Friday, 25 November 2011

Another Friday

It's Friday, it's gone five o'clock, and I am about to start a week of annual leave.  A week of fresh Cornish air, fresh Cornish fish, strong Cornish cider and scary Cornish clifftop paths!  Possibly even all at the same time...

I've been ridiculously busy at work, and haven't even written the ghost of a shadow of a review of the new "Eugene Onegin" at the ENO, or of the excellent Royal Ballet triple bill I saw with my Mum last weekend, or even I think of the previous RB mixed bill - the one with the stunning revival of "Marguerite and Armand" and cry-your-eyes-out "Requiem".  The more recent one continued in the emotion-wrenching range, with "Asphodel Meadows", "Enigma Variations" and MacMillan's "Gloria".  Magnificent. I am getting a veritable feast of dancing so far this autumn.  At this late date I don't think I can single out individuals; besides, the whole company are at the top of their game.  Okay, perhaps a special mention for the wonderful Marguerite of Tamara Rojo.  And Ed Watson's tragic, tortured soldier in Gloria.  And - no, I mustn't, I could be hear all night otherwise.

"Eugene Onegin" although not quite to the "magnificent" line was fairly close; Amanda Echalaz a rivetting, passionate Tatyana, Toby Spence a gorgeous (& gorgeous-voiced!) Lensky.  There were some odd directorial decisions (the Larin estate certainly had a very beautiful barn, but I never got why Tatyana slept in it rather than in, well, a bedroom.  Like normal people.) and a rather wooden Onegin let the side down a bit.  Some fabulously beautiful sets and very well-directed crowd scenes compensated, but Echalaz's thrilling performance is the biggest reason to see this - she is definitely a star in the making.

And now I have nothing to do except finish my packing, drink a beer with my (rather piece-meal, night-before-holiday, using-up-oddments-in-a-curry) supper, and get an early night.  Tomorrow morning, to Paddington, and the train west...

Friday, 18 November 2011

TG...'s Friday.  Not an easy week.  I've done my best to keep my spirits up with Chinese food, chocolate cheesecake, ballet and Bruckner, but I am stressed and tired, and there's no getting around the fact it simply has not been an easy week. 

Let's hope it has been better for everyone else.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Odd, unsettled...

It's an odd patch.  I get bad news, I reel, I find my feet again, I realise that until I get more facts I can't make any decisions or plans, and I am left in limbo.  I won't get more facts until this Thursday at the earliest. 

At least it isn't my health, or that of anyone close to me.  

Meanwhile the weather veers between dramatic late autumnal sunshine and dramatic thick mists and raw chill.  The ground is thick with fallen leaves now, but even now there are still many more clinging on to the trees, for we still have not yet had a single frost, or a single gale. I am beginning to allow myself the hope that the weather for my winter break in Cornwall may be okay.  It's only ten days' time before I go now.

In the last week I have, besides work, been doing some more writing, had an afternoon birdwatching and sketching at the Wetland Centre, baked chocolate orange sultana muffins, had supper with a friend, been to "The Sleeping Beauty" (Marianela Nuñez, absolutely wonderful again as Aurora), sung (badly) in the first Christmas Choir practice and been on a Tree Identification training walk.  I've been busy, and happy.  But I hate this business of being in limbo.  It's like being in the dentist's waiting room, only worse by at least an order of magnitude.  Even if in the end the news is bad, I'd rather know, and at least be able to plan for it...

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

"Manon" poem

I have been haunted since the weekend by that heart-breaking performance of "Manon".  To anyone who isn't into ballet, or isn't into MacMillan, or isn't into doomed love stories, it must seem insane that I have taken myself to see this particular ballet no less than four times in the last year.  But MacMillan's narrative works are like the Shakespeare of ballet; endlessly nuanced, their understanding of psychology and character so deep and layered, one can keep on seeing them and always get something new. If I could afford it, I would go back again before the present run finishes; indeed, if I weren't going to tea at a friend's place tonight I could happily go back and see Marianela Nuñez again.  She was wonderful.  As were both the guys, and the whole cast, and the whole damn' thing.  I suppose there may come a day one day when I have seen enough "Manon"s, but that day is not now.

Lovers (MacMillan’s “Manon”)

When he first looks across at her
Shy and yet radiant, turning away,
The whole tragedy is there
Implicit in that moment.
My heart begins to break again
For these two foolish innocents
Who touch, delighting, unawares;
Too far apart to meet, though deep in love.

She is all happy brightness, full
Of certainty; accepts
This adoration as her only due,
Expects the world to be her slave.
He is the honest devotee
Who’ll never waver in his faith
Not even in the face of death.
His goddess is no constant star,
Though brilliant as a meteor.
He must burn with her as she falls.

Neither can see the other’s way;
The other path, untreadable.
The dancing steps must break apart,
And the heartbroken end ensues
Inevitable as every loss.
Hurtling into despair and death
All of us crying with their fall
All of our loves consumed with theirs.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Beauty and busy-ness

I think the autumn this year is the most beautiful I can remember since I have been here at Kew.  The first fall colours began to appear in September, but here we are in early November and everywhere I look I can still see spectacular leaves and berries.  What is more, unless we have a high wind, it looks set to go on a bit longer yet, for some trees are still green and unaffected.  Because of the weather has been mild and still for weeks, trees have held their colour.  Because we haven’t yet had a hard frost, every species has turned slowly, at its own pace, rather than all going over at once.  It has been a long, slow passage over from late summer into fall, and it has been as quiet and measured as the rising of the tide.

As I walk through the Gardens here at work I am surrounded by riches.  Scarlet and crimson, brick red and Indian red, chestnut brown, golden brown, golden yellow, ochre, Naples yellow, gamboge; everywhere  I look are these magnificent colours.  Every leaf of Virginia creeper is marked with brilliant patterns, like Venetian millefiori glass; the berries of a crab apple swing over my head like gobstopper-sized jewels, and the Grass Garden is a tapestry of pale golden seed heads and soft, feathery brushstrokes of colour...

Actually I cannot imagine, brushstroke metaphors or no, how on earth one could paint this.  It is staggeringly beautiful, but so much of the beauty is dependent on the immeasurably fine gradations of shade and the tiny details of structure.  One couldn’t use swathes of colour without losing all that delicacy; every tree looks like a mosaic with each leaf an individual fleck of gold or ruby glass.  Yet if one painted every leaf, compulsively, one would lose the sweep and scale of the view, and the result would look obsessive rather than beautiful.

Near the back door of the office I work in are a cedar that has been gilding the pavement with pale golden pollen; a camellia covered with bright early flowers in shell pink; a golden-orange maple, and one that looks as if it has been dipped in grapefruit marmalade.  Moving through the Gardens I am blessed by colour.  Dodging back indoors again as the rain starts, I can carry, held quiet within me, the beauty and delicacy of the autumn trees, and their grace.  Not just the grace of physical beauty, but the spiritual grace of yielding to autumn and flowing with the cycle of the year.  Trees are a model of grace.

Of course from a phenological point of view the cycle of the year is a little askew; here is a link to an article by Kew’s Mr Arboretum himself, Tony Kirkham (who knows a heck of a lot more about trees than me!) on the subject:

It’s been a hectic weekend; all the usual jobs like grocery shopping, going to the bank, running the washing machine, gardening and so forth, plus a heart-rending performance of “Manon” at the Royal Ballet (Marianela Nuñez surpassing herself as a subtle, tragic, ravishingly beautiful Manon, Nehemiah Kish partnering her beautifully as a devoted Des Grieux [& on a more carnal note I see with satisfaction that he still seems to be resisting the fashion for chest-waxing!] and Thiago Soares a superb, powerful, charming Lescaut [I have never cried at Lescaut’s death before]); plus tea with my stepmum Jane, plus an absolutely spectacular firework display.

Now I’m back at work, and the whole office is being plagued with computer problems.  Strangely the internet isn’t behaving too badly; but our office email system is really not doing well.  Ah well, these things happen, in the modern office; but sometimes I long for the days of handwritten ledgers and paper correspondence.  So much less liable to technical faults!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A disaster, a mess and an inconclusive result

On Friday night I went to see Rameau's opera “Castor and Pollux” at the ENO.  Fascinating music, beautifully played (far more exciting than the now-so-popular Handel – not a da capo aria in earshot), and a terrific cast, including the lovely Roderick Williams as an almost unbearably noble and heroic Pollux.  It’s just such a pity that the actual production was so poor; spectacularly self-indulgent, incoherent, and farcically stupid. 

I have seen some bad opera productions in my time, though I’ve also managed to avoid some simply by thinking “I don’t fancy that”.  As I think I may have ranted before, I’m not against the basic idea of updating the time period or the conceptual basis of the production.  When it works it is illuminating.  A few years ago ENO had a “Pagliacci” in modern dress that was revelatory; their late-Soviet-era “Jenufa” likewise.  I started off with this performance thinking it was acceptable; granted, modern dress is a bit silly in a story about classical gods and heroes, but one can argue that it is the culturally neutral clothing of our time, and so the obvious choice unless one is planning to use correct period costume. 

But then the director had to start being clever.  Only not logically clever, not coherently clever, not intellectually stimulating, not ground-breakingly visionary clever.  Just a parade of tried and tested shock-tactic formulae, dredged up with a puerile lack of invention (and equally puerile bottom-fascination). 

“Oh dear, this bit is a bit dull; I know, I‘ll have them all roll around on the floor all through it.  This bit is more dramatic so I’ll add lots of irrelevant sexual imagery.  Now I’ll have half the cast strip naked, and bring in several extras dressed as Grayson Perry’s alter-ego Claire.  Masses of underpants.  Dangling willies.  Heaps of earth everywhere.  People being buried alive in the heaps of earth.  Lots of running round in circles.  Deliberately inept and non-rhythmical dancing.  And hey, how about a set that is hollow underneath and raised up, so that it functions like a huge sounding board; brilliant, now every time someone dances or runs around in circles the noise will drown out the music completely! – quick, quick, do some more running around!”

It wasn’t shocking, or challenging, or original.  Actually the main thing it was was boring.  Such a pity, when one has an opera that is so seldom done, and a cast of this calibre.

Saturday I tried to do some pre-emptive Christmas present shopping, and couldn’t find anything I was looking for, and got very tired and frustrated.  It began to feel like the day when nothing would go my way.  I hate that feeling, when life seems to crumble into an annoying mess, and one can salvage nothing from the wreckage. 

Sunday I gave myself backache again planting bulbs and transplanting perennials.    

Yesterday after work I went for my latest ultrasound exam, and it was inconclusive.  My uterus is showing its age, but I don’t have any ovarian cysts at the moment.  Since up until then everything was indicating that I did, I’m rather foxed.  But I may have fibroids instead.  

Oh well, you win some and you lose some.  At least now know that if I’m ever offered an evening appointment for an ultrasound, rather than a daytime one, I should grab it.  The last time I had a scan I was kept waiting for over an hour, no fun when you have a full bladder.  This time there was only one person ahead of me.  I was home and eating my reheated pie by 8.30.  Evening clinics rock!