Opera and small things
Years ago I was invited into the metal postal carriage of a train speeding from Turin to Vercelli. The postal worker sprang into full operatic voice (out to wow the two young women travelling with me). Verdi and Puccini in a postal carriage was opera at some of its most fabulous and thrilling.
When I lived in Scotland, and later worked for Scottish Opera (part of a touring troupe getting schoolkids to perform), I always headed to performances of Scottish Opera-Go-Round, singers plus a piano in the confines of Scotland's village halls. The acting was vivid, the power of the singing utterly intense in the narrow confines.
I've seen three opera productions these past weeks. Ligeti's La Grande Macabre at English National Opera, Janacek's The Adventures of Mr Broucek by Opera North in Leeds, and Les Arts Florissant's Dido and Aeneas.
One joy of seeing an opera for the first time is to have dramatic sense made of music I'm familiar with. Both the Janacek and Ligeti were entirely new to me - in effect, my own world premieres. The music was good, the singing fine, the choruses and the thrilling brass of Janacek's orchestrations particular highpoints. La Grande Macabre included a vast kneeling woman, singers reeling from her orifices, lighting and projection effects rendering remarkable transformations of her body. With Janacek we watched Mr Broucek visit the moon, and travel through sewers into 14th century Prague.
Yet in staging terms, Dido and Aeneas pleased me most. It was semi-staged, 'the best parts' of a Deborah Warner production. I tend to avoid shows she's directed - women bent at angles steeped in gloom - but loved this production. A uniformly wonderful cast, William Christie directing the orchestra from behind the singers, and seeing the show made sense of a work I have known for decades. It terrified me to realize what malignant magic is at work in the show. And as Dido died with her lament, and I sat just five feet away, I stored up real grief. My face was wet with tears as I applauded.
It was all so simple - singers relating to each other, and superb music. I kept finding in the bigger shows that the action was distracting me from the beauty of what was there to be heard.
One more lesson in the primacy of keeping it simple.