Category Archives: Fandom

“Autobiographical in feeling”. Alice Munro Wins the Nobel Prize for Literature

So happy to hear the news today that Alice Munro is awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature.


Alice Munro. Photo: Kristin Ross/PR

I fell in love with her writing three years ago when I read Runaway, and every one of her books have been a great reading experience for me. Her brilliant short stories really sum up the human condition – without ever becoming pompous and without any sense of entitlement to them, without any self-conscious air of speaking on behalf of anyone else but the persona at hand. Munro has never been shy or coy about her drawing on autobiographical material (Lives of Girls and Women, for instance, was called “autobiographical in form but not in fact”, and in Dear Life the last four pieces were referred to by Munro as “autobiographical in feeling”), but she has that wondrous and rare ability to make her experiences into something personal rather than something private. The world is richer for the experiences she has had and for her gift for transforming these experiences into language and narratives.

I was certain that I must have mentioned Munro several times here on this blog in the past, but I just did a search and found that I have actually only mentioned her once, in my blog post about apostrophic props in operas. This is something that I will have to correct in the future, but for now I will just tip my hat to Munro and congratulate her on this well deserved award.

Im Dorfe. Happy Birthday, Schubert.

It is so fitting, isn’t it, that Schubert should have been born in January? As I’ve mentioned before I love Schubert’s music dearly all year round, but it seems to me especially appropriate for the month of January, and I have, in fact, set up a rule for myself that under no circumstances am I allowed to listen to Winterreise earlier than January 1. That way I have something to look forward to about this the bleakest, coldest month of the year.

Oh, Schubert. It really does make me so weepy every time I think about his much too early death, even more so than with Mozart. The Grim Reeper cheated us out on a lot of undoubtedly great music from both gentlemen, certainly, but at least Mozart got to have a wife and kids. What did Schubert get? Syphilis, that’s what. Or at least something similarly nasty and painful and isolating. To have lived through such misery and then to have maintained the ability to communicate feelings so well through his music, to have insisted on remaining so warm and human deep inside that coldness … It breaks the heart.

Happy 216th, old Franz.  You are missed.

“An dich hab’ ich gedacht” – a few inadequate words about Schubert

I’m obsessed with Schubert at the moment. This isn’t all that surprising:  I tend to be all about Schubert in January, because Winterreise is just so perfect for this month: Bleak and cold, with no warm, prosperous spring waiting just around the corner. The excellent Jessica Duchen wrote a post about Schubert recently and makes some striking observations:

In Schubert, the major tonality is more tragic than the minor. It is the way he switches between them that rips at our innards. What is he doing? What is he saying? Recognition of darkness turns to acceptance of it, maybe. Or to seeing the beauty beyond it. Or to welcoming it. Or to extending compassion to everyone for it, with a wry smile through the tears. I believe that in the change from minor to major he is not only recognising the darkness and transforming it, but empathising with both sides of it, and with us all: in that switch, for Schubert, lies the essence of the human condition.

This is so accurate, I think. The major tonality has always been what moved me the most about Winterreise, exactly because it never signified to me something as banal as a glimpse of hope or optimisim or springtime. To me the switch to major tonality in the opening lied “Gute Nacht” has always been what solidified the sadness of it, and set the tone for the rest of the lied cycle which, I believe, is a cycle about an infitine, hopeless sadness. To me, the major tonality in this lied, and the rest of the lieder, signifies the recognition of the lost beauty, or love, or happiness without which the sadness would be bearable.

(from Ian Bostridge’s wonderful, staged Winterreise)

The change goes so well with the lyrics, too:

Will dich im Traum nicht stören,
Wär schad’ um deine Ruh’.
Sollst meinen Tritt nicht hören –
Sacht, sacht die Türe zu !
Schreib im Vorübergehen
Ans Tor dir: Gute Nacht,
Damit du mögest sehen,
An dich hab’ ich gedacht.

If there was nothing to the lied cycle but the bitter resolution expressed in the first three stanzas (“Was soll ich länger weilen…?”), surely there would be no lied cycle at all. The persona would have marched right out of the wintry little town with rapid steps, as indicated by the resolute walking pace of the lied (also noted by Duchen). Spring would have come. But the persona lingers because of course there is something other than the bitterness. There is a tenderness and a love that, tragically, seems to live on the frail constitution of the persona amid the frozen landscape, like the crow that is hoping to pick the persona’s bones after his death, and it creeps into every lied in the cycle, making the cycle the masterpiece that it is.

Am I reading too much into Schubert’s music, putting words in his mouth? Likely. But I feel like it’s more the other way around: Schubert puts notes into my mouth. Even in the pieces that are purely instrumental, I always feel like he is using music as a universal language and speaking to me directly and extremely eloquently through it. Like in the second movement of his piano trio in E flat, which Duchen also posts and which happens to be one of my favourite pieces of any classical music:

I feel like I understand exactly what Schubert is saying here, as plainly as if he had been speaking in my native tongue, except that his music makes him capable of expressing sentiments so complex and nuanced that words would never be able to cover it. There’s something in there about frustration, something about sorrow and longing, and something about an obstacle, but also something about determination. And something very basic about breathing, one’s chest rising and falling. But like I said, my words aren’t adequate. Sometimes words aren’t. To me, Schubert proved this better than any other composer.

Happy Birthday, Ruggerone!

Ruggero Raimondi is 70 years old today! I just did a quick search and found that I’ve mentioned Raimondi no less than 11 times since I started this blog.

I quite like him, you see. In fact, I think he’s a bit of an operatic genius. I first discovered him when Annina introduced me to his work back in 2003, and since then I’ve only grown more impressed with his wonderful voice and his incredible dramatic range.  Raimondi can bring the funny, as seen here in Don Pasquale:

But he’s also my absolute favourite singer for the part of the profoundly evil, dangerously alluring Scarpia (it was in this part, too, that he gave us the Greatest Opera Kiss Of All Time):

He’s powerfully full-beard-y as Zaccaria in Nabucco:

And he can be tremendously moving as well, like when he’s interpreting the part of Filippo in Don Carlo

In short: He deserves all the praise he can get for everything that he’s done for the world of opera. And At the Lighthouse would like to extend the warmest, heartiest of birthday greetings to Mr Raimondi on this big day. A very happy birthday to you, Ruggerone!

Who has two thumbs and heard Renée Fleming in concert?

This girl! *points to self with thumbs*.

Renée Fleming was in Copenhagen two days ago and gave a concert of Strauss lieder at the Tivoli Concert Hall, and I was there. I’m not going to do a review of the concert, since I know personally just about half of the people involved in the production of it, both on- and off-stage, but I will say this: Renée Fleming is amazing. Truly a wonderful singer. I’ve admired her for years, but this was the first time I ever experienced her live, and I like her even better now. What I especially love about her is that her voice seems to flow so naturally, so organically through her lips, as if her body is one with the sound of it, and as if producing this powerful sound is as little an effort to her as reaching out an arm or stretching a leg would be. She’s got that same naturalness to her acting, which of course was very subdued here as she was not acting out a part, but the lyrics of the lieder were delivered with the same kind of warm ease.

Her encore was “Morgen”, and it left me grinning like an idiot. Also, I *may* have been crying a litfle. I may have. (But in a totally rock’n’roll kind of way, naturelement.)

Other nice moments at the concert:

  • Renée Fleming being sweetly touched as a little uniformed member of the Tivoli Boys Guard marched in during the applause, saluted her solemnly, presented her with a bouquet of flowers, then marched out again.
  • Fleming being generally awesome and very sweet and down to earth at the subsequent on-stage interview.
  • The way Fleming wore not one, but two fabulous gowns, one of them shocking pink. Girl has a way of carrying herself in these kinds of things that makes most other women (myself included, certainly) look like awkward drag queens during their first cross-dressing sessions.
  • Fleming as well as the orchestra and conductor being very patient and showing no annoyance with the audience which tended to have the most weirdly distracting, most random applauding habits. They applauded between movements, except for the times when they did not. You never knew. It was quite cringeworthy to be part of. Seriously, fellow Danes, this isn’t rocket science. You keep those palms apart between the movements. It’s as simple as that.

“Kein Wort!” – Natalie Dessay as Queen of the Night

I came across the following youtube video of Natalie Dessay singing Queen of the Night the other day:

I gotta say, this is the most brilliant interpretation of that aria I have ever seen. I had never considered the possibility of the Queen conveying anything but “Extremely Pissed State of Mind” in “Der Hölle Rache”, but I like Dessay’s “Mentally Ill” interpretation so much better. You would have to be pretty damned out of it, wouldn’t you, in order to demand that your daughter commit murder for you. And Dessay simply nails it, with a wonderfully neurotic, jerky body language as well as her amazing voice, and I love how the wordless coloratura parts of it seem like vocal ticks, rather than premeditated expressions of anger. Kudos!

Tosca Tours and Opera Sequels

Alex Ross has done the Tosca Tour in Rome!

I was delighted to learn about this, as the lovely Annina Teatime and myself did that exact same thing when we went to Rome together some years ago. Sant’Andrea, Palazzo Farnese, Castel Sant’Angelo – we went to the locations of all three acts.

Here’s a photo of me and Annina’s friend F., doing a Scarpia/Tosca tableau in front of the Roman prison:

Annina and I came to the same conclusion as Ross, by the way, concerning Tosca’s jump from the Castel. I love Ross’ idea of a sequel. Jessica Duchen has since elaborated on the idea in a great post pondering the possibility of other opera sequels.