Old folk at lunch

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Donizetti and the 39 articles



On Saturday afternoon, Anne and I saw a performance of "Lucia di Lammermoor" by Gaetano Donizetti -- an opera about Scotland written by an Italian! It was performed at the Lyric theatre here in Brisbane -- a beautifully designed large modern theatre that gives just about everyone in the audience a good view of the stage. We had seats in the first tier up.

The scenery was pretty invariant in the modern way and the costumes were a bit mixed. I was pleased to see that the clergyman wore advocates' tabs, as Presbyterian ministers do, but there was not a kilt in sight! Very strange for something set in the Highlands. The odd Tartan cloak or sash seemed to be the only recognition of Scottishness in dress.

There were of course only the four main performers but I was amazed that the cast of chorus/extras was so large. There must have been 50 people on stage at times. I thought I could see government subsidy somewhere there. No wonder opera is so expensive to produce!

I am not much of a fan of 19th century Italian opera (opera for me stops at Mozart) and I usually have a nap of an afternoon so that combination was not good. I had trouble staying awake -- for all the drama unfolding on stage! The plot is incredibly silly by modern standards but I guess it made sense in the time it was written.

It was Anne who particularly wanted us to go along so she enjoyed it, fortunately. I gather that she particularly wanted to see the famous "mad scene" performed. That scene is a major role for a soprano and Anne herself is a singer (soprano) so I can understand her interest.

The opera had a curious aftermath. Anne cooked us some excellent sausages for dinner afterwards and a big storm with lots of thunder and lightning got underway as she was washing up. That inspired her to start singing "How great thou art", because of its allusion to thunder:

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power through-out the universe displayed.


That hymn is one of the most powerful evangelical hymns ever written and it is a tremendous favourite of mine so afterward we put on a CD of hymn tunes and sang along together! Anne referred to it as "Religious karaoke"! We are both unbelievers these days but share a Presbyterian background and we both love the old hymns. But following Donizetti by hymns had to be a bit eccentric! I enjoyed the hymns a lot more!

Curiously, although Anne does not appear to believe in God in any way, she still has Presbyterian beliefs. How come? She still believes that: "it was all meant to be". The Scottish churches are of course all originally Calvinist and even the 39 "Articles of Religion" of the Church of England accept predestination in a convoluted sort of way but you never hear that belief preached from any pulpit that I know of these days.

But what the preachers have forgotten, the people have not. The old belief is still passed down in families. I remember my own mother and Aunt Maude also telling me with great confidence: "It was all planned out before we were born, John". Yet neither Maude nor my mother were very religious in any obvious sense. I guess there is a religious instinct there -- and I have certainly inherited that. So I happily sing songs of praise to a God I don't believe in. I may be the only atheist in the world who keeps a Presbyterian hymn-book by the side of his bed!

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