You may recall that last week I was warming up for an exercise requiring great stamina and will-power. No, not theBathhalf marathon, but five and a half hours of Wagner!
I wasn’t in the opera, but just being in the audience and getting to the end was a test of human endurance not for the faint-hearted. The first act was an hour and forty minutes long. Not much happened, but it happened rather beautifully. There was no applause at the beginning so the overture seemed to float up from the Wagnerian gloom. My heart said we’re in for a treat. My bottom said otherwise of course, but eventually heart won out and the pain from below was obliterated by the sublime sounds echoing round the vast auditorium.
The visual concept was something else. TheTempleof the Holy Grail resembled the back end of Box stone mines. This was emphasised by regular falls of rubble from on high and even the addition of a railway track disappearing into a darkened tunnel. Occasionally emerging from this dismal portal was a chorus of over seventy very dusty terra cotta warriors. (Yes, there was more than enough time to count them) and a witch-like woman in a feathered carapace that looked as if it had been dragged out of Bernard Matthews’ bins.
It was this lady who was the bone of contention. In the back-story she is the woman who mocked Jesus on the cross and has been feeling bad about it ever since. So bad that she finds it necessary to writhe about in guilty angst for five and a quarter of the five and a half hours available to her. The knights sang with absolute clarity, but owing to said writhing we found we had to glance up at the surtitles when she was on. Invariably the words agony, torture, grief and suffering were on display. My friend was drawn to whisper ‘Put the kettle on dear, have a nice cup of tea, say you’re sorry and everything will be fine.’
Were we moved? Yes. Was it worth the effort? Yes. Did we emerge better men? Yes, but next time I’m going to run the half marathon. It’ll be a lot less exhausting!