Just returned from Tannhauser. It re-creates by the magic of sound the world-old, magnificent and terrible struggles between good and evil. I cannot understand what Wagner’s critics were driving at. Far from being incomprehensible, it makes you understand.
The leading male (Menzinski) has a beautiful voice, under great restraint and reserve. It swells, organlike from his lips. (Arrival of first devotee of Bacchus – today being pay-day – very boozy and repentant) – I don’t care how mad it sounds, but you can see Wagner’s music, as well as hear it. In one part it gave a picture of magnificent spiral bubbles shooting up through an iridescent ocean. At another it presented horizontal waves, interchanging intricately in the same planes.
I am in danger of being a convert to the opinion that Grand Opera offers the greatest scope of all art forms, but shall probably recant on reading again (say) Prometheus Unbound. Thus spouteth the vacillating dilettante.
My dipsomaniac, after visiting a neighbouring and lugubrious flautist, and raising a raucous bass in unison, returns in gleaming Hun helmet for my gratification, and retires flute-wards after effective dumb show. Enter reveller No.2, who after short exposition, goes to sleep fully dressed. Ten by the wrist-watch – and yet three away!
Had a driving job this morning, by way of a change – the ground was thick with snow, which seemed to form a blanket creating the warmth to thaw itself. Easily got a ticket for tonight’s performance, Lortzing’s “The Armourer of Worms”. There was too much unintelligible libretto. My real motive for going being to see again the attractive Summer-night’s spook which followed it. But I also obtained a ticket for Tannhauser tomorrow.
Baths today. Lovely swim! Went to my rehearsal tonight. No.2, the Mozart, was delightful. The solo was played by a strong leonine lady in a masculine and masterly fashion, and without mannerisms. The programme cost me 3 cigarettes, as I had no small change. (Bystanders much amused).
No.3. This piece recently composed by a Rhinelander was tonight performed for the first time. Probably clever music, but it didn’t seem to grip one. No.4. This big symphony by Bruchner is a remarkable work. It is full of surprises – throws thunder and lightning at you, bludgeons you with sound at one moment, and rubs ointment on the bruise in the next, eventually lulling and pacifying the somewhat perplexed brain with a long massage, tying and untying it in soft easily resolved loops and bows, gently lassoing and releasing it, running smooth instruments through its intricate coils – in fact, putting its tangled and tawny masses into musical curling pins. I was much indebted to a fair-haired young fraulein who spoke some English, and helped me understand things – rewarding her with a hunk of butterscotch. I told her how the hun children plague us for “chocoladen”, and she said “Yes, and also the ladies – I mean the wrong-women. I shall not be the wrong-woman”. (I didn’t ask her to).
(Lohengrin): There being nothing for it but to tip the door-keeper, I did so. The conditions were adverse (standing in a bad place, very high up, and far to one side). With that huge orchestra, and that number of trained voices, Wagner’s music is quite indescribable.
The part of Lohengrin was taken by an understudy who had a vibrato voice, a thing I don’t like, but Elsa was splendid – a woman (Wanda Ashel) with a glorious figure. (Apropos of the vibrato chap, a wiseacre Tommy turned to me and said “That singin’ is hout er date – its cut art in Blighty” – “That’s what’s called tremolo singin”). The swan-boat business was well managed, but unfortunately I was so high up that I could see all the stage machinery, which spoilt the effect.
Some striking water-colours in a shop window, by a local man – bold work, with daring use of body colour. Obtained a ticked for rehearsal of Tuesday’s Concert. My scheme is – on picquet on Monday, and unable to fix it, try the gallery on Tuesday – if successful on Monday, still try the gallery on Tuesday – Compree?
Purchased a ticket from a stoutish woman, having turned down the meagre old ‘un on account of the exorbitancy of her charges, and saw “Martha” again to great advantage, with the help of the English guide. I am much taken with this opera – I like the music, and the whole thing seems to go with a verve and a swing that is irresistible. From my booklet I see that old Flotow wrote many operas, but this and another alone retain popularity. I hazard the suggestion that, without great genius, he had thoroughly learnt his trade when he wrote “Martha”.