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About A Week: Sing Along With Me

Give me opera in the peace and quiet of my own home every day, says Peter Hinchliffe.

Altogether now. Sing along with me.

Nessun dorma. Nessun dorma.
Tu pure, O Principessa
nella tua fredda sanza…

OK, OK. So we don’t sound like Pavarottis. But there’s no harm in pretending, as we serenade the bathroom walls, that we are up there on the stage of the Royal Opera House, or La Scala, Milan, singing like one of God’s favoured angels.

The great Pavarotti, he of the well-rounded jowls, wanted to be a professional footballer.

He had to settle for singing the theme tune of World Cup 1990.

And what a theme tune! The aria from Puccini’s opera Turandot thrills the parts that other music fails to reach.

Puccini, stylishly served up by Pavarotti, proved that you don’t have to be highbrow to enjoy fine music. In that World Cup year it kicked New Kids On The Block and Madonna to one side, soaring to the top of the pop charts.

Actually I was a Puccini fan long before Pavarotti’s soaring World Cup outburst. I like opera. That is, opera on CD. Not so much as once in my life have I been in an opera house.

A treat yet to come?

But I listen for hours to Beethoven’s Fidelio, Wagner’s Ring cycle, Verdi, Richard Strauss, and of course the infinitely great Mozart, particularly The Magic Flute.

I used to think that each and every opera sounded like tom cats fighting in a back alley. Operas were ample cause to stop up one’s ears and turn off the radio.

Gradually, very gradually, I came to the point where I left the radio on. Then, note by delicious note, opera seeped into my system, turning me into an addict.

It happened this way. I was trying to write novels. I didn’t want to be famous, or super-rich. The aim was to earn just enough cash from writing to take me off to a quiet cottage in the Yorkshire Dales, there to drink Theakston’s bitter, read a lot, go for long walks, and forget about the mad hurly-burly of earning a living from daily journalism.

Each night I determinedly shut myself away in the spare bedroom. At first I wrote in silence. Silence weighed heavy. I started to listen to Radio 3 while I typed. Classical music. Few interventions from announcers.

The writing went on for year after year. Songs, symphonies, quartets, quintets, and…yes, operas swilled over me while I invented characters for the page.

I acquired a growing pile of rejection slips from publishers, and also an insatiable taste for sumptuous music and finely trained voices.

Though I still listen to many hours of classical music every week on radio and CDs, I’m not at all sure that I want to have my imagination disturbed by seeing opera performed in the flesh, as it were.

What ample flesh it so often is!

Some would describe the mighty Luciano Pavarotti as a fine figure of a man.

Others of a harsher disposition might say he was fat.

When he is singing a passionate aria he may not be addressing a fair-skinned maiden, but rather a piled-high plate of pasta.

Fat folk singing on CD are all very well.

But fat folk in the opera house…

I’m afraid they do tend to make elephantine noises as they move across the stage.

On some live broadcasts of operas it sounds as though a rat has suddenly been spotted, and the cast are fleeing in thunder-footed panic for the wings.

Give me opera in the peace and quiet of my own home every day.

If sufficiently inspired, I can sneak upstairs to give free rein to my voice.

Nessun dorma. Nessun dorma.

What do you know? I think I have just cracked a bathroom tile.

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