Sunday, 15 May 2011

High definition performance

Not only do we have a Spanish señorita staying at the moment, but a Swiss mister too. Paulo, employed by Nespresso and notwithstanding his name from the French-speaking part of his country, is here for a fortnight’s intensive work with Caroline on his English. The Japanese in particular are fabled present-givers, but nobody has ever arrived laden with so many gifts as Paolo, generous man. And game too: we were booked in to the Met. live relay of Die Walküre yesterday: “May I join you?” he asked – not having any previous opera-going experience, still less any experience of grappling with Wagner’s Ring.

Happily, Robert Lepage’s new production (costing upwards of $16m) could not be clearer for the viewer: it is in fact outstanding in all respects, with a stunning set: a simple concept, but fiendishly complicated technically – the start was delayed half an hour as computers were sorted out, so we learnt. It’s always a worry that such a delay might mean one of the stars is struggling to be fit.

That was no problem yesterday: all six principals were in geat voice. Though Deborah Voigt’s Brünnhilde is never going to be to my taste, all the others are perfectly suited to their parts, with Bryn Terfel the most human of Wotans, and his stage wife (the superb Stephanie Blythe) the most statuesque. During Die Walküre, there is always a heart-rending moment, depending on the performance: last night, it was Eva-Maria Westbroek’s O hehrstes Wunder! which made the hair at the back of my neck stand up. The conductor was Jemes Levine, clearly in considerable discomfort: I had no desire for 3D, but do wish we had had surround sound: the Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury doesn’t run to that.

"Why does it need to be so long?" asks Caroline. Something of an answer to this is given by Alex Ross in his recent New Yorker article: "Ultimately, the bond Wagner forms with his listeners is one of pure, wordless emotion, and his gift for capturing the nuances of human feeling constantly complicates our response." This takes time.

Earlier in the day, we had enjoyed a different sort of theatrical experience, champagne breakfast with kind friends who were staying at the new Ellenborough Park Hotel in nearby Southam. No expense has been spared there either.

I spotted that today is the third anniversary of this blog. Can I really have been retired so long?

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