Friday, 20 March 2009

Katharsis and inspiration

I have reached the stage in unpacking and crawling around the cardboard-box-littered floor where I feel like screaming. So I took two evenings off. If I hadn’t had tickets booked well ahead for both events I probably would have gone home and gone on crawling around the floor wanting to scream, instead, but I am a stingy sort and having got tickets for things I dislike not using them. In the event it was well worth taking both outings, although this means there has been no significant progress on the unpacking front for the last couple of days. And that, in turn, means no progress on anything else going on in my life…

The first evening was spent at the ENO, seeing “Dr Atomic” by John Adams. This was marvellous – beautifully sung, especially by Gerald Finley as J Robert Oppenheimer, and an extraordinarily effective staging. The build-up of tension in the latter half of the second Act was incredible. The use of non-music noise in the score is dramatic and horribly effective – by the finale, where I sat in the gods the entire House felt as if it were vibrating - and the climactic Trinity test detonation itself, conveyed solely through one huge sudden discord from the entire orchestra, fortissime, and through the brilliant acting, was actually terrifying. And then, as the blast fades, one sees the cast react with stunned horror to what they see, and simultaneously the entire story of the use of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is alluded-to with devastating simplicity as a soft pre-recorded voice, speaking Japanese, asks quietly for help – “Please give me some water… please help me, Tanimoto-san, my children are asking for water”… Blood-curdling and chilling; utterly harrowing theatre.

The second evening, yesterday evening, was about as different as you could get; two films, “One Giant Leap” and “What about me?”, at the Riverside Studios. Poetic documentaries about the interconnections between music, traditional cultures, creativity, spirituality, sustainability, politics and justice, with stunning visuals and a deeply quirky assortment of contributors talking about everything under the sun to do with those topics. The antithesis of the agonised depiction of man’s insanity and destructive capability in “Dr Atomic”, these two little films left me feeling uplifted and inspired. They also both have fantastic music scores – people like Baaba Maal, Asha Bhosle, Michael Stipe, all collaborating together to produce some tremendous music, at least for the WOMAD-ites among us like me.

So all in all a rewarding couple of evenings. I recommend both pieces highly, but for very different reasons. The opera for its sheer dramatic, kathartic power; the films for their inspirational quality and the lovely way the filmmakers have layered so many nuances and subtle ideas together into something that is far richer than the sum of its parts, and also enormously beautiful. “Dr Atomic” is probably the greater work of art, but it may well leave you shaking and shattered and despairing; “One Giant Leap” will spur you on to commit yourself all over again to your creativity and to your hopes and dreams, to follow your muse and to do whatever you can to leave the world a fraction of a scrap better than you found it, when you leave this life. At any rate, that's how it got me...

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