccinis any day. Just by the way.