The Show Must Go On

A scene from Verdi’s opera Macbeth

Today is Wednesday October 5th, 2022. Kia ora!

I didn’t write yesterday. I had a bad night on Monday night, and yesterday I wasn’t very well, with a running nose and quite a bad cough.  I even got out the Prospan cough mixture again.  I tried to print off my tickets to the opera, but did not succeed. To see my tickets, I had to enter a password. For some reason, Ticketmaster did not recognise my old password; it wouldn’t accept variations on it either, so I had to think up a new password.  It’s all right for me to have our tickets on my phone, but I suspect for many older folk it would be really problematic. I certainly have had many email reminders of the fact that I have booked to see the opera.

Yesterday (Tuesday) I felt most unwell, but I slept well last night, and feel (a bit) better this morning. I’m coughing less, and my nose is much better.  I took another Covid 19 test, which was negative. A “polar bomb” is being forecast; strangely, it was sunny and quite mild this morning. Now, though, it’s raining and a bit cooler. Last time we went to an opera at the St James’ Theatre it was really warm inside.  I don’t want to be too hot.

There’s lots of news this morning. In Ukraine, their forces continue to make  inroads into territories supposedly (illegally) annexed by Russia.  There was a scary speech by Putin, a rock concert, and a supposed celebration, with other leaders holding hands with Putin – supposedly he’s dropped his strict isolation rule. It transpired that the Russians weren’t sure about the boundaries of the territories they’d annexed; I suspect Putin is declaring “victory”, although the evidence says otherwise. This is a demonstration of lying in action. Is Putin lying (again) about his threat to use nuclear weapons?

In the UK, Prime Minister Liz Truss has done a U-turn on one aspect of her economic policy – the bid to give the wealthy a tax break has been modified, despite her and her chancellor vowing to stick to their guns. This change was announced during the annual Tory party conference. Ironically, although I think Trump would support her policies, he’s certainly not “his type”; I don’t think he would find her attractive. And as for having a black Chancellor… I’m not prejudiced, but I just don’t see Kwasi Kwarteng (Kamikwase) as a “serious person”, to use the vernacular. I take it to mean that a person has a modicum of intelligence, decency, and respect for human life, (dead or alive). Kwartend said that he’d listened (to whom, I wonder? The Bank of England? Tory members of parliament? His constituency?). He didn’t apologise for what he and Truss had done to the (once proud) British economy.

It seems very sad and frustrating that Liz Truss has said that the new King Charles should not go to the next COP (Climate) summit, which will apparently take place in Egypt.  She, of course, is for fracking – removing regulations, and “opening up” the British economy that way. There are plenty of environmental authorities that deem fracking disastrous. Actually in my opinion, they could start by growing their own food. Who could forget the late Queen’s speech at the Glasgow COP conference, where she said how proud she was of (then) Prince Charles, and Prince William, for their environmental concerns.  Prince Charles has long made the environment and climate change one of his main concerns, long before it became “fashionable”. Charles is King, now, at last, and there’s very little he can obviously do about his government’s present direction.

In the US, there is upset about Trump’s “Coco Chow” jibe against his former transport secretary; he also accused Mitch McConnell of having a “death wish”. CPAC put up and then took down a message decrying US support for Ukraine (I think); also, Herschel Walker, senate candidate in Georgia, has denied paying for an abortion for a previous girlfriend  (she has the receipt, a record of his reimbursement, and a get-well card signed by him), and one of his sons Christian has done another rant accusing this person who preaches moral rectitude of being an absent father, who did not take care of his mother, or be part of his sons’ lives.  Still, he’s a republican; he’s like Trump, really; all this is “locker room talk”; of course, if the Democrat candidate, black minister Raphael Warnock, transgressed similarly the R’s would be all over him. With a republican candidate, what do you expect? They’re not renowned for living their family values, although of course they espouse them. It’s a case of Do as I say, not as I do.

Last night we watched some of Heartbreak High on Netflix; apart from the rather wonderful kiwi Rachel House starring as the principal, I don’t see much to recommend it. After that we watched The Dry, another Australian film starring Eric Bana. Although we’d both seen this at the cinema when it first came out, we didn’t remember all the plot twists.  I went to bed just before it finished – 11:30 pm is way past my bedtime.

I listened to The Telegraph’s podcast, Ukraine The Latest, which is supposed too come out each week day. It’s incredibly informative. 

Meantime, I’m rereading Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad, his wonderful novel which I happened to have on loan from the library in 2020 when we first went into lockdown. In a very generous gesture, Wellington City Library allowed us to keep whatever loans we had until July; no fines would be charged. So I read this extraordinary book – a kind of companion to Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I determined to read it after reading a review in the Economist. It’s a very long book (about 1,000 pages), but Grossman has quite an extraordinary ability to create meaningful characters – on both sides.  It’s been very interesting to reread my paperback copy of this book while the Ukrainian war remains in force.  One cannot help equating the brave Ukrainians with the brave Russian forces who defended Stalingrad. There’s no question of heroism – on both sides. And yet hearing reports of the Russian army today – it’s hard to believe there’s any relation.  It’s true that defending something you value – whether it be poor Ukraine, or the city of Stalingrad, is significant, even if it entails enormous sacrifice in so doing.

I am now nearing the end of this book; we are in Stalingrad itself; and I’ve just read a scene in which German soldiers have made themselves comfortable in a bombed out building and are supremely confident that they will win; indeed, arrogantly so.  We all know what happens next. I admire Grossman’s ability to describe multiple scenes leading up to the final conflicts.

Every time I read the book, I want to write at the same time. I long for some technology that would transcribe what I’m saying into writing. It probably foes exist.

It’s now Thursday October 6th.

Last night we went to the opening of Verdi’s opera Macbeth.  It was wonderful, of course. It was nice to dress up, and put makeup on. I was really worried about my cough, and dosed myself up as much as I dared, but in the event I only coughed a couple of times, and then not loudly or at length.  I had tried to book for us to have a meal beforehand, but the few local restaurants that were still open were fully booked. Plan B was to have a light meal (slice of a flan) before we left, and then get coffee and cake at the café that used to be at the front of the St James Theatre.

Silly me! I had worked out that we would park in the car park in Taranaki Street by the Hope Gibbons building; this was blocked off, however. JD turned into Dixon St, and to our surprise we found a carpark quite nearby. We made our way to the Theatre, where there were already many people – 30 minutes before the opera was due to start. But there were very few chairs; what there were, were already taken. The audience seemed to be mostly older people. Instead of wrestling with my phone, we went to the box office to get our tickets printed (as did many other people). Then I found a seat that was available, and asked JD to bring me coffee. Off he went – presumably with my phone. He eventually returned – with two plastic glasses of white wine. There was no barista, apparently, and no food – so it seemed. Hardly anyone was wearing a mask, although I was.

When we went in, I found that our seats were really near the back of the theatre – under the Grand Circle. Although the seats are sloped, a man with a large head sat in front of me, severely impeding my view.  The acoustics are fantastic, but I would have like to see the stage in more detail.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of background noise. This is an opera, people! Some respect is due. Creaking, noisy movement, talking, are all unwelcome. Even if the seats aren’t great, you don’t expect the background noise.

The show, of course, was wonderful. The music was superb. The singing was pretty good – I’d been listening to a recording of Maria Callas as Lady Macbeth;  the singers took a while to warm up, I thought; the singer with the Lady Macbeth role was a bit screechy; JD said she should just relax more, which I guess is good advice. She certainly makes a big sound. The male leads were all good, especially Macduff, who stole the scene in his major aria.  Personally, I didn’t think the chemistry between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth particularly convincing.  The opera stuck very closely to the plot of Shakespeare’s Scottish play, but the three witches were replaced, of course, by a large number of female chorus singers.

The lighting and colouring were impressive; it was very dark, black and white in the main, with lots of red. The figure of Macbeth in a blood-stained shirt kept appearing.  The changing backdrop was very effective, and provided an unusual visual as well as an aural spectacle.  The choral singing was pretty good, too, after they’d warmed up.  On an opening night things can be a little rough around the edges.  The view of what I assumed was a refugee centre was very effective (this represented Macduff’s flight); the representation of Birnam Wood, and bombing and desecration was effective. 

After the interval, JD wanted to go home! We had met two old friends of ours; she was achy all over, and he was about to take her home. I suggested we move – there were some unused seats a couple of rows ahead of us. We sat there, and had a much better view. The second half was even noisier – in different ways. There were lots of coughs, and lots of noise of people unwrapping sweets – Strepsils, perhaps?  Nevertheless, it was less crowded, we had a better view, and everyone on stage had warmed up. I enjoyed the second half  more than the first.

Afterwards, it was quite cold outside. I had worn my light puffer jacket over my pretty skirt and top – even so, it was very cold. We lamented that there seemed to be nowhere close one could go and drink coffee, eat cake, and discuss the opera.

I found that the Chaffers New World was open until 11, (it was now just after 10:30 pm), so we went there.  There weren’t really any nice cakes to buy, but JD bought some wine.

We came home and I had my coffee, although it was so late in the day.  While I had been quiet at the show, not blowing my nose at all, and hardly coughing, I started coughing in the car; unfortunately I kept coughing during the night, but I did sleep between bouts of coughing.  It was very worthwhile to go to the show.  These wonderful lines from the play were not in the opera, but I did think of them afterwards. I had memorised them when I was at college.

She should have died hearafter;

There would have been a time for such a word.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.   (Shakespeare’s Macbeth, 5.5)

It’s quite cold here, but today it’s sunny and fine; Wellington seems to have escaped the worst of the polar blast that has swept up the South Island.

That’s it for now, Slava Ukraini! Ngā mihi.

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