Promming

I‘m not planning to go to too many proms this year but the Wagner bicentenary does offer a chance to see most of Wagner’s major operas. Tannhäuser is a relatively uncomplicated moral fable; sensuality must be renounced and the road to salvation can only be attained through suffering and death with the distinction encapsulated in the Virgin/Whore figures of Venus and Elizabeth. Parsifal resembles Tannhäuser in several respects, with the flower maidens fulfilling the same role as the Venusberg. However, although Kundry plays the role of temptress to some extent, there is no equivalent for the figures of Venus and Elizabeth; if anything Kundry more resembles the wandering outcasts who are usually male in Wager’s operas. In Tristan and Isolde where Isolde combines both of these roles Wagner simultaneously sees love as something transcendental, destructive and emasculating; hence Tristan’s defeat in combat and the deliberate blurring of whether their love is attributable to the deus ex machina of the potion or whether love is to be experienced as a form of involuntary madness. Walking back to Paddington after the Parsifal I hear owls in Hyde Park.

The Royal Academy’s Mexican art exhibition has both the strengths and weaknesses of a historical survey; it downplays the more famous artists (it only has one small Frida Kahlo self portrait and one larger Diego Rivera painting) but does offer a wider picture of the period. Organised chronologically, it begins with the Mexican revolution with Hugo Brehme’s photos and calavera prints; Francisco Goitia’s painting of a Zacatecan landscape stands out most here. The mask-like painting of Zapata by David Alfaro Siqueiros also stands out. Perhaps oddly for a survey of Mexican art, quite a lot of attention is given to photographs taken by Bresson and Edward Weston of Mexican pyramids or portraits of figures like DH Lawrence. Laura Gilpin’s photos of Chichen Itza also stand out. If anything, I like the photography of Manuel Alvarez Bravo rather more, with photos of carousel horses, a box of visions, Mexican elections, crime victims, dancing puppets and firemen that look like Venetian plague doctors. I also like the paintings of Marsden Hartley of the Mexican landscape, painting the simplest shapes with the boldest primary colours.

A few weeks later, I spend an afternoon visiting Guildford. The modern cathedral bears interesting comparison with that at Coventry. From the outside, for all its striking position the cathedral rather resembles a parish church of the same period. The interior retains more of the trappings of a cathedral, with the decorative jouissance characteristic of gothic replaced by austere minimalism. The result is rather more likeable than Coventry, with the interior flooded wit light rather than the gloom within its counterpart, although it lack the wealth of sculptural and artistic detail that Coventry has (excepting the Eric Gill sculptures on the outside). The castle in Guildford is rather more impressive; a surviving Norman keep surrounded by a park. The view from the keep looks out over the cathedral hill and over to the skyscrapers of Wokig in the distance.

The following week I decide to visit Evesham in Worcestershire. The Abbey park is an odd placed, with the remains of the dissolved abbey accompanied by two nearby churches. The church of St Lawrence has suffered somewhat from Victorian restoration; the Preedy stained glass windows are somewhat famed locally but I can’t really bring myself to like them. What is interesting is the Lichfield chantry chapel, with its fan vaulted ceiling and font lined with grotesque carvings. Again, with the nearby All Saints church the most interesting thing is the Montfort chapel with its fan vaulting ceiling but the rest of the interior has again suffered somewhat at Preedy’s hands. Outside, I have a look at the old abbey bell tower and arch.

Dorothy Parker is one of those writers principally known through reputation only, with that reputation resting precariously on a number of lines from her poems and bon mots. In practice though, these lines seem somewhat unrepresentative of her work which often seems to more resemble late Victorian romanticism than Wilde or Rochefoucauld; although in several cases the more satirical voice in Parker’s work deliberately undermines the more stately romantic one, they often seem parallel and unrelated strands of her work. Her critical works perhaps conform better to the impression one might have had of her, although inevitably in a lot of cases her subject matter has now fallen into obscurity. In a lot of cases, her judgements seem prescient and acute; as in defending Nabokov, Hemingway and Lawrence.But equally, she praises Nevil Shute while castigating Kerouac.

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