Sep. 28th, 2002

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Gounod's Faust is one of my favourite operas. I lack the energy to go into a full disquisition as to why. Possibly long-term affection is involved; it's certainly one of the first full operas I tried to listen to and to appreciate. And the final trio for Faust, Mephistopheles, and Marguerite is beautiful.

Eh. If you know the piece, then you may or may not agree with me. If you don't, then my writing about it in enthusiastic tone (every century but this, and every country but her own) is unlikely to persuade you. You never know, though. That is, one never knows. Give it a try.

I can trace the rots, er, roots of my musical addiction. First there was hearing Cats and Evita and Joseph and his Technicolour Loincloth, er, Dreamcoat, when I was eight or nine. The claws go in. Plus also hearing Pinafore and Mikado and Iolanthe, and reading my grandfather's collected Gilbert & Sullivan libretto. (It was the summer holiday, I was short on books, I investigated my grandfather's shelves hopefully, what do you expect? I certainly couldn't handle the theological works.) So we have musicals, and Gilbert and Sullivan.

It took a while to get to opera. For most of my time at school, it was just too heavy and too big a thing to get into. But then I managed to listen to a couple of smaller ones, and worked my way in. I also read through Kobbe's Complete Opera Book, as there was a copy in the school library. Reference section, but even so. That is where some of my odder predilections come from, such as Menotti's The Consul, as the synopses were just so fascinating. Also Britten's Turn of the Screw. "Malo . . ."

Okay, a history hangs on the Menotti. I tried to find copies. There were, at that point, none. They'd only made one recording of it, an original-cast recording on vinyl, and that certainly wasn't for sale in any convenient shop. I managed to find a copy of the score in a library (I was a student in London at the time) and picked through bits of it on the piano, and got at least a little appreciation of some of the music.

Then I found out about the National Sound Archive. And it was conveniently close to Imperial College, where I was studying. It was astonishing. You could "book" a piece of music, and come along and sit in a little booth with headphones on -- the huge great head-encompassing sort -- and listen.

And I did. I still love it, even if not quite as much as in the first flush of discovery. These days I have both a vinyl record of the original cast (my thanks to Dave, who ran across it and bought it for me after hearing me complain online), and a more recent new CD version, which has the benefit of being easier to play.

The lyrics really are good, and the music better.

Mrs. Sorel, to be courageous is often a very selfish thing. You have a mother, and a husband, and a sweet little child. You love them very much, don't you? Courage is often a lack of imagination! We have strange ways to make people talk. Oh, not at all the way you may think. All we have to do is quicken the beat of your heart. The heart is a very frail thing. People like you can disregard pain, people like you can defy strength. But not the beat of your own heart, but not the beat of your own heart! The heart, the heart! Think it over, Mrs. Sorel. (Police Agent in _The Consul_ by Menotti)

---

Oh, and I'm in a Fen mood. Gervase Fen, detective created by Edmund Crispin, Oxford don and marvellous character. (Interestingly, Edmund Crispin was actually a pseudonym: the writer in question also had a career as a writer of music for film scores, which explains certain references to the trade in Frequent Hearses and Glimpses of the Moon.

Fen, to one of the villains: "It's only that I know your type of undergraduate so well. It's always existed in Oxford -- over-clever, incapable of concentration or real thought, affected, arty, with no soul, no morals, and a profound sense of inferiority."
Holy Disorders, Edmund Crispin

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