It’s twenty past four on a Monday. “I’ve never been so busy in my life,” says the man who just sold me a flat white. No surprises really. We are at Glyndebourne and it’s the first interval of Tristan and Isolde. We are about to go into the middle bit. Considering I was King Marke in an experiential event thing based on the story, you’d think I’d be more familiar with the full opera. But there’s four hours of it and I was being paid in carrots and smoke.
I’m lucky enough to have a girlfriend who works at this remarkable place. This is a dress rehearsal, and if I think I had an endurance race with Badger, imagine what the lady in the red wig has to go through every night. This is the work of the Wagner who had just discovered Schopenhauer. It’s certainly not Mozart. It’s a long way from Puccini. Life and Death. Light and Dark. Day and Night. Love. Death. Light. Death. Dark. Oblivion. Pain. Oh God! Oh God! Why?
And the sea! The sea! Probably more than sixty musicians from the London Philharmonic and they’re on the stage uplit in blue at the start and you can see and feel the ocean as the sound rises and falls and surges and wanes. So many people and so much accumulated talent all to bring this weird and sad story of love and magic and death to a tiny audience. It’s an open dress tonight, for friends of the building. The stalls are empty as it is being filmed and the sound desk is still out with all the team checking levels and light. But my oh my it’s ready. My German is atrocious and I feel it’s getting better this evening just by hearing the perfect enunciation of the principals. There’s just over an hour to go. The music starts surging as we all learn that love is pain and life of dying and oblivion sweet sweet oblivion is waiting.
People are gonna spend a huge amount on tickets for this, I’m sure. They’ll have to for the economy of it to even slightly make sense. The talent on that stage in the numbers they’re there in… Sure, I’m sure it’s a treat to be part of something as huge and simmering and gorgeous and human as this. But we all need to eat, and if we’re gonna do what some of these guys do we need to eat a lot. It’s a true luxury to be here even though I’m exhausted and it has been a constant war against sleep…
War definitely won. That was electric. Apparently it’s not even sold out but tickets cost a house and it’s not fully staged, which some people consider to be a disadvantage. Honestly though, the way it was staged satisfied me completely. The orchestra dominated the stage, and they were the sea and the dawn and we always had something to watch. On the apron the singers worked with great simplicity and precision, and maybe it’s all that time at The Factory but I honestly think that when you’re working with great text, the less you do to clutter it with pyrotechnics and big sets and acting and props the harder it is for those of us watching to hear the words and let them be ours too. Semi-staged allowed me to experience this epic piece for the first time without being told what to think of it. I am glad of that. I found so much.
Yes, life is pain and happiness is merely momentary relief from the endless suffering of existence. But somehow that sort of Schopenhauerian message always makes me want to double down on being silly and having completely pointless fun lots and lots.
If you like a bit of Wagner and have pots of money, get a picnic and hope there’s good weather. The rest of you, don’t mess about with love potions even if they were made by your mum. It won’t end well.