<< -- 2 -- Jennifer Paull REMINISCENT RETROSPECTIVES
Not very long afterwards, I came across another dramatic ingredient,
laughter. It is practically impossible to keep playing a wind instrument
whilst splitting one's sides with an attack of the giggles. Again in
opera, I was about to find this out the hard way. This time I was playing
cor anglais in Saint-Saëns' Samson and Delilah, still low-tech
and very high-dust, but somewhere in London this time.
Samson's make up was really bad. He was also very over-dramatic
and I recall having spent quite some time during the performances wishing
he had pursued an alternative career option.
It was the final night. We approached the scene when he was to push the
pillars asunder and stagger forward in anguish. Well, how it happened, I
shall never know, but one of the feather-light polystyrene, imitation wonders
stuck fast and wouldn't budge. Had he left it at that, matters could
most probably have been indulgently forgotten. Samson wasn't having
any of it, and he pushed and shoved with all his might. The pillar withstood
his straining. That was it! The string players grinned, but the wind section
simply fell apart. Tears streamed down my face, my throat gurgled, and I
suddenly developed an advanced qualification in cor anglais mime.
Another such experience lay ahead, this time at the Camden Festival during
a rarely heard, early Mozart opera, Lucio Silla. This work was written
in ternary aria form, which was not exactly thunderous for a Roman general.
I mean, one can start with idea one; 'it is a sunny day, the birds are singing',
and progress to idea two; 'but I shall go forth and slay the enemy in thunderous
rage'. Having to return to the sunshine and the birds rather inhibits progress.
Of course, the recitatives were there for action. Lucio was an extremely
non-virile, most girly-prim, and also excellent soloist. At one point, to
demonstrate his 'aggressive' and 'warrior-like' character, he was to draw
his sword and thrust it menacingly forward! As far as a show of bombastic
masculine bravura was concerned, this was a total flop. The gesture rather
brought to mind an elderly spinster testing the surface of a crème
brulée with a knitting needle. By this time, I had taken and
succeeded in the advanced diploma with Marcel Marceau.
Copyright © 18 January 2002
Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland
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