My mother loved La Boheme. She would have been thrilled to be with me today. She dragged me to it in the nineties and probably thought it would be good for me. Probably paid through the nose too in order to have her snotty teenage son sniggering about Mimi putting her hands in her muff.
It’s set in Paris in the 1800’s. Young artsy types who can’t afford to heat their homes. It could be set in London right now. Lou managed to get tickets to the dress run at Glyndebourne. In before the public, able to see this hugely loved piece of Italian opera in an audience of happy and appreciative people – many of whom likely have a decent handle on what it’s like to be a struggling artist who honestly can’t pay the rent. The doors will soon open formally and things will tighten up and the building will be filled with a very different energy. The character’s poverty will be so remote to the bulk of observers that it will be taken purely as a romantic abstract. “I mean honestly though really if it’s so cold in Paris why don’t they just go to their house in the country?” This audience knew they were lucky to be there. It was a beautiful show and landed very well.
Part of the whole Glyndebourne experience is the picnic in the gardens. I drove up there with an old picnic hamper full of tasty things, and I drove through the most unbelievably torrential downpour to get there. Tristan and Tanya were coming down from London too – we managed to get them in. Tanya is a huge opera fan. We met in Lewes in a gap in the rain and I ferried them there so they could leave the car at their accommodation and have drinks.
We installed ourselves under a tree at an outdoor table and the wind was fierce. We were trying to put a brave face on it – a very British picnic. Everything going everywhere. Heigh ho the wind and the rain, and that quintessentially British thing where you pass the quiche and try to pretend it’s how you wanted things to be.
The opera itself was masterful, as how could it be not? Some huge voices, some really interesting and smart staging. Lighting design, costume… They aren’t holding back with this. It’s Puccini at Glyndebourne.
I see the appeal – these run down inward looking Paris Bohemians stalked by death, singing achingly beautiful songs about ordinary things. Big grand gestures and everything so portentous and LOVE and DEATH and LIFE!
By the time it was over, the weather was settling. We had slightly rushed the picnic in the bluster – I have eaten virtually nothing all day today. Just some bread and cheese and foie gras. In the dusk we went for a wander around the grounds. Down to the lake, up through the verdant gardens. It’s a hell of a setting. Lucky us, while people can’t afford to eat or heat or get to work. What an absolute treat to go to these gardens and have a picnic and some culture on a weekday.
I’m back in Brighton for one night, at Lou’s, near the sea, looking forward to breakfast, driving her in to work again tomorrow for Figaro… They turn the whole set around overnight. Amazing…