strange_complex: (Alessandro tear)
This film was directed by Federico Fellini, which is reason enough to watch a film in my book. But that wasn't why I watched it.

It's also set in Rome, which is reason enough too. But again, that wasn't why I watched it.

I watched it because it features the one and only screen appearance by a certain Giulio Moreschi: nephew and adopted son of my beloved Alessandro Moreschi )

As for the actual film, the plot revolves around a small-town newly-wed couple, Ivan and Wanda, who have come to Rome for their honeymoon. He is conventional, fastidious, and obsessed with honour, status and prestige. He has come to Rome mainly to show off his new wife to his well-connected uncle, who has an important position at the Vatican and can get them in to meet the Pope. She is sensitive, idealistic and innocent, and has come to Rome hoping to meet the star of a photo-strip which she follows: the dashingly handsome White Sheikh.

At the first opportunity, while he thinks she is taking a bath, she sneaks out to the office from which the photo-strip is produced, where she ends up accidentally getting swept off to the day's location shooting on a beach outside Rome. There she meets her hero - but discovers that he is nothing like the dashing romantic figure she had imagined, and ends up disillusioned and stuck miles away from Rome with no way of getting back to the city. Meanwhile, the husband is desperately trying to hide the fact that his wife has gone missing from his uncle's family, and pretend that she is simply ill in bed.

It's a gentle social comedy with a healthy dose of farce, but some sombre notes as well. For Fellini, it is an early effort - his first time as sole director, in fact. But his later signature touches are definitely recognisable - the caricaturing of ordinary everyday eccentricity, the ribbing of the pompous and the bureaucratic, the interest in sexual hypocrisy, Catholicism and the process of cinematic production. For me, the funniest scene was one set in a police office, where the husband had come to report his wife missing, but was terrified of the whole story ending up in the papers and bringing his name into disgrace. As one policeman questioned him, and he gradually and reluctantly divulged the details of the whole torrid affair, another sat close by with a typewriter, thundering out every name and sensitive personal disclosure in stark black and white, as the husband writhed with discomfort.

Obviously there won't be that many people out there who will be as excited as me by Giulio Moreschi's role in the film. But I know there are a few Fellini fans on my flist - and I would definitely recommend this film to them.

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strange_complex: (Alessandro tear)
I re-read the first edition of this book a month ago, and in the course of checking background details about it for my write-up, found out about this new version. Having been very impressed with the original, I of course ordered the new edition straight away.

Retitling )

Presentation )

New material )

Changes to the existing text )

Anyway, in summary this book perhaps isn't as much of an improvement on the previous edition as I'd hoped for, but since the previous edition was already excellent, this remains a great piece of work which I'm glad I bought. It's an extremely pleasing testimony to continuing interest in Moreschi that a revised edition was commissioned, and I'm sure that interest in itself is a clear testimony to Nicholas Clapton's efforts in recording and presenting his story. Three cheers for both of them.

Click here to view this entry with minimal formatting.

strange_complex: (Alessandro Moreschi)
Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Alessandro Nilo Angelo Moreschi, known in his lifetime as 'The Angel of Rome' and more commonly today as 'The Last Castrato'.

I shall be celebrating this evening by listening to all of the recordings which he made (in 1902 and 1904) with the attention they deserve and a glass of wine in my hand. But I am also marking the event here by posting the lyrics for those recordings, in the original languages as he sang them and with parallel English translations. The items are presented in the same order as that found on the OPAL CD, Alessandro Moreschi: The Last Castrato, since I know that that is the recording most people have of his repertoire. However, if you enjoy Moreschi's voice, I would really recommend that you purchase a copy of the Truesound version of his recordings, which has been cleaned up much more effectively than the OPAL one, and also includes a number of extra recordings made by other members of the Sistine Chapel Choir at the same time.

All translations are my own, although help which I received with the Palestrina madrigal, La Cruda Mia Nemica, is credited below. I have aimed for literal, rather than poetic, translations, with the intention being simply to help listeners understand the meaning of the songs Moreschi recorded.

Happy birthday, il mio angelo, and long may you be continue to be remembered.


Aldega – Domine salvum fac )

Pratesi – Et Incarnatus Est / Crucifixus )

Tosti – Ideale )

Meluzzi – Ave Verum Corpus )

Stehle – Tui Sunt Coeli )

Mozart – Ave Verum Corpus )

Rossini – Crucifixus )

Leibach – Pie Jesu )

Terziani – Hostias et Preces )

Tosti – Preghiera )

Bach-Gounod – Ave Maria )

Gregorian chant – Incipit Lamentatio )

Capocci – Gloria, Laudamus te and Gratias agimus )

Vittoria – Improperia )

Palestrina – La Cruda Mia Nemica )

Calzanera – Oremus Pro Pontifice )

Click here to view this entry with minimal formatting.

strange_complex: (Alessandro Moreschi)
An indulgence re-read, undertaken partly just because I love it so much, and partly with an eye to the fact that it will be the 150th anniversary of Moreschi's birth on November 11th this year. Besides, re-reading it gives me a reason to actually review it here - something I've kind of meant to do ever since the first time around. That, however, was back in the autumn of 2005, shortly after I'd got hold of Moreschi's recordings on CD at last, and was going through a massive process of joyous discovery. At the time, I wasn't yet in the habit of reviewing everything I read on my LJ, and somehow, I just never got round to it.

Of course, I'm reading it in a rather different way now from the way I did three years ago. Then, I was discovering Moreschi for the first time, and Clapton was my guide. In the intervening time, I've systematically hunted down and read almost all of both the primary and the secondary sources which Clapton used to write the book. I've made myself into an amateur Moreschi expert - and it's been a wonderful journey.

From that perspective, though, I am actually all the more impressed with this biography now that I return to it. Considering that its author trained as a musician and musicologist, not as a historian, it is really very well researched and presented. He's made good use of existing works, like Buning's thesis, but he's also made really valuable contributions of his own that have allowed him to add a lot to Moreschi's story. Above all, this has clearly included extensive research among the Vatican archives, which contain all sorts of primary documents about the activities of the Sistine Chapel Choir, including many in Moreschi's own hand.

There are perhaps a few refinements which could be made. There are stories and sources which haven't quite made it into the book: for instance, the delightful anecdote from the time of 1902 recording session when some of the cotton wool used to pack the wax master discs caught fire, and the 'male sopranos' present (which must have included Moreschi) ran for the door, where they got jammed together, and which appears in Fred Gaisberg's memoirs. Clapton also follows Buning on the subject of Moreschi's death certificate, which I've griped about before: though he does include slight reservations on the topic which Buning did not.

But you can't include everything, and what is here is wonderfully rich, involving and detailed, especially considering how little relevant primary documentation is now (or ever was, in fact) available for reconstructing Moreschi's story. Every page overflows with a deep fascination and respect for its subject: and as someone who feels much the same way about Alessandro Moreschi, I can't help but approve. In any case, it appears that Clapton has taken the opportunity to improve upon his original publication. In the course of visiting his website to check details for this post, I found out that he's just released a revised and expanded edition of it, now titled Moreschi: The Angel of Rome. I've just ordered it.

Click here to view this entry with minimal formatting.

strange_complex: (Alessandro tear)
And so begins another year of book-blogging. With, as it happens, a monster! :-)

I'm not normally in the habit of sitting around reading other people's PhD theses even in my own subject, let alone outside it. But regular readers of this journal will understand why this particular one demanded my attention so insistently. I've known about it since I read Nicholas Clapton's biography of Moreschi, The Last Castrato, back in about December 2005 (alas, before I started book-blogging), and have always wanted to follow up what was obviously such a rich and interesting reference. So in November I finally gave in to the temptation to have the thing sent over to me from Boston (where it was originally submitted) on inter-library loan.

Big green book )

And now that I've been able to read it? Well - wow! I have a couple of gripes, but on the whole this is a thorough, lucid, scholarly and fascinating exploration of my favourite singer and his voice. I count myself fantastically lucky that it was written, and that I've had the chance to read it. The aim of the thesis is to set Alessandro Moreschi's surviving recordings in the context of our wider knowledge of historical castrati and of the medical effects of pre-pubertal castration, in order to arrive at as rigorous an understanding as possible of the mechanics of vocal production in a castrato singer, and thus of the capacities and limitations of this lost voice type which has left such a legacy in Western music. In other words, it's all about understanding Moreschi better as a musician, and about understanding the music written for his predecessors by composers such as Handel and his contemporaries better as a result. As far as I'm concerned - brilliant!

Gripes )

Biography )

More important, though, were the musicological insights I gained into Moreschi's singing. Buning examines the contemporary written evidence for his professional career, and of course also his surviving recordings, incredibly thoroughly and competently - including presenting things like spectral analyses of his voice as preserved on the recordings, and detailed examples of places on them where particular aspects of his technique and capabilities can be clearly heard. I've listened to those recordings more than any other music I have over the last two-and-a-bit years (since I first got hold of them in November '05). So much, in fact, that I hardly even need to listen to them directly any more, because every note, every swell, every ornament, every click and swish of the records themselves is hard-wired into my brain. But, thanks to Buning, I can hear new things in them again, and listen to them in a different way. Always good.

Pitch decline )

Register practice )

Michael Maniaci )

Moreschi's head voice and contemporary recording technique )

Finally, beyond the content in this thesis that was specific to Moreschi himself, it was just great to read someone really writing about the castrati rigorously and thoughtfully, and actively seeking to question some of the existing orthodoxies about them. As I've indicated before, most of the available books on the castrati are pretty second-rate, really, and it would be nice to see someone publishing a worthwhile, scholarly full-length study which didn't just peddle the same old over-romanticised lines. Ultimately, I didn't really agree with Buning's final conclusion regarding the relevance of his findings for performance practice, which was that since countertenors cannot possibly sound anything like castrati, we should be using women to sing the roles written for castrato singers on stage instead. As Buning showed, women don't sound anything like castrati either, and besides I happen to rather like the sound which countertenors produce in its own right. But I did very much agree with his reasoning about why the issue matters: Western music is full of pieces which were written specifically for castrato singers, taking special account of the unique qualities of their voices, and seeking to show it off to best effect. If we are to understand, and make best use of, that music, then we must understand properly how the original voice functioned. Alessandro Moreschi is the man who can show us.

strange_complex: (Alessandro Moreschi)
Continuing on last night's theme of the adulation of male sopranos, let it be recorded that today is (amongst other things, of course) the birthday of Alessandro Moreschi. Were he still alive, he would be 149 today (so a big anniversary next year - whoop!).

Last year, I marked the day by posting about the pilgrimage to the Sistine Chapel which I had undertaken in his honour in June of 2006. This year, I'm celebrating by posting up a series of pictures of him - in fact, all the ones that are in existence as far as I know. Most lead to larger versions if you click on them - sometimes much larger.

Moreschi - a life in pictures )


Image hosted by Photobucket.com

And between all of those, I was able to make this colour bar early in 2006 - which still graces my userinfo page to this day, and is not going anywhere any time soon. The Sistine Chapel photograph isn't really worth including, as you can't really tell it's him anyway, and I'd be the first to admit that some of the others are moot points. But eight photographs of any person who lived when he did is pretty good going. And I'd like to think that somewhere, in archives or in private collections, there are more waiting.

strange_complex: (Apollo Belvedere)
I've just come back from hearing Michael Maniaci sing in Keiser's The Fortunes of King Croesus for a second time. And by the gods, am I glad I went.

I knew he was good last time, I did. But with the excitement of the weekend generally, the novelty of Keiser's music to my ears, and the fast-moving spectacle of the production, it was hard to concentrate on just one singer's voice. This time, I had the plot clear in my mind, didn't need to get confused about who was in love with whom, and knew when to expect Maniaci's big moments. It helped, too, that while last time we were in the Upper Circle (the middle of three balconies), this time I was in the second row of the stalls, slap bang in the middle and mere feet from the orchestra pit. The difference in position alone made the whole thing so much more intense - like seeing something in colour or hearing something in stereo for the first time, when you've only experienced it before in black and white or mono.

Maniaci's voice )

All night I was entranced - by Maniaci, but also by both Gillian Keith (Elmira) and Fflur Wyn (Clerida), who would both have been worth going back for even if it weren't for Maniaci. Gillian Keith especially flew and soared with searing agility through the part of Elmira, and rightly dominated the opera with an astonishing range of beautiful arias. But then there was the moment when Maniaci began to sing 'Elmira, where are you gone?' (Elmir! wo bleibest du?), and entrancement turned into complete absorption. His messa di voce on the long, plaintive 'Elmira!'s was devastating. My heart was in my mouth. I shut my eyes so that nothing could distract from the pure experience of the sound. I'd known the aria was good last time, but this time, pre-warned, I was overwhelmed. Could I really be hearing anything so powerful, and yet so human? The lingering grief, and yet the perfect control and rich shape which he gave to the sound. I was completely wrapped in the moment - nothing but a pair of ears sucking in the melody he was unveiling.

And then, once again, it was all over - too quickly - and it was out into the confused strangeness of the street. How could ordinary life be going on after that music had finished? How could buses run and drunks shout? How could people not know? The journey home sped by in shell-shocked bewilderment. Betrayal - that what had been so beautiful could be so definitively over. Already, the memory of the sound is slipping away, and there's nothing I can do to refresh it. I feel as though I don't want to hear anything ever again, if it can't be Michael Maniaci singing 'Elmira, where are you gone?'.

All is not lost, though. Radio 3 were there, recording the evening for broadcast later in the month. Believe me when I say that I shall be there, hovering by my set with a supply of fresh tapes in hand.

Two TV PSAs

Wednesday, 20 June 2007 10:10
strange_complex: (C J Cregg)
1. Rome - new series starts tonight at 9pm on BBC2. DigiGuide sez, "With Caesar lying dead on the Senate floor, the deadly battle for control of Rome is set to begin. Brutus and his accomplices come up against the might of a vindictive Mark Antony. But with Octavian declared Caesar's rightful heir, alliances will have to be made in order to prevent all-out war." I got pretty disillusioned with it by the end of the last series, but I'll still watch all the same.

2. Browsing the schedules, I also noticed that that the documentary, Castrato, which was first broadcast a year ago on BBC4 is now being repeated on BBC2, next Tuesday (26th June) from 23:20 to 00:20. Presented by Nicholas Clapton, and featuring recordings of Alessandro Moreschi as well as a beautiful performance by Michael Maniaci and a (less-than-successful, in my opinion) attempt to recreate the sound of a castrato voice by blending a boy treble and an adult tenor, it is actually really worth watching - especially if you're coming to the opera with me in October!

In other news, Boots today sent me some 'exclusive vouchers just for me' through the post, including one worth 500 Advantage points if I buy a hair straightening kit. Well, thanks for that, Boots. I'm sure it will come in really handy.

strange_complex: (Leeds owl)
...keeping me up all night!

Actually, they aren't really owls, but apparently some openings in the roofing of the flats where I live, which make hooting sounds exactly like owls when the wind blows through them. Which was most of last night. Still, it gives me a great opportunity to introduce my latest icon (man, I just love the way us permies get yet another new one every few months!).

This particular owl may be found outside Leeds' Civic Hall, where he and a feathery friend stand as proud emblems of the city - whose patron goddess must therefore logically be Minerva. Now that I actually live in Leeds, I felt the need for a 'Leeds - town' icon to supplement the 'Leeds - gown' aspect represented by my Parkinson building one. So that's his job. Meanwhile, in the background, is Shelley's rendering of the Homeric hymn to his mistress, the first few lines of which run thus:

I sing the glorious Power with azure eyes... )

Hooting aside, I am having a very lovely weekend, which so far has included:
  • Going shopping and buying a very lovely fifties-esque dark purple party frock for upcoming Christmas dos
  • Getting the flat properly clean and tidy
  • Painting my toe-nails
  • Dying my hair (that one's happening right now)
  • Doing some very fruitful and rewarding Alessandro Moreschi research
  • Making lots of interesting notes (so far in English) for the Italian presentation I have to give on Tuesday
  • Some cracking lie-ins
Later on, [livejournal.com profile] my_mundane_life will be coming to stay over en route to an interview she has here tomorrow, and we will be going out for dinner with [livejournal.com profile] hieroglyphe. And in the meantime, I'd better get this dye off my hair and start turning those notes into an actual presentation, that's actually in Italian...

strange_complex: (Alessandro tear)
I won't be able to post about this tomorrow (Saturday), since I have no internet access at home at the moment. So today (Friday) with a fore-dating will have to do:

November 11th is (amongst other things), the birthday of my favourite singer of all time, ever, no exceptions - Alessandro Moreschi. (Who? What? Eh?) Were he still alive, this would be his 148th. And to celebrate this occasion, I've decided it is about jolly time I got round to posting about a little pilgrimage which I undertook this June, while I was in Rome.

Take a look at this picture )

Try to ignore the fact that it is the worst scan you have ever seen in your life of a picture which was never terribly good quality in the first place (yanno, having been taken in 1902 an' all). I didn't scan it - I stole it from the archives of the Castrati_History Yahoo! group.

Concentrate instead on the fact that this is a picture of Moreschi (he's the one in the middle) sitting on the stone bench which runs around the perimeter of the Sistine Chapel, just in front of its choir loft (or cantoria).

'Well?' I hear you cry. The significance is that this picture shows Moreschi in a specific and easily-identifiable place which still exists today. A place which could be tracked down to the very centimetre, and sat in by any member of the Vatican-visiting public who cared so to do.

And so, knowing that I would be in Rome for a few days in mid-June this year, I decided to do just that. To sit in the very same place where he sat in the photograph, and see if it was still warm from his bottom. After a lot of queuing and hurrying through galleries, I tracked down the very spot, and, with a well-timed stroke of luck, I actually managed to sit there - not by any means a given, actually, as the Sistine Chapel was absolutely packed that day, and naturally empty spots on the stone bench were getting snapped up very quickly.

The result, kindly photographed at my request by [livejournal.com profile] libellum (in a blatant disregard for Vatican regulations, which will clearly result in us both going straight to hell), is here )

I'm pleased to report that the stone was still warm - and I don't care to hear your so-called 'scientific' explanations of how that was more likely to be connected with the boy who was sitting there just before me than with Alessandro Moreschi. ;-) I know it was from him. And so I sat there, in the place where his voice had rung out like struck silver for thirty years, awed by the sense of his presence and hearing his pure, high notes still echoing off the walls in my mind's ear. Until, that is, the Vatican closed up for the day and we were all herded out again into the hot sunshine.

Short of going and lying on his grave (which seems to me excessively morbid), that's the closest I'll ever be able to get to him. And that makes me very, very sad. But I can still celebrate his life and his music across the gulf of a century, and get great enjoyment out of doing so. And that is why I post today to say: felice anniversario al mio carissimo cantore!

Chez Handel

Saturday, 29 July 2006 19:32
strange_complex: (Handel)
On Wednesday, I visited the Handel House Museum with [livejournal.com profile] redkitty23, who had not seen it before, and specifically the current Castrati exhibition, which neither of us had seen before.

I think the best bit was the three large portraits of Farinelli, Senesino and Guadagni, all lined up in rich, colourful and self-assured glory in Handel's rehearsal room. But I also enjoyed the general sense which the exhibition conveyed of the extraordinary range of castrati singers Handel had worked with, as well as being in a place where lots of people were getting to listen to Alessandro Moreschi singing for the first time (on a CD in the main exhibition room). [livejournal.com profile] redkitty23 was underwhelmed: "He sounds drunk," she said. But at least she had the chance to listen to him and forge a reaction. Meanwhile, those who were more taken by him had the opportunity to buy the OPAL CD of his surviving recordings and Nicholas Clapton's book in the gift shop.

There was a worst bit, too, though: the very tedious woman on duty in Handel's bedroom, who just could not shut up and let us take in the atmosphere of the house in peace. I mean, I get that she knew lots of stuff about Handel and wanted to share it with us. But I already knew practically everything she said anyway, and she just didn't pick up on hints such as giving very short answers and not making any eye contact which were supposed to convey to her that I just wanted her to leave me alone and let me experience the sense of Handel's presence in my own way. Interestingly, when I began mentioning this on the phone to my Mum, who had visited the exhibition in the spring, she immediately said, "Oh, I know exactly the woman you mean: she really was irritating, wasn't she?" It made me realise that my experience probably wasn't unique, and think that perhaps I should write an email to the people who run the house, just politely pointing out that although some visitors might welcome a very chatty and enthusiastic guide, others prefer to be left to themselves. I'm sure that woman wouldn't want to think that she is actually having a negative impact on some people's experience of the house, and a polite word or two about how to tell the difference between people who want to talk and people who just want to look might help to prevent that in future.

Wednesday was also one of the hottest days of the week, which perhaps wasn't the most sensible time to go down to a big, dusty, busy city. In fact, we went shopping in the afternoon around Oxford Circus, and I wasn't at all surprised to hear on the news that the following day many of the shops we had visited had had to close due to power-cuts caused by too high a demand on air-conditioning systems. Still, we managed, and although we didn't really buy anything in the end, we had a very nice lunch (mmm, grilled halloumi!) and some much-needed iced coffees before getting on the train.

That was probably the last visit I'll make to London before I go off up to Leeds: but definitely a good one.

strange_complex: (Alessandro Moreschi)
Well, I didn't expect to be woken by the soaring, silvery tones of Alessandro Moreschi this morning. But I was, thanks to a feature on the 'Handel and the Castrati' exhibition which opens tomorrow at Handel's house in London. My normal alarm time of 7:45 woke me perfectly in time to hear Nicholas Clapton, the curator of the exhibition, being interviewed about it by Rebecca Jones. And when she asked him how we can know what the castrati sounded like, I silently cheered, knowing full well what had to come next.

Clapton does need a clip round the ear for saying very emphatically, "We are fortunate to have one recording of one castrato..." in response to this. As the man who, literally, wrote the book on Moreschi*, he knows a lot better than this, and obviously meant "We are fortunate to have one [set of] recording[s]..." But why couldn't he have said that? I weep for the thousands of people who now freshly believe, as I did for so long, that this means exactly and precisely one song.

Still, the recording they chose to illustrate the point was well-selected: the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria: and some of the best, most heart-rendingly beautiful snippets from it, too. To be sure, it was the old OPAL remastering of it, not the infinitely superior Truesound one*. But, nonetheless, definitely Moreschi at his stomach-punching best.

The feature can still be heard, of course, via Listen Again: select the relevant bit, which is actually listed at 7:40, or else go to it directly (you'll need RealOne Player).

As if that wasn't enough to make me sit up in bed, it was followed five minutes later with the news that a a new contraceptive pill is being put through clinical trials which it's hoped will greatly reduce the risk of breast cancer and thrombosis associated with current pills, and completely stop periods! It could have all sorts of other nasty side-effects, of course, but that's what clinical trials are there to find out. If it makes it to being released on the market, I'm there!

And then, when I got up and checked my post, I discovered that my sample of 'Pure Purple' perfume had arrived! Hooray! They didn't send the girl from the ad, but they did send a nice postcard of her, so I can't complain.

All in all, then, this has to count already as a pretty good day!

--------------
* Both book and recording have been on my mental 'To Blog' list for months. I have a lot to say about both, and I will get round to it. But my own book comes first!
strange_complex: (Penny Crayon)


This is absolutely and entirely the fault of [livejournal.com profile] miss_next. Blame her.


It is also My First Ever Colour Bar. Be gentle with me!



Cut in case you can't take the width )

strange_complex: (Sleeping Hermaphrodite)
Or, Why I Cannot Stop Listening To This CD.

For one thing, I have waited a long time to hear the voice I am listening to now1. Without even knowing I was waiting, for much of that time.

My long journey to the Vatican )

Moreschi - a critical appreciation )

A scraggy brown tail-feather, in which Penny demonstrates her remarkable aptitude for excessive over-romanticisation - with pictures! )

Well, if you’ve read all of the above, you deserve a medal. I don’t mind if you didn’t. I wrote it for me, primarily, because I wanted a reason to think closely about this music and why I like it, and I want to remember my reasons and initial reactions in years to come. But the least I can do either way is to let you judge Moreschi for yourself by leaving you with the link for an mp3 I found while Googling for pictures of him and details about his life. It only takes about 20 seconds to download over broadband, which, for a three-minute track, tells you volumes about the quality of the original recording before you even listen to it. And I must say that then going on to listen to it over tiny, tinny computer speakers doesn’t do Moreschi any favours. Still, for whatever you may make of it, I give you Gounod’s Ave Maria, after a theme by Bach, performed by Alessandro Moreschi.

(And an alternative source if that one isn't working – just click on 'escuchar').

Goodnight.

-----------
1. As its length makes obvious, this entry ended up being written in several sections over a series of evenings. I did listen to Moreschi's CD for most of the time I was writing. But any use of words such as 'now' should be taken as applicable to the specific sentence concerned, not necessarily the whole piece.
strange_complex: (Handel)
My journey home should take about an hour and a half. That's rather longer than anyone would wish to spend travelling of a cold and frosty night anyway. And when Virgin cancel one train and delay the next, leaving you waiting for an hour in the dark and the fog, you tend to get a little annoyed. Especially given that I do not think I have ever experienced an on-schedule train on that journey, ever. And delays of an hour happen at least once a fortnight. Leamington Spa station has become like my own personal hell. And as winter draws in, it's getting worse.

Still, there are points on the plus account. For one thing, I got to use the word 'fuck' perfectly legitimately today in a lecture. Twice. The lecture was on literacy, and this came up in the context of graffiti around a brothel in Pompeii. The kids loved it, as I'm sure you can imagine.

I also inherited a discarded copy of the Guardian on the train, which had a Sudoku puzzle in it. I think I am just going to have to buy a book of those, as I'm frittering away quite a lot of money these days on newspapers which I buy primarily for the sake of their Sudoku.

But, most importantly, when I finally fell into the house at 9pm exactly, I found waiting for me the Alessandro Moreschi CD which I'd bought in a fit of excitement after hearing extracts from it at a pre-concert talk in Birmingham two weeks ago. So I'm listening right now to a voice recorded more than a century ago (some tracks 1902, some 1904) - a voice which had already been artificially shaped and preserved through castration by 1870.

Between the gulf of time made palpable by the crackly recordings, and the almost alien quality of the voice - not just in its pitch and range, but in the very different singing conventions of turn-of-the-century Italy, and the obviously Papal context of the music - it's arresting and astonishing. When I first put it on, I actually found myself sitting curled over into a protective, foetal position on the sofa, gaping in astonishment and slight uneasiness at the un-human (not inhuman) sound I was hearing.

I'm used enough to it to sit here and type now, but it hasn't lost its impact. To think I'd thought for years that barely 3 minutes of this existed, and now I have 52 minutes of it, here in my very house! I'm always going to prefer Robin Blaze and his ilk. But this has, yes, a very special beauty all of its own.

Ten-minute update

Wednesday, 9 November 2005 10:18
strange_complex: (Computer baby)
I'm rather behind with documenting things I've done recently, and a combination of tiredness and busy-ness makes this unlikely to change soon. So, in the 10 minutes before I have to go and give a lecture, I present a really rushed outline of what I've been up to in the past few days:

Friday: went to Brum to see Andreas Scholl with La Mia Mama. The concert was entitled 'Senesino, Handel's Muse', and consisted entirely of arias originally written for the castrato Senesino (with a few instrumental interludes to give Scholl's voice a rest). Since Senesino was a contralto rather than a soprano, these can now be sung by Scholl, and he did so brilliantly. My stance on Scholl is that although I recognise his technical brilliance, my personal taste is such that I'm not actually that bowled over by the tones of his voice, especially when it is in the centre of its range (both in terms of pitch and volume). There's a slight rough, rushing sound around the edges which I'd prefer to do without. However, when called upon to swell and fade a long note, hit unusually high notes or perform complicated ornaments, the rushing sound vanishes, and he suddenly becomes some kind of vocal deity, causing jaws to fall in astonishment. Overall, I prefer the very pure sound of Robin Blaze's voice. But I admit that Scholl does beat Blaze when the stakes get really high, and he will always be more suited to operatic work for that reason.

Afterwards, we queued like a pair of fangirls for autographs, and I also bought the CD which Scholl has already produced of the evening's programme. Then went home and bought 'The Last Castrato', a collection of recordings made in the early 20th century by a man named Alessandro Moreschi. This was in response to the pre-concert talk, which had been all about castrati, and had revealed to me that there exists not one tiny snippet of this guy singing, as I'd thought, but in fact a whole plethora of the stuff. It also made me realise that, although not necessarily to modern tastes, he was a better singer than I'd previously believed. It'll take a while to arrive, since it's coming from America, but I can't wait to become more familiar with this voice.

Saturday: woke up in Brum having spent night with parents. Sat over coffee watching Dad replace the batteries in his 30-year-old Grundig 'Yacht Boy' radio, and explain how everyone in the country had been sent little stickers saying '3' and '4' like the ones on it when the change was made from the Third Programme and the Home Service to Radio 3 and Radio 4.

Then proceeded up to Manchester for [livejournal.com profile] angeoverhere's 30th birthday, where I caught up with some of my Bristol buddies and met some new faces from B'ham, Leeds and Manchester itself. We hung out for the afternoon in a gay bar called Taurus, and then headed for a Syrian restaurant in the evening, while Manchester made a fine attempt at exploding in celebration of Bonfire Night. Slept pretty well, and then had lunch together the next day, before heading back down to Oxford on the Sunday to finish off a lecture in a panic and deliver it on the Monday. It went fine, though. They always do.

Have also started to watch Imperium: Augustus recently, having finally worked out how to switch the Dutch subtitles off. It's very, erm... special, and will be blogged in detail later. And had a quick look on Monday at The Masque of the Red Death, realised the costumes aren't quite as amazing as I'd remembered, but have still had some decent ideas for the ball.

Well, it's lucky I'm such a quick typist (although I'm sure this is full of mistakes). Now for that lecture!

Edit: some small editing after the event to fill in details, clarify points and correct errors.

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