luisa miller & ordeal of innocence

luisa miller (live from the met, south woodford odeon)

even my dad hadn’t heard of this opera by verdi; and the english surname of its heroine certainly feels unusual in this italian-language melodrama with a count and a guy called rodolfo; it had a touch of the “life of brian” name-bathos (bathonomy?)

it was also nice not knowing the plot, but that’s something verdi seems to expect anyway, as he drops confusing hints in earlier only to be resolved later – e.g. the allegation that rodolfo is the count’s son – which count? and so what?

but the story is great (if, as with così fan tutte, predicated on the tensions thrown up by fathers and husbands owning their women, or, more charitably, tensions between such a world and a more enlightened one), and, it was, dear reader, some way through what was probably act 2, when i had a strong feeling that finally i understood what opera was about; opera took longer to get used to than rothmans or guinness did as a young man (and the feeling passed as rodolfo launched into passionate lament after lament: too much of me wanted him to get over it)

but the met presentations are amazing – gushingly camp interviewers, chats with the stars as they rush panting off stage (including the charming and wise placido domingo), and intervals filled with half-light footage of vast sets being roped or wheeled into place – again like the cartoon architecture in the life of brian

ordeal of innocence

a three-part agatha christie with good old bill nighy and others; a wealthy adopting couple’s family falls apart when the horrible mother is murdered – gradually we learn how everyone had a motive (she was so horrible), and how the main suspect (the wildest of her adopted children), who died violently in prison, was probably innocent

of course it was her husband, whom i suspected at the start as he’s the one who rushes in when the maid screams; ok – i was lucky – but the neatest whodunnits bring it back to someone you see at the start but then are manipulated to discount

How they are related

Family dramas with a paterfamilias the main culprit – so far so similar. But the family Agatha Christie constructs are all unsympathetic, or rather all dysfunctional; Verdi’s are generally goodies or baddies. What’s more interesting is the similar tensions between the ‘high-ups’ and the ordinary folk: Verdi’s drama comes from the socially unacceptable love between the Count’s son and a non-aristocratic woman; Christie’s wealthy family in their mansion are undone by the persistently honourable young man who had an alibi for the prime suspect – too late, but his refusal to go away provides the little jabs which stir the hornets’ nest.

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wittgenstein’s poker & patience (after sebald)

wittgenstein’s poker

a meeting of the moral sciences club in king’s college cambridge in 1946, where, allegedly, wittgenstein brandished a poker threateningly at karl popper: not much material for a book, you might think – but not so, dear reader, for in this meeting lie the two rival approaches to the primary question of 20th-century philosophy

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selma & gandhi

selma

a film i hadn’t seen when it came out, but was prompted to by some ministry at quakers; this also led to gandhi the following night – a film i’d meant to see but hadn’t

what struck me most was the shocking violence, and the shocking attitudes, which took place (and persist) in the richest country on earth in my lifetime; but also a surprise was the number of liberals, pre-vietnam, who were prepared to travel, demonstrate and risk violence

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the age of anxiety and the lobster

the age of anxiety

(‘Liam Scarlett sets Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony no.2, ‘The Age of Anxiety’, inspired by W.H. Auden’s epic poem’ more)

on a bill between two other pieces; we watched the first and bunked the third: dance without a story, unlike music, does very little for me beyond an appreciation of the dancers’ athleticism and training – this evening’s first piece confirmed my philistinism

but the auden is amazing: four people meet in a bar, get drunk, go back to one of the group’s flat, and, after some failed half-hearted sexual attempts on each other, depart in the morning with hangovers; the choreography makes crystal clear (though in ways i can’t verbalise) such subtleties of character, of action, and of changes in the group’s emotional temperature; the final scene, where one of the group dances away into the new york sunrise, is profoundly memorable (though i’d forgotten it from the first time i saw it a few years ago: ask me in a few years’ time)

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così fan tutte and a portrait of the artist as a young man

così fan tutte

(live from the met at the odeon south woodford)

as with tosca, i was surprised, and pleased, at the level of dark, serious stuff, but this time more so, as superficially it’s a comedy

spying on their women to settle a wager on whose is the most faithful opens all sorts of unpalatable doors – plugging in to a tradition which goes back to livy: lucretia, sextus’ rape, brutus’ expulsion of the tarquins and the birth of the roman republic

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lauren scott and the seahorse, by chris jones, and trip to windsor and eton

lauren scott and the seahorse

(a teenager novel self-published by a friend)

a fantastic first chapter – a gripping opening, strongly establishing the futuristic london, and pulling my eyes along the lines of the page as the chase became intense; you knew roughly the violent way in which it would end, but that wasn’t a problem; you didn’t know why he was so desperate to reach someone with something before ‘they’ got him

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london’s hidden rivers and hamlet

london’s hidden rivers, by david fathers

north of the thames (west to east)

  • Stamford Brook
  • Counter’s Creek
  • River Westbourne
  • River Tyburn
  • River Fleet
  • Hackney Brook
  • River Walbrook

south of the thames (west to east)

  • Falcon Brook
  • River Effra
  • River Neckinger
  • Earl’s Sluice & River Peck

we forget that the land cities are built on was once the same as the land cities are not built on: fields, woods, streams and rivers

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