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Macbeth at La Scala

We finally made it. At long last we got our season tickets from la Scala and were looking forward to Macbeth with childish enthusiasm. Then? A strike, yes a full- blown nationwide transport strike. (Weeping and gnashing of teeth) Sometimes you just don’t luck out! We were not even sure about the day either but in the end IT WAS ON .

So off to Milan pretty early and thank goodness too because the traffic was awful and the metro seemed to be taking longer than usual, but I arrived. No time to take a leisurely look at the Galleria and when I’d passed the barriers ,green pass, temperature, ticket, I decided to take the lift. But as so often happens, the many flights of steps were quicker than waiting. I also noticed another thing: the carpeting stops at the landing leading to the boxes, just la Scala underlining that you are one of the “poor” people who have “cheap seats in the gods”!

The usual feeling of breathless expectation, it’s been such a long time since we were last here , but here we go. An overture that sounds to my untrained ear very Verdiano; then the heady mixture of theatre to take in; choreography, the scenery, the unloved video projections. Got it! The orchestra under Chailly, the chorus, the singers; what can I say? They had slipped into their roles and were confident and in great voice, better than on First Night I was told. In fact the appreciative audience interrupted after every aria which doesn’t always happen. Obviously the stars were incredible, but I also liked the choreography (by Daniel Ezralow), I found it very meaningful, a representation of all that was rotten in Macbeth’s world; but at the same time I perceived it as a possible comment on modern-day haters while the witches were obviously purveyors of fake news . The controversial videos might have been too much for people who have problems with flashing lights but they symbolised the hallucinatory world of supersition and ambition, or perhaps the world order crashing about his ears I felt. A quick look at the marvellous decorations in the Galleria before making tracks home. Could we be getting back to normality?

My Diary

In Praise of Masks

Let’s take a look at the tradition of masking. The Venetians were big in this field as carnival time was a moment in all Europe to upset traditional hierarchies even for a day, but was particularly keenly felt in Venice where social hierarchies were extremely rigid. Masks had a practical purpose, that of secrecy, but also aspirational. Do you dream of being rich, just for a day? Mask up as a noble; or maybe you fancy belonging to the opposite sex ? You can do that too. Illicit loves could prosper behind a mask too. From the 12th century onwards Venetians had been hiding behind masks until the untoward happenings consumed behind them, eventually forced one of the Doges to emanate a law restricting masks to carnival.

The BAUTA mask is a simple , all-white mask with a projecting jaw so that the wearer can eat and drink. Held in place by a tricorn hat it was the standardised way to participate and even VOTE in political decision making.

The PLAGUE DOCTOR mask with its long beak-like nose was actually used by doctors to keep their distance, and the beak stuffed with herbs and flowers to filter the air and mitigate the stench coming from decaying bodies.

The MORETTA mask is an oval black mask,with holes for eyes; it is held in place by biting the button on the rear which means that the wearer cannot eat, drink or speak lending her an aura of mystery.

The GNAGA or cat mask worn by ante-litteram drag queens! It had to be accompanied by a basket of kittens and was a loophole in the ferocious anti-homosexual laws which carried a very heavy sentence……. death.

But masks are not just fun and games. A lot of our super heroes Batman, Spiderman, Captain America, Ironman, Zorro all wear them. Probably to protect their identity from ill-wishers. The Baddies too wear them to protect THEIR identity, presumably from the super heroes; bank robbers have always been depicted as being masked men, even when the mask was only a nylon stocking pulled over the head giving them blurred features and recently the joker mask worn in a tv series has been adopted by protesters over the globe.

And what about us? Shall we grumble grumble grumble? Let’s cough and sneeze and spread our germs through the air, or shall we put up with the relative discomfort of wearing a mask? Consider its advantages (apart from of course keeping your grandmother safe!) I like the mask for at least a couple of reasons: it warms the cold winter air which is a good thing for all the asthmatics out there; The biggest plus however is that I can eat garlic and onions with impunity! Before the advent of Covid, I had to eat spaghetti, aglio, olio and peperoncino on a Saturday evening so I had all Sunday to sweeten my breath and be able to teach students to pronounce “TH” correctly without them turning green!! And last night I heard the most unusual one of all; a dear friend told me that when they played the Hallelujah chorus as an encore she was able to sing with them from behind her mask! Lovely!