Before we were “modernised”at Westminster, it was difficult to go to the opera and get one’s money’s worth. A 10 pm vote meant departure before the fat lady sang or, as opera buffs like to put it, before the soprano’s final aria in the denouement of Act 111.
Alberich and the Rheinmaidens
Now, life is different. The debate on “Bullying in Schools” was drawing to a close in the Commons without a vote at 7pm, and the evening in London stretched ahead.
Leafing through the Evening Standard in the tea-room, I saw Das Rheingold was on at Covent Garden and the reviews had been favourable. Surprisingly, there were some tickets left and I secured one, mounted my bicycle and headed off into the traffic for some culture.
Normally I buy a programme, but, having discovered it cost £15, this was, as the economists put it, on the wrong side of my indifference curve. What with the surtitles on the top of the stage, the remnants of “A” Level German, and a passing acquaintance with Teutonic mythology, I reckoned I could follow the proceedings without a programme, and buy a bottle of beer out of the savings. I was served remarkably quickly.
Had I bought a programme, I would have been like everyone else and not have bought a bottle of beer. Let me explain. Along with the names of the cast and advertisements aimed at those with a high net worth, the programme contained one vital piece of information – namely that, in accordance with the wishes of Richard Wagner, this long opera was to be performed with no interval. In those days, either they didn’t sell drinks before the curtain rose, or the XIXth century German opera-goer had the water retention capacity of a camel.
My seat was a long way from the stage – it felt as if it was the other side of the road.
This confused my multifocals. As I was looking down, they thought I was reading a book, whereas I needed the horizon-scanning section of the lens at the top. As the first seven minutes of the opera is performed in virtual darkness, my brain had time to reprogramme the ocular nerves without missing any of the action.
Normally I can sit anywhere in Covent Garden and see – not sadly true of the person sitting behind me. This time I was sitting behind the top scorer of a visiting American basket ball team and I had to peer round his right armpit.
From bullying in schools to bullying in pools, as the Rheinmaidens tormented the ugly dwarf Alberich in terms that would have had them up before the beaks under the Disability Discrimination Act. In turn, Alberich needed to go on an anger management course. An unlikely plot unfolded over the next two and a half hours. Only when Wotan started to argue with the builders about paying for his new home did the story line converge with the real world.
A few days later, the business in the House ended early. Looking through the paper, I saw a later episode of the Ring Cycle was on. Due its length, this performance began at 4.30. So I went to the cinema.