So it is the Edinburgh Festival – a time which strikes fear in the heart of every good living Edinburger. There are two ways you can deal with it. You can either stay indoors, read no newspapers or radio or TV, and not travel or you can embrace it with open arms and attend everything that performs. People born and bred in Edinburgh usually do the first and those who have moved to Edinburgh do the latter. Don’t get me wrong. There are some shows I’d love to see but you have to weigh that up with getting public transport (which has probably been diverted from its normal route because so many roads are closed) and walking through crowds of thousands to get to some grotty church hall where the seats are stained with years of playgroup children’s use or dug out of some loft because they were deemed to be too uncomfortable for use.
So, this year like all other years I have been studiously ignoring all things Festival. That is until I received a telephone call yesterday from a certain Provost who writes reviews of Operas. There was one on in Edinburgh at the Kings and would I like his other ticket? Now, dear reader, I should explain that I don’t really do opera. I love the theatre, don’t get me wrong – I was born to act. But I’ve never really got the whole opera thing. In fact, I’ve only been once and that was Wagner. (Yes, perhaps not the best choice for an opera virgin.) I remember it was long but there were one or two nice tunes in it. But you can buy a CD for the nice tunes, can’t you? Last night’s offering was the little known opera Montezuma by Carl Heinrich Graun and libretto by Frederick II, King of Prussia. You’d be tempted too, huh?
I won’t dwell on the preamble to get the tickets which involved trying to drive to the Hub near the castle and being diverted through milling thousands who couldn’t even fit on the pavements, only to find every street within walking distance was closed to traffic or had no parking cones in place. Round and round and round I went, diversion after diversion, until I finally found a spot and ran – no, that’s not true. I ‘fought’ my way through the Tattoo zillions until I finally reached the Hub only to be told that the tickets would be at the venue by now.
Let’s move swiftly on to the Kings Theatre and a rather nice seat in the stalls being heckled by a large Mexican man trying to sell us t-shirts and Mexican jewellery. (I think he actually appeared in the opera later but I could be mistaken.) Finally, a little later than billed the overture began. It was jolly nice – very Baroque and nice woodwind section. (OK, you’ve guessed I don’t know what I’m talking about but just bear with me.) The curtains went back to reveal a large block of wood on top of which squatted a man and a woman. She sang and he sang. All very nice. Then she stood up and I realised that she was in fact a he and a rather splendid counter-tenor. In fact, most of the men were counter-tenors (including the dog, but I shall get to that later). By the end I did rather hanker after a beefy bass.
I think the story goes like this: Montezuma is the king of Mexico and is about to get married to someone whose name I couldn’t pronounce. Someone with a ponytail runs to tell him that the Spanish are coming and have killed their neighbours. M says that he will welcome them and make friends with them. The Spanish arrive and are baddies (albeit quite cute) and capture M and put him in chains which were really a poncho and two large sombreros. Everyone cries and is upset. Including the dog, yes the large alsation who comes with the Spanish and sings too. Then it all got a bit confusing for me but I think the bottles of water and coca cola symbolised the rape by the new culture (they were held between the chorus’ legs). Oh and a naked man was born right in front of my eyes but I’m not exactly sure what that was all about. During the second half the orchestra had moved from the pits to the stage and the poor conductor had to fight off Mexicans and Spanish alike. M died, falling off a large pillar where he bore more than a passing resemblance for St Sebastian and they all cried. Including the dog. The End.
Now, you may be forgiven for thinking that I am now more than ever convinced that I should have stayed at home, but in fact it was tremendous. Oh, there weren’t many catchy tunes to hum on the way home but it was pleasant enough in a kind of Monteverdi sort of way. But the whole thing was spectacularly hilarious. We were shaking with laughter at bits of it. The singing was good, the orchestra was great and the setting of it was just incredible. Is setting the right word? The production then. There wasn’t a moment when you could tear your eyes off the stage in case you missed some delight. Who will forget the Queen singing an aria whilst being dragged down a huge flight of stairs and then managing to haul herself back up them again BACKWARDS (feet first) without missing a note? Bravo, I say.
So, my night at the opera was a delight and I fear that any other opera may never quite match it.