An effort to go to town on a Sunday as it means I seem to have spent most of my life on the train to Liverpool Street, but boy was it worth it. This is a brand new production of a Verdi opera which is not performed as often as it should be, with Rolando Villazon in the title role returning to the stage after an extended break due to exhaustion and stress. Have to say that if I was choosing the role to make my come back at Covent Garden, I wold not have recommended this one as it is a pretty hefty sing and, quite frankly, I thought he was having difficulty.
Don Carlos was first performed in Paris and was deemed too long at the time and has suffered from cuts and rearrangements ever since. Back in 1958 an all time great performance took place at the Royal Opera House which was referred to extensively in the programme yesterday. This starred, amongst others, Jon Vickers, Tito Gobbi and Boris Christoff, sets by Visconti and conducted by Carlo Maria Guilini. Quite a shock to my system to realise that I was there and saw it - fifty years ago!
So how does this production compare? It's way up there I can assure you. I liked the sets and the lighting, particularly the scene in the monastery where all was dark and grey and mysterious, the auto da fe scene was red and gold and sumptuous and the overall concept full of brooding and menace. At the end of each scene/act a curtain came down isolating Don Carlos in a pool of light at the front of the stage, emphasising his aloneness and isolation. However, reading various reviews shows that not everyone feels the same as I do.
This opera is full of the most superb confrontations and duets: we have the famous Carlos/Posa duet in the second act (at the end of which the audience went potty); scene with Posa/King Phillip; the magnificent scene with King Phillip and the Inquisitor; wonderful moving duet with Carlos when Posa is dying, one could go on and. It is also interesting to note that all of these magnificent moments are between the male protagonists and the female interest seems relatively less. Eboli has her big number O don fatale and Elizabeth in the last act with her aria Tu che la vanita, but the main drama and interest lies elsewhere. The Rodrigo (Posa)/Carlos dynamic is at the heart of the opera, Rodrigo providing the back bone which Carlos so obviously lacks, his obsessive love for Elizabeth, to whom he was betrothed before politics intervened making her the wife of his father instead, sapping his will and resolve.
Cast was excellent though, as I mentioned at the start of this post, I felt that Villazon could have vocal problems if he continues singing such heavy roles. "Rolando Villazon’s Carlos sometimes sounds stressed and even out of tune. It’s a role too big for his lyric tenor." Helen and I were sitting in good seats in the Grand Tier, for which I took out a second mortgage, and I felt that Villazon was seriously over parted. Not sure how well his voice would have carried to the back row of the amphitheatre. He is back later on in the year to sing the title role in the tales of Hoffman and this is another hefty sing. Worth remembering that Domingo has sung both these roles and his voice is much stronger with more at the bottom that Villazon possesses. He is a much lighter tenor and should be looking at Donizetti, and other Verdi operas, but not Rigoletto or this one. Still, that is just my humble opinion.
For me the star of the evening was Simon Keenlyside who sang Posa. "Simon Keenlyside is almost beyond praise in the excellence of his singing and concentrated acting" according to one reviewer and I am not going to argue with that. This is a gorgeous part, one of Verdi's plum baritone roles. Posa is a noble, loyal and honourable man interceding between Carlos and his father the king, protecting Carlos from himself and, in the end, dying for his friend. Plenty of lovely warm arias and solos and a wonderful farewell when he dies in the arms of Carlos. It was clear the audience were as one in their appreciation of his performance as the applause when he came to take his solo bow easily surpassed that for all the other soloists, even though Villazon got a pretty good reception.
Overall, it was a stunning evening with the audience on its feet at the end of the performance and unwilling to let anyone go home. I may have lived on bread and water for a week to pay for the tickets but it was worth every penny. I go to the opera three, perhaps four times a year, and the ballet the same. While I am happy to see a ballet from the amphitheatre I have decided that I am going to expend money on good tickets for the opera as it makes such a difference. While I can afford it, which may not be for much longer, I am going to make sure that I live the operatic high life.
Refreshed from my hols I thought I would have a go yesterday at setting up the New Laptop with the Correct Modem. Everything downloaded all well, but then 'the modem is being blocked'. Screams of frustration vent the air and I got on the AOL helpline once more. Heaven knows what my telephone bill will be like next month. It would appear that AOL and Zoom Modem and practically everything else are incompatible and I began to get cross and say well just precisely what do you suggest and do you have anything that is compatible at all as I am thinking of now finding another ISP because I am getting seriously Fed Up. They calmed me down and are sending me a free router which they say will sort everything out. Oh yeah? If that does not work then bye bye AOL and Hello BT.
So here I am back on my trustworthy tinny laptop of which I am now becoming very fond. While all the above wailing and gnashing of teeth was going on I was also watching Andy Murray play his third round match at Wimbledon and I threatened him with dire things if he made my afternoon worse by losing. OK so he dropped a set, cannot have a British player at Wimbledon going through without giving the spectators a heart attack naturellement, and was looking good. Then later on in the evening I watched Nadal play and realised that there is No Chance of Murray beating him. This guy is awesome. I hope I can be proved wrong but but but...
Off to London now. Lots of reviews and things to write about but they will have to wait until the week. Meeting my daughter and son in law (haven't got used to having one of those yet) for lunch at their new flat and then Helen and I are off to an afternoon performance of Don Carlos at the Opera House. So treats galore and I hope everyone is having as nice a day as I am having.
That is the word to describe Elizabeth George's creation - Thomas 'Tommy' Lynley, Earl and member of the aristocracy who just happens to be a copper. Sounds familiar? Well, it should. When I first discovered the books of EG, some eight years ago now, I fell upon them with delight and thoroughly enjoyed them and the relationship between Lynley and his spiky, down to earth partner, Babara Havers.
However, right from the start I found the woman he was first in love with, Debs, and the woman he finally married, Helen, both excruciatingly painful examples of angst ridden, nit picky, finicky downright IRRITATING women, Helen taking the crown for being the female character I would most like to kick in the butt (after Irene Forsyte) and this tempered my enthusiasm for the books somewhat. However, on the whole I found them well written, detailed and plotted and read each one as they appeared with great pleasure.
BUT, about four books ago I began to find the writing tedious and pretentious. Why? cannot fathom it out, but I just felt that EG was spending far too much time on Lynley's background and personal life to the detriment of the main story line. Since starting reading this series I was introduced to D L Sayers and the divine Peter Wimsey. Each edition I bought has an introduction by Elizabeth George and it now strikes me that she has done what DL Sayers did and fallen in love with her detective and is beginning to make him more Wimseyish with each book. She is not DLS so she does not do it so well. In Wimsey the heart searching and self doubt which he suffers from during an investigation has a sure touch, it makes the reader feel sympathetic towards him. When this trait emerges in Lynley I, personally, find it acutely self indulgent and my kicking toes begin to twitch. The Wimsey/Vane relationship which is at the heart of the most enjoyable DL Sayers (for me anyway) is almost reflected in the Lynley/Havers prickly friendship and in this latest book, Careless in Red, we get the first intimation that they might have feelings for each other. The way it is dropped in and the way we are left hanging at the end leads me to feel that this is going to be drawn out as long as possible to keep us in suspense.
Careless in Red has Lynley tramping the coast line of Cornwall after his personal tragedy, trying to come to terms with his situation, when he finds a body (as you do) at the bottom of a cliff. He goes for help to a nearby cottage and we are off. When the local Superintendent (a divorced red haired and even spikier version of Havers) finds he is a policeman and one from Scotland Yard to boot, he is pulled in to help with the investigation and Havers arrives from London. I don't wish to give too much away, but the motive for the murder hit me between the eyes pretty quickly and the ending of the story is a bit of a cop out in my opinion. I have to say I was on page 201 before I began to feel in any way involved with any of the characters we are introduced to - they all seemed to lean towards the riddled with personal issues syndrome and while one or two is acceptable, to find nearly every protagonist with a problem and tearing themselves apart is a tad over the top.
So, what do I say about Careless in Red? As I have now read all the Lynley books (with the exception of What Came Before he Shot Her which I found totally dire), there is no way I am not going to read each one as they come out. I am hooked whether I like it or not and I cannot give up on them now, much though I might like to. However, (deep breath) a bonus is that Deb, once engaged to Tommy who broke Lynley's heart and who cannot have children and who blames herself for this on an earlier abortion she had years ago is now married to Simon, who Tommy crippled accidentally in an accident and who has suffered with guilt over his actions, whose father is Tommy's 'manservant' (Bunter anyone??) and who does not like his daughter marrying into the 'gentry' as he 'knows his place' does not appear in this book. For this relief much thanks.
The TV series which has just been dumped with no explanation (as was Foyle) soon veered off the storylines and plots of the books. However, though the character of Debs vanished from this series after episode one, Helen did not and I was astounded to see that she was even more whiney and self obsessed in the dramatisation which I did not think was possible. Some of the earlier episodes are popping up now on the Beeb so am watching again with great interest.
Oh and for all fans of detective series a new Midsomer Murders is back in a couple of weeks with Barnaby's daughter Cully (WHAT sort of name is that?) getting married, so no doubt he will be hauled off in the middle of the wedding to hunt down a mad murderer in Midsomer Crucis or Midsomer Wallow or Midsomer Completely Barking and his wife Joyce might actually have more than two lines to say. I cannot wait!
Kicked off the reading week with two books by Michele Geruttari, A Florentine Death and Death in Tuscany which I spotted in Waterstones just the week before. Always on the look out for new crime authors and it seems that Geruttari is an ex-policeman, head of the Florentine Squadra Mobile, now retired and using his knowledge to write thrillers. Both stories were fairly complicated and concentration was necessary to work out what was going on, not sure the writing is particularly sparkling and the characterisation of Michele and his wife, Petra, very similar to that of Brunetti and his wife in the Donna Leon books. Enjoyed both of them in a moderate way and a thrid opus coming up I gather. Good holiday reading but nothing staggering. Must mention there was a picture of the author in the back of one of the books - very cool in Armani and shades, so unlike our own dear Metropolitan Commissioner, Ian Blair, who one feels lacks a certain glamour.
The Glassblowers of Murano by Marina Fiorato. Loved this. Story told with one of my favourite devices, flipping backwards and forwards in time from the Venice of Vivaldi up to the present day. Corrado Manin is a glass master on Murano island who, unknown to the Ten who rule Venice, has a secret daughter in the Ospidale founded by Vivaldi. In order to protect her he sells his methods and his soul to the Sun King, Louis XIV of France who wants his expertise in the building of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. This is a betrayal which will ultimately lead to his death in the dark alleyways of Venice. Centuries later his descendant, Nora Manin, fleeing from an unhappy marriage comes to the city to become an apprentice on Murano and learn the art of glass blowing. This book is such a good read, once started I was absorbed. Any book set in Venice will appeal to me and this was no exception. Death, betrayal, love, passion all set in my most favourite city in the world. Great stuff. Loved it.
On the plane out read The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart. This was pure nostalgia as I first read it when I was in my teens after seeing the movie with Peter McEnary who I rather fancied at the time, and a very young Hayley Mills. Film was promoted as the film in which she had her first screen kiss and the whole thing was very Disneyfied and young and innocent which is contrary to the original story. Reading this book then made me want to visit the Greek Islands with the wonderful descriptions of the shimmering heat and the countryside and reading it some 45 years later, I still found it worked its charm.
Footprints in the Sand by Sarah Challis. When Emily Kingsley arrives for the funeral of her eccentric Great Aunt Mary she finds that she and her cousin Clemmie have been asked to take the ashes of her aunt and scatter them in the desert of Mali. Why? as far as the family are aware Great Aunt Mary had never been there in her life. What is the reason for this and why does Great Aunt Mary's timid companion seem to know more than she is admitting? The two cousins set off, Emily unhappy at the ending of a relationship and Clemmie, romantic and looking for something to give meaning to her life. Lots of adventures, great descriptions of the desert which, being an army child who lived close to the desert as a youngster, I found fascinating and nostalgic. A perfect book to read on holiday, exciting and gripping and unputdownable and curled up on my sun bed under an olive tree, relished the chance to sit and read this straight through.
Reina James - The Time of Dying. Just after World War I a virulent flu epidemic was sweeping the country and thousands were dying. Though this book started promisingly I found myself getting totally bogged down with the descriptions of the dead bodies being dealt with by the narrator of the story, an undertaker. All very depressing and, ultimately, a rather pointless drawn out plot which seemed to die off into nothing by the end. I closed up the book thinking, Yes, well....bit boring really. However, it appears that this story is unusually compelling' (Guardian) and 'finely written and affecting' (Independent). I obviously missed something along the way.
Sheriden Hay - The Secret of Lost Things. Set in a bookshop in New York and involving a possible secret and unpublished manuscript by Herman Melville, all is set fair for an intriguing read. Sorry, I know quite a few people have read this and enjoyed it, but though some of the less central characters were engaging and likable, it seems to me that the author went out of her way to portray all those involved in the bookshop, the Arcade, to be devious, sly, double crossing and nasty and one scene in particular, I found quite degrading and distasteful. The author admits in the notes at the back of the book, that other readers have felt this too, so not just me, and went on to explain that she felt it brought out the vulnerability of this particular character. I disagree. I felt it unnecessary and though I finished reading Secret of Lost Things I felt slightly grubby at the end of it with a profound disinclination to read any more of this author. Once more the quotes on the back of the book were totally at odds with my feelings so, once again, I seem to have missed something. Wonder what it is...
Fair Play - Tove Jansson. Oh dear is all I can really say about this Pymish, Brooknerish series of loosely linked vignettes of two women who share an apartment, both creative artists. According to the foreword by Ali Smith, this book has not been available in English for some 30 years and its publication is an occasion for 'great rejoing'. Well, my celebration was somewhat muted. I don't expect a book to have an event every paragraph but it would be nice if something happened occasionally but nothing, simply nothing happens in this book. And apparently this is the whole point of the story. The delineation of the nothing is the book's raison d'etre. Sorry, I am just a plain ornery reader here who likes a bit of action now and then, the odd characterization and a bit of pizazz slung in occasionally. So I had come to the wrong shop here. Apparently Fair Play is superbly written, elegiac and full of the minutia of daily life.
zzzzzzzzzzz I went on my sunbed....
Then one day, rapidly running out of reading matter, two books picked up from the bookshelves in the lobby of the hotel: Iris and Ruby by Rosie Thomas. Ruby is a stroppy teenager who rows with her mum and leaves home to go and stay with her grandmother, Iris, in Cairo. Again, two story lines past and present so I knew this was for me, spent time in Cairo as a child, so again it scored points and all great fun and readable. Pretty predictable in characterizing and setting and you could guess what was going to happen a mile off but whiled away another afternoon on the beach very nicely.
Second book picked up that day - Tell it to the Skies by Erica James. This author is one I have come across in book sales and charity shops and have read the odd one or two with varying degrees of appreciation. This was a goodie and I knew it would be because it was set, once more, in Venice. Told in flashbacks, lots of childhood secrets, lost loves and all ending happily in San Marco. Bellissima.
Final book read and closed up just as the bus came to take us to the airport was Star Gazing by Linda Gillard which I loved and which deserves a post all on its own which I will write as soon as possible.
Then on the way back started the latest Elizabeth George which kept me going on the flight. Very slow start, very irritating book so far, found her last Lynley unreadable and was feeling I might give up on this one as well, but I hate to be defeated and now that Havers is on the scene and the story line actually getting a move on (so it should by page 232 which is where I am up to), I am getting drawn in.
Phew, well that's it folks. My fellow holiday makers who were out on the razz most nights, were slightly taken aback at the number of books I read, but to have ten days where I could just sit and read for pleasure, relaxation and sheer fun was my idea of heaven.
Yes the fortnight where once more we are faced with the realisation that the Brits are pants at tennis and we are going to be trashed, humiliated and wiped out of SW19 by the end of the first week (should we be lucky enough to last that long). The two weeks of the year where every Brit turns into a tennis afficianado and learnedly discusses the finer points of lobs, drop shots and cross court volleys, and then forget all about it for the other 50 weeks that are left to us. The two weeks when the corporate boxes and tents are packed full of clients troughing up the Pimms and strawberries and taking no notice of the tennis whatsoever. Yes, it is Wimbledon folks.
I have just read an article by Simon Barnes in the Times which just about sums up the annual angstfest that all British tennis fans undergo. They are a stoic bunch, always hoping that 'nice Tim Henman' would win.
I have suffered with Tim Henman over the years, although my suffering was somewhat less than others as I truly never ever thought Tim Henman would win Wimbledon so was not deluded enough to have expectations. You see I have suffered in the past. I had previous experience under my belt. I knew what it was like to weep and wail and gnash my teeth, and now I laugh mockingly at the packed Centre Court and had no time for their delirium and despair. Back in the 1960's there was an English tennis player called Roger Taylor. He was gorgeous and had a large female following of which I was one. I would go to Wimbledon, track down which court he was going to be on and park myself about three hours before game was due to start in order to have a good view.
Now Roger is the man who beat Bjorn Borg. Yes, you heard it right. An English tennis player beat Bjorn Borg. And what is more a sporting English player. He won the match on a disputed call (this was before Hawkeye and modern technology) and insisted that the point be replayed. Mad? Yes, totally but he won the point and the game and that was that. O joy or rapture all round. In case you are doubting this story, please remember that Bjorn was about 18 when this match was played and Roger never beat him again. Neither did anybody else really. Not for a long time until the Borg/McEnroe circus came to town to delight us all (well, the tennis did, always loathed John M, cannot believe that the witty articulate commentator I hear each day at Wimbledon is the same petulant lout I used to watch play).
So Roger makes it to the Wimbledon semi-finals three years running and three years running I am there, surrounded by a sea of Union Jacks and flags and mad Brits all shrieking and screaming. Game starts. Roger is brilliant and before we know it he has won two sets and is 4-0 up in the third. Crowd practically hysterical with excitement. Then he does what all good Brits do when they are ahead, he starts to lose. Out he goes in five sets. He did this the following year and the year after that and all in five sets when he was up two sets to love.
By the third year I was stretchered off the Centre Court and vowed that never again would I allow my nerves to be shredded in this way. I even wrote to Roger and told him of all I had suffered on his behalf. He didn't reply but that is hardly surprising. Years later he was the coach for the British Davis cup team for a brief spell. We lost all our games and were booted out of the first division of this event and are now struggling to beat Ethiopia or Guam or the Antarctic in order to try and get back. Why?
No, I am a hardened case now and just watch the tennis, no matter who is playing, just to enjoy. It is a relief not to worry who is winning. Watching the football in Euro 2008 the last few weeks with the knowledge that we don't have to wait for England to be beaten in the quarter finals by a penalty shoot out by the Germans has been such a relief. When I heard Henman had retired I threw my hat in the air and danced (nothing personal Tim please believe me..), no more five setters in the gloaming where he takes hours to beat somebody ranked 999 in the world, no more Sue Barker 'we are just going to stay with this match until it finishes and the news will follow later after we have watched the really important programmes' and then I watched the Murray match last night, on at prime time so that when you get home from a hard day's work and switch on hoping to find a nice relaxed mixed doubles to rest by, you are faced with the ghastly sight of middle aged ladies wearing huge red, white and blue top hats covered in face paint shouting 'C'mon Andy' instead of 'C'mon Tim'. (The women have the face paint, not the hats). The name changes, the situation, the hopes and the fears and the demented behaviour is the same, but read Simon Barnes and see what I mean.
Have spent a totally idle week, only excitement being the night we all donned team shirts and went to a local bar to watch Euro 2008, the football match between Turkey and Croatia. Croatia were favourites and when they scored in the 89th minute all was doom and gloom, but Croatia celebrated too quickly and Turkey equalized and then went on to win the penalty shoot out. Scenes of delirium and joy ensued with people dancing in the street and fireworks going off all around. Heaven knows what will happen next week when they come up against Germany. A huge fun night and when we got back to the hotel all the waiters came out and danced for us.
One thing that I found somewhat disconcerting while away - I was with a friendly house party and could not believe how much alcohol they all consumed. Yardstick by which the holiday was measured as a success appeared to be how much they managed to knock back each night and how late they stayed out. And we are not talking teenagers here either....
No matter. I read ten books, bought back my usual mugs and souvenirs and feel refreshed. Will be posting about all I have read over the next week.
I am now taking a complete break from Random Jottings while I nip off to Turkey. Since I started in 2006 there have been very few days when I have not posted, apart from the odd occasion when I was being hit on the hit with falling mirrors and catching the flu, but I am now taking myself off to lie on a beach for the next week and a bit. I intend to lie in the sun, covered in Factor 900 or whatever, reading and sleeping and occasionally rousing myself to take a dip in the sea or a sip of a cold drink.
The last eighteen months have been pretty turbulent ones having to cope with a mini-breakdown after working for the Boss from Hell for seven years, the consequent months dealing with the awful behaviour of said boss after I left, finding a new job, starting a new job, then the Wedding which wonderful though it was and turned out so superbly in the end, was a very emotional experience having to deal with the fact that I had a daughter who was actually getting married and not in nappies any more, and the final sorting out with my ex all sorts of issues and feelings. Ok it has now all settled down and life is so much better and I feel very serene but I am just SO tired. My mind has had to take in and deal with so much over this period that I have now reached the stage where I simply must have a rest. The commuting this week has not exactly helped either.
So dear friends all, I will return in ten days refreshed and raring to go. I packed my suitcase last night and had to throw out half the clothes I was planning to take as I could not fit them all in because of the books lining the base. I can only hope I will not be charged excess baggage.
Have a good week and in the words of the Great Arnold Schwarzenegger "I'll be back"...