Last night I saw Verdi’s Macbeth at Glyndebourne. Fabulous music, fabulous singing, horrendous set (a white polystyrene castle with tourquoise mortar!). The set – even though dreadful – was however painted superbly!
I almost had a religious experience but for the little aesthete who lives beside my left ear (wearing a bow tie and big glasses) who kept talking to me about the proper use of tourquoise.
But I did have one in the shop in the interval. There I came upon a series of books on Sussex produced by a new imprint: Snake River Press. They are the sort of books you want to own regardless of the content – with impeccable design, woodcuts and so on. The little man with the bow tie was suddenly relieved that taste was still alive and well in this hallowed sanctuary of the arts. Have a look at their website – just as an example of how good books really can be. They even do clever things like offering a blank notebook made in the same design, a magazine and so on. The head honcho of the press is an eccentric character called Peter Bridgewater who’s written one of the titles…
Back to opera! Here are some facts that will fascinate and thrill you:
Druids have a minor but nevertheless significant role in the history of the world’s oldest profession: opera
1. Two of the world’s greatest opera singers owe a debt of gratitude (in however round about a way) to the Druids. Their careers were triggered by these august fellows: Maria Callas got her big break playing the Druid priestess Norma in Bellini’s opera of that name. Her rendition of the hymn to the moon ‘Casta Diva’ is still one of many opera lovers’ favourite arias. Pavarotti had no intention of becoming an opera singer until as a young man he traveled with his choir to the Welsh Eisteddfod (presided over by the Druids). They won a prize, and he was inspired to begin his career.
2. The longest running opera ever to be performed in Britain featured the Druids heavily. It was Rutland Boughton’s ‘The Immortal Hour’. The poor man started the very first Glastonbury Festival on the day the First World War began… it wasn’t a success – but his opera was.
3. Michael Tippett’s opera ‘The Midsummer Marriage’ has a deeply Druidic and Tantric theme. I’ve written an essay about this. It’s got some beautiful photos from the Chicago Lyric’s production and other illustrations.
4. A Druidic almost-opera has just been born! The dazzling harp geniuses Myrddhin and Zil from Brittany have teamed up with the ‘electro-shaman’ Pascal Lamour in Brittany to create what is described as ‘la troisième (approche) – Magic Chaudron- est proche d’un Opéra (non-dramatique) par les domaines qu’elle touche : musique, chant, danse, récit, théâtre… ce que l’on pourrait appeler un “Opéra Druidique”.’ Here is a photo from the first performance courtesy of Michel Audinet. And you can hear a sample (‘Elfin’) here.