Hee-hee-hee! I have been having a pretty crappy weekend, feeling very below par and not up to anything much of any description. I even had to bail out on smileygoth
's leaving drinks last night, much to my sorrow. :-( But watching Handel's Last Chance
this evening has cheered me up no end.
It's a hokey, schmaltzy, historically-dubious and unrealistically-plotted attempt at educational children's television, that I'm sure would cause any self-respecting pre-teen to cringe painfully. The setting is the first performance of Handel's Messiah
in Dublin, for which the names of all the actual soloists - several of them imported over from England for the purpose - are perfectly well-documented. But never mind them! Instead, the plot revolves around a spirited ten-year-old rapscallion by the name of Jamie O'Flaherty, whose life intersects with Handel's in a series of unlikely episodes, while all the time Handel fumes and curses at the deplorable quality of the local choirs he's been asked to work with. Then, one fateful day, Handel chances to hear young Jamie singing to himself as he scrubs a step.1
Guess what happens next - go on, guess!
The whole story might have been more plausible if the boy they'd got to provide young Jamie's voice had genuinely been a good
singer, instead of merely a competent one. But then again, when you put that beside the random mix of English, Irish and North American accents (apparently determined by who could be bothered to attempt plausibility and who couldn't), the modern French horns which appear in Handel's orchestra, the fact that the climactic opening performance of the Messiah
seemed to end with the Hallelujah chorus, the complete inability of the actor playing Handel to even fake
playing the harpsichord, the failure of the director to hide this, and the terrible
such details quickly ceased to matter.
Could I not have guessed from the title alone how second-rate this was going to be, you ask? Why did I watch it, or even acquire it in the first place, knowing that this was what I would be getting?
Well, the answer of course, is that I love low-budget TV. Chuckling over all of the above has been one of the high points of my weekend. And it was so charmingly well-meaning, I couldn't help but love it. Besides, it had its moments - chiefly nice locations (mainly in Bratislava) and a delightfully curmudgeonly old Handel, who at one point announced, "I'm a mean old ogre, and what is more, I enjoy being a mean old ogre!" And
- albeit with a slight change of setting - they got in the anecdote
about the singer who incurred Handel's wrath for his poor sight-reading. When Handel exploded with rage and demanded, "You shcauntrel, tit you not dell me dat you could sing at soite?", he replied, "Yes, sir, and so I can: but not at first
sight." Can't beat that.
Other things I have watched while feeling pants include an episode of Angel
(early season four, which I now see honks just as bad as the stuff later in that series with Jasmine), half of Three Coins in the Fountain
on Film 4, (but not really enough to justify claiming I've 'seen' it properly and add it to the list for this year), and an excellent production of Handel's Giustino
on DVD. (I actually acquired Handel's Last Chance
as a cheap'n'cheerful last-minute addition to an online order which was really about buying this and two other Handel opera DVDs).
I've also slept a lot, listened to Handel's Rinaldo
on CD, and got in some good reading - a bit more of my current book, Angus Heriot's The Castrati in Opera
(which I'll post about in its own right when I've finished), and this extremely interesting article
on the marriage of a castrato named Bartolomeo de Sorlisi to a Protestant girl named Dorothea Lichtwer in 17th-century Germany. I'm quite surprised Sorlisi's story isn't better-known, as the article shows very well how unusually well-documented it is, and how much light it casts on the status and condition of the castrati. But in fact, he doesn't even have his own Wikipedia page
. Let's hope that now a detailed English-language article has been published about him, someone will soon put that right - he certainly deserves it.
So, it's been a quiet one, but full of nice things nonetheless. Now, I am going to bed - and let's hope I've recovered my energies enough to face what's bound to be a pretty busy week.
1. You would have thought Handel might have been particularly astonished in this scene not so much by the boy's voice, but by the fact that he was actually singing an aria from the Messiah, despite the fact that it hasn't had a single public performance yet. But apparently not.
2. At one point, Handel advised Jamie, "That is the voice to which you must listen to most closely". I could have forgiven it if he'd been played with a heavy German accent and a tenuous grasp on the English language. But he wasn't at all. Except when the actor let his accent slip, he spoke in perfect Queen's English.