Thursday, June 25, 2009

A day without pupils is like . . . .

Arrived an hour early for school which does not start until 9.00 am. The (very civilized) time table for the rest of the term has now appeared and we can go home after lunch.

I assume that most of the school in Catalonia are now closed for students as driving to work this morning was a delight – allowing, of course for manic motorcyclists. I now look back at my hatred of cyclists in the UK with something amounting to fondness when I compare it with my detestation of the kamikaze motorcyclists of Catalonia!

I have been driven to type because I am surrounded by people who are working. I assume that they are form teachers and they are preparing for the meetings which are going to take place today to consider those miscreants who have failed their examinations and have further failed their ‘recuperation’ exams. As far as I can work out a great deal of detailed work is being done which can, for pure expediency, be discarded in a moment. The concepts of ‘pass’ and ‘fail’ are fairly flexible in this school and are dependent on a number of factors which do not seem to have any relationship with what might be termed ‘education’ – even in its widest definition!

Our estate agents have been galvanized (a heavily ironic word there) into some sort of action which is, obviously, encouraging as we propose to move in a couple of days! Although one side is expecting us to leave and is asking for keys the other side does not seem to show the same enthusiasm for ensuring that we actually get into the house that we assume is going to be our home from the first of July.

I am now in a permanent state of tension and am beginning to understand why moving house is in the top five stressful activities in which the human being can indulge. This state of tension is not helped by a totally incomprehensible email message I have just been sent by Toni. I think I’ll buy a mini fridge on the way home to calm my nerves! Retail Therapy is the one type of ameliorative activity which actually works!

The meeting about the failed pupils was as mind-bendingly boring as I feared – and then some! It reminded me of the worst excesses of a combination of LHS Curriculum Meetings and Regional Meetings of the NUT. Everyone gave their five penn’orth of irrelevant, repetitive noise prolonging the meeting way beyond its worth and interest. When most of the meeting is in Catalan (not even Spanish) then there is an added level of insane tedium that stretches even my wide ranging acceptance of educational moonshine!

It eventually ended and then we were fed.

By the time I got home (after buying the small fridge) I was exhausted and in no fit condition to go to the opera.

But, with the cost of the ticket slapping me around the face, go I did.

I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the production of ‘Salome’ that I saw.

Musically it was a triumph. The Orquestra Simfonica del Gran Teatre del Liceu was on great form and was ably conducted by Michael Boder, but the production directed by Guy Joosten (this is a co-production with La Monnaie-De Munt in Brussells) was a shocking mess.

The whole thing was updated and performed in modern dress. Jochanaan was well sung by Mark Delavan and was dressed like a rather seedy university lecturer of the old school. His nemesis was brilliantly sung by Nina Stemme as Salome – and at that point I become a little harsh about the general level of singing of the rest of the cast. Strauss may not always be the most sympathetic of accompanists for the tentative singer, but many of the singers lost the battle with the orchestra.

It is difficult to know where to start on my destruction of the production, there are so many infelicities in the mish-mash of ideas which bump around, each striving to provide a key to the ‘Concept’ motivating the production.

I have nothing against the up-dating of the production and the dressing of the soldiers as armed security personnel was a good one, but their posturing with guns soon became irritating rather than effective. The accidental shooting of Narraboth by Salome (sic) was worked into the production well and gave a new slant to the narrative.

The character of Jochanaan was, in my opinion, cheapened from his first appearance when instead of emerging from his cistern via the ladder he ‘magically’ walked downstage to general amazement. Jochanaan was unable to be confined in his prison and sang from various parts of the stage whenever he felt like it. He was presented as a sort of Superman who transcended the normal boundaries of human capability.

This was confirmed in what the director must have thought would be a coup de theatre when, after Salome has kissed the Prophet’s dead, bloody lips and she had been condemned to death by Herodes, Jochanaan suddenly appeared, frightened off Herodes and walked significantly towards a revived Salome. I actually emitted a little groan of horror at this point!

Talking of Herodes his presentation was as a comic character taking the centre of a table tediously reminiscent of the last supper. Herodias was a substantial lady (Jane Henschel) in a red sequined dress who was drunk and had scenes crawling on the floor. The banquet scene was more slapstick than anything else and the Dance of the Seven Veils was a sort of home video projected onto a sheet to the general embarrassment of Herodes and to the fury of his wife.

The Jews were religious gun carrying zealots and there was a bishop and . . . I really can’t be bothered to carry on.

I hated this production (which was greeted at its conclusion with screams of approbation from a dangerously Strauss-fixated audience) and I felt that it diminished the whole opera.

Having said all that, I do concede that the story, no matter its biblical basis, is an absurd one and there is certainly scope for bizarre humour. Oscar Wilde’s involvement does give a certain louche quality to the whole enterprise! This production however, is not the ‘funny’ one I am looking for.

Tomorrow we sign for the house and start moving things in. Like the little fridge.

I fear that sleep will be beyond me!
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