18 November 2005

It's not H5N1, hope not anyway, but the virus I've picked up is debilitating enough. Feels like it's peaked though. Spent the day so far mostly dozing, and reading Dava Sobel's new book, The Planets. It's very good, mixing mythology with the facts brought back from robot spacecraft. DS writes like a particularly pleasant dream, important consideration when reading through aching eyes...

I went to Covent Garden on Wednesday, pre-bug, to see Tippett's opera The Midsummer Marriage. I got a cheap - for the Opera House - seat in the Amphitheatre (£9), the larger and higher of the balconies. This can't be the regular price, I said to my neighbour, This is really a very decent view for under a tenner.
She thought it was always that cheap up there. Turns out she's wrong, and the same seat for Figaro or La Traviata will set you back £23.

Tippett's first and best-regarded opera is an extraordinary thing, clearly touched by genius, but in the end rather muddled and over-ambitious. In a high style, with a massive (I counted roughly fifty) chorus, it takes a simple story - of a couple's pre-nup angst, and the anxieties of the father of the bride - and turns it into a sub-Wagnerian psycho-drama, complete with portentous priestess from the Underworld. As the chap in the Observer says, it's all tosh, but I found it very touching tosh, all the same. Beyond Tippett's perhaps wilful misunderstanding of hetero love, and his pretensions to grandeur, there's a strong feeling of optimism and renewal, and a childish awe at the possibilities of the future, that must have resonated with its first audience, in 1955.

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