Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Time and Music

"Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding" (Time is a strange thing.)
~ The Marschallin, Der Rosenkavalier

"After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." ~ Aldous Huxley

When I lived in London in the 80s I spent many evenings at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. I couldn't afford a good ticket so was relegated to the "slip" seats, up in the roof of the opera house, which consisted of two rows of hard wooden benches and an old iron railing to keep you safe. As soon as the performance started, everyone shuffled down to the back as far as was possible to get as much view of the stage as we could manage. As it was, I generally only saw 3/4 of the performance. If I really liked it, I would return the following week and see it again from the slip seats in the other side of the house. Tickets cost 2 pounds. Some time later I splurged and bought 11-pound tickets to see Alessandra Ferri's last performance as Juliet in 1984 with the Royal Ballet before she headed off to the States. It's been recorded for posterity, thank goodness. But I read tonight that it was only in 2007, at the age of 44 that she retired as a dancer, performing Juliet one more time with American Ballet Theatre, after 22 years with them. 44 years old...

"Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness." ~ Maya Angelou

As for that night 24 years ago, it was magical but I missed the camaraderie of the slips and returned there for subsequent performances. During the intermissions we would hang over the railing and watch those occupying the boxes receive their champagne and smoked salmon. Beside me a young couple opened their picnic of pork pies and carrot sticks. Closest to the stage, in seats from which you could see nothing, stood music stands with lights for those who wished to study the score as they listened. Harried young men dashed in with seconds to spare, wildly looking around realizing that after running up several flights of stairs to get there, they had forgotten to get a house program. "It *is* Baltsa tonight isn't it?"

"Without music, life would be a mistake." ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

It was Baltsa indeed, the night I saw Der Rosenkavalier. I was 20. It was directed by John Schlesinger, with sets designed by William Dudley and costumes designed by Maria Björnson. The whole thing was like a dream. The Greek mezzo Agnes Baltsa was Octavian, Kiri te Kanawa was the Marschallin and Barbara Bonney was Sophie. The film of the opera has Anne Howells as Octavian, but it is the same production and I love to watch it. In the final trio, the three performers stepped forward, letting the set seem to dissolve behind them as they sang that indescribably beautiful music. That same music has the power to work miracles on me, and for this I am more grateful than I can express. Tonight, I was collating a must-listen selection of opera for a friend, and this was the first piece I thought of. I hardly remember walking out of the theatre, but I know that my feet were about a foot above the ground. It was a foggy night and people were spilling out of wine bars and drinking and laughing in the streets, as they have a way of doing in London still. It was all a beautiful haze and doesn't seem that long ago.

"It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature and everlasting beauty of monotony." ~ Benjamin Britten

On a bit of a Strauss kick, last week I watched the DVD of the Met's Arabella
with Kiri te Kanawa and Wolfgang Brendel... I highly recommend!


willow said...

Love Strauss! Tatiana Troyanos does a marvelous job singing Ocatavian, too. Your slips memories are so charming. How fun is the picnic basket?

I like the Maya quote, too. :^)

Blog Princess G said...

Mmmmm... Willow - do you know Wolfgang Brendel? I think you will! And as Mandryka he's very yummy. :)