The last time I mixed with the Authors' Club I ended up in their private members club in Soho, beside a furiously hot fire, talking about homo eroticism in travel writing, getting blind drunk on red wine, leaving abruptly and rudely, and remembering very little. I admit that I was a pretty weak vessel that evening. Well, too weak a vessel for the amount of alcohol I was pouring down my throat.
The day before I was caught reading Antonia Fraser I went to the opera. A thing I have not done before. I saw Rigoletto at the Royal Opera House. At first it was all breasts. Breasts from a birds' eye view. Flocks of courtesans, all shapes and sizes, at the Duke's court, drinking, undressing, flirting and writhing. These were raunchy, rouged girls. Then we are introduced to Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter. A pure angelic soprano in a white dress. She falls in love with the Duke who sings sweet nothings to her and steals her heart. He, of course, is a cheating philanderer. Despite knowing he's been unfaithful, Gilda resolves to sacrifice herself for him. He's going to be murdered by a hired killer unless the killer can find another to take the Duke's place. So she dresses as a man (in a disguise that would only fool characters in a melodramatic and overwrought opera), enters the house where the killer dwells and is mortally wounded. I was screaming 'No, no, no!' inside my head at silly, silly Gilda. Of course she is not quite dead when her father finds her, providing the opportunity for a prolonged, though beautifully sung, death scene. She has a strong voice, and a strong force of (misguided) will, but I ultimately thought 'weak vessel'. The Duke cared nothing for her and she gave up her life for him. The Duke who sings the famous La donna è mobile - 'woman is fickle' - which goes on (and on) about how man is miserable if he trusts a woman, and that women are flighty, like a feather in the wind. He bloody gets away with the whole thing too.
|La Maigre Adeline (1906) by Walter Sickert|
Crimson negligees, nude slips, violent sex, women with fear in their eyes, thrusting then tortured men... And a husk of a woman, driven to madness, emaciated and balding, alone, shaking, convulsing on a brass bed in a bare room. Her wild dark eyes stared, unseeing, up into the gods of the theatre. It brought me to tears. A girl just along from me fell in theatrical swoon at the end of that scene (though she had been standing the whole time, and she probably had low blood sugar). The whole ballet was stunning and disturbing. A Sickert canvas made flesh. These women have the strongest physicality, the strongest sense of elegance and form, the strongest feel for character. It was hard to watch at times yet mesmerising. The bodies and minds that made it so are far from weak vessels.