Last Saturday, I went to the cinema to see a production of Giordano's Fedora
transmitted from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, somewhere I have never visited and am unlikely ever to visit. Giordano's opera is a melodramatic potboiler which keeps sounding like it is something better composers would have thought of and discarded. However, the production by David MacVicar was lavish and the cast sang beautifully. Sonya Yoncheva as Fedora – the imperious countess who managed to fall in love with the man who killed her husband – was on top form. Fedora died after taking poison, singing a lot while she expired.
I am not reviewing the production, just making the point that I got to see it. This is one of the wonders of the digital age – the making of once exclusive things available to all. The first Shakespeare play I saw was Much Ado About Nothing
at the Palace Theatre in London, with John Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft as Benedict and Beatrice. I had studied it at university during one of the years I did English as part of my degree but it proved a revelation. Suddenly, it was funny, witty and exciting – not just difficult words on a page.
One can read plays but you need to see them being performed to find what the dramatist had in mind – and whether the play is actually alive or has, with the passage of time, died. It happens. I knew nothing about Much Ado
and the effect it has on audiences, although in an academic way I could have passed opinions – seeing it performed rendered them very second hand.
The same goes for musical theatre like opera. Nobody can say that doors are closed to them any longer. They may not choose to open the doors but they are there. In the 1950s, getting to London seemed as likely to me as getting to the moon – and then came cheap flights and the world opened up. That access may, unless we solve the problems of climate change, become a thing of the past but I should still be able to go to the Met. While not part of the audience in the theatre, I am part of an audience in the cinema showing the transmission. I have a better seat than I would were I actually in the opera house for a start. So 2023 did start after all with something new.
In these Covid days, it is probably bad taste to joke about disease. Taste has never been my strong suit, preferring instead the attitude of Don Marquis whose Mehitabel used to explain away her shortcomings with the phrase 'What the Hell, Archy! What the Hell!' And so, I have had the dreaded Lurgi.
For those of tenderer years, the dreaded Lurgi was invented by Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes for the Goon Show
. (Our current monarch was an addict to this radio classic imitating the Bluebottle character with some skill.) Lurgi was a fictitious highly infectious disease that on 9 November 1954 threatened to sweep Britain. Harry Secombe's character, Ned Seagoon, had to deal with it.
To cut a long story short, the cure was to play a musical instrument, thereby making instrument makers and sellers ultra rich. Rich from a fake solution to a fake disease, as opposed to recent events in the UK where fake solutions to a real disease made many a fortune. Subsequently, Lurgi entered the mainstream vocabulary to describe any unexpected illness of doubtful origin. Folk avoided unwanted meetings, parties and even individuals 'suffering from Lurgi'. And then, like the Goon Show
, it was gone and forgotten. Until six weeks ago in our modest household, when it came back with some vengeance.
At first, it seemed like Covid but tests were negative. Possibly influenza? None of the usual symptoms. The actual symptoms were full and varied. Uncontrollable shivering, inability to sleep, fear of certain books, out of body moments, ability to switch one's body on and off with a switch on the chest, regular loss of balance and a persistent cough. A trip to the doctor, who investigated parts of my body unknown to even my closest and took samples of all possible fluids, revealed I had diverticulitis and nothing much else.
That night, as the coughing defeated sleep, I experimented with a trick known to psychologists. I gathered my problems into a mental box and with a quick upwards flick of a mental finger, sent them into the trash bin. To my utter amazement, it worked. The cough disappeared, my body started to warm and I fell asleep. The dreaded Lurgi had gone.
I have no doubt there is a rational medical explanation for my last six weeks. Flu and fever seem likely. (We have a younger relation who had to sweep Mr Men characters off her downie during a recent illness.) My local friendly nurse told me she had had Covid three times but the Lurgi flu was worse. In a very strange way, it has been something to remember. Apart from in print, however, it is not something I would wish to share. Worst enemies included.
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