I’m not sure where the last four days have gone. I had thought that I might have completed some cogent words during the Everlasting Rain, but obviously the dampness soaked my soul and dissolved any inclination to share thoughts. It is now sunny. Cold, but sunny. I am therefore somewhat reconciled with the world and prepared to overlook my dilatory approach to the course that I am supposed to be following and will promise to make it all up by more application today.
The length of this entry is augmented by what I wrote the day before yesterday or possibly merely yesterday when the full aftermath of Culture finally struck me. Who knows? And fewer care. So, on with the show!
It’s George Frederick Handel not Georg Friedrich Händel. As any fule kno, Handel is a British composer, though I am not sure that they had naturalization papers in those days, but British undeniably. And the Liceu should have known better than to apportion some sort of German name to this quintessentially British composer. Take The Messiah for example, admittedly it was premiered in Dublin, but British god damn it!
‘Agrippina’ by Handel was an unknown opera for me, I have heard of some of his operas but I had seen none. Performances of The Messiah yes, but a full-blown Handel opera no. A virgin experience with only a little dabbling on the Internet and listening and watching a few attempts on YouTube to prepare me for the fray.
It was a first for the Liceu too, a first performance since the piece was written in 1709 – which tells you something. Maybe about changing tastes and maybe about the essential quality of this piece.
I would be the first to admit that there are some ravishing parts in this opera, some duets and a single chorus that are show stopping. There is humour and social comment and, by god there is recitative. A lot of recitative. In my view far, far too much recitative.
For me the production I saw last night (and part of this morning – we didn’t get out until quarter past midnight!) by David McVicar had some good set pieces, a few excellent ideas and a lot of attempts to make recitative interesting. Well, it really isn’t – not in the quantities we had to put up with.
The singing: Sarah Connolly as Agrippina was fantastic, she had stage presence and a rich, fluid and spine tingling voice and when she was paired with Danielle de Niese as Poppea the effect was electric. The blatant scheming of Agrippina contrasted well with the slightly dippy, sex-kittenish but by no means stupid Poppea and their attempts to outdo each other in craft as well as in voice was simply astonishing. They were a joy to watch, especially when they were given acting to do as they commanded the stage.
Which is more than can be said for an under sung Ottone by David Daniels whose portly form cut a rather sad figure on the stage and was in contrast to the more authoritative figure of Franz-Josef Selig in the character of Claudio the emperor, whose rich tones and enthusiastic acting made him a compelling character.
Nerone, played by Malena Emman overacted shamelessly in her attempts to portray an upper-class brat dabbling in love and cocaine – but her voice was amazing. I would have preferred a counter-tenor in the role, but with sheer hard work and vocal brilliance she made it her own and by the second act I had come to accept her interpretation.
And interpretation is the rock on which this production flounders. What was it meant to be? A comedy, tragedy, social commentary, what? There were roles played as if they were out of pantomime: Pallante as a tubby general acted and sung with authority by Henry Waddington and Narciso as a sort of mad scientist with madder hair overacted by Dominique Visse in a voice that was frankly weak. While other roles seemed to be connected with serious power play of life and death, the actual soldiers in this piece were like something out of Monty Python with camp movements more musical hall than military.
The setting was simple monumental with moveable tombs at start and end emphasising that all these people are dead long before we learn about them. The largest single piece of stage machinery was a steep flight of moveable steps surmounted by a throne and I worried throughout the long evening fearing that one or more characters was going to make a headlong descent! The lighting was hit and miss and the costumes generally modern.
At its best this production was lively with, for example a brilliant scene set in a nightclub bar with Poppea and Ottone resolving their differences in a far more engaging way than the ‘talking in your sleep’ device of the original. This must also be the only time that a star harpsichordist has taken the guest spot and accompanied a more than half drunk singer while providing the necessary umph for a couple to do a sexy dance to his music. He had a well deserved round of applause at the end of his stint!
The band the Orquestra Simfonica del Gran theatre del Liceu under the baton of Harry Bicket was great and their reception at the end was tumultuous – as well it should have been.
In conclusion this was a long, long night in which there were many pleasures but, alas for me, insufficient to justify the length. There is great music here, but you have to wait a long time in between delights.
And its been raining for three days and we just had a little more after a sullen day which has spent its time threatening to rain. This is not what I am used to and I have no intention of getting used to it either – though that expression of rejection depends on money or an act of god to get it right.
Rain could not dampen my spirits as I got to Barcelona early enough yesterday afternoon to pay a visit to the glass and marble shop on the corner of Plaza de Cataluña and throw more of my money at the personable youngsters to smile their way around the tables on which the merchandise is tauntingly displayed. I now possess an iPad Air to go with my MacBook Air and everything else by Apple that I have bought into. To justify the unjustifiable I have given my old one to Toni who will probably know more about the machine in a couple of days that I will have found out in a few years. Ah well. It works and I am happy. Who can ask for more?
Today has been a day of tiredness – recovering from the opera last night and the expense not only of a new iPad but also of the cost of putting the car in a place where it is safe and reachable at the end of a performance. I console myself by thinking that were I to put my car in a similar car park in London, which would have to be in Trafalgar Square to be comparable, it would cost a bloody sight more.
As even my Morning Pages were restricted today I should knuckle down and get something more done after dinner.
Which I didn’t do because it is now the same time as the start of this piece. Ah, what looking at a few episodes of Doctor Who on the New iPad Air does for me – suddenly time is no longer linear and can be twisted like a juvenile design idea expressed via a 3D printer. One of my more convoluted similes that, I think.
Anyway, the sun is still shining through the clouds are full of sky (and yes, I do mean it that way round) and it promises to dry out at least some of the overwhelming wetness that has been a characteristic of Catalonia for these last three long rainy days.
Sad though it will undoubtedly seem to those who do not share my interest, I am missing my New Watch (returned) and am pining for something exciting in the wristal area. I have retreated to the default position that I had with the buying of Sci-Fi books of old: specific author; second hand and under 50p. Using the bones of that idea I am determined that no new watch will be worse that the one that I am wearing at the moment, and by worse I mean having fewer features.
The list of features that I regard as essential is as follows in diminishing order of necessity - and yes, I do recognize that that opening was self-contradictory.
1 It must tell the time
2 It must be waterproof
3 It must have luminous hands
4 A sweep second hand
5 Day and date
6 Numbers instead of dashes preferred
7 Metal strap preferred
8 Date must change automatically over months
9 Link to atomic clock (this is the last one and bumps the price up)
It does mean that I can look at most watch shop window and find nothing that meets my requirements. The ninth point, particularly excludes virtually everything I see. Which is good. For the time being – though Amazon is no more than a few clicks away.
Now to get on with my life.