Tuesday, 12 July 2011

A night at the Opera

Having arrived in Wiltshire, at my usual place out in the countryside near Salisbury, the next afternoon I went to the home of an opera-going friend, M---, packed all the picnic food and drink in Fiona, and then we set off for The Grange at Northington to see Dvorak's Rusalka. A little while after our arrival we were joined by J---, another opera-going friend, coming up by taxi from her hotel in Winchester.

It was a fine sunny afternoon. It was very atmospheric, all those people in posh frocks and DJs arriving in nice cars at this amazingly impressive Georgian mansion set deep in the rolling Hampshire scenery. (Just click on the pictures to enlarge them and get a clearer view)

That's me in my long dress.

As before, we had a reserved table in the main marquee, and before the performance began, and during the intervals, ate the yummy food M--- had prepared, and guzzled champagne!


About to tuck into duck! M--- did very well with the food, didn't she? I wish I could show you pix of M--- and J---, but of course my 'house rules' mean that I never show anyone but me, to preserve other people's anonymity. This isn't The News of the World, you know! Oh, can't say that any more, can we: the World's final issue was only days ahead. Not that I ever read it, nor any paper come to that, but people are right when they suggest that it had found a deep place in British culture. I have to say that many of those attending the opera had an 'important', or at least 'monied' look - you could tell from the type of cars in the big car park - but perhaps there were no celebrities present. After all, any man in formal evening attire looks impressive and distinguished; and any woman fashionably dressed in something long and tasteful acquires grace and dignity. Even someone like me! Well, maybe...!

The opera itself, Rusalka, is about a lake-dwelling nymph who feels overpowering love for a prince who comes to hunt in the forest. She is basically a mermaid with a fishy tail. Despite misgivings, her father the Merman points her in the direction of a witch who, by means of a potion, some radical surgery, and a spell, transforms her into a human being. However, there are two big catches: she is denied the power of speech, and the spell means that if her love isn't returned, then both she and the prince are doomed. That's witches for you. Can't trust 'em.

Anyway, she encounters the prince as a young (but mute) girl. He is fascinated by her, and takes her away to court, where of course everyone else fails to see the attraction. Poor Rusalka! She soon learns that there is much more to being human than she thought. And even as the prince makes his wedding preparations - he is set on marrying her - she discovers that she is easily ridiculed by the prince's entourage, and in particular by the princess who had meant to marry him instead. Too late she sees that her former cold and watery existence did not teach her passion, a quality the prince yearns for. And so he is easily drawn away by the princess's warm and elegant charms. It really doesn't help that Rusalka can't utter a word. Remember that, girls, if ever offered such a deal by a witch.

Inevitably poor Rusalka flees and goes back to the lake, where she can live only on the margins in a kind of lonely limbo. She pleads with the witch, but the spell can be broken only if she kills the prince by her own hand, which she won't do as she loves him too much. But he comes looking for her - he can't help himself - and they meet, and even though he realises that her kiss will kill him, he begs for such a death. So they kiss, and he dies. And she retreats back into her former life, sadder than before, and full of unrequited love. Sigh. It just shows that love does not conquer all.

All through, there is Dvorak's score that tugs at the heart. And the singing is amazing, whether it is the Merman's ultra-deep bass, or the prince's tenor, or the soprano of the female cast, including Rusalka herself of course, at those moments when she can give voice. The stage scenery is simple but evocative, enhanced by much ballet-like movement from female wood-sprites, and the gestures - commanding, regal or buffoon-like - from the supporting cast. There is a palace scene where Rusalka has to watch a banquet being served in front of her to men and women in stylish evening dress, who then dance a razor-sharp and fierce tango all around her, as if to emphasise their passion and sophistication - and her lack of it. All sung in Czech, too: but as ever with opera, the language doesn't matter, because the theatre of the performance, the swell of the music, and the emotion in the voices explain everything.

I haven't any shots of the performance - I couldn't remember how to set up my camera so that the screen didn't come on and give away the fact that I was taking (probably prohibited) pictures. but I do have shots of the auditorium:

Obviously these are interval shots! It got pretty packed when everyone was seated. After the opera ended, we came out into darkness, but the mansion itself was stunningly lit up:

They're putting on Tosca in September. I'm going.

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