By which I mean that last week’s Shakespearean glow has faded, and I’m getting nowhere much, both work-wise and writing wise, and I’ve managed to destroy a memory stick with lots of useful things on it, and I’m squandering inordinate amounts of time on notions that might become relevant next Autumn – or then again might not at all – and even rehearsals last night rather meandered into pointlessness… Continue reading
Tomorrow my friend Victoria Blake launches her new historical novel, Titian’s Boatman, and I should have been there… but the deities of the flu decided otherwise, and I’m moping at home instead, and whining to anyone within earshot that I should be in London, London, London… Continue reading
A few days ago, I posted on my Italian blog a small list of New Year’s resolutions – although I prefer to think in terms of intentions, because for me it works better that way. The usual things, mostly – sending my novel Out There, writing a couple of plays I have in the workings, reorganizing my house in a serious way, and writing something outside of my comfort zone… Continue reading
And here I was, staring at the screen, quite at a loss about what to write… So very much at a loss that I asked for help.
“Write about the opaque days between around the end of the year,” Lady’s Mantle said. “Not enough of 2016 left, not yet 2017…” Which strikes me as a fitting theme for poetry, rather than a post.
“Write about the lovely sunsets we get whenever the fog allows it,” said Mother. Pretty, but not quite like Scribblings…
And so here I sat, staring at the screen and even more at a loss than before, when Rodolfo called, ordering me to turn on the telly, and have a look at a thing called Perché Shylock, that is Why Shylock. 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 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.
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.
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.
One 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
Back 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