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cultural heavyweights

I was reading how we all have a basic need to have our emotions regulated. Ideally, by our mothers. But if that was a problem – then by someone or something else. For example, art.

A child cries because its nappy is wet and a mother holds him, comforts him, tells him, “there, there, let’s get you out of those wet things and make it better”. The emotion of discomfort is not denied – it’s taken up, made sense of, giving a space to move on into something else: dry pants.

I feel grim because I’ve broken up with my boyfriend and I go to the opera because a friend happens to invite me. And I discover that sitting there in the dark, the music takes up my sadness and does something grand with it and gives it back to me: full heart.

In the last few weeks I’ve been to see some major cultural events. All of them have taken my emotions, made them big and heady, given them back to me with a communal name.

First, I went to Peter Grimes at the ENO with Simon and Rachel.

I know this opera pretty well and I was enjoying it all through Act One. Then it got to the bit where Peter breaks into a weird, visionary aria in the middle of the bawdy pub. All the drinkers go quiet and then he rushes out with his new apprentice into the rain.

At this point I started crying and couldn’t stop. It was the same sort of snotty, gutsy crying I experienced once in Brazil. It came from my innards somewhere. And wouldn’t stop. I cried as we got up and as we moved into the crowded foyer. Real streaming tears. People stared…

When Rachel met up with us and saw my face, she smiled kindly and put her hand on my shoulders: “Could it be that those tears are multi-tasking?”, she asked, referring to my bruised heart. She was right, of course. The opera itself was peripheral – though its themes of loneliness, endless striving, battling the world all seemed pertinent at the time.

A week later I was at the 02 arena in the former Dome, waiting for Beyoncé to come on.

I’d bought the ticket with Dominic for his Christmas present and although I tried to wiggle out of it, we thought it would be weird not to go. I was resistant and grumpy because the tubes weren’t running and we had to book a boat to get there. Plus, I barely know 2 Beyonce songs to rub together.

However, the minute the show started I was transported.

I haven’t been to a big stadium show for ages and they’ve evolved. The whole thing was like a 2 hour funfair ride. (And I really scream and shout a lot at funfairs). I couldn’t sit down and stop jumping up and down. The lights, the massive LCD screen doubling, trebling, kaleidoscoping Ms. Knowles, the sexy dancers, the music.

It was enormously life-enhancing. I LOVE Beyonce now.

At one point she flew out over the crowd in a 15-ft gold lame dress (as you do) and landed on a little stage 2 rows behind us that I hadn’t even noticed. She then did about six songs less than 5 metres away from me and Dominic. She’s profoundly beautiful. If I was going to get it on with a girl, it’d be her. (Or maybe one of her dancers…)

It struck me quite forcibly how “high art” is almost always about death or sadness. The sadder the better. Peter Grimes is a depressing account of a loner driven to suicide by his complex relationship to young boys.

Popular art, on the other hand, has almost always been about sex and love and energy and dancing. And the great majority of human beings have preferred it. Beyoncé’s “I Am” tour is a perfect container of those things: light, colour, loudness, dancing, sex, inspiration, longing. It takes our longing for togetherness, joy, wildness and says “yes, we all feel this. It’s good”.

And it’s not only pop goddesses – two days ago I finally got to go to Glyndebourne, the boutique opera house nestled in the Sussex countryside. It’s been putting on world class opera (initially in someone’s country house) since the 1930s. Famous for its picnicking on the lawn, I always wanted to see something there but have never had the opportunity. But circumstances conspired to get me there this week when I saw the dress rehearsal for Purcell’s The Fairy Queen.

I know Purcell and I knew that FQ was a version of Midsummer Night’s Dream. But I wasn’t prepared for the lavishness of the whole experience.

Glyndebourne is incredibly beautiful and very, very English. People bring full tables of picnic for the 1 hour interval and sit in amongst the statuary and gardens, looking out of the lake and the cows, digesting the music they’ve just heard indoors.

And the music was beautiful. William Christie conducting my favorite orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and some exquisite soloists. And to boot, we got pretty much the whole of Shakespeare’s text performed by fine actors. But it was the opulence and extravagance of the production which dazzled me: fairies with voluptuous black wings; haystacks that exploded into dance; full size golden, winged horses lowered from the flies in amidst painted clouds. There’s no whiff of the credit crunch at Glyndebourne this summer. A dizzying massing-up of beauty on beauty on colour on music.

And Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably my favorite Shakespeare. It’s the perfect play. Three interlocking worlds, playing their way out from discord to harmony in a miraculous puzzle. As a child I was enchanted by Oberon and Titania. A little later I loved the humour of the Mechanicals. More lately it’s the comedy of the Lovers lost in the wood that makes my heart buzz. Such wonder.

I’m not sure what emotion it was regulating for me – but it sang of exuberance. Which is something I am in need of.

And last night, more Shakespeare. This time Hamlet.

I’ve only seen Hamlet once before on stage. I’ve always rather shied away from its massive, gloominess. But sat right at the front, looking up at Jude Law’s jutty jaw, I was struck – as always – by how bloody brilliant Shakespeare is. Along the clonky wire of the Revengers Tragedy he threads the most profound meditations on procrastination, the reverse-Oedipus, death and co.

At the start I was rather siding with Claudius… “Can’t he just lighten up a bit? All this huffing and puffing.” But Law swung me round by the time he was playing antic in Act 2.

He really speaks verse incredibly well. Those soliloquys are easy to fudge but he brought out their sense perfectly. I understood them better than ever before. Certainly better than when I was meant to be studying them at University.

I guess I never really identified with Prince Hamlet but Shakespeare never fails:

I haue of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth, forgone all custome of exercise; and indeed, it goes so heauenly with my disposition; that this goodly frame the Earth, seemes to me a sterrill Promontory; this most excellent Canopy the Ayre, look you, this braue ore-hanging, this Maiesticall Roofe, fretted with golden fire: why, it appeares no other thing to mee, then a foule and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of worke is a man! how Noble in Reason? how infinite in faculty? in forme and mouing how expresse and admirable? in Action, how like an An- gel? in apprehension, how like a God? the beauty of the world, the Parragon of Animals; and yet to me, what is this Quintessence of Dust? Man delights not me; no, nor Woman neither…

Where was Beyoncé when he needed her?

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