Saturday, 21 June 2008
Pilgrim, 46, seeks Delectable Mountains
Any excuse, I know, to post yet another shot of my own delectable mountains, the Maiella range of Italy's central Abruzzo. Yet they did come vividly to mind at a point in Thursday's dress rehearsal of Vaughan Williams's The Pilgrim's Progress. I'd already been shedding tears for almost as long as I once did in Act 3 of Meistersinger (Norman Bailey as Hans Sachs). Then along come the Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains, who tell our pilgrim 'here the air is very sweet and pleasant, here you shall hear continually the singing of birds and shall see every day flowers appear in the land.' The Maiella moment was stretched to breaking point when a bird (the flawless Sarah Tynan) piped up with 'the Lord's my Shepherd'. Evidently VW was not averse to lying around on hillsides, either, as this 1929 photograph reproduced in the Proms/all-about-VW issue of the BBC Music Magazine goes to show:
Yes, the opera is a masterpiece of its kind, so long as you succumb to VW's protracted spiritual mode (which I certainly did in the astonishing Passion sequence and the fourth act). What heightened my emotions that morning, though, was a chain of events determined to remind me of time passing. I was 46 on Sunday - consort says 'four to six' - and I, as well as he, have been constantly meeting with faces from the past. The Philharmonia production was staged by David Edwards, who directed us in the not-so-great Poisoned Kiss 21 years ago, and the same designer who'd made such a thing of beauty out of the Cendrillon production the year before that, Colin Mayes, was again at work on the costumes. Margaret Gibbs, our MD, was in the audience, too, and I went with a friend made in those far-off days, Isabel, having met up with another, Claire Suthren, at my birthday picnic in Chelsea Physic Garden on Sunday.
Eliding what guests unfamiliar with this wonder had to say about it, we now dub it 'the psychic garden of Eden'. It was, in short, a very happy afternoon, and I was more than happy to take posses of kids round and round the pocket-handkerchief garden to look for newts, dragonflies, the famous cork tree, venus flytraps and more echiums to complement the Glyndebourne display last week (see below). Here are Claire and her middle offspring, Rowan, admiring them:
A little more now, though, on Pilgrim. My VW discovery, like that of so many others this year, sweeps on apace. Although I usually have problems with Hickox and his rhythms, I thought he had real feeling for the work. The cast could not have been stronger: Roddy Williams hits the blog for the second time in recent months with a truly great performance, and a demeanour that tells you he has to be a nice person. There were three leading, if cathedral-y, tenors - Andrew Kennedy, James Gilchrist and Timothy Robinson - and a hair-raising cameo from Gidon Saks as Lord Hate-Good. Mezzo Andrea Baker, a singer I've not come across before, stood out with a voice and acting of real individuality. As for the production, David adopted the maxim of 'less is more', avoided tweeness with certain Indian garments and hit the nail on the head, so to speak, in the very painful Vanity Fair/Passion sequence (tough music here, as in the Sixth Symphony). The Times photographer won't release her shots yet, so in the meantime I took the liberty of a stage view at Sadler's Wells after the rehearsal, as Hickox and Roddy Williams were about to go over a few points. The plywood panels, complementing the rather stark interior of Sadler's Wells rather well, were an inspired idea.
It was a perfect June day. Afterwards, drying our eyes, Isabel and I walked away from the theatre and came across a hand-made sign advertising 'Dino's Italian bar and pizzeria - outside garden'. So, taking a risk on food (we only wanted a snack), we plumped for the garden. This place in St John Street, the windy road leading down eventually to Smithfield Meat Market, is a gem.
The owner has only recently extended his premises to run to grub - OK, so it's not gourmet cuisine, but our pizzas were just fine - and there's a yard with bright Italian murals where we sat being regaled - and quite happily - with Dean Martin and Italian 50s hits. And so from monte to mare (or almost).
What a great day out in the middle of my labours over the latest Radio 3 Building a Library. I've now listened to every note of my eighteen and a half versions of Rachmaninov's Op. 39 Etudes Tableaux; but I have to keep my mouth shut on the choices until 5 July, the broadcast date.