Last week seemed to have a bit of a non-stop schedule of activities based in the city, which made today’s 10km run through the Arundel Estate in West Sussex all the more enjoyable. Still, I also went to the rather more rarefied spectacle of an evening at the Royal Opera House. I had got some relatively cheap tickets in the amphitheatre to see Fidelio, the only opera Beethoven ever wrote.
I’m always a bit conflicted about opera. One takes one’s seat, flips through the programme slightly disinterestedly, watches the orchestra, and listens rather vaguely to the overture, wondering whether the themes it covers will be as disparate as they sound. Then the curtain goes up, the surtitles come down, and one is plunged into the oddity of people bursting into stylised song, usually repeating the same line of text multiple times, singing duets that are supposed to represent a conversation, or even more oddly, to represent the characters’ unsaid thoughts about each other – usually in the context of setting up the misunderstanding that plunges the plot into overwrought tragedy, and another long aria.
In other words, it has something really quite pretentious and often dull about it. Still, the second act was more rousing, as it featured a decent amount of choral arrangements. Any Beethoven chorus is always going to be beautiful to listen to. Perhaps the problem was that it was hard to engage with the story: a woman called Leonore dresses up as a prison guard to try and rescue her husband Florestan, a political prisoner. She eventually succeeds, and that’s pretty much it.
Nina Stemme was very good as Leonore. Endrik Wottrich as Florestan was unexceptional, but was the subject of an amusing announcement at the beginning of the second act, when someone stepped in front of the curtain, and the spotlight was fully trained on his face. “Ladies and Gentlemen”, he began, and I was instantly reminded of the end of the Red Shoes. Of course instead of continuing “Miss Page will not be appearing tonight; or any other night”, he said, “…Endrik Wottrich has asked me to announce that he is suffering from allergies. He will nevertheless be performing tonight. Thank you for your understanding.” He must have got through it with a lot of Benadryl, and I can’t say I could tell the difference.
Overall, it was an entertaining evening, and the setting of the Royal Opera House is wonderfully elegant; but it didn’t enrich my life in the way that much, much cheaper activities do. This evening’s activity consisted of walking through a Hampstead churchyard, talking about the value of a long life, then going to get some frozen yoghurt with blackberries on Hampstead High Street. Seemed more enriching, somehow.