Sunday, October 19, 2008


It started off well enough. 10:30 weekday morning. Not far along the gently curving street, where I’d spotted 2 gardeners in about the first 20 houses, there was a collection of snappy little mid-size cars outside a cream picket-fenced corner block with neat hedges inside and a curved sandstone path wandering through a scandalously green buffalo grass lawn to an open front door. This must be it.

M. is a retired country school teacher and an old friend. I’d managed to help her through a few rough patches lately, and I was now her guest at something most unlikely for me…a cooking class, on the upper North Shore, just a short walk from where I had grown up and had long since left behind. A main road now crosses the deep eucalypt gully where all those years ago there was only a wood and cable pedestrian suspension bridge, swinging just to the side of a fantastic stone castle. The castle is still there, but the little wobbly bridge is gone and with it the gut sinking feeling of looking down through the white painted rails to drop penny bungers timed to go off mid-air.

It was a generous thank you and lots of fun. Thirteen ladies who lunch, and me. We sat with recipes, made notes, watched, swapped food tips and stories (well, they did), and with perfect timing, sat down to eat what had been cooked. Rather than get stuck again next to the woman who had a slightly different way of doing everything that was being demonstrated, you know the type, I snapped a place next to the shortcut blonde, whose husband it turned out was away in China on business. Perhaps I’d looked eager, because when she offered me an extra serve of the lamb backstraps, which I declined, she leant a little too closely, and said a little too softly, ‘ah, that’s why you’re so beautifully lean’. Neither lean nor beautiful, and now completely wrong-footed, I stumbled over something about waiting for desserts, at best hitting the ball into the net.

It was mid-afternoon by the time I was back in the city. Feeling unusually weary, I headed to the best public pool in the world for a few laps. Nothing felt right, and I kept on getting a funny feeling in my chest, not tight, not heavy, but not relaxed, and couldn’t help but think of an old work friend J, who had taken to his rehabilitation after successful heart valve surgery with unreasonable vigour. When I was cycling, I would see him running in a nearby park, beaded with sweat and grey, always a few paces behind his mates he used to lead. One day he dashed home from work around midday, having been short-tempered all morning. Someone called him to see if he could come back soon, but he snapped an unhelpful reply, and apparently took to his pool, where he swam himself to his death. I was wondering if the last thing he saw were the tiles or the sky, and got myself out of the water.

Despite feeling worse, I wasn’t going to miss the last night of Billy Budd, and didn't, thanks to a good dose of cold and flu tablets. It was magnificent. We sat very close. However good it had been, this was something even more complete. The three main protagonists had evolved. The only word I can find for Philip Langridge’s Vere is perfect. His voice had cleared, no ruff patches, nothing held back. The words hit you between the eyes. In the prologue I was struck immediately by

Much good has been shown me and much evil, and the good has never been perfect.
There is always some flaw in it, some defect, some imperfection in the divine image, some fault in the angelic song, some stammer in the divine speech.
So that the evil still has something to do with every human consignment to this planet of

The libretto stands alone.

And Vere stood alone, all night. He begins alone, haunted by his demons and phantasms, rides the seas alone, and ends alone, stooped and stumbling. The only time anyone gets reasonably close to him is Billy, seeking his mercy, to be pulled back before reaching him. This worked for me this time. K found Langridge's voice quite beautiful, much more approachable than Pears, whom we had been listening to in preparation.

Wegner’s Claggart seemed also more secure and blacker vocally, and his characterisation less histrionic. Teddy Tahu Rhodes suffered a little from having been such a pleasant surprise the first time, and that said, his ‘Billy in the Darbies’ did sound throatier and rather more blokey, not that there’s anything wrong with that, just that my memories were of such youthful sweetness. And, was that some sweat on his left nipple, caught in the light, or an unnecessary adornment?

Langridge gave a powerful and emotional performance I expect to not ever experience again.

That night and the next day I was no good, feverish, aching, spare you the details. In the morning I rang in sick for the first time ever, and stayed horizontal for two days. Why haven’t we evolved to be able to drink lying down yet?

I did however manage to miss K’s nephew’s 21st birthday, a nautically themed affair. K went as a Viking (every family should keep a horned helmet). I was thinking seaweed, or Claggart.


Sarah said...

I am in total agreement about Langridge. He is beyond amazing. Perfect is right.

Re: Teddy, the answer is unnatural adornment.

Anonymous said...

Comments finally open, and Sarah beat me!

If you sat close, then we must have passed each other, or very nearly. Did you enter the theatre from the east or the west?

I thought Langridge flagged vocally towards the end in comparison to the first time I heard him, which was not the first night. It didn't worry me at all, though. So many little touches in the acting were so telling: an impatient thrum of the fingers on the rail, for example. His diction was crystal clear.

Interested that you thought Wegner less histrionic - I wasn't sure whether I just knew what was coming, or whether the kinkiness had been a little more integrated into the whole. I still think there was too much, but I put that down to sitting up close.

I agree about TTR - maybe a bit too much of his macho dark hues for my taste. When he jumped up those stairs in the sea shanty I just thought: step class. And yes, it was a nipple ring. I don't know why he couldn't take it off.

The Boy George pool (as a group of friends christened it many years ago) must certainly come close to being the world's best public pool - at least after they built the cathedral back over the enormous one in Moscow opposite the Tretyakov gallery. Do you recall when Ascham, I think it was, cancelled its swimming carnival to be held there after the Mardi Gras pool party? There was a call for the pool to be drained into the harbour to purge it of infection. "But then," said Damian Furlong, then an office bearer of the Mardi Gras, "everyone will get it."

Sorry to hear about your indisposition. Hope you are recovering well.

wanderer said...

Thank you M, much better now. The comment thing was an oversight, not an isolationist manoeuver.

We entered by the east door. By the epilogue, there was only Vere (who happened to look at bit like Philip Langridge) and me there. It was extremely moving. He even seemed to change size physically, in that when he stood, now singing almost explosively, which I didn't recall, he seemed larger than ever, only to then shrivel his way off-stage. Maybe it was the ephedrine in the cold tablets.

I think the ABC pool is almost a perfect Sydney microcosm. The Ascham story brings the wikid Mrs Danvers to mind again. K was on the save-the-pool campaign.

I needed to ask Professor Google (who reminded me today is the 35 year anniversary of the official HRH QEII opening of the SOH) about the Moscow pool, pic here. Budapest do pools also, do you know?