Did you know that? Do any of you live in or near one of the Stratfords mentioned here?
Do these Stratfords have theatres similar to the Royal Shakespeare Company in the original Stratford-upon-Avon in the UK?
I had no idea of any of it until we went to see King Lear the other day. Isn’t that a splendid Bottom?
Titania isn’t half as grand.
Every time I see King Lear I hope that this time he isn’t going to fall for his conniving, dishonest, fawning daughters’ flattery and that he sees them for the grasping, treacherous witches they are. No, Lear remains blind to reality and favours appearances over truth. Cordelia is silent and he throws her out. Goneril and Regan are free to pursue their evil machinations. Lear goes mad, Gloucester has his eyes gouged out and lots of people die. That’s the trouble with Shakespeare tragedies, once they’re written they stay written, no matter how many centuries pass.
Tristan and Isolde with the Potion (1916) by John William Waterhouse, oil on canvas
As for Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, the whole disaster hinges on a love potion. If Isolde’s handmaid Brangane hadn’t swapped a poisonous tincture for a love potion the whole five hour music drama would have been over in less than one. As it was (again, once written, a thing stays written), misunderstandings, secret trysts, honour and skullduggery abound and are thoroughly demonstrated by thunderous music and dramatic voices. Practically everybody dies here too. If Brangane had at least come clean a bit sooner rather than at the end when death was but a foregone conclusion, Tristan und Isolde might have lived happily every after.
Okay folks, seriously. Both King Lear with Antony Sher in the title role, one of the greatest parts written by Shakespeare, at the RSC in Stratford, and the transmission of Tristan und Isolde from the Met in NYC were experiences I wouldn’t have wanted to miss. Beloved didn’t come to Stratford, he’s seen King Lear many times; he finds the journey tiring now and will only undertake it “if it’s worth it” for him. Although it was sad that he stayed at home it was also a bit of a relief for me. For once I could enjoy a theatre visit without having to have half an eye on his wellbeing.
Wagner was a different matter. The transmission came to the screen at a small local theatre, which takes less than twenty minutes’ drive. He sat through the five hours’ performance without a murmur. Actually, that’s not quite true, he once snorted a loud ‘Nonsense’ and another time he complained that the interviewer made it look as if the English horn solo in Act III was to be played by a cor anglais. But he had nothing to complain of in the orchestra or even the singers. Not many can do these roles justice but the Met ensemble did their very best. Although he detected a slight wobble in Isolde’s voice he praised her accuracy. That’s the trouble with musicians who have spent their life playing at the big houses, for world famous conductors and have had the privilege to hear the greatest voices for over forty years. They do tend to have an opinion!
Luckily the audience was small, seating was ‘cabaret style’, that is small tables for individual parties, wine, cake and hot drinks were served during the two intervals and, in spite of some minor niggles, the music was simply overwhelming. We are lucky, almost the entire Met season is to be transmitted; Wagner was only the season’s opening.