It’s been a patchy couple of days. On Wednesday I threatened to deck my new house-mate Dan, after hearing his views on my beloved garden (untidy, needs to be cleared up properly) and his opinion of my belief that actually I have been gardening (“Really?!?” uttered in a tone of mixed disbelief and amusement). He likes things to be neat. I don’t do neat; I do a sort of cottage garden/biodiversity fusion. I have struggled for eighteen months with deep shade, a thick undergrowth of pernicious weeds and a recalcitrant, concrete-dry soil of mixed London clay and builders’ rubble. I am proud of the fact I now have dahlias, aquilegias, alyssum, erigeron, Ceratostigma wilmottianum, Alchemilla mollis and Campanula persicifolia all flourishing there, and there are worms in the soil, and self-sown lunaria and feverfew popping up.
It does not need “tidying”. It needs a lot of soil improver, and more tough perennials and spring bulbs, all of which I am working on; and lots and lots of of TLC. Not “tidying”. If he tidies my garden I’ll scrag him.
Not a calming mood to be in. It’s odd to come close to losing one’s temper; I so seldom do (maybe once in a decade?). I will, of course, have to make peace with Dan. But I saw red when he said “Really?!?” like that. He’s lucky I only threatened to deck him.
Then there’s the fact that our landlady still hasn’t come round to see the house, over a week after the break-in. I find that weird, and frankly a bit nasty; she couldn’t make it clearer that we are just a cash cow if she tried. A cash cow that has now cost her money (locksmith’s fees are painful) instead of making money for her.
Last night I went to Gounod’s “Faust” at the ENO, hoping for a good evening out, and was basically disappointed. The director had some good ideas, but hadn’t always known how to develop them, and he had committed one of my favourite directorial sins by not checking the sightlines from the balcony. What I gather were often immensely visually effective stage images were near-invisible from where I sat, as they were hidden behind the proscenium arch. As I was only in row D, I felt short-changed. I can understand a director thinking “I can’t fix this so every seat in the house can see it, damn it” – but virtually the entire balcony? – that’s just cheeky.
There were some good ideas, although it would irritate my more scientific friends. Faust had been turned into a 1940s physicist and there was a very clear inference that he had made a pact with the devil already simply by doing science. I think he was meant to be regretting the military use of his work (we got Fat Man and Little Boy hanging from the ceiling at one point) - but this was one of the moments where I gather there were back projections at the rear of the stage, which were lost on me, so I may have missed the subtleties. But the updating made the timing of Faust’s return to his younger days very effective; this man’s youth had been spent in the run-up to the First World War, making Margeurite’s extreme innocence and the Victorian attitudes of her neighbours and her brother still seem credible.
It was also true to the religious elements of the original, which the Covent Garden production six years ago struggled with. Mephistophiles was indeed weakened and beaten back by the sign of the cross, as the libretto directs, and was defeated in his attempt to win Margeurite’s soul by her grim, dazed clinging-on to faith in God’s ultimate compassion. The Covent Garden production was so determined to mock the whole idea of religion that it had Mephistophiles wearing a crucifix and laughing in amusement at those credulous fools who think the Almighty gives a damn about them. I’ve nothing against the sharp comment this made about hypocrisy; I’m sure that in any period of history, including Gounod’s time and certainly my own, there have been people who made an ostentatious display of their religion while in their lives doing the opposite of what this vaunted faith teaches. But Mephistophiles is meant to be more than this; he is a symbolic figure, symbolic of the deepest, most profound evil, not a mere hypocritical libertine.
I liked Mephistophiles, though, which I’m not sure Gounod would have approved of. Iain Patterson is blessed with a big, smooth voice and buckets of stage presence – he was a splendid Amonasro a while back and I’m really looking forward to seeing him as Don Giovanni in November. For a big man, he’s startlingly graceful, and this was used cleverly - as if the energy within this tall and burly body were something slightly unearthly that could not be completely confined within human form. The devil certainly had the best tunes, and the best moves, this time, and he made the most of them.
Toby Spence looked good but moved awkwardly, as if his clothes were uncomfortable, and sounded as though he were pushing himself vocally. I never expected to be less than happy with him in anything; I hope he was not sickening for something. The Marguerite, Melody Moore, was a better actress than she was a singer; rather lacking in vocal sparkle and light, only just coming into her own by the prison scene. There wasn’t much chemistry between her and her lover, either, which hampered things rather.
So things at home are bit off, and “Faust” wasn’t much cop, and I’m a bit muddled and miz and patchy, really.
Such is life.