Monday, March 16, 2009

The Tree Says It's Spring

Days like today should be should doled out like a controlled substance, nature's remedy for the aches of winter. A perfect day. The sky is clear and blue, the sun is bright, there is a soft, light breeze; it is luminoso, sereno, una giornata bellissima.

The big cats from downstairs have moved outside now, lounging on the grass or on the pozzo. One is as wide as it is long when spread out on the lawn. The other, dark and sleek, suns himself on the pozzo, pausing to lick his paws and wash his face. The other night, under the full moon, the garden was filled with brilliant silver light and the breeze rustling the palm fronds sounded like a gently running mountain stream. I was about to look for where the water was coming from when I realized it was the wind. That moment was a haiku in realtime.

Other bright spots worthy of note:
Le Voci delle Donne
The concert last Thursday, Le Voci Delle Donne, Women's Voices, was a belated salute to the Festa della Donna. The music was written and sung by women. The ballroom of Ca' Rezzonico (otherwise known as The Museum of the Eighteenth Century) was a later add-on to the original palace. This accounts for the massive windows on the east side which open onto nothing but a wall behind them. The room is enormous, shaped like a shoebox, two stories high. The ceiling and walls are covered with rococo trompe l'oeil frescoes featuring mythological figures, sea shells, winged stucco putti and of course the family crest emblazoned in technicolor over the massive windows to nowhere.
The floors are marble and the room is enormously echo-y, which is markedly apparent before the music even begins when conversational voices reverberate like babble.
Before the music began the lights were turned down; the room became an immense gilt grotto. The only lights were the micro reading lights mounted over the singers' scores, like an unfamiliar constellation. The first selections were by Hildegarde Von Bingen, a twelfth century nun and mystic. Gothic music. Hildegarde was told in a vision to "write down what you see and hear," and she did, visions, music and all. The sound of the voices is eerie and cool, like the grey stone apse at the church of Santa Maria Assunta on Torcello. The musical lines weave designs of gothic stonework in full moonlight. The long pedal tones hover like a light fog. The music reverberates, piling up in precise layers. Outstanding!
The lights came up for the balance of the concert, music of the same period as the room. Unfortunately the echo-y acoustic was not as kind to the florid baroque music. Every deviation from pitch collided with the other voices; the reverb overlapped and muddied the musical lines. What was clear and bright sounded strident, what was plush disappeared. The Hildegarde music was created to echo amid stone walls, and it triumphed in the same acoustic that swamped the rest.

What remains of the thousand-year-old Coventry Cathedral.
Britten, War Requiem
Saturday night the Orchestra of La Fenice performed Benjamin Britten's War Requiem under the baton of Bruno Bartoletti. Britten wrote the War Requiem for the 1962 reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral; the original thousand-year-old building was bombed to pieces during the Battle of Britain. Britten was a life-long pacifist; the War Requiem is dedicated to friends lost during the First World War and Britten intersperses the traditional Latin mass with poems by the great poet of that war, Wilfred Owen, who was killed in action at the Battle of the Sambre one week before the War ended. That his poems exist at all is something of a miracle; and they are miraculous, powerful, hallucinatory in their intensity, visionary and sad. For Britten it must have seemed as if Fortune had handed him the perfect opening both to celebrate the dead and to make a compelling and triumphant statement of his pacifist ideals.
A small orchestra with a battery of drums, percussion and harps, was deployed in the pit. The main body of the orchestra filled the stage and flowed up into the risers where the chorus stood, in all, a true wall of sound, joined by the three vocal soloists and, offstage, a children's choir. The music communicates in both intimate detail, in small groupings of voices and instruments, and in extraordinary layering of sounds, from the delicate wisps of the offstage children's voices accompanied by the slightest breath of organ, to the Sanctus which exploded with all the glittering golden glory of San Marco.
My point is not to review the performance. I only want to convey the impact of this kind of experience, that begins in your toes and ultimately sears your brain cells, flooding you with a unique mixture of dread and celebration, a perfect conflation of text, music, and performance going off like a string of psychic firecrackers.

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