Towards the end of last year, Sophie blogged on the perennial school essay topic of What I Did On My Holidays. With Easter coming up soon, I’ve been thinking about holidays too. And I’ve realised how much I’ve missed over the last year of more or less permanent lockdown.
You might be feeling equally stir-crazy?
I haven’t been away from home for a year. But I should have been. I had holidays and trips booked. They had to be postponed or cancelled. So I’m going to muse on might-have-beens. Non-holidays, if you like.
After all, we writers use our imaginations all the time.
So why not holiday that way?
Lake District Non-Holidays (of the working variety)
Imagine walking down that beautiful hillside towards the water, smelling the freshness of the trees and feeling the breeze on your face. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to do that?
Sophie and I (with various writing mates) had booked a writing retreat in the Lake District for March 2020. It was postponed. Sigh.
Until March 2021.
And guess what? Yup, this month’s Lake District retreat was postponed as well.
It’s supposed to take place later this year. We’re not holding our breath for date #3 either.
Still, we weren’t giving up on the writing-together lark, so we organised a virtual retreat. We would check in every morning with our plans for the day and zoom every evening to report back on how much we’d done. Usually with a glass in hand.
No surprise there, I hear you cry.
But we missed such a lot. A writing retreat is much, much more than just the word count.
There’s nothing quite like a group of writers sitting together round the breakfast or supper table, chewing the fat on writerly things, having the odd moan or just chatting about nothing in particular. It’s fun and stimulating and it provides amazing mutual support. Zoom is fine but it doesn’t do that.
Zooming is NOT the same as hugging your mates, having a laugh over a glass or two, and hearing about the misadventures of husbands and partners while they are escaping from our clutches. (Partners are allowed to have fun, provided they do the shopping in between times. And at least some of the cooking.)
So we are all hoping that the third date does finally go ahead. We don’t care too much about the weather late in the year—we writers are mostly inside working. It’s the partners who are usually out braving the elements. We’d probably settle for snow and gales, if only our retreat can go ahead with hugs and laughs.
Non-Holidays with added Opera
Last August, I should have been on Lake Constance, enjoying the fabulous scenery around the Bodensee, bordered by Germany, Austria and Switzerland. I had arranged to stay in a favourite German hotel. I had tickets for the opera at Bregenz, in Austria (only a short ferry ride away). The opera takes place on a spectacular outdoor stage that’s set in the lake itself. (The audience gets to sit on land, though.)
I’ve been a fan since my first visit, back in 2013, to see The Magic Flute. The lake backdrop and huge stage gave the Mozart opera’s magic full rein. Take a look at these before and after images of the set. [Click to enlarge any image]
To give you an idea of scale, those three dragons are about 90 feet/27 metres high. And yes, the walkway between the dragons’ mouths was in use. Only by people with a head for heights?
Performance views—darker and darker, getting more and more magical?
The forest on fire, the dragons’ eyes burning high in the sky,
and someone up there, braving the walkway
You can see more of that performance, including the superb Warhorse-type puppets, in the video further down the blog. The commentary is in German, I’m afraid, but the images and the music are for everyone. Don’t miss the Queen of the Night aria. This is how she started, the night I was there:
She finished on top of a vertiginous extending pole!!! You can see it at about 3m:20s into the video below. I gasped when I saw it on the night. It was an astonishing coup de théâtre. That’s the real soprano up there and she is not miming. She hits all the top notes, too.
A couple of years later, Sophie and I went together to the Bregenz performance of Turandot. Even though she’s not a Puccini fan and she dislikes the plot of Turandot, Sophie admits that the music is beautiful. And she was impressed by Bregenz. For this opera, we had the Great Wall of China and an army of terracotta warriors marching into the water, as you can see. [Click to enlarge image]
We were in the water, too, because it rained. Almost all the audience (including us) stayed in their seats, donning macs and plastic wraps. (Brollies not allowed, for obvious reasons.)
The opera continued, even on the wet and slippery stage.
More respec’. They’re a hardy lot, those opera singers…
Rigoletto: my not-opera in my non-holiday
The latest Bregenz production—Rigoletto—was the one I had tickets for but didn’t get to see, because the whole festival was cancelled in 2020. But the first performance had taken place the year before, so I was able to see some of what I’d missed. Cue teeth-gnashing 😉
The Bregenz festival is still hoping to put Rigoletto on again in 2021 so the staging is still there. (I have a feeling it won’t happen this year either.) You can see what the stage looks like, from the permanent webcam but it’s a bit sad at the moment, I think. The image below shows the basic Rigoletto stage in the early evening light. This isn’t the complete set though; it’s missing the hot air balloon. (Doesn’t everyone have a balloon on their lake?)
But have a look at the video below and you’ll see what that set can become. Look how that clown head changes and animates. This time, the commentary is mostly in English. And the famous aria La Donna è mobile takes on a new twist—literally—in this performance. See for yourself around 6m:40s in.
The Bregenz festival doesn’t do things by halves. Maybe that’s why they can manage to fill 7,000 seats every night for four weeks?
With luck, I’ll be in one of those seats, another year, on an actual holiday.
When non-holidays stop and the real thing begins again. Fingers crossed…