I finally caught up with Michael Haneke's Amour last night at the Curzon Soho, the first unquestionable masterpiece I've seen in the cinema since Des hommes et des dieux*. Let's first dismiss the Oscars nonsense, written up with a touch of saeva indignatio by the marvellous Matt Wolf: I haven't seen the other 'competitors' in the Best Actress category, but it was absurd that the unsparing, unsurpassable Emmanuelle Riva, just turned 86 when she arrived in Los Angeles, should walk away empty-handed. Actually she should have been up for a joint award with the equally remarkable Jean-Louis Trintignant (pictured with Riva above and below), her loving husband of the watchful gaze in the film. But who cares?
I can't add much of value to what my colleague Emma Simmonds and the first of her commentors write on The Arts Desk. The film is simply note-perfect (well, except in the very minor detail of the right arm placement above hands which we don't see on the piano keyboard - sometimes in the wrong area of the instrument - which is odd, since a very, very fine pianist, Alexandre Tharaud, appears in the film as himself). Having had the humiliating experience of watching Haneke's Hidden from the back row of the Gate Cinema Notting Hill, and not seeing the crucial detail in the tableau at the end, we sat in the front this time and were enveloped by every detail of the old couple's flat in which, after an unforgettable early scene in a concert hall, the film entirely takes place. I wept very nearly uncontrollably when Trintignant's carer tries to get his love to drink water - no more details needed - but came out feeling not exactly purged but clear-headed, almost serene.
Comparisons are odious and probably unnecessary, but I couldn't help wishing my idol Ingmar Bergman in his last film, Saraband, had asked as much of his senior couple, Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann (pictured; the Fårö post relevant to all this, one which as I think I've written before is closest to my heart, is here). Actually the scenes between them are very touching, but on a first viewing I found some of the old self-disgust packed into the father-son dialogues melodramatic and the handling of music in the film slightly clumsy alongside Haneke's unstinting truth and his less theatrical take on performing artists.
On the other hand, Amour is rather like those earlier Bergman masterpieces Wild Strawberries, Cries and Whispers and Autumn Sonata (Ingmar and Ingrid, no relations and no great friends, pictured above) in that it puts you through the mill and leads you by the hand whole and perhaps a little wiser out the other side. The difference is that you can argue about what you liked or didn't like in Bergman; whereas I should like to meet the individual who finds anything to challenge in Haneke's work of real, honest genius. How amazing that films like this, without any music other than that played in real time, should still be made.
I've been using the word 'flawless' quite a lot over the last couple of weeks: it's also applicable to two concerts I reviewed on The Arts Desk within six days of each other: a brilliantly programmed one by Edward Gardner conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and another which was simply electric all the way through - despite the challenges of Bloch's not-so-great Schelomo - thanks to conductor Thomas Dausgaard and a simply stunning cellist I've not heard before, Jian Wang (pictured below by Xu Bin).
Double-checked with BBC Radio 3 folk to make sure the cello wasn't miked; from where I was sitting in the hall, the sound was the biggest I've ever heard emanating from that instrument, but so refined. Here's the man I need in order to pay attention to every note of the Bach cello suites. What a happy coincidence with Bergman to find so inward and low-vibrato a performance of the Sarabande from the Second Suite (there was bags of vibrato, incidentally, in his hair-raisingly intense Schelomo, as you would expect, so it's a question of adapting the style).Both film-makers would surely be moved by this, though the Sarabande of Bergman's film is the one from the Fifth Suite.
*If we're including comic masterpieces, and why not, then Julie Delpy's Two Days in Paris qualifies. We soon caught up with the sequel, Two Days in New York, and laughed almost as helplessly in places, though it's such a loss that Delpy's mother died when the filmmaker/actress had already planned out the film, an event which made her change course. The enlarged role for the nightmare sister with an awful boyfriend in tow to some extent fills the gap.
That was a crazy one, Saturday 9 February, very much crowned by Mark Rylance's matinée anti-idol of a Richard III (production photos by Simon Annand). The day's trajectory became seriously complicated when Gillian Moore, Head of Classical Music at the Southbank Centre, rang up late the previous afternoon to ask if I could step in for Tom Service, who'd gone down with the norovirus, to give a talk in the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer. When? In 19 hours' time, at 12.30pm, for an hour. On what? Paris 1910-1930, the latest subject in The Rest is Noise festival of 20th century music.
Well, that I could do, basing it around what I knew of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes - quite a bit - and Prokofiev's viewpoint on the city as a resident in the 1920s. Gillian wanted me to include a fair amount of music from the concerts that were about to be performed. I replied that at such short notice I'd have to make do with what I'd got on the shelves. Fortunately I did have a copy of Antheil's Ballet Mécanique, and a CD of Josephine Baker, so that covered two essential requirements.
The preparation time, though, was short. I couldn't sacrifice a Friday night reunion with old Edinburgh University pals, two of whom had already arrived to stay from Washington and Cardiff. It turned out to be a wonderful evening, 15 round a big table at the Joy King Lau in Soho, including superstar Kerry Richardson of Bedlam Theatre Cabaret fame (now 'in telly') whom I hadn't seen for over 30 years. And a milestone in one way at least: the first time the six of us who spent a golden year together in 32 Dundas Street had sat down to eat together since 1982.
I got back predictably lateish, didn't sleep much and was up at 7am to start preparation. Half way through, the CD I'd started to burn with the extracts failed. And a second, a third, a fourth. A faulty pack. At 10am I pedalled furiously to Hammersmith, bought a decent set of CD-Rs and rushed back. Got to the Queen Elizabeth Hall at 12.10pm with 20 minutes to spare for a quick soundcheck. The Southbank team couldn't have been more soothing or friendly - and that includes the sound man, who must be the first of his ilk to say how much he'd enjoyed it at the end.
I had fun (and kinda glad Ben Larpent, Southbank Classical Music Programme Manager, documented the occasion, however weird I look with right arm flapping. Maybe I should have gone for Josephine's Banana Dance look). What a great audience - some seated in front of the stage, others eating at tables, including a jolly mother and baby.
Jude Kelly did the same relaxed, thoroughly professional job of introducing and questioning at the end I'd noted at James MacMillan's talk the previous week. I'd been asked to give some substantial excerpts, though obviously my playlist was quite different from the one Gillian had set up in The Guardian. I thought I'd keep a record of it here. To keep it short I won't list the recordings used.
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (1913) - introduction compared with Musorgsky's shepherd-boy pipings at the end of the Sorochintsy Fair interlude we know as the epilogue to Night on the Bare Mountain; the 5/4-6/4 tune for the Spring Rounds compared with the 11/4 finale of Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden; Procession of the Sage (polyrhythms) and Kissing the Earth (The Sage). (Image above: one of Roerich's designs for the original production).
Ravel: Ma mère l'oye - Beauty and the Beast, in the orchestral arrangement of 1910/12
Ravel: Rapsodie espagnole - Habanera, starting with four-hand piano version of 1895 and morphing into the orchestral arrangement of 1908
Stravinsky: Etude pour pianola (1917)
Antheil: Ballet Mécanique (1922-30 - opening (four-pianola version; see end of blog entry for later performance with film)
Satie: Parade (1917) - sequence with typewriter, pistol-shots and siren (photo: Picasso's designs for the American and French managers)
Milhaud: La création du monde (1923) - jazz fugue
Josephine Baker - 'J'ai deux amours' (1930)
Prokofiev: The Prodigal Son (1928-9) - final theme
A question or two, and then I had 20 minutes to whizz over the Thames to the matinée of Richard III. I've already begun to treat of this (in superlatives) in an earlier blog entry under that very funny photo of Rylance's king bearing a 'No Parking' traffic sign. I wish I'd caught the latest of his celebrated post-run speeches, but even at the penultimate show he managed to praise the first of the double-cast princes who were taking their leave and to say, with his usual tear-jerking sincerity, what a joy it had been for all of the actors to see so many kids in the audience.
There must have been more, of course, in the initial Globe run. I'd heard that MR took time to warm to his chameleonic impersonation after a family bereavement, but by the end of this Apollo Theatre transfer he was absolutely in his element from the very first speech. The voice has a greater range now - he can be bass-baritonal as well as his usual tenorial self. He had the extraordinary way of fixing on the stalls and on us in the upper circle so that you got the feeling he was looking directly at you. The laughing, and laughter-making, player of the first half became the deadly psychopath of the second, though, so that the roaring audience fell very silent.
The other joy of Tim Carroll's production, every inch as good as his Twelfth Night which I didn't dare see this time after fond memories of four Globe performances, was the teamwork. Maybe Johnny Flynn as Lady Anne was vocally a little weak, but the other 'ladies' couldn't have been better. James Garnon, whose star quality first shone at the Globe in Carroll's otherwise disappointing Dido, Queen of Carthage and flamed as James I in Brenton's Anne Boleyn, metamorphosed from a dignified Duchess of York into a plausible, noble successor to the throne at the end. Finest of all was Sam Barnett's Queen Elizabeth.
With Barnett and Rylance, the spat between bereaved mother and child-murderer was hair-raising: I'd never thought of it as one of the great scenes in Shakespeare, but I do now. The battle stuff that followed can drag; never for a moment here, with the rivals in their tents deftly intercut and the ghosts of the slain gathering round Richmond to despatch York.
I came out wishing that after all I could stay on and see the same company + S Fry (not a draw for me personally after earlier, marvellous Malvolios) in the Twelfth Night production I knew and loved so well. But Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky beckoned over at the Barbican, with live accompaniment from the BBC Symphony Orchestra under a meticulously synchronising Martyn Brabbins pretext for The Arts Desk review. I've seen this version three times live now, and the film many more, and I seem to have got past the stage of scoffing at the propagandist black-and-white of Nevsky as compared to the more nuanced Ivan the Terrible.
On this occasion I simply admired the actors' superb handling of their types. Nikolay Cherkassov's prince is so handsome and stirring, of course, but it was marvellous to hear the audience laughing so readily at Nikolay Okhlopkov's buffoon. A rich ending to a teeming Saturday; and on Sunday I was rescued from having to review Novello's Gay's the Word when I arrived at Barons' Court to find the District Line inoperative and the Piccadilly Line recently closed by a 'person under a train' - and that in itself was understandable on a cold, deluging February afternoon.
Grand finale - only connect: Eisenstein thought Fernand Léger's 1924 film to accompany Antheil's Ballet Mécanique was 'one of the true masterpieces of cinema'. I'm not sure how well it synchs with the music, which only joined it in the 1990s (and in the later version where the pianos are all but drowned out by the percussion and 'special effects'). But it's quite something to have both together.
There's a fabulous YouTube clip put up on The Arts Desk by my art-critic colleague Fisun Güner (I'll reproduce it at the end). It shows John Cage performing his Water Walk as part of an American TV game show. The smug, isn't-he-a-naughty-boy presenter quotes a New York Herald Tribune review of Cage's latest LP as showing 'a surprising degree of charm and affability'.
And that is exactly what made me smile, if not laugh outright, as I strolled around the Barbican' stunning new exhibition The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns. Marcel Duchamp, of course, is the leader and shaper, cueing the 1950s experiments of those great Americans as early as 1913. Technically brilliant and dynamic as his two early "portraits", Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2)
of 1912 certainly are, you wouldn't have expected what eventually resulted before Duchamp 'lost all interest' in the project in 1923: The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors Even, aka The Large Glass illustrated up top. More comprehensible to me are the playful promptings of his first 'Readymades' which makes you realise how early conceptual art came into the picture. The Bicycle Wheel (on a stool; the Barbican has a reproduction), alsoof 1912, came about simply because Duchamp 'just liked the idea of having a bicycle wheel in my studio'. Of the New York phase he wrote of 'relating notions of aesthetic worth to a decision of the intellect and not to a facility or cleverness of the hand, which I have protested against in respect of so many artists of my generation'.
If that sounds too sober, then let's go straight to my favourite, the 'assisted Readymade' Why Not Sneeze, rRose Sélavy? of 1921. The lovely rRose became Duchamp's drag alter ego, as the charming photo above by Man Ray of 'La Belle Haleine' shows. The proper moniker is a play on the universal truth 'Eros, c'est la vie'.
Quite what rRose has to do with the piece in question is uncertain. It's a metal birdcage full of what look like sugarcubes actually made of marble, with a cuttle bone and a thermometer penetrating the bars.
In the late 1950s, Robert Rauschenberg visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I believe in the company of his lover Jasper Johns, and so admired the artefact that he tried to nick a couple of cubes. The guard stopped him with 'Don’t you know you’re not supposed to touch that crap?'
These fascinating artists collaborated with the great Merce Cunningham and John Cage. There's an exuberant 1954 'assisted Readymade' kind of a design by Rauschenberg for Cunningham's Minutiae.
Against a background which may include the random chimings of a self-playing grand piano intoning a Satie-like piece by Cage, several of the Bride-linked Cunningham dance pieces are re-enacted on the exhibition's stage several times a week. I was lucky to catch one performance on Thursday evening.
All four Americans owed so much to Duchamp, sometimes without knowing it: Cage, using the hexagrams of the I Ching, the ancient Chinese Book of Changes for his musical 'chance operations', only later found out that Duchamp had 'composed' his own chance pieces long before in a family game extracting notes from a hat. Below: Cage preparing a piano in 1964.
Such connections make this an endless hall of mirrors, metaphorically speaking, though the show is brilliantly designed by Philippe Parreno and fits the Barbican spaces both downstairs and up perfectly*.
I had no idea this was such a great play: funny, lucid, chilling, even profound. Reading it was a revelation; seeing it I found it less uproarious, but the show was pacy and imaginative all the same. In its thesis of a sane seeming-mad protagonist against a faceless majority, it has something in common with Giraudoux's lesser entertainment The Madwoman of Chaillot; so it was a happy coincidence that I'd seen, liked and review-raved about Jerry Herman's long-buried musical on the subject, Dear World, the previous evening. How I love its hit songs and its ingenious musical-theatre trio for the old-timers, played here by Annabel Leventon, the deservedly legendary Betty Buckley and the outrageously funny Rebecca Lock (photo by Eric Richmond).
The many waltz-songs in this show, I reckon, are as strong as those in Sondheim's A Little Night Music. While we wait with not a little trepidation for Liza Minnelli's appearance at the Southbank's The Rest is Noise festival this coming Friday, let's see and hear her singular delivery of Countess Amelia's 'I don't want to know'. This was 1986, and Liza was still in fabulous form.
As for the Barbican, there are many more fantastical treats in store, and I'll certainly be dropping in on the exhibition again. For filmed entertainment, in the meantime, I'll leave you with naughty John performing his Water Walk.
*As Sue reminds me in her comment, the exhibition originated with the above-mentioned Philadelphia Museum of Art, so it's all the more impressive how well it must have been tailored to suit the Barbican Gallery's tricky space.
Exhibition image credits:
Marcel Duchamp The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1991-92 (replica of 1915-23 original) Moderna Museet, Stockholm
They do these kind of events very well, the Germans, and returning to the ambassador's residence was bound to be a pleasure. Especially as the programme had been arranged by the organisers of the Wagner 200 events this year, Mark Eynon and top Wagner expert Barry Millington (my former editor at the BBC Music Magazine, also the one who was kind enough to kickstart my Prokofiev book, pictured above with Sue Bullock and her husband Richard Berkeley-Steele. Georg Boomgaarden, the genial German ambassador, is seen between two of the heads).
What kind of Wagner fare can you serve up in an intimate space? They managed a good mix. La (or should that be Die?) Bullock launched stylishly with top pianist Llŷr Williams in the Tannhäuser greeting, 'Dich, teure Halle'. Janice Watson sang two of the Wesendonck Lieder (actually the two I find least interesting, but they were well done all the same). Here are the four artists in one of two official photos; the shots of the trio at the top and of Sir John Tomlinson in conversation with Barry are mine.
The coup was to bring the Bullock-Berkeley-Steeles together in the Dawn Duet from Götterdämmerung. Williams somehow managed to conjure an orchestra in the sunrise, and in came the two, each standing naturally and lovingly while the other sang. I'd forgotten what point SB brings to the German text, all the better in a small room. She's a fabulous recitalist: her Crear Classics disc of the Wesendoncks, Britten's The Poet's Echo and Prokofiev's Five Akhmatova Poems with contrasting flavours of Strauss, Quilter and Rorem is outstanding (it was our Vocal/Choral disc of the month in the BBC Music Magazine's March 2007 issue) .
To round off the little homage, Williams made effortless work of the Tristan Liebestod in Liszt's insane transcription (all those tremolos!). Eynon gave a felicitous speech, and didn't need to sell the highlights of the forthcoming festival to me: I'll be going to Kings Place to hear Watson's song recital and Williams's presentation of Wagner piano pieces alongside other Liszt transcriptions.
That greatest Wotan of the 1990s, Sir John Tomlinson, was there in the audience at the ambassador's residence, wrapped up in the music; he'll be presenting a read-through of the entire Ring libretto in the British Library on 9 June (date now confirmed thanks to Barry's message below). Dame Gwyneth, alas, couldn't make it, though she'll be masterclassing as part of the festival; now there's a diva I want to meet. The programme of events so far confirmed is on the Wagner 200 website here. Millington and SJT discussing plans below.
The whole event was entirely genial; the ambassador (to the right of Berkeley-Steele, ie to his left, in the photo below) and his wife are very cultured folk - not always the case in that world - and J likes them very much indeed. Sue Bullock has always struck me as completely natural in person (we first met her at pianist Phillip Thomas's 50th birthday party). I managed to have a chat with RBS about Phyllida Lloyd's English National Opera production of Götterdämmerung in which he sang Siegfried: absolutely the best staging of that particular opera I've ever seen, even if I had my doubts about the others (good in parts). Ardent Wagnerians apparently felt the same - one went to see it six times - and we all lament the fact the cycle never had another chance.
Meanwhile, roll on the festivities in the round. My priority is to get to see Die Feen as done in concert by Chelsea Opera, though sadly a Sussex Das Liebesverbot later in the year has bitten the dust. Collectors can tick off a few gaps in the Wagner list, though to be honest there aren't that many worth bothering about.
The following Monday, the Italians held a parallel tribute to Verdi at their ambassador's very beautiful residence in Berkeley Square. This turned out to be an actor reading excerpts from Verdi's letters and memoirs translated by Gaia Servadio and Royal Opera chorus master Renato Balsadonna playing excerpts from Nabucco, La Traviata, Aida and Otello on the piano. Interesting enough, butwe missed la voce cantata.
The title is the first line of Sarastro's simple but sublime aria of consolation to Pamina, who's just been terrorised by a hellbent mama, in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. William Mann paraphrases the sentiments very beautifully in his The Operas of Mozart: 'We do not know revenge in this holy place. If someone falls, he is raised up by love and friendship to better things. Traitors cannot survive when all people love one another and treachery is forgiven. Anybody who does not appreciate this is unworthy to be a human being'.
Mann adds: 'this two-stanza strophic song is essentially the creed of Sarastro's Temple and of the Freemasonry which Mozart and Schikaneder [his librettist, manager of Vienna's Theater auf der Wieden where The Magic Flute opened in 1791 and the first Papageno] embraced'. Mozart is on the far right, it seems fairly clear, of the below painting of the Viennese lodge Zur neugekrönte Hoffnung, 'Of new-crowned hope'.' It is, I hope,' Mann adds, 'the basic creed of everybody, no matter what ethical faith they subscribe to.' And therein lies the noble essence of what Freemasonry originally was, and what it still purports to be: 'a craft, a personal vocation of benevolent moral growth, whose principles are conveyed through imagery connected to building'.
Those words are from Tim Dedopulos's The Secret World of the Freemasons, an excellent if uncritical introduction, though misleadingly titled; there are no secrets other than the password or gesture used to identify members of one lodge to another,l and since Mozart's time the rituals have all been divulged in print. I found sentences like that useful in trying to understand the fundamental benigness of a movement which is neither a cult nor a religion in itself. What a pity Freemasonry has become a byword for nepotism and ganging-up within interconnected professional movements like the police and the law when - Dedopulos again - 'the society's oaths and obligations specifically forbid members from using the organisation in this way'. There is, alas, plenty of evidence to prove that they do.
One thing's for sure - the lodges in this country, each with its independent rules and rituals, have made every effort in recent years to open their doors to the public; we saw an early example on a King's Lynn Architecture Open Day some years ago. Freemasons' Hall in London offers free guided tours of surprising frequency throughout the week. My Opera in Focus class at the City Lit was obliged to take the building up on this offer as we've been studying Zauberflöte for the past six weeks - and our classroom in Keeley Street backs on to the grand edifice. Indeed, in the early days of the move to our new quarters, eggs were thrown from the Freemasons' Hall onto the windows of a very active music class. Truth, not myth.
We had an excellent guide, even if he fended off some of our more detailed questions. I didn't get much back from asking about the application of the rule of three, which is so important throughout the opera and which dominates the hierarchy of the path to enlightenment, another aspect of Freemasonry which I find rather offputting (the hierarchy, not the enlightenment). Our guide, to my surprise, positively encouraged photos, so they punctuate this entry.
The present building, inside and out, is a monumental tribute to Art Deco, if such a paradox is possible. It was built between 1927 and 1933 to the designs of H. V. Ashley and F. Winton Ashley as headquarters for the United Grand Lodge, itself formed in 1717 (two other lodges previously stood on the site, depicted above). Starting at the superbly laid out, very substantial library and museum, which we were able to browse at our leisure after the tour, we passed through a portrait gallery of notable Grand Masters, including Edward VII looking very splendid in his regalia, and the current incumbent, the Duke of Kent (after whom, it seems, no royals will take up the gauntlet). George IV's especially large masonic throne dominates the room.
Thence down a long processional corridor famous for its use in that engrossing if hokumy BBC series Spooks (the outside of the building will be especially familiar to fans) and recently hired out for the Muppets (!). Its panels are fashioned from a now-extinct mahogany.
Two vestibules to the Grand Temple include a splendid symmetrical set of creation windows.
God is known here as the Great Architect - hence the compasses - to unite all religions; the only qualification for aspiring to join the brotherhood (or sisterhood if you apply to the handful of female or mixed lodges in the UK) is belief in a higher power. Freemasonry is by no means incompatible with any religious practice, merely a moral and practical-living adjunct to it. Lodges around the world use as their Volume of Sacred Law that of whichever happens to be the prevailing religion - so, the Bible, the Koran, the Vedas and so on. At the end of the vestibules is the war memorial by Walter Gilbert, a bronze casket with gold figures, shaped like a barque representing the ultimate journey, more fine stained glass work commemorating the fallen of the Great War.
Massive bronze doors, again designed by Gilbert, open at the touch of a finger. The knocker makes an awe-inspiring sound and could summon masons from any part of the vast building. Gilbert's symbology here is essential to Freemasonry's central allegory of Solomon's temple-building in Jerusalem, a triumph of teamwork between Jews and Phoenicians (none of this in Mozart; and nothing of the Isis-Osiris analogies in the Hall, that I saw, at any rate; though Osiris's death and rebirth are analogous to the ritual of master mason Hiram Abiff in the biblical borrowing). I took this detail from the hall side of the doors, because it marries the wartime preoccupations of Kenneth Branagh's filmed Flute - more anon - with the symbol of silence (hands to lips), sacrifice and (not depicted) wisdom (man holding serpent), prudence, work, loyalty and hope.
I've been inside the Grand Temple before, for a performance of The Gondoliers featuring our now holy friend Father Andrew Hammond as Don Alhambra del Bolero (inquisitionally prophetic?). I don't think I spent much time then taking in the deco mosaics around the starry ceiling. At the east end above the three master chairs Ionic columns - the two columns of Solomon's temple are always crucial - flank Jacob's Ladder, the symbols of Faith, Hope and Love. Solomon stands on the left, King Hiram of Phoenicia, the temple builder, to the right. For some reason I didn't catch this one, but here are the chairs.
There's a fine organ above them on the north apse wall.
At the west end, the most Flute-y design has Doric columns, Euclid, his 47th problem - the symbol carried by an ex Lodge Master - and Pythagoras. The moon above is surrounded with the wisdom-embodying serpent again (wonder why Tamino has to slay one at the start of the opera).
To the south, Corinthian columns are flanked by an alarmingly Phaeton-like Elijah heading heavenwards in his chariot; above are the all-seeing eye and the five-sided star (many masonic symbols are pentacles, sometimes interlaced triangles).
To the north are composite columns and within them a bit of more mundane heraldry: the arms of the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn. St George and the Dragon are on either side. Celestial and earthly globes surmount the pillars; beneath them are two blocks of stone, unfashioned and fashioned to represent the stages of aspiring to Freemasonry.
The museum has thousands of precious artefacts including attractive 18th and 19th century pottery covered in masonic symbols, masters' thrones, representations of Solomon's temple and reams of banners. This one's interesting in showing the merger of Antients and Moderns; I'm curious that one of them has the symbols of the Evangelists.
I didn't photograph in the museum other than to ask special permission just to snap this 18th century floorcloth as our Sophie is, of course, one of the world's leading specialists in the pre-lino art, and this must be one of the earlier specimens.
We come to the end of our City Lit Flute journey on Monday, after a glorious time floating even more than I can remember on the miraculous cloud of Mozart's incessant inspiration. How wonderful it has been to revisit the great recordings - Marriner with Kiri and Araiza, Mackerras, Beecham, the second Solti which I have now come to love especially for Ruth Ziesak's Pamina - and to watch scenes from three different productions on DVD: Glyndebourne 1978 for Hockney's designs, the core Bergman film which remains for me the best of all cinematic opera and a wary step towards Kenneth Branagh's 2006 fantasy.
It turned out to be highly imaginative, not always tallying with the musical vision - surely the opening scenes on the battlefield are too grim for the initial lightness of touch - but always full of bright ideas and respect for the full score. Joseph Kaiser is such a handsome and vocally excellent Tamino; apparently Branagh discovered him singing the First Armed Man when he went to see René Pape in an American production. Here's Kaiser as Tamino with the Papageno of Benjamin Jay Davis on the left.
While Davis doesn't make a huge impression and Amy Carson's Pamina is utterly wet and weedy - not at all the trial-leader heroine Mozart and Schikaneder made her become - Pape is a total star. You just have to not mind the thickly accented English (the work is sung in Stephen Fry's not wholly successful translation and his adaptation of very limited dialogue). This is as good a Sarastro as we'll ever hear or see, matching even mighty Kurt Moll for evenness throughout the range, and youthful-natural to boot. The orchestral playing - European Chamber Orchestra under a pragmatic James Conlon - is superb. The still is of Pape with Thomas Randle's against-the-grain Monostatos - and no, the master doesn't have the servant bastinadoed but simply demotes him.
As I hinted above, Branagh's fantasy recreation of a trenches/field hospital scenario may well have taken its cue from the Freemasons' Hall memorial. It mostly works, especially for the trials of fire and water. But again Bergman is unsurpassably moving in this sequence*. The only image of that I could find is on the Criterion DVD cover which I used when I was discussing the 'making of...' film - though amazingly the whole movie is up in quite a good print on YouTube here.
The difference between the two film styles - and it's great that they are so different - is that Bergman, as a theatre director, always values the close-up on the human face, while Branagh succumbs to more recent filmic restlessness by swamping his characters with landscapes, action and the occasional bit of large-scale CGI. But if that brings in a new audience, great. And it's about to open in America, where apparently it hasn't ever been on general release. I'm so glad I didn't write it off unseen. To conclude where we began, here's the great Pape in our lead aria auf Deutsch at the Metropolitan Opera in 1996.
*Having just wound up the opera today (18/1), before looking forward to offshoots in Goethe, Strauss and Hofmannsthal's Die Frau ohne Schatten and Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage, I found myself choked with tears from the last Bergman sequence (we ran the best of all Papageno-Papagena courtships and the proper final scenes together, though Bergman turns the Act 2 finale upside down with some pretty strange reordering). For me, it's still the most bewitching and happy opera film ever made.
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