TALKING OUT OF MY ARIAS
Listen to any economic forecast these days – high pressure over Westminster, audacious front of weak morals in bank executives, fog in the Exchequor, a bitter wind blowing away deep depression across the whole of the British Isles with short, sharp riots breaking out just about anywhere – and you’ll realize that the recession is here to stay. But this doesn’t mean we just pack up and leave the country for the South of France (perish the thought!); we’re resourceful, we’re inventive, (we’ve got dogs with bank accounts in Monaco)…yes, we plucky Brits know how to make our own entertainment, thanks to a history of wars and Blue Peter…look, if the Iraqis could make whole Scud missile launchers out of cardboard, how hard can it be to fashion a Christmas snowman pencil holder out of an old jam jar, half a pack of cotton wool, and a small acreage of sticky back plastic, FGS? (Actually, it’s not hard at all. Er, according to rumour).
Anyway, moving on…though seemingly gone for good are the days in which one patronized one’s own musician (Try not to put your coffee cup on the piano, Ludwig, there’s a good little composer), this doesn’t have to mean high culture is lost to us. Oh no. Merely that as needs must, we have to create our own high culture.
To this end I went with a friend to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, one evening last week to carry out some exhaustive research. (It’s bloody exhausting climbing all those stairs to the gods in heels, take it from me). I hadn’t visited the place for donkey’s years (I think you might find the odd donkey in the odd opera here and there – although if one wanders onto the stage in The Flying Dutchman, you should probably ask for your ticket money back). The recent refurbishment of the venue is wonderful; the old glass and iron flower market adjoining the main building, now the bar area, is stunningly beautiful, a cross between Grand Central Station and an Icelandic fairy castle.
Not so great, however, is the nod (back to the donkey) towards the 21st Century with an electronic message board above the stage, translating into English each line as it is sung from the pages of the original Italian manuscript. OK, so you get used to it after a while, but the audience was a little taken aback to see The 7.43 to Stoke Poges will leave from Platform 12. (Act 1, Scene 5 – The Wrong Kind of Line on the Leaves).
What I learned most from the experience, though, is that the only important thing for opera-writing is having a good monica. This requiring nothing more than ‘Italianizing’ your own name.
If you don’t believe me, look at Joe Green, who got nowhere until he went continental, instantly achieving fame as Guiseppe Verdi. And so it is that Not Nice Etoile morphs seemlessly into Non Bella Stella (the identity theft court case brought against me by an aging prostitute from Naples’ cheapest bordello is nearing its conclusion, and I’m very confident of winning. Just knock three times and I can fugue you by the hour. Prelude extra).
That apart, writing an opera is a synch. Take a look:-
HOW TO COMPOSE AN OPERA IN 16 EASY STEPS
1. Wealthy young tenor of noble birth falls in love with beautiful soprano with big breasts, who is a woman of ill repute or lowly birth.
2. Wealthy young tenor woos soprano with big breasts, who endeavours to discourage him.
3. Wealthy young tenor persists, soprano with big breasts gives in, they kiss.
4. Assorted throng of 30 sopranos/altos/tenors/basses dressed as courtiers / party guests / rustic countryfolk repeatedly sing don’t do it, it’s not a good idea, don’t do it, it’s not a good idea for twenty minutes, before chorus ends with Alright then, bloody do it. But don’t say we didn’t warn you. OK?
5. Curtain comes down, audience races to the crush bar to drink champagne at £36 a glass.
6. Wealthy young tenor and soprano with big breasts now blissfully happy living together in big pile in the country. Soprano with big breasts coughing a lot.
7. Wealthy young tenor’s father (basso, sometimes profundo, sometimes shallow and just plain silly) pays a visit to soprano with big breasts whilst wealthy young tenor is out.
8. Soprano with big breasts is persuaded to leave wealthy young tenor for some obscure reason not fully explained in the appalling libretto.
9. Wealthy young tenor returns to find soprano with big breasts gone. He is upset, which we glean from him cradling his heart a lot, plus singing his next aria in a minor key.
10. Curtain comes down, audience races to the toilets because the previous interval’s champagne is taking effect.
11. Soprano with big breasts on her deathbed in white nightshirt speckled with blood, tended by her nurse. (An alto).
12. Doctor (a bass) enters, gives the impression there’s no hope.
13. Wealthy young tenor appears, says he now knows the circumstances of soprano with big breasts leaving him, he’s not angry any more, she’s the love of his life, yada, yada, yada.
14. Soprano with big breasts perks up a bit, audience thinks oh no, we’ll be here for another three hours, before she suddenly conks out after ear-splitting top C in wealthy young tenor’s arms.
15. Curtain call for an hour and three quarters, with assorted bowing, cursteying, applause by the soloists for the orchestra, applause by the orchestra for the soloists, audience lose will to live (minor key, doloroso).
16. Audience makes run for it down 56 flights of stairs before those on stage think of starting up again. Even in the centre of London wine bars don’t stay open all night, you know.
See, Andrew Lloyd Bank Balance? You’ve been rumbled.