Saturday, June 26, 2010

this & that

In order: Rigoletto at WNO; further walks in the countryside; mowing the lawn; and the Doctor Who finale...

Rigoletto is my second favourite Verdi opera. The stand-out performance I always remember was at Verona. At the end of the second act, as Gilda and Rigoletto get into their finale duet (he demanding vengeance, she desperate for forgiveness) the performance was absolutely excellent- but nothing prepared you for the penultimate note. One of those unwritten, optional high notes that sopranos who have it add before swooping down to finish. The Gilda that night was some world-famous Mozartian soprano, someone who you'd expect to do the Queen of the Night, so you knew she had more high notes than were ever going to be needed. And as we got to the end of the act, she hit that extra note, with the whole orchestra doing a massive sforzando before swelling through as she held this unbelievable high something-or-other, and then she swooped down to finish. It was genuinely amazing. Amazing. And then everyone stamped & cheered, and suddenly the orchestra struck up again...

I was convinced the act had finished, and then realised - we were getting an encore. For those of you who don't know - this actually doesn't happen in real life. But it did. They did the whole duet again. And she did that high note thing all over.


Well, last night WNO didn't do that! But the orchestra under some 32 year old Spaniard I've never heard of was on fantastic form - shaping all the beautiful, gentle Verdian phrases in a way I haven't heard for ages. So often I hear stodgy strings and wish for someone who would be a little more musical at the helm. Last night I really got it. And in Simon Keenlyside, singing his first Rigoletto, we had a world-class performance. World class.

Gwyn Hughes Jones didn't sing - a chest infection. To be fair - Simon coughed a couple of times, and the American soprano singing Gilda missied a couple of notes, so I guess it was going around. GHJ's stand in was OK, no more. The sop was (at times) glorious - her big Act One aria was genuinely love sick, and I enjoyed the way she played it (shame her top note didn't come out). But I will remember SK's Rigoletto for many, many years.

You know, haven't we been enjoying the best summer? Say it softly, don't chase the sun away - but isn't it glorious? So Matty & I have been walking through the hills and forests around Pontypridd through these days, letting the sun beat down upon us, being grateful for the light and the heat.

I have no control over my moods or the depths (or heights) of my emotions. But I do regularly reflect that a bad summer and day after day of relentless grey would be a whole different ball game. God is good. As bad as this gets, the freedom to walk through the paths around this town and feel the sun on my skin is a gift that helps every time.

This afternoon, after walking, and as I was preparing for tomorrow, I took time to mow the lawn, and then pour a bottle of Sancerre into a very large glass, and sit on the grass and enjoy the garden with Matty. Tennis on the radio, birdsong in the air, the bells chiming the quarter hour - quite idyllic.

Goodness - speaking of the tennis - I hope you saw Isner/Mahut the other day? And the day after... and the day after... The longest tennis match ever. Unbelievable. Those guys are now linked for ever. This will haunt them. They will never be able to let go of the cord that ties them together. Over 100 aces each in a game that took over eleven hours - when they are seventy, they will still have this. If one dies, the other will be bereft and lesser because of it. They will never play each other again. They will never dare. Their future has just been re-written, and I hope for good, but certainly in a way that neither of them currently understands.

And speaking of not understanding - before this evening, I didn't understand how the current season of Doctor Who could top the penultimate episode. But it did. With image after image, word after word of telling emotional power. Last week we had adventure and filmic power; this week we had fairy tale and emotion. The girl who waited all night was beaten by the man who waited for 2,000 years. The Doctor was brought back from oblivion by the memory of something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue - a description of the TARDIS - at Amy's wedding. The dreams of childhood were revealed as powerful driving forces of adult reality and something never to lose. I simply loved it. Loved it. I watched it twice tonight, and knowing all the reveals and surprises, still loved it. Wonderful. A varied season, but with genuine love and real depth.

Now, there's just a drop of that Sancerre left, so excuse me...