The ground is hot to sit on. Even the scorched grass gives little comfort and the summer haze shimmers as the temperature nudges 30 degrees. It’s hot. Stiflingly so. Wicker hampers, disgorging chilled champagne, wine and lashings of ginger beer, do little to take the edge of, what is looking like, a sweltering and chart-topping-since-records-began, summer.
The quintessential English summer afternoon, spent in glorious decadence within a beautiful garden setting, before entering an auditorium to watch and listen to W. A. Mozart’s opera, Così Fan Tutte.
Glyndebourne, Lewes, East Sussex, England. Home to world famous opera performances since 1934.
Let me get one thing straight. I am no opera aficionado, or expert, or even a fan of opera for that matter.
The year is somewhere in the late 1970’s and I am thirteen or fourteen years old. My thick, felt, school blazer is a deep maroon colour, with dark blue edging and a golden embroidered lion emblazoned on the breast pocket. ‘Comfortable’ is not a word that springs to my mind. Not only am I sweating like a stuck pig, but I am so far out of my comfort zone, you’ll have to send a search party, sporting crampons, to find me.
Three hours and twenty five minutes later we exit into the oppressive stillness of the night. I’m stunned.
For anyone who is an opera fan, expert or aficionado, Così Fan Tutte will undoubtedly rank high on your list of known works, but to a teenage boy whose playlist is somewhere in the vicinity of encompassing Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Stevie Wonder, ELO, Queen, Kate Bush and Kenny Rogers, Mozart doesn’t even break into the top 100.
Of course I know some classical music, due to having piano lessons from when I was seven, but current leanings and tendencies are more a toss-up between Country & Western, R&B and Soul. Or Punk Rock, which is a new strain of music where everyone seems to be very angry all the time and hold their clothes together, which in my opinion have seen better days, with safety pins!
I’m distinctly middle of the road, Radio 2 on the wireless, Terry Wogan – The Early Years (before he came crawling back). Topics of discussion centre around things like missing garden gnomes or duvets versus blankets, the whistling errand boy before the war and crispy bacon.
Classical music is below my horizon and yet to feature to any great extent.
So, we exit Glyndebourne Opera House and are back on the charabanc for the homeward bound trip to school.
It’s late in the evening and air conditioning is still a thing of the future. Heaven help us, roll-on deodorant has only just become mainstream, and most of the chaps haven’t been introduced to the finer points of personal hygiene. The closest we get to godliness or cleanliness, is a quick scrub down with a bar of Lifebuoy Carbolic soap! I can assure you, that a bus, full of pubescent sweating boys, isn’t a memory that I’ll easily erase from my sensibilities.
Our Music Master, resplendently redolent in a black robe sporting damp patches, wearing his mortarboard of authority, his face a sheen of dewy perspiration, looms large over the seat behind me and, in a threatening manner, demands of me that I should write a report of our visit to Glyndebourne for the school magazine that is imminently due for it’s yearly publication.
As most readers will know of me, refusal is not something that comes easily, (not that I’m saying I’m easy,) but on this occasion I give a flat ‘no’. There is no question of me producing anything that would be suitable for a Grammar School publication going to print. Nothing can persuade me to put quill to parchment in favour of the experience.
In fact, my whole life subsequently has been scarred by that one trip and my distinct lack of fascination for warbling, larger than life, heavily painted men and women, has never been swayed since.
Now however, in the present, for fear of having interminable earworms at night, I predominantly opt for Classic FM rather than the radio stations that play songs with words. That way the only thing that disturbs my sleep is my efforts to converse in French throughout my dreams. I’m quite good at French when I’m asleep.
As my learnéd, if somewhat annoying Theology tutor a couple of years ago said, “to understand the Bible, I suggest you learn Hebrew first”, in this instance, learning Italian before being subjected to almost three and a half hours of opera, might have been the way forward. As at that time I only knew a smattering of French and even less Spanish, Italian opera was as far from my understanding as Hebrew is now.
Perhaps I should have learnt Italian and Hebrew.
Perhaps I should have written a review. Perhaps this is that review.
40 years have passed since that day. Today I finally read a brief synopsis of Così Fan Tutte. It takes me under a minute to read what it took that Production Company, three and a half hours to convey.
The moral of the opera is, apparently, to ‘forgive and forget’ the wrongs done to you in life. To move on. To carry on.
A worthy sentiment for sure, as is the one to live not in the past or the future, but in the present. We only have today. Don’t hold on to the past or regret the ‘what ifs’, don’t plan too far ahead either. Witnessing the shocking explosion in Beirut this week has shown how fragile our existence can be and no one knows what the future holds for each one of us. Live for now. Live for the moment. The best and wisest of us know not how long we have. Forgive, not only what has been done to you, but also forgive yourself for what you’ve done and learn to forget. Let it go. Live in the present. Live, for today.
Carry on Regardless!