Feeling butterflies

madbposterDecember the Eight is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, over here, and the first holiday in the Christmas season – when most people trim their Christmas tree and prepare their crèche. Not I – because, for several reasons, we have our own tradition of tree-trimming on Saint Lucia’s eve – but still. And yesterday was Sant’Ambrogio, marked in Italy by the opening night of the opera season at La Scala, in Milan. It’s a glittering musical and social event, broadcast nation-wide, and hugely followed and discussed… this is Italy, after all.

Well, last night we had a generally very good Madama Butterfly, directed by Riccardo Chailly, with good singers (minus the tenor), stunning visuals, and the first chance to hear the original version of the opera, never heard again after its near-disastrous première in 1904.madb

Later, after curtain down, we were discussing the opera with a bunch of theatre friends via Whatsapp and I said that, while liking it very much on the whole, I couldn’t bring myself to care much for the tenor, found the original version less effective than the revised one, and had my reservations about the ending, with the heroine Cho-Cho San committing suicide amidst a veritable crowd of her doubles, her maid, her son…

madamabutterfly“There goes Brainy Clara again”, came from Gemma the Director. “Why can’t you just go with the feelings?”

Now, this is an ongoing argument between Gemma and myself. It’s been ongoing for the last twenty-five years or so: I was her teenaged drama pupil, and we were arguing the merits of logic versus feeling already… Gemma says that my analytical mind is at constant risk of being my greatest weakness, theatre-wise, and I insist that riding on feelings is good for the audience, but to elicit said feelings takes a good deal of analytical thought backstage and onstage… Which is, I dare say, why we work so well together, each providing an ingredient to the whole.madbending

Still, I must make my point: Cho-Cho-San’s mime doubles were lovely to see for most of the opera. With their beautiful costumes, Kabuki-like looks and motions, they offered suggestive glimpses of the heroine’s imaginings and hopes, filled the huge space around the few characters, and gave a pictorial look to the whole. All very well until the end – where it all crashed for me. I’ve always imagined Cho-Cho-San’s final choice as a moment of terrible solitude. She sends child and maid away, as she proudly and heartbrokenly choses death. Puccini’s music is at its best here, and I think the solitary act achieves a tragic, sacrificial greatness…

But no, here we had a dozen weeping doubles, the maid and the (blindfolded) child attending. She wasn’t alone anymore – and what can I say? It felt weaker. Watered down. Emotionally wrong.

And look, I’m as happy as anyone to let Puccini pull at my heartstrings – which is exactly why my feelings lithobraked well before my analytical mind began to scream: Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

And I don’t know, perhaps Gemma is right – at least up to a point – and in always thinking backstage I’ve lost the ability to just enjoy the show, forever calculating cause and effect… A kind of toy-maker complex, maybe? But still, I cannot help thinking that a solitary Cho-Cho-San at the end would have packed a more powerful emotional punch. I’m not terribly likely to end up directing operas – but, if I ever do, my Madama Butterflys will always die very much alone – and, after overanalysing last night, I’ll know exactly why.


And no lemon, please…


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teacupI like my tea with milk.

I drink a good deal of it – five, six big cups a day – with milk, and no sugar. It’s a habit acquired decades ago, during my first Scottish summer, and I’m quite happy with it, thank you very much. And because tea requires some calm to brew and drink, I seldom order it in cafés or suchlike places, where I usually happen in a hurry.

Then one day, last year, I went to a local café with some friends. It was a nice calm Sunday afternoon, and we settled in the garden and decided on tea. “With milk for me, please,” I told the friend who went inside to order for us all. Soon enough, the friend came back, amused and bemused… Continue reading

November Reckoning


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sn4wrimo16Well well well – would you believe it? But weeks do fly, don’t they? A heartbeat ago it was october, and now it’s so very nearly the end of November that it makes no difference. So it would seem that it’s reckoning time: how did SN4WriMo go?

Let us say, well enough.

One the one hand, this fourth draft was meant mostly as an effort to make the language smoother – and that I finished with a good week to spare. Continue reading

Aeneas at Washington


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The image of American Poet Laureate Allen Tate...

We were speaking of Allen Tate‘s Aeneas at Washington, weren’t we? Well, let me observe in passing that, for one who isn’t all that keen on Virgil – and even less on the Aeneid, I post an awfully good deal about it all…

Oh well, it’s because of the play, mostly, and because I truly like Tate’s take on Aeneas, with its bitter suggestion that the notion of rebuilding elsewhere what had gone up in fire may have gone astray. Tate’s Troy remains a half-forgotten golden shadow, its intended rebirth is an empty shell – and one may well question if it was worth the high price that was paid for it. Continue reading

Reading Poetry Without Warning


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untitled-2In ten days or so, Nina’s people are going to play Of Men and Poets again, in the tiny theatre where it was born. Not the place where it debuted – but the one where it was first put together… Well, yes, Of Men and Poets (codename 2P) has had its share of adventures, including a first night cancelled thanks to the last real snowfall hereabout, five or six years ago…

Anyway, we’ve been reminiscing, Nina and I, and the actor who plays a (wordless) Aeneas, and other Virgilian memories keep cropping up. Like the conference-speaker who arrived from Rome demanding someone to prepare his Powerpoint presentation for him, and someone else to read aloud four poems during his talk. Four long poems, in English, during a twenty-minute talk, before a mostly non-English speaking presentation. The conference people tried frantically to dissuade him: nobody would understand anyway, the poems together took about a quarter of an hour to be read, and could he explain quite what their relevance to his argument was?

In the end, and with the worst possible grace, the man reduced the poems to one – but on that one, Allen Tate’s Aeneas in Washington, he was adamant, and so someone suggested that I should read it – since I was there already, translating for Seamus Heaney… So yes, I ended up – with very little warning – reading Allen Tate before Seamus Heaney, as well as a full auditorium. Seamus

I think I must have made a deer-in-the-light expression, because Mr. Heaney patted my shoulder and whispered in my ear that I’d done more harrowing things. “Remember when I received the Premio Virgilio, the year before last, and I forgot to give you the text of my speech beforehand, and you translated as I spoke?”

Which I had, and it had been very much like the flying trapeze – with nary a net in sight: terrifying and glorious…

“It can’t be harder than that, can it? Go ahead.”

And because I hero-worshipped Mr. Heaney, and I would have jumped off cliffs at his bidding, go ahead I did. In the end, no one quite understood why Aeneas had to be read at all, since the talk barely mentioned Tate – but I managed to do it without entirely disgracing myself, and Mr. Heaney was very nice about it, and it is a beautiful poem anyway. So, although it was a bit like the flying trapeze again, it also turned out to be a lovely experience, and a memory I’ll cherish. Go figure, I’ll end up having to thank the unreasonable speaker, sooner or later.


Henry Four Hands


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noxsSo, the New Oxford Shakespeare credits Christopher Marlowe as co-author of the three Henry VI plays.

Well, actually fourteen more plays get co-authoring credits by someone else, and Arden of Faversham is added to the Canon, as well as one added scene in Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy…  But – probably because he is more widely known, and because of the Authorship rumours ever since Ziegler – the idea of Kit Marlowe having had a hand in the Henrys is doing most of the splash.

“Happy now?” asked Davide Mana of Karavansara – who has little sympathy for Kit Marlowe. Continue reading

Il Palscoscenico di Carta is back!


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Interesting week, this… Which is why I haven’t posted on Thursday, by the way. Things have happened – mostly good, but time-consuming, and I never know when all the time goes.

DSCN1109BWOne of the things, though, is this: we have found a home for Il Palcoscenico di Carta. At long last. One wouldn’t believe how difficult it was, but really, we’ve tried all sort of places: from cafés to small museums, from bookshops to military clubs – with everything in between… some were so blatantly unenthusiastic that we walked away, some loved the idea but had no room, some were willing but not right now, some asked an extortionate fee… Continue reading

Don’t Anger the Goddess


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od4Back when I  worked as an assistant-director with a small company, there was this time when the director got sick, and I was left in charge of an open-air performance of a play about Odysseus coming home to Ithaca…

No, not that time. Same play, same company – but a different open-air stage, at a rather huge Roman reenactment. Only, beside directing, this time I was also substituting the actress who played the Wise Athena, Odysseus’ patroness, more or less…

I rather hated it, and my costume was of an orange so loud it hurt to look at – but frankly, it was the last and least of my troubles. Continue reading