Thursday, 19 July 2007

Asleep in the orchestra stalls

The ever open purse of the National Lottery gapes at the prospect of men and women in short trousers running round and round. Celebrating in a faux Olympic Games, the coming together of a world that is a bomb blast away from World War Three., A celebration of unity and the brotherhood of man when a major item on the price list is a defence against international terrorists.

The rot set in with opera houses.,. Fifty million for Covent Garden, as much
again for the biggest greenhouse in the world in Cardiff.
Wasted on me. For years Opera acted on me like musical mogadon. I have
slept in most of the great opera houses in Europe.
Paris, Vienna,London.........
In Rome,during the overture, which is still a course and distance record. Italians surrounding us were aghast.
"Don't worry," said my wife bitterly, "he will waken the moment the bar opens. He has never missed an interval."
Sadly, since she dashed the glass all but permanently from my lips, I have found it almost impossible to get to sleep in the theatre. I even stay awake in Ibsen, though not, Thank God, in Becket.
My first experience of opera was a Carl Rosa fifties' production of Aida. A story of war,you may recall between Egypt and Ethiopia and the only occasion in military history when the Egyptian army won a battle.

By the fifties Carl Rosa was in decline. More your Carl Sinka. The Egyptian army in the production was down to platoon strength; the tomb in which hero and heroine are immured collapsed under the weight of a soprano. The company's scenery made the cardboard walls of the much lamented Prisoner of Cell Block 'H', granite-like in comparison.
In the Flying Dutchman the eponymous tenor was instantly grounded when the flies fell on him. So pinched were the productions that in La Boheme it was the audience's imagination and not Mimi's tiny hand that was frozen.

It is not that I haven’t tried. And to some measure, which I ascribe entirely to forced near tee-totalism I have succeeded. In Birmingham I saw my third production of "Aida" - the second in Bielefeld was memorable mostly for a tomb the size, and indeed the thickness, of a golf umbrella.
This third production was in the Sports Arena, which holds fourteen thousand people and is about the size of of a small village.
Massive cast, including an army, which had it been available to the Egyptians in the Six Day War would have got them a result, and a River Nile in which I swear I saw trout.
I was converted.
I do not claim I will ever become as attached to opera as my late Uncle Tommy, a road digger in Edinburgh who discovered grand opera late in life when my father played him a recording of Bjorling singing "None Shall Sleep", at which he could give Pavarotti three blacks.
Uncle Tommy blew his life savings, amassed over the previous week because he was sadly improvident, on a radiogram and all the arias he could cram into a carrier bag.
I still don't see opera needs ever larger home for its productions. But then in my Carl Rosa days productions were built to fit theatres: now it is the other way round.


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