Nina’s people – and, lo and behold! I’ve been allowed to follow the rehearsals. Nina is the sort of director who doesn’t want authors around until opening night, but it seems that I’ve broken that wall, with the result that, for the last week, I’ve practically lived in the first row, taking notes rehearsal after rehearsal, and discussing things afterwards… Continue reading
When I was nineteen or thereabout, and a hopeful drama student, a teacher brought us to see Marivaux’s The Game of Love and Chance. It was a lovely, lovely production, directed by Massimo Castri. Everything was perfect – direction, actors, costumes, scenes – but what I truly remember, more than twenty years later, are the lights. Continue reading
I wouldn’t call Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur my favourite opera. Which is a little strange perhaps, considering it’s about a bunch of actors, and one particular actress with a precarious sense of reality, and partly takes place backstage… Continue reading
This is from back in 2013, but the fact is, it struck me that productions of Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy are few and far between, nowadays – although we know it was wildly succesful in the 1580s and long later, with its dark tale of revenge and madness. Another Grammar-School man like Shakespeare, Kyd seems to have enjoyed quite a reputation in his time – but most of his work has gone lost, and his fame has been largely eclipsed… Continue reading
Oh, let’s have some poetry, today – poetry and theatre. Kit Marlowe’s Duc de Guise, painting the full colours of his restless ambition, proudly boasting his cleverness and strength – and, most of all, chomping at the bit:
Now Guise, begin those deepe ingendred thoughts
To burst abroad, those never dying flames,
Which cannot be extinguisht but by bloud.
Oft have I leveld, and at last have learnd,
That perill is the cheefest way to happines,
And resolution honors fairest aime.
What glory is there in a common good,
That hanges for every peasant to atchive?
That like I best that flyes beyond my reach.
Set me to scale the high Peramides,
And thereon set the Diadem of Fraunce,
Ile either rend it with my nayles to naught,
Or mount the top with my aspiring winges,
Although my downfall be the deepest hell.
For this, I wake, when others think I sleepe,
For this, I waite, that scorn attendance else:
For this, my quenchles thirst whereon I builde,
Hath often pleaded kindred to the King.
For this, this head, this heart, this hand and sworde,
Contrive, imagine and fully execute
Matters of importe, aimed at by many,
Yet understoode by none.
For this, hath heaven engendred me of earth,
For this, the earth sustaines my bodies weight,
And with this wait Ile counterpoise a Crowne,
Or with seditions weary all the worlde:
For this, from Spaine the stately Catholic
Sends Indian golde to coyne me French ecues:
For this have I a largesse from the Pope,
A pension and a dispensation too:
And by that priviledge to worke upon,
My policye hath framde religion.
Religion: O Diabole.
Fye, I am ashamde, how ever that I seeme,
To think a word of such a simple sound,
Of so great matter should be made the ground.
The gentle King whose pleasure uncontrolde,
Weakneth his body, and will waste his Realme,
If I repaire not what he ruinates:
Him as a childe I dayly winne with words,
So that for proofe, he barely beares the name:
I execute, and he sustaines the blame.
The Mother Queene workes wonders for my sake,
And in my love entombes the hope of Fraunce:
Rifling the bowels of her treasurie,
To supply my wants and necessitie.
Paris hath full five hundred Colledges,
As Monestaries, Priories, Abbyes and halles,
Wherein are thirtie thousand able men,
Besides a thousand sturdy student Catholicks,
And more: of my knowledge in one cloyster keep,
Five hundred fatte Franciscan Fryers and priestes.
All this and more, if more may be comprisde,
To bring the will of our desires to end.
Since thou hast all the Cardes within thy hands
To shuffle or to cut, take this as surest thing:
That right or wrong, thou deal’st thy selfe a King.
I but, Navarre. Tis but a nook of France.
Sufficient yet for such a pettie King:
That with a rablement of his hereticks,
Blindes Europs eyes and troubleth our estate:
Him will we–
(Pointing to his Sworde.)
But first lets follow those in France.
That hinder our possession to the crowne:
As Caesar to his souldiers, so say I:
Those that hate me, will I learn to loath.
Give me a look, that when I bend the browes,
Pale death may walke in furrowes of my face:
A hand, that with a graspe may gripe the world,
An eare, to heare what my detractors say,
A royall seate, a scepter and a crowne:
That those which doe behold them may become
As men that stand and gase against the Sunne.
The plot is laide, and things shall come to passe,
Where resolution strives for victory.
One imagines that Ned Alleyn, with his imposing presence and deep, dark voice, must have been rather impressive in the part.
And besides… what can I say? I never read Marlowe’s dark heroes without imagining that there must have been days when he felt too large and too fiery for his own circumstances – and not much besides poetry as an outlet. Is it fanciful to think that he was the one forever burning for things beyond his reach?
Some more Julius Caesar, do you mind?
The fact is that, because of Shakespeare in Words, I had a special thrill when, in Act 3.I, the conspirators bathe their hands in dead Caesar’s blood – half barbaric ritual, half preparation to face the angry and upset crowds outside. Very much like actors before a play, they plan to appear with bloody hands and swords, shouting “Peace, freedom, and liberty.” Continue reading
I re-watched Mankiewicz’s 1953 Julius Caesar, last night – the one with James Mason, Marlon Brando and John Gielgud – all the more happily because I’d been very much afraid that Shakespeare would disappear from Italian television after the end of 2016.
Of course it’s early days – but let us hope. Meanwhile, I I was once more struck by how much the play is centred on Brutus, for all that it is titled for The Life and Death of Julius Caesar… Well, certainly Caesar’s death is the centrepiece, and in life and death he deeply affects all the other characters well after he is stabbed in Act 3. Still, Brutus, his doubts and his resolutions are often centre-stage, and I can’t help wondering. Continue reading
One cold afternoon upon a time, we entered – the Squirrels, and Gemma, and I – a theatre in a small town around here, to settle in for a performance that night.
It was ten minutes to four, and I had arranged to meet the electrician to fix the lights, and we had a few pieces of scenery to mount. After which…
“We’re doing the lights first thing – but look, I want a tech rehearsal afterwards,” I warned. “If I can’t have one, there will be murder.”
Of course, they all said in round-eyed innocence. Of course I was going to have my rehearsal. Who did I take them for? And, after all these years, how naïve must I be? Gentle Reader, I believed them. There was plenty of time, I blithely thought – and cheerfully set to work with the electrician, while the men mounted our rostra. Continue reading
December 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.
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…
“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.
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.
In a world like Elizabethan England*, where a fair complexion was synonymous with beauty (it was not by accident that “fair” meant both “lovely” and “light-complexioned), here goes the lovestruck Biron, extolling his beloved Rosaline’s dark looks: Continue reading