Friday, 26 July 2013

La Sagra

Our second Redentore arrives, but we still don't know anyone with a boat, so we limit ourselves to a quick stroll around that Zattere late afternoon; which is enough to confirm that getting there early enough to get a decent spot and remain there for the next eight hours would be a little too much like hard work.

Still, there are other things going on. There's yet another significant musical anniversary this year, namely the centenary of the first performance of Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring.

Stravinsky loved Venice. The Rake's Progress was premiered at La Fenice; the Canticum Sacrum at St Mark's; and Threni at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. And yet, strangely, he never properly lived here. He died in New York in 1971, but his body was flown to Venice to be interred on the cemetery island of San Michele, following his funeral at the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (for which the Vatican had granted permission). He lies now next to his wife, Vera, and his great fried Sergei Diaghilev, in the Orthodox section of the cemetery.

One of the more frustrating things about The Rite of Spring (or, La Sagra della Primavera, to give it its Italian title) is that it seems to be so bloody difficult to actually see a performance of it. I've heard it given as a concert performance any number of times, but I've never been lucky enough to see a staged production.

Even in the centenary year, there seems to be no prospect of an actual production anywhere nearby. The best alternative seems to be a semi-staged version, using a piano reduction of the score, at the cloisters of San Salvador.

The concert begins with a mixture of traditional Russian songs, and some short vocal pieces by Stravinsky; and then we're into the main event. Stravinsky's own version of La Sagra, for two pianos.

It might not the same as being at an actual performance, but it works remarkably well. It doesn't have the sheer visceral force as the fully orchestrated version, but it's not for want of trying from the performers : during the more violent moments one of the keyboards rocks alarmingly on its stand as the pianist pounds on it with his fists. Then, for the final Dance of the Virgin a ballerina dances to Nijinsky's original choreography.
It's a thrilling experience. It looks, and sounds utterly modern. It feels like it could have been written yesterday.  After the Rite, neither music nor dance would ever be quite the same again. Small wonder if caused an actual riot at the premiere, but we're not that sort of audience and just make our way, ever so slightly stunned, into the night.

Home for dinner, and then to watch the fireworks from the altana. A slightly different Redentore, but a good one.

Monday, 1 July 2013


Yes, we're still here.

June was supposed to be a quiet month, giving us plenty of opportunity to start ticking off Biennale events from the Little Pink Book. Or, given our track record so far, possibly not. It hasn't worked out like that. Caroline has been busier than ever, albeit with nice, motivated, and above all non-shouty adult students. Work slowed to a trickle for me, but I found myself jumping through hoops with a series of interviews for a job which I am almost certainly not going to get, but which sounded interesting enough to be worth having a go at anyway.

People have been queuing up to offer Caroline work. A Famous Edinburgh Arts Impresario was very keen to give her the chance to look after his exhibition. An interesting opportunity but, unfortunately, an unpaid one; and the offer was politely declined. The other one was more interesting : the chance to be an actual performer at the Biennale. On the surface, it sounded like quite a nice job - for a number of hours each day, she would sit in a space in a palazzo reading from a script by the artist (a rather interesting piece about the Algerian war of independence). After meeting with the artist and her representative, she was all ready to sign up, until the contract arrived with the number of expected hours suddenly doubled; bringing the hourly rate of pay down to something less than six euros. I was very proud of her for getting it, but even more pleased that she turned it down.

Caroline has just finished her last lesson. I have a surprisingly busy day tomorrow and then that'll pretty much be it. A twelve day break in the UK, and then back to Venice for some quality altana time, and throwing ourselves on the mercy of the Little Pink Book.

So there we go. That was our first anno scolastico. Now, a number of people have asked us why we don't try something different, possibly less stressful, and certainly more lucrative, such as working as tour guides. This suggestion has come up a lot, so I think it's worth explaining why not. The answer is very simple : it's very, very hard to become a tour guide in Venice. You need fluency in at least three languages. Your knowledge of the art, architecture, history, politics and music of Venice needs to be forensic. You cannot just pitch up and start running tours. I have Venetian friends who work as guides. It took them years of study to qualify. How would I feel if I ran into them in town whilst running an unlicensed tour? Is it really worth putting a friendship at risk for the sake of a few extra bob? No, for now, at least, it's a teacher's life for us.

As I said, we're off to the UK for a few weeks. Hopefully there'll be more time to write when I get back, but in the meantime buon estate everyone.