Sunday 22 September 2013

Don't kill Lulu

Men have been doing it since 1894, when Frank Wedekind first shocked the world with his Lulu play(s) about an amoral child-woman abused by men and doing what she can - which turns out not to be much - to get her own back. At least Wedekind had the half-decency to wonder whether (spoiler alert) Jack the Ripper should casually slaughter Lulu's lesbian admirer Countess Geschwitz on the way out of her garret; Geschwitz did survive in Christof Loy's mesmerising, minimalist Royal Opera production of Berg's operatic version.

Now a woman who ought to know better joins the persecution. Composer Olga Neuwirth (second spoiler, if you're really determined to go see her version) has her Lulu shot by ALL the men in her life. But much, much worse, in American Lulu, a 'version' unwisely taken on by director John Fulljames and a committed company now playing at the Young Vic, Neuwirth murders her protagonist with the most inept, incoherent replacement imaginable for the last act Berg, in his mostly compassionate character-study, failed to complete.

Neuwirth (pictured above; happy to give the credit, unsupplied on my source) writes that she finds the opera's ending, as completed by Friederich Cerha and accepted these days by most opera houses, unsatisfactory. But it's Wedekind's as well as Berg's, and of course the symmetry is essential: Lulu's earlier 'victims' all return in different guises as her clients, and Dr Schön, the only man she says she ever loved, is 'Jack'. In any case, about 12 minutes of the music, including the crucial Liebestod, is already there in Berg's Lulu-Suite.

But no, Neuwirth, having slashed and burned the first two acts to virtual incoherence - the audience was already leaving the theatre in droves midway through the performance I saw - writes her own jangly, vocally awkward and high-lying muzak for all but a bar or two of an intolerable last third (we're held captive for an intervalless hour and forty minutes, though that didn't stop the escapees). In her favour are the Morton Wender organ arrangements of the jazz music and the central, palindromic interlude - but the animation narrative to that, by the usually excellent Finn Ross, is incomprehensible. Unfortunately Neuwirth's own libretto for the final scenes is the most risibly pretentious as well as unclear I think I've ever come across; pity Jacqui Dankworth as the Geschwitz character, stuck to a mike and delivering banal platitudes in a last-ditch attempt for her character to make any kind of impact.

The transfer to the deep south in the Fifties and Sixties as well as New York in the Seventies - will she overcome? - would probably work fine in a production of the real opera; here the interpolated Martin Luther King and June Jordan texts say nothing about what kind of character, or idea, Lulu is. Exploited she may have been, but she ends up an unsympathetic bitch caught in nebulous situations. The end is an awful long time in coming, but it can't come too soon.

This is all a terrible shame for a singer who acts her socks off and would clearly make an excellent Lulu in 'proper Berg', American soprano Angel Blue. She's the main reason why I bother to write about a mostly wretched evening at all (she's pictured throughout here by Simon Annand for the Young Vic). Blue's Lulu is various, compelling and - most important - she can deliver all the high-wire, coloratura-y stuff, or at least what's left of it in Neuwirth's disembowelment. I felt deeply sorry for her lying there as rapid exits were made by at  least a quarter of the audience ( I might suggest at least part of this was due to unfamiliarity with Berg's tough musical language, familiar as it is to so many of us now, on the part of Young Vic regulars). She deserves much better and, in any case, her future is bright.

Among the men, the excellent Paul Curievici works hard and convincingly as the Photographer (Berg's Painter, pictured with Blue's Lulu up top), and Robert Winslade Anderson  makes a sleazy and by no means decrepit new character, Clarence, out of Wedekind/Berg's Schigolch. The players of the reduced orchestra - the London Sinfonietta, who ought to be good - lack nuance and phrasing; the volume in the small space is relentless. I won't name the conductor, because I know him and like him. Anyway, I sat with interest through what remained of the Bergian torso (no arms either). Towards the end, though, I and my companion, Alexandra Coghlan who's written a very flavoursome review of the show for The Arts Desk*, were screaming for release.

Let's turn, then, to a happier Muse. Anyone who's been reading this blog for long knows how I worship at the shrine of the unique Anne Schwanewilms. At last, in June, I got to hear her ideal Marschallin in Dresden, and she was back here the Monday before last to give a BBC Lunchtime Recital at the Wigmore Hall. I reviewed it for The Arts Desk, and the Schumann Op. 39 Liederkreis knocked me for six. It's now definitively my favourite of all song-cycles (or song groups, if you prefer). I ordered up the Capriccio CD double quick, and tried to play the Schumann half while attending to administrative stuff a couple of days ago.

It's a measure of how Schwanewilms has blossomed from just an otherworldly-beautiful voice to an utterly compelling interpreter that I couldn't just pay half-attention. Every note, every colour demands full focus. The scary wood and castle narratives are searing and 'Wehmut', which Prokofiev adapted with profound significance in the slow movement of his Seventh Piano Sonata, pierces the soul. For me, this is one of the greatest of all Lieder, and Schwanwilms' performance the track I'd now single out for anyone who wants to understand the art in three minutes.

Many of the Wolf songs on the disc were new to me. How strange, unpredictable and unorthodox many are. I must say I don't find the more anguished ones exactly sympathetic or quite human, with the exception of 'Das verlassene Mägdlein' - ach, the pain our soprano brings to 'Träne auf Träne' - but Schwanewilms makes the most of their oddities. Like Schumann, with the added experience of Wagnerian chromaticism backing him up, Wolf can cloud a happy picture so subtly: 'Im Frühling' is the most complex response to spring I know, and what a great scena this makes for Schwanewilms.

I think I like Wolf best when he gives this mesmerising singer the cue to spin a longer line, as in the harmonic miracles of 'Gesang Weylas' and the bright-to-dark 'Verborgenheit'. At any rate, I feel a Wolf obsession coming on: over to Fischer-Dieskau soonest.

Schwanewilms' perfectly good pianist, Manuel Lange, seems rather too ordinary for her. The partners we've seen her with here - Charles Spencer and now Roger Vignoles - seemed much more like equals in strange adventures. A shame, in the meantime, that there's no complete single Wolf or Schumann song from Schwanewilms on YouTube. What I did find is this interview, introduced in English but not thereafter subtitled. It includes, piecemeal, the performances of Wolf's 'Auf einer Wanderung' and 'Das verlassene Mägdlein'.

And here's some wonderful news: sorry as I am that fine Lieder singer Angelika Kirchschlager has had to withdraw from this coming Thursday's Wigmore recital, it's fabulous that Schwanewilms, with Spencer, will take her place. Not sure how much of the programme I can catch given that I have to be at a short concert to inaugurate the Barbican/Guildhall School of Music and Drama's Milton Court; Debussy, Strauss and Wolf may be casualites, but I'm assuming Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder will be the last songs on the programme, and I wouldn't miss what Schwanewilms makes of them for the world.

Coda should belong to a third soprano of the front rank, gifted Anna Prohaska, singing Lied der Lulu from Berg's suite under Abbado. I was lucky enough to catch this most potent of teams at the Lucerne Easter Festival several years ago, when the orchestra was not the Berlin Phil, as here, but the Simón Bolívar [no longer] Youth Orchestra. It was their first acquaintance with Berg, and could the touch have been more incandescent than Abbado's? He creates his sound no matter who he conducts. So it was with the Venezuelans, and so it is here with the Berliners. Text of Lulu's Credo as applied to Doctor Schön follows.

Although for my sake a man may kill himself or kill others, my value still remains what it was. You know the reason why you wanted to be my husband, and I know my reasons for hoping we should be married. You let your best friends be cheated by what you made me, yet you can't consider yourself caught in your own deception. Just as you've given me the evening of your life, so you've had my whole youth in exchange. I've never sought in my life to appear other than the image which has been created of me. And no-one has ever taken me for anything other than what I am.

*Poor Alexandra - what a week she's had of it. Hard to tell which she disliked more, this - probably, given the single star - the Grandage A Midsummer Night's Dream or the oldies' Much Ado About Nothing. Add into the mix Matt Wolf's hilarious review of the film Diana, and it's been a week of serious thumbs-downing on The Arts Desk. Except from me for Mitsuko and young maestro Robin on Thursday.

Thursday 19 September 2013

Around Njupeskär

We've been tramping relative flatlands more recently, though the terrain of our Norfolk churches chronicle which will still take me some time to assemble did lead us into modest valleys. Nothing, of course, compared to the canyon of  the Njupeskär waterfall and the river Njupån in Sweden's Fulufjället National Park, not far from the Norwegian border in what I suppose, technically speaking, is still Dalarna. Visions of our walk up to and above the waterfall kept me sane during nearly two hours of hideous, if painless, root canal treatment on Wednesday.

This is Sweden's highest cascade, topping 93 metres with a freefall of 70. It flows from the Rörsjo lakes on the c.900m high mountain plateau, which with its 900 million year old sandstone and diabase has been eroded for the past 200 million and kept more or less its current shape for 60 million. These are figures I can't really get my head around; one needs a book like Christopher Potter's You Are Here to put it all into perspective. Nor do I quite understand the principle of 'retrogressive erosion', but that's why we have the waterfall, its boulders and its canyon.

The first two kilometres from the visitors' centre, with its excellent Naturum, are accomplished by even the most timid or toddler-encumbered of visitors and take you past 400 year old larches and sparkling lakelets

along a boardwark near to the base of the waterfall. The sun only hits the cascades for a couple of early morning hours in midsummer.

Jamie coped with the spray and the boulders more nimbly than I did, so has the best shots close up.

We then retraced some of our steps and climbed towards Rörsjöarna

with the views north-east opening up all the time and the boulders covered with bright-green map lichen.

Clouds were rolling in and the wind strengthening, so we stopped for our packed lunch in a sheltered nest of rocks before pressing on for the plateau (third of Jamie's four pics).

J was content to sit and survey

while I clambered nearer to the upper falls

and Jamie once again got closer than the rest of us to view the cascade proper from above.

The Fulufjälllet plateau is famously unique in remaining ungrazed by reindeer, so the lichen called reindeer moss grows in thick carpets.

The terrain is also covered in dwarf birch and mountain heather

and boggy ground sometimes gives way to further lakelets.

One so wants to think of this sky-neighbour where mind-chains do not clank as untainted, but I read that due to acid rain the fish in the high lakes died out in the 1950s. Nowhere is quite safe from human fallout.

I'd like to have spent more time roaming the uplands, but by now it was late afternoon and we wound round the other side of the high ground above Njupeskär.

This is where I found my cloudberries. Indulge one more shot, with moss more in focus than my artfully sited discovery (not by any means the only one, but the most cumulus-like).

Back down we headed towards the waterfall zone, with lichened trees in profusion.

Here I had my first glimpse of the miniature fungi world - Roger Phillips' beautifully produced volume Mushrooms, a copy of which I'm now proud to own, suggests to me that the tallest specimens here might be Mycenae/bonnets, but then again they might be Hygrocybes/waxcaps -

which would give way to spectacular larger specimens on our walk the following day. To which, of course, I'll return, as it was a whole new landscape.

Friday 13 September 2013

The beauty of retrospective

It looks like an end-of-term line-up, though in fact this photo by the indefatigable Chris Christodoulou of cast, conductor and director of the Proms Die Walküre was taken at the mid-point of a Ring that no-one will ever forget (who ever forgets any Ring, for that, matter, but this one was special from the very first low E flat). There's an even better version, without Barenboim - who hardly stands out as the only unjolly one above - and with the immensely likeable Justin Way seemingly doing a Rhinemaiden on the laps of Terfel, O'Neill and Halfvarson, to head my Arts Desk retrospective on Wagner at the Proms.

I knew I had to honour it, having been stunned quite as much in different ways by Tannhäuser and Parsifal as I had by Das Rheingold and Die Walküre (the reason I had to miss the last two Ring instalments and the Tristan is, as I've been at pains to point out before, Norfolk and Britten related). Surely the artists would have as awed a perspective as I did? Well, they're an eminently more practical bunch, thank goodness, but I think I got some interesting results. I'd been a bit reluctant to do phone interviews as time was short, but when it seemed like the only option for a very busy Donald Runnicles, Sir John Tomlinson and Way, I took it on board and loved the results.

Runnicles, pictured in a photo from Chris's extraordinary gallery of conductors in extremis for The Arts Desk which we instigated in 2010, was a consummate pro, giving me the 200 words in almost perfect straight-off-the-top-of-the-head form. Courteous, too: 'You will be very welcome, sir, at the Deutsche Oper'. Sir John belied his title and was instantly so amiable and friendly. He'd been on a family holiday in Rome, so we talked about the new film hymning that great city, La Grande Bellezza, which I can't wait to see. He told me he'd been doing Gawain in Salzburg, and was flabbergasted when he found out that the director had a whole new concept - not working with the singers. So in effect he had to help out others who'd not done it before with the staging.

This led to the Proms's great virtue - putting the performers first, really focusing on the one to ones. Neither of us would usually say that such a context is better than a full-scale production at its best, but that special magic doesn't happen often enough in the opera house. It did with Kupfer's Bayreuth Ring, where JT cut his teeth alongside Daniel Barenboim and which occasioned my only visit there so far (and that would be enougn; I had my Bayreuth vision). There was plenty more fascinating chat once I switched the mike off.

And the beauty of retrospective? Well, I'd been thinking earlier about how much more interesting it can be to interview artists AFTER they've done something. The only reason it doesn't happen more often is because publications are reliant on the pre-performance publicity machine. But I treasure both of Richard Jones's visits to my City Lit opera class once his Welsh National Opera Meistersinger and Royal Opera Gloriana were up and running (still got to write that last up here).

It always strikes me as dishonest when critics talk about 'the best Prom of the season so far' when they won't have seen so very many;  only the most fervent of season-ticketed Prommers has the right to say so. I managed 14, and the peaks stand out. Of the Wagners, which were one long high, Act 1 of Walküre was possibly the most electrifying I've encountered live (Way's personal highlights were the whole of Walküre and Act 2 of Gotterdämmerung, where I'm told Nina Stemme really came into her own, though she's never less than dependable). Otherwise, no question: the late night Malians and Azeris, Lisa Batiashvili with Oramo in the Sibelius Violin Concerto and Yannick Nézet-Séguin's Prokofiev Fifth, the best I've ever heard. His sheer, unfeigned delight and energy shine in another of Chris's best pics.

Amazingly that whole performance, as televised on BBC Four, is up there on YouTube (not for long, I shouldn't wonder, but enjoy it while you can).

Wish I'd been there for the Spanish song and dance - astonishing to think it blazed out in the middle of the big Wagner week - and no regrets about missing the Last Night (three-line whip for friend Father Andrew's 50th birthday dinner in an excellent Nepalese restaurant). We caught it on the iPlayer on Sunday night. My, the final jamboree goes on these days, as a sort of extended showcase to the world. But Alsop's discipline and her focused energy were always impressive.

Joyce DiDonato - what a trouper, looking great, plastering over the cracks in an instrument which I've never found hugely individual, but it's still a demonstration of what artistry is all about.

Nige - well, even the Diplo-mate, usually unamused by musical comedy and like me a bit troubled by the ongoing Kennedy persona ('like a down and out Irish navvy'), was in stitches at the fun and games of the much-treated Monti Csardas. Spot all the references?

New seasons have been opening and stunning in the meantime. What a scorcher is the National's Edward II, a Young Vic kind of show in a usually much more conventional space.

Attractive John Heffernan (pictured for the NT by Johan Persson) didn't dominate, but only because it was such an ensemble production. On Monday lunchtime, heavenly Anne Schwanewilms's Schumann Op. 39 Liederkreis was a perfect partnership with Roger Vignoles (only connect: when I met him after Kozhukhin's Prokofiev triple bill, he expressed his surprise at the connection between the Seventh Sonata's Andante caloroso and Schumann's 'Widmung', and here he was playing it). Anne's website man and a loyal student of mine, Howard Lichterman, introduced me to her and I took a shot of the perfect duo which wasn't professional enough to appear on TAD.

A renewed Weill crush has just been put on hold as I rediscover Paul Bunyan in the wake of the British Youth Opera staging (which was good, but not as dazzling as their staging of Cimarosa's The Secret Marriage). I fiercely defend the total brilliance of the collaboration with Auden, which given that I've also been listening to The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny strikes me now as a determinedly optimistic riposte to Weill and Brecht. If you have any criticisms about the poetry, just ask who apart from Da Ponte, Hofmannsthal or Brecht could come anywhere close to the best of this genius text.

I went back to the Plymouth Music Series' 1988 classic recording, coinciding with the epoch-making Aldeburgh revival, and I don't think it can be beaten for American authenticity. Love Pop Wagner as the balladeer. And isn't this Britten's most unambiguously joyous stage work?

New seasons elsewhere: the now old chestnut about the 'show solidarity' petition and the Met opening rumbles on, with signatures being added all the time and further dissatisfaction with Gergiev, who now echoes Putin's equation of homosexuality with paedophilia: disgraceful (scroll down the Onegin piece and the comment at the foot of the companion article on The Arts Desk for an update). Michael Petrelis and his loyal companions have been making the right kind of stand at the San Francisco Opera opening gala - ie no disruption of the performance itself, in which married lesbian soprano Patricia Racette stars - and have got a very decent statement out of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (how could it not so reply with Michael Tilson Thomas at the helm?)

I love this photo of a grande dame* showing her solidarity with the friendly protest before the opera gala - from Petrelis's blog, courtesy of him and the photographer Bill Wilson. What a great redemption of that famous Weegee shot in which two overmadeup socialites with tiaras sweep in to the Met past a gaping pauper.

So towards an annual interlude: our walk for the Norfolk Churches Trust. Jill has planned out a route of 15 or so miles and 13 churches. The forecast, alas, is for less good weather than we've had over the past few years. Maybe that will encourage folk to give more generously - though I hope I don't have to invoke the kind of disaster scenario we experienced back in 2006. By way of reminder, here's last year's report and a photo of St Margaret, King's Lynn, alongside which we stay each time, so it's always our starting point.

And, at last, another sunny farewell. This one will mean going over to a page on the Emerging Indie Bands site where godson Alexander's Lieutenant Tango has just been feted. Makes me wonder why he never enlightened me over the 'kwela beat', and what it is. Happy to plug away at a third track, 'So, Go', because, while the million-sellers J sometimes plays on his iPad - following a Facebook commendation, just dipping - sound like dross to me, this is dance music with a genuinely creative edge.

*The lady, Michael now tells me, is glamorous grandmother Joy Venturini Bianchi, owner of San Fran's Helpers House of Couture, at 74 still a redoubtable socialite and staunch friend of the gay community. For the charitable origin of 'Helpers', read the linked article. What a woman! I love the comment on fashion's Alexander the Great: 'McQueen, Jesus Christ almighty. I have a dress by him with a hood so chic that I can't even stand it.'

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Late summer fruitfulness

Lingonberries, cloudberries, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants: the Swedish countryside yielded up its riches in August. Large bears can consume 100kg of berries each in a single day, my Fulufjället National Park leaflet tells me; we were more modest but could have lived off them quite happily. What I'm proudest of is discovering the rarest, the sensational cloudberry (hjortron)- so called because of its imitation of a cumulus, not because of the altitude at which it's found - the piquant taste of which when it bursts in the mouth no jam, with its added sweetness, can convey.

I read that cloudberries are most likely found on Alpine slopes in boggy areas, so it made sense to look out on the Fulufjället mountain plateau above Njupeskär waterfall. Which must be revisited in a blogramble, but for now here's the kind of terrain we're considering

and there, either side of several boardwalks were the occasional cloudberries - posed here, of course, because they do not readily reveal themselves in the vegetation.

Their strawberry-like leaves were already autumnal in colour, suggesting the end of the season, but Jamie and I feasted on most of what we found before taking back a handful each to the other two who'd gone ahead back down the cliff.

The more cultivated but still lovely terrain around Lake Siljan, further south-east, yields its fruits, too. There are wild raspberries

though the bushes of the other berries tend to belong to the owners of the attractive red-painted wooden houses in the villages on the shores. One such had a notice with an arrow, 'please help yourselves', alongside it. So Sophie (pictured with the sign behind her), J and I did

and gathered plenty of redcurrants

to go with Sophie's mother Inger's sublime baking.

Could we have had a more delightful traditional time in the little house by the lake? For starters, Inger had decked herself out in Swedish national costume to welcome us fresh from the campovan driven by Gillis, the adorable man Sophie has always called on her blog MNL (Mother's New Lover) followed by MNH (Mother's New Husband). Inger is in her early 80s and Gillis is 87, can you believe.

He was a forester, a hunter and a pilot, decided at 80 to give up shooting and flying before he killed someone but still knows a friend who can supply an elk. Which is why we had elk balls (as in meat balls, not testicles, I hasten to add) with breakfast

as well as elk tongue - thanks, Gillis, for pointing out the tip  - elk liver and elk kidneys.

We didn't see a real life specimen but Gillis was happy to pose alongside a stuffed one in the Naturum at the Siljansnäs Nature Reserve.

Inger is about to explode with mirth, as she did when we played her the incomparable Florence Foster Jenkins as the Queen of the Night. Gillis sat straight-faced, hearing nothing amiss. Nature is his element; I only wish we'd gone on a forest walk with him so that he could have pointed out his huge knowledge. Here he is, followed by his stepdaughter, on the jetty at the bottom of the garden.

I love it that, though officially belonging to the house, the little beach is accessible to all under the Swedish Rights of Access. Rambler-persecuting Jeremy Clarksons wouldn't have a leg to stand on here. Houses rarely have fences around them; the communal spirit remains strong, for better mostly and also for worse (read one man's account of the ambiguous social legacy in Andrew Brown's Fishing in Utopia).  And certainly in Dalarna you can park anywhere and for free. My kind of country.

Can I detain you with one more ritual before we leave Leksand? I loved the national costume, the elkmeat, the Schnappslieder (to which traditional specimens I could only retort with the Iolanthe Nightmare Song). I hated more than any food I've ever tasted - and remember I love Palermitan spleen in a bun plus other offal - the seasonal delicacy of fermented Baltic herring, the infamous surströmming.

This can is a stink bomb waiting to be released. Which it can't be until around 15 August every year, and then not in public unless you've hired a restaurant or a railway carriage specially for the purpose. Why is this? I read that the herring are caught in April or May just before they begin to spawn. 'The fermentation starts from a lactic acid enzyme in the spine of the fish, and so the fermentation is by autolysis; together with bacteria, pungent smelling acids are formed in the fish such as proponic, butyric and acetic acids. Hydrogen sulphide [for God's sake!] is also produced'. At the end of the 1940s a Swedish royal decree prevented improperly fermented fish being sold. That's no longer law, but the trade still relies on the mid-August release date.

The family told us that the smell about to be unleashed in the picture was much milder than usual. But when the horror was served, I had to hold my breath so as not to gag on the ammonial stench. I did eat one - texture as vile as taste - and then had to endure the smell in my nostrils all night.

No such monstrosities were inflected on us down in gentle Lacock, where the beloved hosts of the best outdoor birthday party ever welcomed us back for a long weekend of walking and eating. Here, along with beans, courgettes and sensational baby corn on the cob, which you eat husks and all, were blackcurrants (thank you for the nudge below, Deborah) from the garden

and the sweetest of plums.

You've seen the hedge sculptures and the garden rooms before if you've been visiting for long, but in addition to an inedible giant pear by Deborah

and a fruit cornucopia of a hairdo

let me indulge fresh angles on the ascendable tower

and the earth mother, who waxes in strength of legs

and curvaceousness

We could have been quite content with the treasures on our doorstep and bracing local walks up to the ridge and back, but I'm mighty grateful Deborah and Andrew took us to the stunning garden at Iford, designed by Italophile Harold Peto who bought the house and grounds in 1899.

The assembly of Roman and Renaissance sculptures adorning pastiche historical structures, the beautiful integration of these with serene planting, seemed familiar - and then I read that Peto also designed one of the most beautifully located gardens I've ever seen, the island idyll of Ilnacullin in Ireland's Bantry Bay, visited on a day I'll not forget. This was almost as ravishing. Thus Peto in The Boke of Iford: 'Old buildings or fragments of masonry carry one's mind back to the past in a way that a garden of flowers only cannot do. Gardens that are too stony are equally unsatisfactory; it is the combination of the two, in just proportion, which is the most satisfying'.

The setting is daring, on a steep slope down to the house and the River Frome beneath. I'd better admit the serendipitous concatenation of events which led us to have the garden to ourselves, not knowing for a while the reason why. The narrow road down to the house and car park was blocked by a broken-down car so Andrew parked at the top and we walked along the coach lane, entering the terrace from above. When A went down to see about paying,  he found that the garden was officially closed on Fridays. Well, we didn't linger much longer but we'd already enjoyed the whopping great mulberries

and one fig each from the tree so aptly planted alongside the beautiful cloister where every summer operas are performed.

Much better, I reckoned, to enjoy it in tranquillity, with a fig to heighten the pleasure.

This little miracle of nature, though, found by the side of an upper pond, is definitely not for eating. Please note a great sculptor's fingers.

Finally we did get to the bottom of the valley, with the lovely old bridge over the Frome surmounted by the statue of Britannia Peto placed there, beneath which two gilded youths disputed as if, Deborah thought, in an advertisement for the romance of Oxbridge. You're fortunate that for that and the subsequent early evening whizz around Bradford-on-Avon the camera battery was flat. But this isn't the last you'll hear of BoA. We must return at the first possible opportunity and see again whether it would, as I impulsively thought gazing enviously on a Georgian weavers' terrace high above the Avon, be the perfect place to live.