Monday, 1 July 2013

Out And About

Yesterday was a day to forget all the turmoil in politics, finance and world affairs and go somewhere far from it all.  So there we were in the Embankment Gardens with the statue of Robert Burns to the right of us and Sir Wilfrid Lawson, 2nd Baronet, 1829-1906, to the left.  In the centre was the Memorial to the WW1 Camel Corps.  Add to that a brass band playing, American of course, with the aroma of fried everything.

We had synchronised our watches but it was comforting to have the bong bong of the big clock on the tower of a the nearly Westminster Workhouse which shelters the most demanding of our many high level social benefit claimants.  This unhappy place is surrounded by many other large buildings into which are packed the unemployable and least efficient members of our community.

In the other direction along the river there is evidence of a lot of serious building going on.   It is the City of London with attached districts.  They are now home to the world's most active financial criminals and groupings.  They are now critical to our economy and all its futures. In alliance with the inmates of Westminster they have laid claim to almost all future schemes and developments.

This is about as far as you can get from the realities of the world.  So it was good to greet the Lithuanian Russian collectors who have displaced the more cheerful Africans for the jobs of picking up litter and taking the rubbish bags filled by all those tourists, the other pillar of our economy.  Many of these travelling people now seem to be bothered only in using their communications devices to tell people where they are and they know this by Googling the web.

Wandering along by "The Coal Hole" in the Strand at least one pub of my memory still in business and serving beer.  But all the ashes and cigarette ends and allied stuff that used to give the inside its character is now outside on the pavements.  A difficulty is that a major crossing point is now just beside it and the unwary smoker could find himself forced over the road in the rush of pedestrians desperately trying to beat the bikers and taxis gunning the lights.

The performance was certainly enjoyable, six excerpts from well known pieces sung by young artistes given a chance to lead on the main stage.  The last was the Act 2 quartet from "La Rondine" by Puccini.  This opera has not been amongst his most performed said to be because it is too close to operetta, removed from his usual style and was unlucky in the timing of its first performances.

My problem is that when I see this work and its form and style what comes into mind is Leslie Stuart (see Wikipedia) one of the forgotten greats of British and Irish musical history.  He lived from 1863 to 1928.  Puccini lived from 1858 to 1924.  Both were masters of musical theatre in their way.  There are some similarities of their background in music.  What is more intriguing is that both spent time in New York and America, perhaps at the same time.

Stuart was a man for the ladies and lived a high public life style as well as knowing all those worth knowing at the time.  Puccini was a man for the ladies and high in media attention as well as knowing those worth knowing.  Personally, I do not think it is possible for either of them not to be aware of the standing or work of the other.  They were both gifted musically and able to write music that was immediate and accessible to their audiences.

How is it that whilst Puccini has been treasured and respected in his own country in Britain it seems that we have obliterated the memory of our own who achieved so much in their lifetimes?  In Italy and the USA they had musical life that was vigorous and varied in provision.  In the UK we had the BBC and London.  In the 2006 attention given to the 250th Anniversary of the birth of Mozart, the BBC and others London totally ignored Thomas Linley, born in the same year who had but a short life but was recognised by Mozart himself.

Puccini is back at the Royal Opera on 5 July with a run of "La Rondine", a wonderful production and whilst some performances have sold well there are still many tickets going for others.  But they are charging top prices.  It is possible that austerity may now be beginning to bite.  Or maybe that neither the tourists nor all those who serve them are interested.

Globalisation can have some unexpected side effects.

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