Thursday, July 30, 2009

this sometimes life

This is a day, and these were experiences, I'll remember for a long time. We were lucky enough to be able to reserve tickets on Monday to see Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper during its first viewing on Wednesday morning, which meant being at the church of Santa Maria del Grazie at 8.15a.m today. Yesterday we got the call saying that a friend of a friend had organised tickets for us tonight at the Bregenz Opera - Bregenzer Festspiele, in Austria, performing Aida, which opened only a week ago. This meant that we started the day up at 7a.m. and looking at Leonardo's masterpiece in the church refectory in Milan, and ended it on Lake Constanz in Austria having seen what was, without exaggeration, one of the most incredible performances of any kind I've ever seen. Starting in Italy, I'd never been able to see the Last Supper before and who knows if I ever will again. It was beautiful and expert, and quite intriguing - what is going on with the figure to Jesus' right, who does appear very female, and another figure is at least androgynous, while also I'd love to know more about the placement of the bread and glasses, and the apostles' feet. And they're eating off what appears to be a tallith, a Jewish prayer shawl. Some of the faces were beautiful and the light from the window instead of a halo around Jesus' head was also beautifully done. It was good to see this painting 'in the flesh'. Then came a lengthy train ride across Italy into Switzerland - only enough time to buy some replacement Swiss Army knife components in Zurich train station - and on to the next train to Austria. We picked up our tickets for the Bregenzer Festspiele, dashed to the hotel and back, and then realised we were in some of the best seats among 6700 opera-goers to watch Aida on a floating stage in Lake Constanz. It truly was an astonishing performance. The stage was less a floating platform than the central focus around which actors were in, out of and under water, with full size industrial cranes lifting massive pieces of the set, boats sailing in and out, singers at times flying high above the other actors, riot-suited police-singers coming through the audience while the chorus, dressed variously as priests, slaves and warriors, lined a long pier arcing out into the lake and the main parts of the set. This set was of a wrecked statue of liberty, entirely blue with small stars, on a massive scale and with its metal internal structure and external supports providing vital parts of the display. In a particularly mouth-dropping scene two gigantic pieces of the statue's face were craned up from partial submersion in the lake water, suspended perhaps a hundred feet into the air, and then aligned perfectly with each other so that they hung only a few feet away, making a complete face, hovering above the singers below. These singers were not dwarfed by the pyrotechnics of the set design and staging but seemed fitted to such a setting, with amazing voices and powerful presence throughout over two hours of performance, with numerous solos. On a number of occasions their ability and the beauty of the music created an irresistible emotional response, as well as simple awe of their skills and of the production as a whole. There were some points tonight when it really came home to me that I feel very lucky to have this life, a life that occasionally can include such experiences as today. I'm grateful to the people that gave this to me, both in providing the tickets and creating the performance. Thank you. I won't forget it.


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