Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sweet and sour

The second day of Chocolate Week started with a scare: the non appearance of the colleague from the UK bearing M&S goodies.  The fact that another colleague had seen fit to enter into the spirit of the occasion by placing a bar of Lindt chocolate in each staff room was a bonus, but did not compensate for the apparent loss of deliciousness from that fabled store.

We needn’t have worried, just as we were consoling ourselves with a morsel of first rate chocolate the two small barrels of delight arrived and the week picked up a gear!

The weather is so fine that I have discarded my jumper and rolled the sleeves of my shirt up.  This is a statement.  Probably more to do with my longing for the summer holidays than anything else, but I really am longing for those lazy days lounging in the sun on the Third Floor.

The Third Floor!  It hardly exists in our house at the moment except as a place of doom and destruction where, in the absolute chaos of things, just one thing that you want but cannot find might, just might be lying around to the common gaze.  Of course it isn’t, and that is why the Third Floor is a place of painful reflection and uneasy existence at the moment. 

But come something more nearly approaching the summer and much of the lumber which takes up substantial space (like cushions for loungers) will be in their proper place on the terrace and there will be space to look around.  There is also the arrival of guests who enjoy the terrace and we would like them to have serene thoughts as they have a drink outside rather than gulp it down as an antidote to the trauma after making their way through a grotesque Curiosity Shop of possessions!

As is usual I make my annual profession that this year I truly will rationalize my books; put my books in a rational order; clear certain impossible cupboards in the kitchen; visit the small church on the top of the hill in Sant Boi and get rid of some of the clothing which I have not worn for a couple of years.  I do so swear!  We will see.

The opera last night was difficult.  Not the production, but simply getting there.  And of course I was not incommoded by something as mundane as a traffic jam.

My bank card is missing.  This happens periodically and I have learned (or I thought that I had learned) to cope with it.  I have been extraordinarily lucky and for each loss (which is usually the card being mislaid) I have suffered no diminution in my funds.  So, it was the same this time.  A wild panic when I discovered the loss and then a nervous trip to the bank to push my bankbook into the slot to find out if the card had been used since my last remembered transaction.

The next problem is to get to the bank to have my card as the replacement is sent to the local branch and I never get time to go there; their opening times being restricted to part of the working day for other people.  I can still get money by using my bank book as a card and so everything is almost normal.

It was only when I tried to pay for spices that I had bought in the market in the centre of Barcelona that I realized that I did not have enough cash to pay for the car to get out of the car park at the end of the opera.  As I had driven in directly from school, and as I realized fairly early in my time in Barcelona that I was without my card there was, theoretically, time for me to go home, get my bank book, get cash, drive back into Barcelona and, eventually, go to the opera.

I got back home without incident, endured the withering scorn of Toni and set off again armed with my bank book.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when a man is in urgent need of swift cash from a hole in the wall, the person on the machine in front of you will be attempting to finance a take over of a major multi-national from that particular cash machine.  The man in front used more cards, produced more sheets of printed paper from the machine and paused, checked, computed, consulted and computed again before he finally left the booth.

I took as usual a few seconds and I was off.

I had an hour and a quarter to travel a distance which at any other time of the day than 6.45 pm would take less than twenty minutes.  The snarling knotted snake of a road that is the Ronda littoral was my bête noire.  I have been stuck in this elongated car park weeping with frustration and banging the wheel a number of times and, on one occasion, I was ushered into a small viewing theatre in the Liceu because I was too late to be admitted to the performance.  I therefore had no lively hope that I would get there for the start of the production.

The first part of the journey was deceptively easy with traffic flowing with relative smoothness.  I was not beguiled by this and knew that it was only when I joined the coast hugging motorway that my real problems would begin.

As a way of dealing with the inevitable stress that this road induces I have worked out a system whereby I can find out if I am “doing well” before the traffic stops moving.

The first point of stress release is when the car makes it to a point parallel to the first piece of rising ground that forms the lowest slope of Montjuic; the second point is a particular sign for something I do not understand and the third is being opposite the burial vaults on the hillside.  I made it to the third of these at cruising speed and then stopped.  At that point, going on past experience, however bad the traffic was, it was likely that I was going to make it.

And make it I did with time to spare.  So much time in fact that I decided to have a meal.  A cheap meal of tapas, pizza and ice cream was overshadowed by a half (½) bottle of wine that was 150% the price of the meal!  It was on The Ramblas and I was expecting a tourist rip-off but even I was taken in by the English speaking suavity of the waiter.

I was so shocked at the price of the wine that I lost a little of my sense of time and I had to rush towards the Liceu to get there before the performance started.  I only just made it, I had barely taken off my coat when the curtain went up.

The opening moments of the production perhaps sum it up.  The curtain rose on a traditional evocation of the garret of the Bohemians, but the music only started when one of the characters wound up an old fashioned record player and put the needle on the record.  A gimmick and rather pointless.

The first notes from Rodolfo (Ramón Vargas) were disappointing; a fairly rounded voice, straining in the upper register but woefully inadequate in terms of fullness.  Although I admired his voice it was not the voice of Rodolfo and it never became that voice either – most tellingly at the very end of the opera when the emotional kick was far less than I was hoping for.

The set was impressive.  And it is telling that this is the element of the opera I am choosing to comment on after the two principals.  The garret was impressive and atmospheric and at the end of the scene, instead of the duet of voices being heard “downstairs” the two singers moved front downstage and were in a spotlight while darkness descended.  During the darkness the whole of the garret was trucked out of the wings stage left and the Café Momus came downstage.  Lights up and the whole of the chorus with kids were frozen for an old fashioned box camera with phosphorus flash.

The scene itself was “busy” beyond belief: a tightrope walker; two jugglers; two stilts walkers; the whole chorus; a children’s chorus – and an impressive set in which the singing principals were lost.  There was another coup de theatre when the edge of the Café Momus was trucked from stage right to fill the stage.  Impressive, but empty.

The gate of Paris scene was atmospheric with barrels of real fire and Christopher Maltman as Marcello – a magisterial performance, and nice to see him again after his fantastic performances in Cardiff Singer of the World, which is when I saw him last.

I warmed up to the performance of Fiorenza Cedolins as Mimi, but she was not my idea of the character and the final scene lacked the magic that I wanted to experience.

For me there was always a feeling that the production did not trust in the power of the music, music which was played superbly by the orchestra under Victor Pablo Pérez.

A production with ideas but in spite of the gaudy dressing lacking the power that this piece deserves.

Another production to store in the memory banks.

And a quick trip back home with no traffic jams.

Roll on the next one!
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