Opera, an Eccentric Parent and London Tap Water
I was blessed with an eccentric parent (who, for ease, I’ll refer to as EP). EP loved opera and all variety of music. There were some exceptions.
NB. This is not a musical review. We guessed.
One of EP’s favoured musical pursuits was to listen to music, often Opera, at volume into the early hours. I’m sure our neighbours absolutely loved it!! Pre-boom box. No problem. I’m talking three foot speakers and a volume switch that went to 11 or should that be 13! Ah the midnight to 4am ‘serenades’ that drifted up the stairs.
Point of Interest: I was in later years to reach the realisation that this activity was in fact a form of therapy for EP.
It, however, was not therapy for those being ‘serenaded’.
The favoured Operatic genre of EP was Wagner, Wagner or Wagner. Mozart did get a look in in later years. But put it this way, ‘Gilbert & Sullivan’ were operatic heresey in our household. Even though EP loved silliness and laughter. It was wise not to be caught humming I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major-General!! Or other!
Back to the opera and Wagner
One of the favoured Wagnerian pieces was the ‘The Ring Cycle‘ or as it is also known ‘Ring Des Nibelungen‘.
The ‘Flying Dutchman’ and ‘Tannhauser’ were also favourites.
Wagner’s mammoth operatic piece ‘The Ring Cycle‘, takes quite some listening to. From Fafnir to Siegfried to Brunhilda to Wotan. A battle of good over evil, heroes, heroines, dragons, greed, imprisonment, love found and lost. It’s a complex and lengthy story comprising of four operas, namely:
- Das Rheingold
- Die Walkürie
All of which are of some considerable length.
Point of interest: ‘Siegfried’s Funeral March’ is a bit heavy to nod off to. I probably know it note for note to listen to (by ear, not reading. Be reasonable!)
More about Wagner
Along with my siblings, I was
subjected to given the treat of a trip to see Wagnerian opera. More than once!
‘Wonderful’! One might exclaim. Indeed yes. The problem was, I was about 7-years-old!
This along with a trip to see the ‘Where Eagles Dare‘ cinematic experience, no not Dan Ilford – please see ‘Jaws’ Chocolate and a Misunderstanding hehehe. Could probably be described as character building or just run of the mill for EP.
Surely, a child being introduced to a grandiose operatic piece such as ‘The Ring Cycle‘ would be inspired?
Let’s just say it left it’s mark. Veiled rebellion being one of them. I admit, as a teenager, to having been an under enthusiastic member of a ’70s Comprehensive Senior School Orchestra. I have some capability, but my joy was singing (NO NOT WAGNERIAN ARIAS), dancing, climbing trees, setting cotton traps and sport. So it’s not surprising that my then music teacher’s anticipated student response when questioning on the subject of Wagner’s aforementioned ‘Ring Cycle‘ was beyond disappointing. ‘Mmmm, there’s one called ‘Götterdämmerung‘! The End.
In fairness, it had been a few years.
Point of interest: I come from an era of ‘here is a musical instrument you haven’t chosen to play and which your sibling no longer wants to play. Learn it’! Ah the joys of the ’70s childhood and ‘A tune a day’. Or perhaps it’s just my mad family. But I am very grateful for some musicality. But still can’t really sight read, even though I know what much of it means!!
Although I have in recent times been reliably informed, by an exceptionally gifted musician, that no one sight reads. Everyone knows what they’re playing, by heart. Hahahah!! We’re now going into the realms of practise. STOP THAT!!!
The Royal Opera House
I completely acknowledge how extremely fortunate I was to experience not only London, but also The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, at such a young age. This is where we went to see and listen to opera. It is quite a sight for a 7-year-old. My one regret is that I never saw a ballet there. Probably because we were there to see opera!
Once EP had driven us all
to distraction to London in the Zefa 6. It was the ’70s. We Know! (Is it Panto season?) We parked and tumbled out, fairly uncrumpled. There were a few of us. We made the remainder of our way to the Opera House on foot. EP’s chosen walking route from the carpark to the Opera House was interesting to say the least.
It took us directly alongside said building. Along a narrow alleyway a mere person sized width, with buildings looming above on both sides. The only light faintly emenating from the exit at either end. Gave me nightmares for years. Eugh!!
It was worth the route march
But on reaching the grand entrance of The Royal Opera House, once inside seeing the cascading stair cases with indulgent red carpet, detailed decor and general ambience, smartly dressed opera goers and pre-performance hubub, the footpath melted into insignifigance.
Back to the opera
(((((Gong))))) Ladies & Gentleman,
no spitting on (sorry, getting confused with HK ferry announcements), please take your seats the performance is about to begin.
The oboe is now leading the tuning of the orchestra. AAAAAAAA…..AAAAAA agaaaain. We were permitted to go down to the edge of the Orchestra pit in the stalls to watch, and leave a trail of finger marks along the highly polished brass balustrade. While the many musicians (probably trying to ignore us) were busy tuning up. That was a definite highlight. I don’t recall seeing any other children. But in fairness, the auditorium is vast.
Point of Interest: The oboe was the instrument I had been handed to learn. I recall the utter astonishment on the faces of the teachers at my Junior School in an assembly. When an Oboist who had come to play and answer questions about the instrument, asked ‘hands up, who plays the Oboe’. I raised my hand. Go Tune a Day!! #Humblebrag
Tuning complete. We are aware it’s time to retrace our steps back to EP & P. The auditorium falls into a hushed and atmospheric silence. The lights dim. Anticipation commences.
If you are familiar with Wagnerian opera, you will know that the overtures are long, complex and dramatic. Drawing on the melodies of leading characters which are intricately woven in like a musical tide that ebbs and flows until you are swept into an emotional crescendo.
However, to a distracted 7-year-old, that evokes sheer boredom and opportunity to fidget and whisper to P (Spouse of EP) in a loud voice. Under the assumption no Opera goers would hear above the deafening French Horns and Timpanee. Fear not young 7-year-old, there is promise of some scene changes. Which felt like once every 3 hours. I lived for those.
Please remain seated during the performance
For a child, the seats were like mouse traps. And most of the several operatic hours involved a fight to prevent being consumed by said theatre seat, whilst balancing on a handy inflatable cushion. A bit like balancing on a football. I would much rather have been zooming around the garden on a space hopper. It was the ’70s. We know! I never did own a space hopper.
If said inflatable opera travel cushion expired, and you managed to contain the mousetrap, your experience was further tested by the seat’s spikey velvet texture. We’re talking longevity in seat fabric here.
Ah, scene change
There were ice creams available at half-time, (sorry, the interval), from usherettes. This was the ’70s. We know! We were generally greeted with a firm no from EP and P, to requests for a sickly treat. We were not permitted to leave the auditorium at half-time, sorry the interval. Hardly surprising. There is no telling where we would have ended up in the building. Oh how a pinafore dress belies the true tomboy beneath.
It was a pretty dry do. No bottled water. This was …you get the picture! So we would escape to the lady’s loo and gulp the disgusting water from the then ancient taps at the sink. Too thirsty to be bothered by the London drain taste. It really does have a very individual aroma. I guess all City drains do.
We made the most of the generosity of the middle aged woman who smiled and held the heavily embossed door to the loos open for us. As we grinned back. It was the snap shut type door. Anywhere else, forget it.
Not to worry. The thames water would happily make its presence known on the journey home, while I was seated in the car at the front on P’s lap. Sorry P. Ah me and hand driers! No, no seat belts or car seats. It was the ’70s. WE KNOW!
An impromptu haircut was to commence the following morning. I handed my sibling blunt craft scissors to remove the offensive clod.
On one occasion EP, as a member of an Operatic Society, was invited to pre-drinks at the Opera House. No, not Jaeger Bombs or Depth Charges. Genteel Sherries and Canapès. No setting cotton traps here. Lots of chat, standing around yawning. And me engrossed in admiring my red sparkly shoes. No amount of heal tapping would take me home. ‘Das Rheingold’ awaited. Were the shoes and pinafore dress a treat or bribe? I will never know. And ironic to have a pinafore dress. I am the very model of a…STOP THAT!!
Take a bow
At the final whistle, sorry Curtain call. That went on forever if Rita Hunter was in residence as Brunhilda. We would clap until our hands hurt, because everyone else was (and because it had finished at last!). I think I learned the word Bravo from the audience. It felt very grown up using this strange word. Seeing adults yelling it in an auditorium was slightly surreal. Were they also celebrating the completion of an operatic marathon?
Once the applause faded, and all view of those occupying the stage were enveloped by the huge heavy red velvet curtains, we would gather our inflatables and make an orderly exit.
It’s not finished yet
They were also often post-opera dinners. In a restaurant under ground not far from Trafalgar Square. I liked facing the exit. The lack of air getting to me. The London water was helped along by Steak Tartar. EP was seriously brave allowing that particular menu choice. Oh the days of Avocado Vinegraitte. How I stayed awake was hard to recall. Probably because I didn’t. I can still smell the eau de Steak Diane Flambé. How ’70s can you get! There was also the anticipation of ‘Eau de Billingsgate’ on the journey home.
Eau de Billingsgate?
Billingsgate fish market. You could smell it a mile away. Then located in the City of London (which is east of Central London). It indicated we were not home yet, along with the eau de Thames. Honestly, London used to stink!
On arrival home, at what time in the morning is anyone’s guess, I would crawl from the car utterly exhausted. My objections to the face washing directive fell on deaf ears. Irritatingly it woke me up. And all I wanted to do was sleep. For what felt like for days!
Life After Wagner
Now when I hear Wagner played on the radio, memories of EP filter through and I smile. But I’ll admit I can’t always bear to listen or it will make me seriously sob. Why? [I mentioned my epiphany regarding Wagnerian therapy, earlier in this piece.] The music reminds me of the ‘demon slaying’ Wagner’s heroes and heroines were frequently invited to attempt on EP’s behalf. Only to inevitably fail and require a re-match intermittently and frequently over a period of many, many years.
Dear Mr R Wagner
Thank you for your valiant attempts at vanquishing EP’s personal demons. We know you tried your best.
Yours in appreciation.
I miss EP (understatement) and the reliable eccentricity. I mean you would have to be an EP to even contemplate taking several kids to a 3+ hour Wagnerian opera more than once! I’m glad to say I inherited that adventurous spirit. Which in a previous life (meaning pre-MEcfs) I enjoyed access to many, many times more than I did London tap water.
Below is a Wagner taster for you. Not from ‘The Ring Cycle’, something a little lighter. I say lighter…
Richard Wagner, take a bow.
No offence, but I’d really much rather listen to this!⤵
Matthew 11:28-30 NIV
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Thanks so much for popping back to the 1970s with me. I appreciate your company.
Have a blessed day.🌸
*EP = eccentric parent
*P = parent
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.