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  • Are we not drawn onward to new erA
    Posted on Apr 23, 2020
    In his essay entitled ‘The Enigma of Parsifal’ the French philosopher Alain Badiou argues that the real subject of Wagner’s opera is the question of whether a modern ceremony is possible. At best, he suggests, modern ceremony results in the parodies of the stadium Rock concert, at worst in the performative histrionics of the Nuremberg rally. However, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2019, I experienced a new work by a Belgian company (a work with the palindromic title above) which creates a sacralised ceremonial art in a way that I believe is breathtakingly new and contemporary… Badiou is …
  • Verlaine, Rimbaud, Fauré and La Bonne Chanson
    Posted on Apr 20, 2020
    Some compulsory biography. Three months after the publication of the Fêtes galantes, Verlaine visited the composer, Charles de Sivry, in Montmartre. They were old friends, and two years previously Verlaine had sung a tenor role in a musical comedy that Sivry had written with Lepelletier - a performance that had been attended by Sivry’s fourteen-year-old half-sister Mathilde Mauté. She began to read Verlaine’s poetry, and it was probably more than mere interest in his verse that led her to Sivry’s house on the day of Verlaine’s visit. Sivry introduced his half-sister to the twenty-five-year-old…
  • Taking delight in small things
    Posted on Apr 16, 2020
    Mallarmé’s Les Loisirs de la Poste Like many of you, I suspect, I’ve been spending time during my enforced isolation sifting through long-neglected paperwork and files. It’s been a joy, and an almost physical pleasure, to rediscover and reread letters from old friends – to decipher one person’s tiny, cramped writing; to wallow in the beautiful, almost calligraphic, script of another; to chuckle over the cartoon-like annotations of a third. Could letter-writing, with jigsaws and board games, see a revival as a leisure activity during these troubled times? After all, Royal Mail apparently rema…
  • Silverpoints
    Posted on Apr 13, 2020
    John Gray’s Silverpoints is a slender volume. Published in 1893 by the Bodley Head, it contains only 29 poems and almost half of these are translations of Paul Verlaine, Stéphane Mallarmé, Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud. Texts such as his version of Verlaine’s ‘Parsifal’ proclaim Gray’s profound immersion in recent French literature and point to the Decadent values of the collection as a whole: Compare this with the French original: Parsifal A Jules Tellier Parsifal a vaincu les Filles, leur gentilBabil et la luxure amusante - et sa penteVers la Chair de garçon vierge que cela ten…
  • An unhealing wound
    Posted on Apr 9, 2020
    A sickness lies over the land, the leader is incapacitated, and no-one seems able to find a remedy. That is the situation at the opening of Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal, first presented in 1882. The opera is set at Easter, too. Act 1 takes place on Good Friday and Act 3 on the morning of Easter Sunday, albeit some years later. The story also echoes Christian themes of innocence, fall and redemption, and includes two eucharistic rituals. But this being Wagner it is all a bit more complicated than that… For a number of years I marked every Easter by listening to the opera on vinyl, in a re…
  • Proust in Lockdown
    Posted on Apr 6, 2020
    In his recent blog Graham Henderson wrote about the current lockdown and the unexpected acres of time it has freed up. He cited Proust and the opportunity given to have another go at reading this colossal masterpiece. Good call. Proust is relevant here. Proust’s melancholy description in his novel’s final volume, Temps Retrouvé, of returning to an empty Paris after the First World War and finding all the places he loved closed down is eerily resonant to anyone who has stepped out into the streets of London since our current crisis broke. How did Proust, or rather his narrator, respond? He d…