A Nice Relaxing Week-end in London

Thursday of last week we went to see The Phantom of the Opera. Learning from our failed 45-minute grace period of the previous play (Read the entry entitled “Hamlet” for details on that one), we left at least an hour before the performance started. We were seated in the highest, farthest back row, level with the ceiling – but we still had a decent view of the dollar bill sized stage (and we managed to wrestle free the “rentable” opera glasses – weak binoculars – affixed to the back of the seats in front of us from their plastic caging without paying the requested 40 pence, tee hee). The seats cost us 15 pounds 90 pence, which is about 23-24 US dollars.

I was quite pleased with the performance and production of this play as well. The dynamics and fluidity of scene changes, lighting, and sound all worked together (with the contribution of the performers, of course) to produce a phenomenal experience. Andrew Lloyd Weber’s rich, deep organ melody to accommodate the character of the Phantom is absolutely captivating.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Tina and I chose to stay in London. The trips to Belgium and France were wonderful – but at the end of each week-end we were entirely smashed (that’s English for “exhausted”). I’m proud to say I slept in and took frequent naps throughout the week-end, some of which produced a few rather strange dreams.

I have found that the majority of the dreams I am fortunate enough to remember have as their setting Home, either Chico or Little Shasta, rather than London. It is as if my subconscious is yet in disbelief that I am in another region of the world; or perhaps it is simply that I have a far greater archive of memories to draw upon that are set in California. I find this particularly interesting because the notion of dream setting has never really been a prominent or memorable theme (unless, of course, it is set in someplace completely foreign). Then again, setting has never been a very prominent element of my conscious mind either, until now.

It is strange to describe (and strange to read, no doubt) that I feel as though suddenly the rest of the world has become Real. I spoke before of cultural contrast, and I am thinking now about geographical contrast. I simply didn’t spend too much time before thinking about or considering how people act and behave in different places of the world, other than the fleeting thought that they are simply different. For me, it isn’t the realization, but the experience that is important.

Sunday we went to see both the London and Israel Philharmonic Symphonies at the Royal Albert Hall (a gigantic domed building where architecture is every much as bit a player as the players). They played pieces by Strauss (London Philharmonic), Mahler (London + Israel Philharmonic), and Mendelssohn’s Symphony number 4 (Israel Philharmonic). The piece by Mahler in particular was quite impressive. It included both the London and Israel Symphonies, which gave it a HUGE, full, and rich sound (around 250+ musicians playing at once in some parts). I recognized the third movement of Mendelssohn’s 4th, a piece that I’m sure I have on a CD somewhere.

Yesterday (Monday) we learned a bit more in class about some of the pomp and tradition of the English government. We watched a brief film on the annual ceremony of the opening of Parliament. The scene progresses like this: the queen, her husband, and all of her attendants lead a royal progression from Buckingham Palace to Parliament into the House of Lords (within the Parliament buildings) via a quite royal, guilded, horse drawn coach. There (amidst a gathering of royally regaled Lords, white wigs and all) she ascends the throne, crown on her head, and sits for a bit while the progression ceases. She then bids a fellow dubbed “Black Rod” (a man dressed all in black, carrying, surprise surprise, a Black Rod) to invite the members of the House of Commons into the House of Lords. Black Rod then walks down the long corridor that joins both Houses of Parliament to fulfill the queen’s order. Before he can walk into the House of Commons, however, the members of the House of Commons slam the door in his face (a symbolic action of the power of the House of Commons over the House of Lords and the Monarch), a right comical gesture carried out in the most solemn and traditional of graces. Black Rod then knocks three times (very hard and slow), and he is invited into the House of Commons. Upon his entry, all of the members of the House of Commons yell at him, make fun of his clothes, swear at him, and other such rude gestures (once again, playing their traditional role). Black Rod then formally invites them to the House of Lords, by order of the queen, and then leads all of them back down the corridor to the House of Lords. Sure enough, however, there is only enough standing room in the House of Lords to accommodate the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition party, which is at the very, very back of the room. Keep in mind that all of the royally regaled Lords, of course, have their backs to the Commoners. The ceremony concludes with the queen’s speech (which happens to be written by the Prime Minister). I took great delight in learning this, and I thought that you all might, too.

Tonight we go to see Chekov’s play “The Cherry Orchard”. Vanessa and Colin Redgrave, (which, I am told, are two of England’s most famous actors, and are son and daughter of Michael Redgrave – an exceedingly famous actor in his own time) are playing the lead roles of Lyubov Ranevskaya and Leonid Andreyevitch Gayev. I’m looking forward to this production, even though Chekov generally succeeds in painting an altogether bleak and desolate worldview.