Saturday 12 July 2008

Staying alive till the end of the show

Mercifully weight-free, though not weightless, particularly after imbibing 11.0 units of alcohol in the course of yesterday; 1,303 drinking days left till Armageddon; South Kensington.

We were woken very early by some total arse crashing around in the room upstairs. We could only feel awe that a single human being could make so much noise without the aid of a Don Partridge one man band kit. After this indifferent start, things continued on their downhill trajectory when we wandered across St James’s Park to the tube station and found it closed for the weekend, along with all of the Circle and most of the District Line, with the helpful advice to “use an alternative route”. We did. It was black with a yellow light on the front. What those on slightly tighter budgets were supposed to do remains a total mystery to me.

We alighted in South Kensington at the V&A, which has long been one of the LTCB’s favourite places on the planet. This is not one of those areas in which we have been pleasantly surprised by our compatibility, since while she finds its variety endlessly fascinating I have always considered it a maddening hotchpotch, with far too much to take in, making it impossible to enjoy.

The LTCB particularly wanted to see an exhibition about the Supremes, featuring costumes lent by Mary Wilson. My ignorance of the subject is such that I had been wondering what had inspired Lady Wilson of Rievaulx to start collecting the things, but I quickly twigged that this was another person of the same name who had been one of the original members of the group. I do remember seeing them on Top of the Pops in their heyday but they were never among my favourites. In fact, I had to peer at the old 45s in the display cases to remind myself what exactly they were famous for. There was a great deal of useful background material about the migration of blacks from the South to the northern industrial cities like Detroit and Chicago, then about the civil rights movement. As I was looking at a series of film clips of Martin Luther King, I remarked to the LTCB that I was trying really hard to feel more involved in the whole thing. She nodded approvingly, until I told her that I was doing so by attempting to replicate the feelings of a footsore white person: specifically the one who must have been really peeved when the uppity Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on that Alabama bus. Her look suggested that this was a line of thought it would be prudent of me to drop immediately, if not sooner.

After this we drifted round some costume galleries then traipsed through the jewellery collection (eyes front, almost breaking into a sprint) to another exhibition about theatre design. After which, thank the Lord, it was time for another taxi ride, a refreshing pint of beer and a delicious lunch. I had wheedled and pleaded for a change of plan so that we could revisit the Lebanese restaurant I had enjoyed so much when we were last in London together. And, predictably enough, it was nothing like as enjoyable the second time around. It also gave me chronic indigestion which persisted for the best part of 24 hours.

This evening we returned to the Royal Opera House to see The Marriage of Figaro. We found a taxi easily and quickly, which was good, and the driver tried to take the sensible route via St James’s Square, which was better, but then found that the bastards had closed his planned exit as part of a water mains replacement programme which seems to have required every other street in the West End to be dug up simultaneously. Not that there is any sign of anyone working in the resulting holes. So we ended up in the bloody queue in the Mall again, which made me a bit tetchy. Various other trivial annoyances piled tetchiness upon tetchiness, making the LTCB progressively sadder. I think she may be beginning to realize what other people mean when they ask her if she has grasped what I am Really Like. This, in turn, will no doubt lead her to a belated appreciation of why I am still single after all these years. Something I had been very much hoping to avoid.

I had not seen this David McVicar interpretation of Figaro when it was first performed in 2006, perhaps because I see from my diary that I went to three other productions that year: by Opera North, Grange Park Opera at Nevill Holt, and ENO. It is my favourite opera, and almost certainly the greatest opera ever written, but one has to draw the line somewhere. It proved a very handsome piece, though the final act seemed to me to lose its way when the trees descended to create the gardens inside the castle, with furniture still scattered around. The cast were all of a high standard and I felt overall that it was as good a performance of Figaro as I have ever seen. The applause at the end was loud and sustained, with the biggest burst reserved for Sir Charles Mackerras, nearly 82, when he toddled on in his white tie and black blouson to a heartfelt “Ah, bless him!” from the LTCB, to which she added, in a caring sort of way, “He deserved that just for staying alive till the end of the show.” There have been many other operas over the years when I felt that I deserved a medal for doing so myself, but luckily this was most definitely not amongst them.

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