In Which there’s a Corner of England that is Forever Bayreuth. Don’s Trip to Longborough

Post 30

Don has never been to Bayreuth, As much as he is drawn, for obvious reasons, to the Holy of Holies of the Wagner world, the long historic shadow of Hitler standing at the window, saluting the adoring SS speckled audience below, means he’s in no great rush. One day.

Meantime, Don was off to the UK’s own country house Wagner fest, deep in the beautiful Cotswolds countryside; Longborough Festival Opera.  For it was that most evocative of operas, Tristan and Isolde. A lone traveller, as Mrs Don was in Edinburgh with one of the Don Daughters, checking out the Uni.

Tristan and Isolde reaching out to each other in Don’s garden.IMG_2599

 

It was the first time Don had seen Tristan live. He was very tempted by the Anish Kapoor designed spectacular at ENO last year (Melton/Skelton) but felt his first Tristan should be in German. Good decision and worth the wait.

Longborough is delightful and pretty quaint. The house is, by Don Towers standards, a gargantuan mansion but say in comparison to Glyndebourne, it’s compact and in the nicest sense, slightly shabby chic. But one soon realises that intimacy and informality is part of the charm that keeps the Wagner Friends returning year after year. And Lizzie and Martin Graham have built a fine tradition of opera in the Cotswolds; far from simply Wagner but it looks like at least one Wagner production every summer for several years now. It can’t be easy putting on top class opera in a local setting and they are to be congratulated.

It was 8th June 2017. Opening night and an auspicious night. Storm clouds gathered throughout a day in which blinding sunshine alternated with driving rain, rainbows and all. It was also the night when the exit polls would point to a sea change in British politics from which, who knows when we shall recover; creating ructions every bit as dramatic as on-stage events. Blow wind, blow. That was for later. For now, the beautiful ladies and penguin clad gents ambled around the grounds, seemingly intoxicated by the sheer beauty and comfortable in the knowledge that whatever lay in the future, the next few hours would transfix and transcend; not to mention transfigure.

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The auditorium is sufficiently intimate that opera glasses are otiose and from the middle of the stalls, Don enjoyed a view he hadn’t savoured at ROH for many a year.

The stage was sparse; bare in the first Act bar a bench (on a ship). In the second a small wall from which jutted a lit torch and in the third, Tristan’s rock. We didn’t need scenery; the real action takes place inside heads and in the tantalising erotic tension between Tristan and Isolde. Mood or occasional scene change was superbly achieved by the subtle lighting. Designer Kimie Nakano and Lighting Designer Ben Ormerod take the plaudits. The latter in fine Wieland Wagner tradition. And lighting of course is crucially important to this opera. “Das Licht!, Das Licht!” exclaims Tristan.

So, with the caveat that Don has two ears but no musical training and is generally idiotic, let’s get into it.

From the Tristan chord, the overture proceeded with confidence and a light touch, under the sure-footed guidance of Musical Director and Bayreuth veteran, Anthony Negus. Light touch and sure footed? Whatever. It sets the scene, anticipates ardour but equally warns of trouble ahead. Generally as intended,  it unnerves.

The off stage sailor tells us our ship is heading east and all is well. Blow wind, blow. But Isolde (Lee Bisset) re-asserts our nagging concern. We are left in no doubt that despite her maid’s assurances, this feisty Irish princess will be not be dragged off anywhere she doesn’t want to be dragged. And England, the conquering enemy, is the worst place of all.

Don first encountered Lee as Sieglinde in Opera North’s 2016 Ring Cycle and was delighted to see she was reviving the Longborough Isolde from 2015. He had high expectations but she exceeded them. Bisset doesn’t just sing the part, she lives and dies the part. And in Don’s humble opinion, that’s the only way to play it. As well as singing with clarity and confidence, every gut wrenching emotion was etched on her face.

Don is most familiar with Waltraud Meier’s 2007 La Scala Isolde (Barenboim/Chereau) and considers (bless him) that Lee has potential to hold her own even in that exulted company, or at least have the great Waltraud in her sights. Both unbelievable performers.

Don is not as familiar with Peter Wedd but he too was excellent. One wondered if he would be a little overwhelmed by Bisset but no, he held his own and his psychological suffering was palpable in Acts 2 and 3.

Don’s previous (non-live) Tristans are the Meier/Storey performance mentioned above and also the fantastic Trelinski production with Nina Stemme/Stuart Skelton at the Met last year. That was amazing, though maybe a little over ambitious delving into Tristan’s parental neurosis as much as it did and whilst complex staging perhaps obscured, Don loved some of the visuals in that; for example the ship radar emphasised aspects of watching, waiting and longing.

But neither of those fine performances were as erotically charged as this. It defined this production and why not? The long pause in Act 2 as Brangäne warns of the approaching dawn needs to be filled and the  lovers’ gentle caresses seemed natural and fitting.

Generally, Carmen Jakobi’s direction was spot on. It didn’t compel the audience to face up to some of the challenges in the Met production; by and large she played it pretty straight and I feel that’s the right move. There’s an abundance of complexity in the intrinsic material for even the demanding audience. From Jungian inner turmoil to Wagner’s unique twist on Schopenhauer (Sex denying the Will, rather than Sex affirming the Will), there’s more than enough to cope with, without  getting into whether Tristan is a manic-depressive and Isolde, bi-polar. Love denied is dramatic enough. Throw in the suspicion, even seething resentment Isolde has for her would be lover and the dialogue in Act 2 makes increasing sense. “Doch” she persistently prods; stress testing his excuses for apparently seducing her for another. But ultimately the white heat of their love wins through. It cannot be constrained; at least not within this life.

King Marke (Geoffrey Moses) cut a spectral figure; his lovely bass filled the hall with sadness as he lamented not only the loss of his friend but also loss of friendship and loyalty. The supporting cast, supported admirably and one can tell from their impressive bios that we shall see and hear a lot more of them in the future.

So we come to the denouement. In the programme notes, Jakobi writes of the low chord marking Isolde’s realisation that Tristan’s life force is spent and she is alone. All she wanted was to be with him in life or death and both had long realised it could only be death. She then moves to the transfiguration scene and the famous liebestod, majestically delivered by Bisset. Jakobi I think hints that from that low chord, maybe Isolde’s spark has gone too and she is on some form of automotive function, a mere bodily husk, until she too physically expires. I like this idea. In this production, Isolde lovingly lays upon the dead Tristan as the orchestra plays out. I think I prefer Waltraud Meier’s La Scala collapse which plays into this same idea that the body continues briefly after the brain has died and the soul departed.

And we were done. After countless Blu-ray and CD experiences, Don had seen the real thing. Tristan and Isolde is raw; physically and emotionally and needs to be seen in the flesh. All the better close up and intimate and where better than at Longborough?

It was a magnificent production and an experience and journey never to be forgotten.

Though we weren’t done. Blow wind, blow. It certainly did. An election  hurricane ripped through our political pre-conceived notions and turned them inside out. In other circumstances, maybe a good thing but for the present Brexit negotiations….well Don is safer sticking to West Ham and Wagner.

Post 30 completed. Don embarked on a journey a year or so back to discover from a standing start, what he could about Wagner. No musical training, simply curiosity. Yet here we are reviewing Tristan, of all things. Blimey!  Its been fascinating and we look forward to continued meanderings down some road or other. Do join him.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! 

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

 

In Which Lanzini Earns his Spurs, Tristan Sees the Light and its Top ‘alf Only

Post 27

Oh what a night! Late September back in ’63…

Sorry wrong record but what a night! We rocked, we rolled we twisted we shouted.

 

On what was no doubt Don’s first ever Friday night football match, the Olympic Stadium provided a dramatic setting to entertain our much-loved neighbours from up the road in N17. It’s always an event when Spurs are in town but this year the tension, the expectation and above all the apprehension was palpable. They arrived Cock-a hoop. Awesome is an over-used and oft inappropriate word but nine wins on the bounce indeed inspires awe. Don was afraid, very afraid. The pain of seeing Tottenham “coming for Chelsea” at our place would have been too much to bear.

But some optimism was justified. This time last year, their circumstances were similar (ours weren’t) and we’d stopped them in their tracks. Moreover, our form had improved recently, no goals but a solid defence. The return of Reid into a back three brings dependability and positional awareness that inspires confidence. One may say Adrian has also contributed but his jury is still hovering near the door.

Three clean sheets in the previous four games is excellent. Yes two nil-nils but sometimes Nil-Nil Satis Nisi Optimum, as they say around Everton. Our back three had Lukaku in their pocket so why not the far inferior Harry Kane? The phrase knocking around after the Everton game was that we “out Everton’d” them; meaning pre-Koeman Everton with the high pressing, hunting in packs and the style that has become a watchword of this season, personified by Spurs though ironically Everton have since been slightly more refined.

EvertonStroke

Against Stoke we were expressive but couldn’t finish off the chances we created.

So Spurs was maybe not the foregone conclusion it initially appeared…though probably would be.

But first a philosophical question: why does Don dislike Spurs with such vigour? He is envious of Chelsea so at least there’s some logic to that hatred and Arsenal do not raise the hackles with any real spirit. Brother Don (he of the dodgy Incest Post 7 ) supports them, could that be it? Not really. He only started supporting them 40 years ago to pinch that nerve. And it’s not as if they’ve had any real success to cause upset.

No, I think the issue runs deeper, in something neither Spurs or anyone can help. There was a Dr Who episode from 2006 in which miners have developed technology to dig very deep beneath the earth. Much deeper than any respecter of nature and unknown forces, should go. It’s the Wahn taking hold. Eventually, they discover why they should not have been drilling, for it is Beelzebub, the Devil himself that resides there; he has been disturbed and is not best pleased. Well that of course is fiction but sorry to report folks but I have it on pretty reliable authority that in actual fact the Devil resides deep beneath White Hart Lane and nothing good will come of the deep piling currently underway. Not Spurs’ fault; just the way it is and no team of the Devil will curry favour with Don.

the-devil

(sorry to rip whoever has copyright of this. I’m guessing BBC)

Don sincerely tries to warn his several Spursey friends (especially the three with whom he shared delightful pre-match Riojas at Enrique Tomas) but they won’t listen.

To the game! One may report that Don was really up for the fight but with 30 seconds gone he remembers looking at the clock, willing it to be over and we’d take the nil-nil.

But we swiftly grew into something resembling ok. Letting them have the ball in non-dangerous areas and closing down vociferously when needed. Noble of course had read the Julian Dicks pre-match relaxation routine and nearly permanently crippled Dyer. Mark, we all hark back to 1992 but this is 2017 and we’d quite like to keep 11 players on the field. Little Don remarked early on that their defenders were playing very high up, especially Walker and we could easily expose that with the right ball. Both Ayew and Calleri had chances to slot people in but didn’t quite have the guile but Noble and then Ayew did manage it, both times for Lanzini. We were not only holding them quite comfortably at the back (the Adrian flick over the bar aside), we showed signs of hurting them. The atmosphere began to cackle.

A word about Calleri. Its been hard to fathom why he is consistently preferred to Fletcher but no-one can argue with the shift he put in, as he did against Everton and Sunderland.  He single-handedly more than occupied Alderweireld and Vertonghen allowing opportunities for Ayew and especially Lanzini. It’s a shame we won’t keep him (which is probably correct to allow room for Fletcher and Martinez to bloom) but he will have learned a lot from his time with us and there’s a decent player somewhere in there. Somewhere.

In the second half we went up a gear and it surprised Tottenham, who looked increasingly ruffled, even before the goal. I thought Slaven’s tactics were spot on. We have four players; Byram, Creswell, Noble and Kouyate who are all decent but very capable of ill-discipline and getting wrong side. But they all stuck to the task manfully and both this and the back three formation allowed centre backs to attack the ball quite high up knowing someone had their back should it not work out. It invariably worked out. The rest of the ream replicated this attitude.

The passage of play just before the goal was an example. Ayew, without much hope of getting the ball put Vertonghen (was it?) under pressure into making a poor clearance. We collected possession and the rest is history. Don has seen precious few goals from his seat in the East Lower and no others (even Payet v Boro) resulted in him dancing in the aisle.  It was a wonderful moment as his Cha-Cha-Cha is indeed a sight to behold. And what can we say about Lanzini? The cliche is that was everywhere. Except he wasn’t; he focused on doing what he does best in positions where it could hurt them and often that was drifting into the space Walker had just vacated. He has emerged admirably from beneath the rock that was last season’s supporting role to being the main attraction. He deserves the plaudits and he will win goal of the season.

Considering what was at stake for them, the Hammers coped with the Spuds quite comfortably because we were simply pretty good. The fact is that our defence and midfield (even without Don’s favourite Obiang), is capable of competing with top 6 sides. It is up front that we are woefully short and surely that will be addressed in a few weeks. (Deja vu).

At the final whistle the place was rocking and it was a night no West Ham fan will forget. Maybe this spectacular stadium that contrives to be a monstrosity of a football ground, can feel like home. What choice do we have?

Suddenly albeit temporarily we are ninth. Top half eh? That takes me back but its the least we are entitled to expect. Tomorrow Don is going to see one of his favourite films, Brassed Off at the Albert Hall complimented live by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. What an absolute bloody treat. Should my Dear Reader have the impeccable taste to have seen the film, he/she will recall the quote from the lovely, nay gorgeous, Tara Fitzgerald, in recalling pubescent playground experimentation. “Top ‘alf Only!” Listen up Daves and think on…Top ‘alf Only!

gallery-1476463454-brassed-off-2.jpg

(apologies to whoever has copyright – don’t worry, only Don’s Mum reads this.)

Last week Don went to a Wagner Society lecture on Tristan and Isolde given by wonderful Anthony Negus and the equally wonderful Carmen Jakobi. Both of Longborough Festival Opera and its production of Tristan and Isolde next month, to be conducted by Anthony and directed by Carmen. Don can’t wait. An amazing opera and starring Lee Bisset who first came to Don’s attention as Sieglinde way back here and its fair to say she stormed that Ring Cycle in Nottingham.

In stark contrast to the forgettable pre-Meistersinger study day (which was just a run through of the synopsis – no questions allowed), this focused on a particular episode (Act ll/3 &4) and was wonderfully interactive. Two pre-prepped members of the audience read through the scene trying to make sense of quite mystical and tricky concepts and saying what it meant to them. It is the dialogue between Tristan and Isolde after the signal torch has been switched off and seemingly unfathomable dialogue concerning Day and Night. It all sets up the famous Love Duet in scene 5. Carmen explained that this is how she starts rehearsals with the cast and how important it is for the singers to understand the meaning of not only what they are singing but also what others on stage are singing.  But what depth of understanding is necessary? The torch is the signal to Tristan that it is safe to come to Isolde. Not when it is on but when it is extinguished. This is fitting because it is the illuminated Day that keeps the lovers apart while the secret unlit Night allows them to play out their time together without real world responsibilities.

What was of interest to Don was that it became apparent that the singers were not expected to have any understanding of Schopenhauer. Fair enough, at face value, it would surely be preposterous to suggest one needed a philosophy grounding to sing an operatic role. And yet Wagner’s head was so full of Schopenhauer when writing Tristan that it guided his thinking and one can see it in almost every line, particularly the considered scene.  It begs the question of whether detailed knowledge of the author’s thoughts can improve performance. To momentarily switch operas, what are the credentials for singing the Wahn Monologue in Die Meistersinger? Simply learn the lines, belt it out and head for the pub? Don is not musical and so ill-equipped to know but it is weird (at least to Don) to think that a singer can give a stellar performance without really understanding what Wagner was getting at with all the Day/Night material.

If one reads through scenes 3 and 4 without any broader background, one will get the gist that Day is bad and Night is good. One doesn’t need to understand Schopenhauer to see that the night is for illicit lovers and that the day is real, it carries responsibilities such as being loyal to King Mark, whereas at night one can escape into a dream and live out alternative realities. That much is clear and pretty obvious.

But take the line; “The spiteful day, filled with envy, could part us with its deceptions, but no longer mislead us with its lies!” It’s as though the Day is a character and has force and compulsion in its own right. That surely is Schopenhauerian Wille. Does not knowing that detract from performance? Probably not.

A little naive pondering doesn’t hurt every now and then,

Remember Daves, top ‘arf only!.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017