Friday, 16 September 2011

She's in Fine Voice Tonight, Captain Haddock

Steerforth referred to me extremely kindly in a post the other day and now, by referring to him referring to me, I am setting in motion something that reminds me of the endlessly repeating reflections you sometimes get in changing-room mirrors, a phenomenon that I first noticed when, aged about six, I was trying on a party dress in a cubicle in the children's department of  Peter Jones, Sloane Square, while above my head the terrifying sales lady and my mother discussed the sad fact that I wasn't the kind of girl to carry off frills (and, even now, while I am aware that they were tactlessly but absolutely right, I still wish I were a frill-carrier-offer,[but we all have our crosses to bear in life, don't we?{and have you noticed by the way that these brackets within brackets are, in their own way, a kind of mirroring of the mirroring effect I'm talking about?}])

Anyway, the substance of that post of Steerforth's was his attitude to opera and how he'd thought he didn't like it but in fact he found he really did.  His story reminded me of a similar experience I had about a decade ago when I was driving along the road that runs by Schwedenplatz in Vienna. I have no idea where I was going but I'd come from Nussdorf, passing the Hundertwasser recycling station, hurtling along without hindrance until I reached this point. But now I'd arrived at a traffic jam, which I'd become deeply stuck in. Outside, it began to rain.

To pass the time, I turned on the radio. From the speakers came the sound of a woman's voice. It was uncannily beautiful. I no longer cared that I was in a traffic jam. I'd become mesmerised by the music.  When at last it ended, I listened carefully, determined to note down the singer's name, so that I could buy some recordings of her. It was Joan Sutherland. I couldn't believe it. My immediate thought was, 'It can't have been, because I don't like Joan Sutherland.'  But, of course, I'd never given her the benefit of listening to her without  prejudice. There was the way she looked, to start with, and there were the stories I'd heard told by embittered rivals about how she'd blotted out the chances of her contemporaries among the ranks of Australian female singers.

But now, in the absence of knowledge about who I was listening to, I'd discovered the most important thing about her of all. Her voice was wonderful, she was a woman who had an extraordinary soaringly beautiful talent. None of the rest mattered; in fact, most of it was completely wrong.

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