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… instill virtue to suffering

April 1, 2013

Today was my last birthday before I can get discounted coach tickets on National Express.  When you were born on All Fools Day it is inevitable that people are slightly credulous, so to all various requests by multiple channels, yes it is.  I celebrated it by doing the second section of the Wessex Ridgeway with Peter and Julia and going to Nabucco in the evening at the ROH.  The walk turned out to be 17 miles rather than the 14 the guide book indicated so despite a brisk (for us) 2.6 mph everything got a little rushed in consequence.   Huw is home for Easter so he picked us up and dropped me at home before taking Peter and Julia back to their car which was at the start of the walk.  I managed to get showed, change and pack for an overnight in London in 17 minutes scratch.  Joining the M4 near Hungerford my heart dropped as the traffic was solid but it cleared up over the next few miles.  Then it was Osterley Tube for the Piccadilly Line to Covent Garden and I made it to my seat three minutes before the performance started at 1930, but without any food other than two energy bars all day.

I last saw Nabucco in the rain at Verona so a stuffy Royal Opera House was somewhat of a contrast, but the performance was much better.  It's the opera that made Verdi famous and while it is not his strongest I will always seek it out for the Hebrew Slaves Chorus.   I've seen two spectacular versions of this in Verona, but tonight it was poignant.  The chorus gathered together, clearly slaves, in the centre of a stark stage (pictured).  The greater intimacy of the opera house allowed the last chords to last, it seemed, for ever.

Mindful of the fate of Jerusalem,
give forth a sound of crude lamentation,
or may the Lord inspire you a harmony of voices
which may instill virtue to suffering.

Its one of those tearful moments in opera.  Verdi composed it just after his wife and small children had died, we played it at my mother's funeral and it is an alternative anthem in Wales.  The sense of loss it evokes is incredible and it was sung spontaneously by the crowds that accompanied Verdi's funeral cortege.

It was in part inspired by Psalm 137 By the waters of Babylon and has inspired many a musician since.  Just that one chorus summarises for me what opera is about, the music, voice and staging combining to express something beyond words or literature on their own. 

I may go again next Monday as this production deserves for thought.

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