Saturday, July 31, 2010

Last Night, July 30, at Chautauqua


   Something happened up at Chautauqua last night.
   There was a break-through-- under all that magnificent timbering. I thought I heard a new orchestra and a new music.
    It seemed to me a break-through into a maturity and authority and capacity for greatness that I have not fully experienced before, and it was for Wagner’s Tristan and Ring with soprano Jane Eaglen, Of course, it might just have been me and my enthusiasm for this music. I was loaded for bear, I admit. But, for me this was one of the finest moments among all the fine moments I have known in Boulder, since I was first taken to Chautauqua, new-born, back in ‘26.
    Conductor Michael Christie, was out of the body as he built, phrased, and defined that great music. He was beautiful in ways he could not himself know, unable, like us, to see himself at work. His ability to sustain himself and his orchestra in so huge a work is remarkable. He is an authorized Wagnerian now--  and one of note.
    Like many others, I went worrying about Jane Eaglen and her Isolde and Brunhilde. But I ought not to have. She was grand, thrilling, in generous control of the music, the hall, and us in the audience. It was fine to see her looking superb and to hear her.  Those big moments that she and Christie built up out of the orchestra and her heroic voice knocked me right up out of my seat.
   I have always wanted to be, in Bernard Shaw’s phrase,  “the Perfect Wagnerite”. And last night I came to my Wagner and heard him fresh, true, immensely powerful and intelligent-- almost with the thrill of that first time so long ago when I heard Flagstad and Melchior with Toscanini beating time.
    And to think we otherwise might not have this magnificent thing, this orchestra, but for the great old Chautauqua hall standing there since 1898, a hall of such acoustic and architectural perfection. Just think! And but for the enlightened vision of the City of Boulder it might have been “scraped off” and we not have this superb Wagnerian orchestra.
   So, I have to tell you that it was some evening of concert-going last night! And now the season must end come Friday with Mahler’s Fifth.
Come one, come all! I know the best seat in the house, but I’m not telling.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

That Medallion, there

    There’s that medallion, that logo, that trade-mark, to our left, alongside this article. My esteemed editor, Bob Wells, at Boulder Reporter, stuck it there. I worry that it might puzzle you; so let me explain.
    Three years ago I began to feel that, in order to go on writing this stuff with any semblance of authority and then send it out all over the known world, as a sort of amateur, faux company producing texts of various sorts, I would need a “sign”, a logo by which to be identified. So, with a light heart, I set out to invent one.
    The first element to suggest itself was that fly-- I had tied it and my friend and designer Michael Signorella scanned it nicely. Not just any fly, but a Wickham’s Fancy, a famed dressing devised by the distinguished Dr.T.C. Wickham, an early member of London’s Flyfishers’ Club, who had established the first syndicate of anglers on the famous River Test at Houghton in 1875.
    A Wickham’s Fancy was the first fly that, as a school boy at Winchester College, the pre-eminent G.E.M. Skues bought for himself. I had even gone so far as to plant an imaginary Dr. Wickham, frail and failing , in the last year of his life, in the audience of my THE GREAT DEBATE between Skues and Halford. I wanted proper recognition for the good doctor, to welcome him as a presiding spirit over my entire enterprise. That contest, as I imagined it, over the wet vs. the dry fly took place, in my invention, at The Flyfishers’ Club, 98 years ago. We produced it here in the recital hall of Boulder’s public library in 2006.
    This sprightly fly, with ginger hackle palmered over a gold tinsel body, was originally thought of as a dry fly, but has come down to us on this side of the Atlantic as a standard wet fly. In any case, it is an emblem of a great period in British and American fly fishing-- a fly of the old school, once found in every fly book, now nearly forgotten.
    Next, I have always felt that angling is all of a piece, whether it is with a dry fly or a worm in Boulder Creek, an Eskimo hole in arctic ice, an open boat on the North Sea, Atlantic salmon in Russia, or Indians spearing fish in the Amazon. Nor would I want to forget the women and children who have anxiously waited, since time began, for the return of their fisher-men from dangerous seas. And I include the fishwives endlessly processing the catch at dock-side. I include them all. All in it together.
    Fishing is fishing. It is a whole.
    And it is certainly ancient.
I like to think of anglers as a community of action and thought, a company in the spirit of medieval guilds, where men of like profession bound themselves together in a brotherhood in order to advance in technology, commerce, and fellowship. The trades they professed in common often identified them with the workmen of the Scriptures; and, in this case of fishermen, with Saint Peter himself.
    And so I had a name, a mystique, and a title:
                     The Whole and Ancient Company of Anglers.
   I believed in it and was in business. Then, Signorella designed it into this magic circle of a sign with the hook at the center, sharply barbed, not de-barbed to impotence in the popular modern manner. In any system of symbols, the hook is surely a potent, simple, and ancient member. It is a beautiful object in its own right.
    Here it is as the epigraph to my second book, Late in an Angler’s Life:

Every Where in Every Time
There Work
The Whole and Ancient Company of Anglers,
The Order of the Desperate,
Who Let Down Nets and Lines to Fish,
From the Bottom to the Top
From the Beginning to the End
Let Me Be Counted in That Number!

   With a logo and a motto, I felt justified to broadcast my gazette to the public. It has stubbornly resisted dealing exclusively with fishing, and has insisted on slipping off into all the heart-breaking stuff of which my life-- and I assume that of my readers-- is made.
    So, there you have it: there’s that medallion.

Friday, July 2, 2010



     Tonight I shall attend a performance of King Lear. I shall see it for the manyeth time-- of a life-time of teaching it, worrying about it, and acting the damned old king three times. Probably the greatest of all plays. Staged once again at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.
     Tonight  I shall attend an opening night ceremony of food and drink. There will be the customary speeches thanking almost everyone-- except actors and acting, Amid the polite applause, I’ll be off somewhere in reveries of my own King Lear. I’ve appeared in it twice in this very CU Mary Rippon Theatre. First, in my nonage as Kent. Many years later as the king himself-- and nearly as tormented an actor as He a king.
    Tonight the title role will be taken by an excellent professional actor of middle years who is bound to turn in a workman-like performance through which I shall try not to fiddle experimentally with my hearing aids; but why bother at all as I shall reflexively lip the words right along with the actors-- I am that perilously close to knowing the play by heart.
   Ah! those words! To have been allowed  to speak them in pubic! The immense privilege of it!
   What will that actor, the poor devil, do with that first line of his tonight? “Attend the Lords of France and Burgundy, Gloster”. It’s a life and death decision that the actor must make; because all that is to come depends on how he reads that short first short, throw-away line. There can be no going back. It will determine what kind of man this Lear is. For better or worse.   
   And then, some three hours later, it will determine his death. Actors never get a second chance once the curtain is up. But, and I rejoice in this, at the end, by bringing the curtain down, amid audience applause, the miracle of the theatre takes place: the “dead” actor rises up to take his bow and live to act another day! It is the resurrection of the body and glorious.
  My fantasy is that something will go terribly wrong with Lear’s performance tonight and I will be hauled up out of the audience, a script thrust into my hand with orders to get on with it, on with the play. But I’m now just too old to be out there doing that sort of thing, playing “His” play, seeking redemption from “His” folly, “His” madness, “His” love, Why can’t that crazy old man take care of himself? I’ve got enough trouble of my own. I wonder that Shakespeare should have written such a play in which the protagonist is too old to play in his own play!  It’s like living through your own funeral.
    Three Lears:  1975, 1979, 1995.
     The first was probably best, the most vivid and true. The last probably the most significant by virtue of its being a break-through in the whole process of producing Shakespeare. The middle one, here in Mary Rippon, was a painful flop for me. An obdurately misguided director who would suggest to his cast that the death of John Wayne was a fitting way for us to understand Lear’s tragedy-- to me who daily, hourly, waited every rehearsal for word of my mother’s death who had struggled to breathe for ten years out of love for her children. John Wayne!  Some ideas are sheerest shit.
    So here I am, every bit as old, probably older than He at His  “four score and upward”. I’m four score and a lot “upward”--old enough at last to have some direct sense of what is going on in this monstrous-magnificent play, but without the stamina to do anything about it. I’ll do well to sit through it tonight. I don’t think I want to go….
  Tonight’s director says that, with her younger, vigorous actor, she will play down Lear’s old age. That is sure to be a comfort to an audience  scared to death of old age anyway.
   That long first scene of the play is in fact a one-act play in itself and plays like one. It completes its satisfactions in some twenty minutes. And again, so, long ago, I did it, did it for a one-act play festival competition. It carried the day and played like a house-afire-- those Wyoming  high school kids!
    Peter Brook  speaks of Theatre Temperature, where suddenly, in spite  of  every possible drawback, every limitation, somehow the action catches fire and life is lived in all its terrible intensity on stage before our very eyes. Somehow those kids of mine raised the theatre temperature of the first scene of Lear to the flash point, altogether unaware of the impossibility, even the  absurdity, of what they were trying to do. Nothing that happens tonight will match that for me.
    So, three times I did it, and, like my own certain death, I feel I know nothing about His-- not for all my academic saying. I feel that I have not contributed anything much to the play, not moved very far beyond a very first reading, so long ago, when, over a long night in a cabin up on Sugarloaf Mountain, with a blizzard howling outside, Betty and I pulled the sofa up close to  the fire and there, by its light, read the play together. Never was there a moment like that:
                                 Thou’lt come no more,
                    Never, never, never, never, never.
                                                King Lear V, iii,  309.