Pilgrimages II

I’m holidaying in Finland, which is at the moment hot, humid and exhausting – England was hot too, but at least the nights were cool, which they decidedly are not in here. It’s been a busy few days; after the exhibition ended and all the regular summer activities were over, I had about a week to catch up on a few local exhibitions and other cool stuff, all the while trying to not to get too hot.

Glyndebourne. I didn’t take quite as many photos as I would have liked to, so you will have to take my word about it being a beautiful day, the gardens glorious in the setting sun.

  • I finally caught the America’s Cool Modernism exhibition at the Ashmolean, few days before it closed on Sunday. I have loved Edward Hopper ever since I first saw one of his paintings, New York Movie (1939), on the cover of a book about twenty years ago. There’s something wonderfully evocative about his paintings – whether landscapes, urban scenes or interiors, they are clean, empty, the people in them caught in the middle of action that goes unexplained. On loan from the Metropolitan Museum in NY was Hopper’s From Williamsburg Bridge, but it wasn’t the only interesting work on display. Similar in spirit was (also on loan from the Met) Niles Spencer’s Erie Underpass, another empty, almost abstract urban scene. Another interesting works included Patrick Henry Bruce’s Peinture from 1917-18 – with its clean, abstract shapes and colours it looks so much the very definition of  what “modern” or “contemporary” art (in short, not figurative) is in the public imagination, it is amazing to realise just how old it already is.
  • from the Ashmolean to the Weston Library, where they have on display a selection of ephemera from the personal archive of J.R.R. Tolkien. I confess that The Lord of the Rings has defeated me every time I have tried to read it, but I have always loved his original art works – according to the exhibition notes, he defined himself as calligrapher, and he was also a habitual doodler, and obsessive about trees.
  • When I first discovered the marvel that is Dame Sarah Connolly, I quickly became a huge fan of the 2005 Glyndebourne production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare, directed by David McVicar; its last revival was in 2009, and I didn’t expect to ever see it, so the release of this summer’s festival programme was hugely exciting. Giulio was back, with some of the old cast (namely, Dame Sarah) returning, and with Joelle Harvey taking over the role of Cleopatra; cue a year of eager waiting and planning and – in my case – hoping for a picnic-appropriate weather. I felt almost apprehensive the moment the curtain went up. Would it leave up to the huge expectations? Would it be over all too soon? Would we all keel over with heat exhaustion before the end? I needen’t have worried – it was every bit as good as I thought it would be; I’m not a fan of everything McVicar has ever done, but this production is clever, visually stunning and very entertaining. I have a conflicted relationship with Handel’s operas, but this production manages to keep the story going even when the music in all its baroque glory stalls, and the singing was again great. And Dame Sarah, all swagger on stage, was all dewy and lovely in her, ahem, dressing gown afterwards.
Dame Sarah with my opera posse. Note the bust of Julius Caesar she’s holding.


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