Thursday, July 02, 2009

Europe on a train.

A friend of mine, a director of Scottish Opera no less, has had his eyes opened.
He went to Glyndebourne for the first time the other day and had his mind completely blown by the excellence of the entire event.
I have been relatively dismissive of Scottish Opera, and he had the grace to tell me that he could now see why.
When I was at school in Switzerland in 1960 and 1961, we were living between Koblenz and Dusseldorf in Germany, Paris, France, and Vevey on the Lake of Geneva. Accordingly, we were perfectly placed to "do" Europe culturally. I've never been 100% sure, butI have a feeling that the location of where we lived was a cunning plan by my mother to educate me.
So she took me to every art gallery, museum, opera house and theatre right across Europe for 2 years - from Madrid to Vienna, from Stockholm to Milan and points south - and threw in cathedrals, castles and cities for good measure. Just as well it was at that time - she had given in and got me the glasses that teachers had said I needed - so I could actually see what I was looking at.
You may think for a small boy it would be ghastly, but in fact it was interesting, if not exactly amusing. My mother was very wise - we didn't spend hours look at a picture, it was rather like Mary Poppins - spit spot and no dawdling now. It meant I was left with wonderful impressions without being bored.
It was at this time that I saw some of the great opera stars, including Tito Gobi and Maria Callas, both of whom were past their best but still managed to bring La Scala to its feet for wave after wave of adulation. So Scottish Opera and its somewhat staid audiences rather leave me cold.
If you were to ask me my outstanding memory of that time, it would have to be a non-cultural event - it depends a bit how you define it, and it comes in two parts.
We were on our way to Vienna ( for the Opera, natch) on a train from Switzerland. It was overnight ( quite how I'm not sure as it's not that far).
In the morning my mother and I made our way to the restaurant car for breakfast, and were told we would have to wait. It was not clear why -the car was empty and the head waiter was a round mustachioed man, blocking the way. So we waited, and a few minutes later he let us in. We ordered bacon and eggs, which came in a pan together - bacon underneath and the fried eggs cooked on top so they were fused together. I had never seen this before, and my mother opined it was clearly a European's idea of Bacon and Egg. That was the first time, I think, that I realised there was a difference between we Brits and those who lived on what was then called "the Continent" ( or the continong as wags liked to say).
We duly saw the opera - I can't now remember what it was - and the following day my mother said she had heard of a very good film and we were to go to it. In those days, American films weren't dubbed - mostly they weren't even sub-titled -and the film was " Some like it Hot".
I hadn't seen what one would describe as an adult film before ( Bambi made me cry), and I was completely bowled over by the whole experience.
Needless to say my outstanding memory is of falling in love with Marilyn Monroe.


Winchester whisperer said...

What a wonderful woman was Old Queen Lear! I can't understand why Scottish National Opera should be bad. Is it lack of funding?

kinglear said...

ww- its not "bad" its not just better than average. When one has seen the best...
Some years ago, I saw Derek Jacobi as Uncle Vanya, one of my favourite plays, when it was on in Edinburgh. There were other excellent actors and actresses, but Jacobi simply blew everyone away. He was so good, and the production so good, I have never been to see it again - a great sadness, but I am sure it will never be bettered.So I won't go again. Like my shooting- I gave up when my average was as good as Lord Ripon's - I could never do better.