This weekend to an unknown (to us) Met opera at Vue cinema in Plymouth. The thing about this particular opera for us was that there were absolutely no tunes or melodies throughout. Everything seemed like speech that was sung in one plane as it were. Yes, the singing yet again was admirable and amazing in its power and intensity, but the plot was light and, as I say, no tunes to be hummed on the way home. Not at all memorable. The divas get huge praise in the press however.
Adriana Lecouvreur unfolds in Paris in 1730. The setting reflects a nostalgia for the Rococo era that swept over Europe and the Americas around the turn of the last century when Cilea was composing, evident in other operas (for instance, Puccini’s Manon Lescaut) and in architecture.
Paris, 1730. Backstage at the Comédie-Française, the director Michonnet and the company prepare for performance, in which both Adriana Lecouvreur and her rival, Mademoiselle Duclos, will appear. The Prince of Bouillon and the Abbé de Chazeuil enter, looking for Duclos, who is the prince’s mistress. They encounter Adriana and compliment her, but she says that she is merely the servant of the creative spirit (“Io son l’umile ancella”). The Prince hears that Duclos is writing a letter to someone and arranges to have it intercepted. Left alone with Adriana, Michonnet confesses his love to her, only to be told that she is in love with Maurizio, whom she believes to be an officer in the service of the Count of Saxony. Maurizio enters, declaring his love for Adriana (“La dolcissima effigie”), and the two arrange to meet after the performance. Adriana gives him a bouquet of violets as a pledge of her love. During the performance, the prince intercepts the letter from Duclos, in which she asks for a meeting with Maurizio, who is in fact the Count of Saxony himself. He is to meet her later that evening at the villa where the prince has installed her. Determined to expose his seemingly unfaithful mistress, the prince arranges a party at the villa for this same night. Unknown to him, Duclos has written the letter on behalf of the Princess of Bouillon who was having an affair with Maurizio. Maurizio, receiving the letter, decides to meet the princess who has helped him pursue his political ambitions. He sends a note to Adriana to cancel their appointment. Adriana is upset, but when the prince invites her to the party and tells her that the Prince of Saxony will be one of the guests, she accepts in the hope of furthering her lover’s career.
The princess anxiously awaits Maurizio at the villa (“Acerba voluttà”). When he appears she notices the violets and immediately suspects another woman but he quickly claims they are a gift for her. Grateful for her help at court, he reluctantly admits that he no longer loves her (“L’anima ho stanca”). The princess hides when her husband and the Abbé suddenly arrive, congratulating Maurizio on his latest conquest, who they think is Duclos. Adriana appears. She is astounded to learn that the Count of Saxony is Maurizio himself but forgives his deception. When Michonnet enters looking for Duclos, Adriana assumes that Maurizio has come to the villa for a secret rendezvous with her. He assures her that the woman hiding next door is not Duclos. His meeting with her, he says, was purely political and they must arrange for her escape. Trusting him, Adriana agrees. In the ensuing confusion, neither Adriana nor the princess recognize each other, but by the few words that are spoken each woman realizes that the other is in love with Maurizio. Adriana is determined to discover the identity of her rival, but the princess escapes, dropping a bracelet that Michonnet picks up and hands to Adriana.
As preparations are under way for a party at her palace, the princess wonders who her rival might be. Guests arrive, among them Michonnet and Adriana. The princess recognizes Adriana’s voice as that of the woman who helped her escape. Her suspicions are confirmed when she pretends Maurizio has been wounded in a duel and Adriana almost faints. She recovers quickly, however, when Maurizio enters uninjured and entertains the guests with tales of his military exploits (“Il russo Mencikoff”). During the performance of a ballet, the princess and Adriana confront each other, in growing recognition that they are rivals. The princess mentions the violets, and Adriana in turn produces the bracelet, which the prince identifies as his wife’s. To distract attention, the princess suggests that Adriana should recite a monologue. Adriana chooses a passage from Racine’s Phèdre, in which the heroine denounces sinners and adulterous women, and aims her performance directly at the princess. The princess is determined to have her revenge.
Adriana has retired from the stage, devastated by the loss of Maurizio. Members of her theater company visit her on her birthday, bringing presents and trying to persuade her to return. Adriana is especially moved by Michonnet’s gift: the jewellery she had once pawned to secure Maurizio’s release from prison. A box is delivered, labeled “from Maurizio.” When Adriana opens it, she finds the faded bouquet of violets she had once given him and understands it as a sign that their love is at an end (“Poveri fiori”). She kisses the flowers, then throws them into the fire. Moments later, Maurizio arrives, summoned by Michonnet. He apologizes and asks Adriana to marry him. She joyfully accepts but suddenly turns pale. Michonnet and Maurizio realize that the violets were sent by the princess and had been poisoned by her. Adriana dies in Maurizio’s arms (“Ecco la luce”).
Before going to Vue we had a bit of time to kill so, for a coffee and exploration, we drove to the Royal William Yard which we had not visited before. It was a revelation…………………..an historic piece of Plymouth restored with sensitivity but very grand. Constructed between 1825 and 1831, Royal William Yard is in fact considered to be one of the most important groups of historic military buildings in Britain and the largest collection of Grade I Listed military buildings in Europe. Pretty impressive credentials.Described as the grandest of the royal victualling yards, ‘in its externally largely unaltered state it remains today one of the most magnificent industrial monuments in the country’. Released by the MOD as recently as 1992, Urban Splash have transformed the buildings into mixed-use restaurants, shops and flats, and it is all pretty special, although you do get the impression that it is not as well-visited as it ought to be.Bistrot Pierre where we had our coffee was pretty good too, an excellent looking menu, and they have just opened two of the buildings across the square as hotel rooms. They look swish.Yesterday back to Vue Plymouth this time to see the film ‘Stan and Ollie’. Steve Coogan as Stan and John C. Reilly as Ollie were absolutely brilliant and with oodles of preparation took to their parts with perfection. ‘Stan & Ollie’ tells the story of how Laurel and Hardy, with their golden age long behind them, embark upon a tour of the music halls of Britain and Ireland in 1953.
Despite the stresses of the tour, past resentments coming back to light, and Hardy’s failing health, the show must go on: in the end, their love of performing – and of each other – ensures that they secure their place in the hearts of the public. It’s about love, passion and comedy. You come out of the cinema just loving their humour but at the same time feeling for them….when up becomes down it’s tragic to see. For once all the five star reviews are thoroughly deserved. If you get chance, watch it…….
During our recent visit to Edinburgh I found this ‘The Daughter of Time’ on my daughter’s shelves. I had already read it but was anxious to do so again as I got terrific enjoyment the first time. I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination you could call Tey a great writer….I have read other of her titles and been immensely disappointed, but this is something else. A detective recovering in hospital, flat on his back most of the time, comes across, amongst the gifts friends and colleagues have been bringing in, a portrait of Richard III. He asks himself…is this the face of a man who could commit the murder of his two nephews in the Tower, an event heinous even then. His detective brain starts whirling and he is soon loaded down with serious histories, copies of documents and more trying to sift the evidence looking for clues as to who did actually ‘commission’ the murders. A brilliant tapestry of the times is woven as he refuses to accept the history written by the winners, in other words the Tudors, unless there is factual back-up. Although a Lancastrian myself, and a historian, I have always had a soft spot for Richard III and thought him ill-used by History. Although this is a novel it grips as real history always does. My two favourite subjects, History and Detectives, and this is part History/part Detective. I really couldn’t ask for more.
Since we had a leak in the new roof in the conservatory I have had to move a lot of things out of there, including many books. Noticing one of these, ‘Shakespeare’s Restless World’ I picked it up and started idly leafing through it. I saw immediately that this was only part-read so I resolved to start again. I am so glad I did. It is so well-produced with clear text and beautiful images, and so well-written by ex-Director of The British Museum Neil MacGregor, that it is sheer pleasure. Neil has chosen 20 objects (not only from the BM) to illustrate various aspects of what Shakespeare’s world was really like. These range from the failed attempts of James I to put together a joint flag for the Great Britain he wanted to be a reality, to a woollen apprentice’s cap in absolutely remarkable condition, to a pedlar’s trunk complete with contents, to a brass-handled iron fork lost at the Rose Theatre, the ownership of which was a sign of absolute sophistication. And he uses the objects to telling effect, delving deeply into the full range of Shakespeare’s work. So, my other favourite subject History/Shakespeare is well catered for in this splendid book.
Which leads me on to saying that, having aroused my interest in WS once again, I could not forgo the immediate and absolute pleasure of reading again for the umpteenth time the play ‘Hamlet’ which for me represents the height of literary achievement. It was something I studied in great detail for ‘A’ levels. I have seen the play a few times. I have seen a couple of films. For me it never palls. I read this time round the Arden edition which has copious footnotes and explanatory material, but I must admit that I am easily distracted by these and actually found all of this tiresome as the Editor Harold Jenkins seemed to be engaged a lot of the time in scoring points off previous editors and commentators. Hamlet is too good for this. Best just to read it straight through and make your own sense of it.
Having just seen an episode of Flog It! from Mount Edgcumbe, and as it was such a nice day that is where we headed. The views on the coast road come from left and right….in this lay-by Plymouth is over the Sound to our left and to the right is Tregantle fort which had its red flag out signifying live shooting.Sometimes you believe you are surrounded by a landscape of water with the sea on one side and numerous creeks and inlets to the side, in front and behind…We started off at the bottom end of the Edgcumbe estate with a drink in front of the fire at the Edgcumbe Arms. This then steeled us to face the cold but beautiful day.First stop the Orangery…We then made our way along the coastal edge of the estate taking in various temples and follies….One of the gun batteries showed how strategically placed Edgcumbe is – looking out over Plymouth Hoe, and one of the many very good information boards showed the location of an amazing number of shipwrecks in this part of the Sound. I would have thought that when you had made these waters you were safe – but apparently not!The path took us through various parts of the garden which we hadn’t seen before…and we noticed our first burst of Camellias….This is ‘Milton’s Temple, c. 1755 – a circular Ionian temple, with a plaque inscribed with lines from the poem Paradise Lost, “overhead up grew, Insuperable heights of loftiest shade…..” John Milton, (1608–1674)’.The walk was not without its efforts, but all very worthwhile and we saw very few people indeed which was good.I intended to climb this folly I think for the views but on approaching it I noted some very serious snogging going on at the top level, so I left well alone!From here I tried out my panorama mode….not too bad……and it was just past here that we noted that the grounds do contain the National Camellia Collection….what a cheering sight on this winter’s day……..Back at the house we visited the Stables area where all the trades used to be located – the blacksmith, wood turner and so on, all the buildings now used by independent crafts people……The house itself is not open until April….We made our way back to the car along a splendid avenue of trees……..Days like this, cold and clear, remind us of winter days in York……they should be enjoyed to the full.
Looking at our local map we saw that there was a potential new walk from Duloe, the next village to us. It did have some rather sharp contour lines, but looked promising. There are no public footpath walks from St Keyne, our village, which is a shame, although we do constantly walk along the lanes. Anyhow, off we set. First of all there were some rather lovely catkins decorating a few trees at the start of the walk. Then, after crossing the dry bed of a little stream….we walked through an orchard which belongs to Cornish Orchards well-known now throughout the country for their cider and other drinks. We must return when the blossom is out, and then later see the apples themselves (maybe a bit of scrumping?). We descended sharply to the valley bottom through Duchy land to a little hamlet of holiday cottages. Unfortunately as we reached the road……. …….someone yet again had blighted the landscape with uncaring dumping of litter. Who are these people? Well, on the way back up to Duloe on the lanes I noted a discarded outer of Carling Lager, and scattered for a mile or so along the hedgerow I counted about 10 cans of Carling. Idiots all these people.There was a rather nice cottage on the way up which had a lovely rustic gateway which added to the view…..I do so like the gates and stiles and crossing points you see on country walks and often take pictures showing the huge differences in regional styles (not a pun!). I really would like to write a booklet for the Shire series of esoteric books. One day, perhaps.We noted some wildflowers in bloom, and when we had finished our walk I drove to the edge of Duloe……. to take a picture of a clump of daffodils that have been in flower since December…..this bank where they are is full of daffodils in Spring, so I am frankly amazed at this one clump with no sign whatsoever of any others….perhaps a very early variety anyhow.Other things are blossoming at this time in Cornwall…here a camellia and…… ….in our own garden this azalea has been in flower since at least early December, probably November.Well, we did our 8000 steps, but I don’t think we’ll be in too much of a hurry to do the walk again. It was a little uninspiring……
We were off to call at some of the beaches on the North coast which we know well, and headed for Newquay. Just outside, and by accident, we came upon Nansledan. Nansledan is an extension to the Cornish coastal town of Newquay on Duchy of Cornwall land that embodies the principles of architecture and urban planning championed by HRH The Prince of Wales at Poundbury. These views from our car give a good idea of what it is like still under construction. Basically it uses local materials and local construction methods using local labour to create a charming self-contained community. Not everyone likes the architectural ideas of HRH, but we certainly do. Fascinating.Leaving the outskirts of Newquay, we had another chance find – Lusty Glaze beach ‘which is situated in a natural ampitheatre of 200ft high cliffs. Smaller than its more expansive neighbours The beach benefits from a degree of shelter from the prevailing wind. Although privately owned the beach is fully open to the public at no cost.
Lusty Glaze is home to an adventure centre with activities such as climbing and abseiling, bungee jumping, surfing and other watersports offered. The beach management also organise a number of events throughout the summer.
Located at the northern end of Newquay Bay Lusty Glaze joins up with the adjoining Tolcarne beach at lower tides and can be accessed this way. The alternative is via a steep path consisting of 368 steps leading down from the clifftop. Despite this, the beach is very family oriented with facilities including a creche.’ It looked just great, and the 368 steps well worth the effort. Another time!Having looked at a number of familiar beaches, we decided not to start a walk on any because it was the point of high tide and walking distances were very circumscribed. Instead we took a long almost deserted road to a NT carpark at Trevose Head. We noted this down as an excellent place for some future picnic. In Summer you can access beaches at Booby’s Bay and Mother Ivy’s…we will return. The sea around the headland had that beautiful green-blue colour which is so reminiscent of say the South of France even though not a particularly nice day.Requiring toilet facilities we adjourned to nearby Padstow where I thought we might get a glimpse of their Christmas lights. The town was surprisingly busy.We did our usual walk up the hill to the War Memorial and then down to St George’s Cove. Normally you can walk much further around the headland here but as it was high tide – not. We really should consult our tide tables more often!
So, Dame Stella Rimington. Joined MI5 in1968 and worked in all the main fields of the Service before being appointed D-G, the first woman to hold the post, in 1992. Does her life experience lead to her novels being excellent representations of what the Sevice does? It surely does. Her books are bang up-to-date. Each theme she tackles is sparklingly relevant to what is happening in the world today. In fact her Liz Carlyle novels are frightening in their relevance. In quick succession I read ‘Rip Tide’, ‘Close Call’ and ‘Breaking Cover’, all excellent reads, all unputdownable. The back stories about family and love life are credible (and presumably like the plots based on real life), and the stories themselves are exciting in the extreme. Do read them. You will not be disappointed. The fact that I read all three without any interruption and F. is doing the same speaks volumes. Having finished my trilogy I moved on to ‘The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye’ which I have to say was one of the most boring reads I have had for a long long time. Stieg Larsson’s original books were sensational and have been made into excellent films of course, but this…..considering it is supposed to be a thriller there was not one iota of excitement in all of its too many pages. if this is the best that can be done the franchise has certainly had its day. I won’t bore myself any more by talking of the plot….there wasn’t one!
Over Christmas I happened to mention to my son-in-law the novel that Julian Barnes put together based on how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took up the case of a Birmingham half-caste solicitor George Edalji who was imprisoned as the guilty party in the so-called Great Wyrley Outrages where animals were savaged in the Midlands locality where he lived. A shocking miscarriage of justice about which Conan Doyle created a huge fuss in real life is subsumed in a gripping story which relates the development of the two main characters into the people they were and then their inter-reaction. A literary masterpiece, shortlisted for the Booker, it should surely have won. Anyway I shall be posting it off to Nasar and hope he enjoys it as much as I did for the second time.
East coast, as we remembered from our time in York, crisp days, blue skies and cold…hat, scarf, gloves weather. It is always good to visit Edinburgh but I do despair how, despite being very much a capital city, and with more than its fair share of historic and beautiful buildings, it is still rough round the edges. Litter everywhere, puke, overflowing bins, what a society we are! Anyhow it’s lovely to see the progress on Katherine and Nasar’s house (and Aiisha’s of course). New stair carpet running up through their 3 floors with brass carpet rods just ties the whole house together in a stylish way. Our first stop was a children’s library to swop books. One of the nicest….and then on to a special story-telling which was very well done and captivating almost to the end…..the only dodgy bit was that in one of the stories small presents were pulled from a sock for a few children, but at the end of the story they were collected back…mean!A bit of shopping in town, and a chance to admire fine buildings…A busy day was completed at the Commonwealth Swimming Pool for a Christmas party and adventures in the soft-play area….The next day we had a very nice stroll down through New Town to Stockbridge, an area I like very much for its ‘village’ atmosphere and shops. the backs of the big houses are mews converted to rather interesting dwellings…Our task was to buy some fresh fish from the excellent fishmonger which I was to use for sole with beurre noisette. Lunch in the local Deli was great.On Christmas Eve we went to the Princess Gardens fair which always has a nice family atmosphere, unlike some fairs I could mention…Christmas Day was excellent (and busy). I think it took two of us sometimes three of us about 3 hours to erect the Playmobil hospital…still that’s what parents and grandparents are for…..but there were lots of other presents too, so many that Nasar negotiated an agreement whereby quite a lot of existing toys had to be put on one side for Charity before the new ones could be put away!Nasar’s favourite toy, and mine, was the remote control car which could run on walls and ceilings as well as the floor……After Christmas and Boxing Day it is always good to get out and about, here on The Meadows where Aiisha demonstrated how good a cyclist she is now…A little friend from Nursery whom we met by chance made the play area doubly enjoyable. The Meadows is a terrific facility to have on your own doorstep with everything including a golf course and a lovely cafe/deli where we had coffees and, for me, a small Portuguese tart.What a nice Christmas….