I’ve always been fascinated by the chemistry of the magic moment and the creative chaos out of which it so often emerges in works of the imagination. And I mean always.
Long before I analysed A-Level texts or read any of the learned works on story structure, I knew there was a point in my favourite fantasies where time seemed to slow. Everything became both more meaningful and more mysterious.
They were the places in the book which I re-read, again and again. The moments I went back to in the CD. The words I waited for, breathless, in the theatre.
Last month I went to Glyndebourne, always beautiful in countless ways, to hear a seldom heard Baroque opera, Hipermestra by Cavalli. Now this is my sort of music and I expected great things of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, under William Christie and the singers. (I got them.)
But frankly I didn’t expect much from the production. The story is violent, loopy and unbelievable. The Spectator called it insufferable rubbish.
Eastern potentate has 50 daughters, whom he makes marry his 50 nephews and then murder them on their wedding night. A soothsayer told him that one of the boys will kill him. The girls, all but one, do as they’re told.
Guess the rest.
Before the opera started, the director, Graham Vick, had brides and grooms going walkabout in the blissful gardens.
But post wedding, he’d gone from love to conflict, in a Middle Eastern War vibe. In current world circumstances, I found this hateful and shallow.
BUT there was this magic moment…
Start of the second half. The set is a bombed city in ruins, real believable ruins. A single violinist is on the stage.
She is dressed in Middle Eastern work clothes, playing to the open sky and the rubble that war has left.
Magic of the Unexpected
At the very top of the ruined wall a hand appears, flailing, feeling for a hold. I know that hand.
And then, as another violinist joins in, then another, conductor William Christie, in costume, gropes his way down twenty foot or so of set and into the pit. And all the while, the music mourns and yearns and endures.
Meaningful and Mysterious
And suddenly this is The Musician and War. This is more than a ridiculous story that nobody can bring themselves even to pretend to believe.
This is Ivor Gurney writing his songs by candlelight in a dugout and returning changed for ever.
This is Myra Hess playing her lunch time concerts at the National Gallery during the Blitz.
This is a Syrian refugee persuading a hostile policeman to release him by playing his violin.
This is Theresienstadt.
Magic Moment in Otello
Covent Garden has just mounted a new production of Verdi’s Otello, Jonas Kaufmann as Otello and Maria Agresta as Desdemona. A devotee of the opera took me to see the live broadcast performance on last Wednesday night.
I know Shakespeare better than Verdi and I think Otello is an idiot in both. How could he believe Iago? But a devotee can open your eyes.
And yes, Otello was still an idiot – especially as this Iago looked positively devilish right from the start. Desdemona was dim, too. And yes, there were some unfortunate directorial decisions on staging which made me giggle, when I wasn’t averting my eyes.
BUT there was this magic moment when I was utterly there – Otello and Desdemona, twits both, look at the stars and reminisce about how they met and fell in love.
The terrible irony is that the seeds of their conflict are already starting to sprout. They think that they have reached their safe harbour. We know this is the lull before the storm. But in just the moment they are so divinely content. Perfection.
Magic Moment Stands Alone
My point is that the magic moment stands alone – you can dislike, even despise, all sorts of elements of the surrounding paraphernalia. The story can be drivel, the protagonist a moron. That moment of absolute magic is all the more powerful because it comes flying out of the stars and hits you in the solar plexus.
Moral: to all writers and artists everywhere, You don’t have to be perfect!