Sunday, 14 September 2014

Arabian Sands: Wilfred Thesiger

(published by Penguin Classics, £9.99, or from Amazon)

«««« ½

In the deserts of southern Arabia there is no rhythm of the seasons, no rise and fall of sap, but empty wastes where only the changing temperature marks the passage of the year. It is a bitter, desiccated land which knows nothing of gentleness or ease. ... No man can live this life and emerge unchanged. He will carry, however faint, the imprint of the desert, the brand which marks the nomad; and he will have within him the yearning to return ... For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match.
Wilfred Thesiger is one of those intriguing people who seem genuinely to have been born out of their time. The Arabian journeys described in his wonderful book could easily have taken place in the late 19th century or, at the very least, in the golden years of Edwardian exploration. They have a timeless quality: the hard slog across the sands; the knife-edge between life and death; the absence of any luxuries or comforts; and only the company of camels and a few trusted men. And yet these journeys, pressing into one of the last great wildernesses of the world, were undertaken between 1946 and 1950: within living memory. Thesiger only died in 2003, but although he is tantalisingly close in time, his spirit is very much that of another age.

Born into an official's family in Ethiopia, Thesiger grew up in the kind of colonial atmosphere that was already growing outdated at the time. His earliest memories were of an ancient and vibrant tribal culture, full of ritual and ceremony, and it's no wonder that when he finally went to school in England he found it hard to settle. After Eton, Oxford (Magdalen, no less!) and the Second World War, his steps led him back to colonial administration, first in Africa and then in Arabia. Here his official role involved making maps and researching locust breeding and migration patterns, but these things were simply a means to an end. His goal was the Arabian desert. Thesiger was deeply attracted by this place where he could finally ignore the machines and ugliness of the modern world and pretend for a moment that he was living in a purer, nobler age. 'I craved for the past, resented the present and dreaded the future.' The desert and the Bedu offered him the prospect of a culture which had remained unchanged for thousands of years; but it offered him something else as well. Although he never articulates it quite in these words, I sensed that his ultimate dream was to transcend himself, to be completely free of all identity and obligation. Travelling with the Bedu, he learned to do without material possessions and, living in the wide sweep of the sands, he savoured the feeling of being insignificant in the face of something vast and impersonal. He'd already experienced some of this in the Libyan desert:
The desert met the empty sky always the same distance ahead of us. Time and space were one. Round us was a silence in which only the winds played, and a cleanness which was infinitely remote from the world of men
Thesiger's prose is beautiful and you really sense the depth of his attachment to this world, which becomes more profound as he makes friends among the Bedu, particularly among the Rashid. They accompany him on each of his journeys as he strives to find new paths across the inhospitable, barren wastes of the Empty Quarter, under threat from raiders, war parties, blood feuds and the constant grind of an unimaginably harsh climate. Thesiger was not the first to cross the Empty Quarter, but he was the first to travel on these particularly challenging paths. His significance, however, isn't in being the 'first' but in being the 'last' - and in knowing it. By the time he came to write his book, his maps had already 'helped others, with more material aims, to visit and corrupt a people whose spirit once lit the desert like a flame.' The book is shot through with regret.

At Wadi Sayfam, 1949  |  Wilfred Thesiger, 1947  |  Bin Kabina, 1948
However, this is no high-octane story of wars and drama. If anything, its theme is the great power of human endurance. Thesiger and his companions make their way from well to well, scramble up towering dunes and negotiate their way through tense tribal rivalries. Ultimately the book is very similar to one of his expeditions: it's the journey, not the end, that matters. Drama is offered by the austere landscapes; and the human interest of the story is in Thesiger's gradual acclimatisation to, and growing respect for, the culture of his Bedu companions. He paints a vivid word-picture of each of them, backed up by the splendid photographs he took on these journeys. Of the many names, three in particular stuck with me. One was al Auf, the taciturn but immensely capable tribesman who led Thesiger's first foray into the Empty Quarter. 

The other two were Thesiger's favourite companions, bin Kabina and bin Ghabaisha, who are a constant presence in the story. Thesiger was so fond of them that he actually chose to turn to modern technology on one occasion, when it looked as if bin Ghabaisha would miss an expedition because he was visiting family some distance away. Using his diplomatic connections, Thesiger arranged for the young Bedu to be fetched by car and put onto the next plane heading in the right direction, so that he could join them. It was a rather drastic move for a man who was so protective of the traditional Bedu way of life, and I imagine it must have been a rather striking experience for bin Ghabaisha as well. Thesiger clearly looked forward to their company and good humour just as much as he anticipated returning to the desert itself. Perhaps it's also telling that, when describing the young bin Ghabaisha, he chooses to make a rare classical allusion:
He had a face of classic beauty, pensive and rather sad in repose, but which lit up when he smiled, like a pool touched by the sun. Antinous must have looked like this, I thought, when Hadrian first saw him in the Phrygian woods.
And yet Thesiger is no Hadrian. He is sensitive to personal beauty in the same frank way that he is moved by the beauty of the sands or the austere grandeur of the desert; and, though he evidently has great affection for his two favourites, that's all it is. He apparently stood aloof from interpersonal relationships of any form (Rory Stewart's introduction touches on that briefly). Besides, Thesiger reminds us, appearances can be deceiving. Despite bin Ghabaisha's ephebic looks, he would by the age of twenty be 'one of the most daring outlaws on the Trucial Coast with half a dozen blood-feuds on his hands'. (Thesiger makes no effort to hide his admiration.) And indeed, Thesiger's European appreciation of beauty, in whichever form it comes, was a key cultural difference between himself and the Bedu, who had little time for beauty if it had no functionality. Thesiger remembers admiring a lush landscape, which his Bedu companion dismissed as merely poor grazing; and he contrasts this with his own loathing for the ugly modern buildings going up in the towns, which the Bedu admired as marvels of practicality.

Bin Ghabaisha, 1947  |  Crossing the dunes  |  Bin Ghabaisha, 1950 (detail from one of Thesiger's most famous pictures)
I hadn't expected to like Thesiger; not that it would have mattered much if I hadn't liked him, because I was interested by his story rather than by the man himself. However, I'd scarcely started reading before I realised how inextricably linked they were: this is not really a story about a man crossing the desert, but a record of how the desert twined its way into Thesiger's heart and his deep fondness and respect for the world he found there. More than anything else, this book is a passionate attempt to record a beautiful and noble culture that Thesiger knows is already doomed to vanish. He savours every aspect of Bedu life: their immense, instinctive generosity; their dignity and resilience; their fatalism, loyalty and hospitality. And he cherishes this so much because, as an outsider, he knows that the first few pebbles have already started to shift on the slope which will become an avalanche and crush this world forever. Agents from oil firms are already scouting along the Arabian coast as Thesiger and his companions cross the wastes of the Empty Quarter. Indeed, by the time Thesiger came to write about his journeys just a few years later, the world he'd seen in Arabia had already begun to crumble. When he returned to Arabia in 1977, as an honoured guest, he was horrified to see that life had already changed beyond recognition: bin Kabina and bin Ghabaisha's families used Land Rovers and jeeps to get around; camels were rarely ridden; this way of life which had endured for centuries had disappeared in the course of thirty years. His preface to Arabian Sands, written after this Arabian visit, throbs with almost physical pain at the loss. (The closest I've come to the desert was on my trip to Qatar, but that was enough to give me a flavour of the speed of change in the region.)

This edition includes some of Thesiger's photographs of his companions and the landscapes they crossed, which add further life to an already vivid story. It's especially interesting to put faces to names. However, if the few plates in the book whet your appetite for more - because Thesiger really was a very good photographer - you can find a wealth of images and other resources on the website of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, to which he bequeathed his negatives. The site also features biographies of his travelling companions, maps, a bibliography and a list of further archives and depositories. I'm sure there must be some books and exhibition catalogues too. I must investigate. And I have one more Thesiger on my to-read shelf: The Marsh Arabs, which promises to offer a picture of a very different, but equally fascinating way of life.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Innamorati: Midori Snyder

(published by Tor, $14.95, or from Amazon)

««« ½

Books often take on something of the spirit of the places where we read them, and in retrospect it can be hard to separate impressions of the story itself from its context. I read most of this quirky novel curled up on the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence (some weeks ago now) and so my memories are rather confused and dreamlike, but in a way that entirely suits the book. I'd chosen it deliberately for my trip, because The Innamorati is set in a fantastical version of mid 16th-century Italy, in a world infused with the spirit of the commedia dell' arte. In this otherworldly Renaissance, carnival masks take on the personalities of the theatrical characters they represent, bickering among themselves and transforming those who wear them. The servants are plucky, the lovers young and beautiful, and everything is redeemed by love. But this is also a strange place where the boundaries between myth and reality are thin enough to breach, where legendary creatures stumble through the cracks, and curses have a terrible power.

The mystical city of Labirinto is a lure for those who are grieving, bitter, lonely or cursed; and, for those few fortunate pilgrims who are admitted into the sprawling maze at its heart, there is the hope of salvation and happiness. Hoping to exorcise their demons - or following hot on the heels of their loved ones - a cast of characters converges on Labirinto; and I use the word 'cast' deliberately, because each of the figures relates to one of the stock characters of the commedia. Approaching from Venice are Anna, a gifted mask-maker, who hides the pain of a thwarted love behind fleeting liaisons; Don Gianluca, a priest, who is all too easily persuaded off the path of virtue; Anna's friend Roberto, who cherishes a hopeless passion for her; and her bespectacled, ungainly daughter Mirabella, who dreams that one day she'll have a romantic adventure of her own. From Milan comes the bereaved Simonetta, forced into prostitution by the ravages of the Italian wars and now obliged to run for her life, with blood on her hands. Close on her heels is her lover, the swashbuckling but isolated captain Rinaldo. 

From the Italian coast comes the handsome actor Fabrizio, who's desperate to play the role of the romantic lead, but whose golden good looks are undermined by a crippling stutter. His travelling companion is perhaps the strangest of the company: the mute shepherdess Erminia, whose ugliness is a mask of its own. Beneath this unprepossessing disguise, she is a siren, exiled from the sea and cursed to silence by the vindictiveness of the poet Orpheus. As this ragtag band assembles in Labirinto, they stumble into the people who will form the final members of their little company: the canny lustful servant Giano; the plucky beggar Zizola, who dreams of being loved; and the dull lawyer Lorenzo, whose pedantry stifles his poet's heart. Beyond the gates of the labyrinth, each of these characters must tackle their own path to truth and redemption, in a place where the rules of the outside world no longer apply. Larger on the inside than outside, the maze shifts and changes to adapt itself to each new pilgrim, and the travellers find themselves faced with dangers and temptations - in a world of ghosts and satyrs, Bacchic frenzies, dragons, endless feasts, talking stone heads, and frozen banquets, it's all too easy to lose one's path. 

It's a strange novel, full of fantasy and imagination, but in some way it never quite hangs together. The characters, like the stock types of the commedia dell' arte whom they represent, seem to lack real personality and depth. The relationship between the 'real' world and the mythological figures who pass through it isn't always completely convincing; and within the labyrinth the story becomes simply a series of set-pieces which are impressive in their own right but don't really work as seamless parts of a larger narrative. Throughout, it feels as if the journey is more important than the destination (a feeling emphasised by the slightly brisk conclusion). How can I even describe the feel of it? Try to imagine a hybrid between Captain Fracasse, the film LabyrinthThe Tempest and The Pilgrim's Progress. That's the best I can do!

I've been thinking about the book for more than a month and I still really don't know what I think about it. Of course I loved it in many ways, because it combines so many of my enthusiasms. Renaissance Italy, myths and legends, the commedia dell' arte, labyrinths, the odd flourishing of rapiers, and a dash of romance... yes, it was all lovely. But I wish I'd been able to get to know the characters a little better and to feel more emotional investment in their progress: as it was, the book never quite went beyond being a delicious extravaganza. If you share my affection for any of the themes in the novel, you'll probably enjoy it, just as I did - but I don't know how far it'll tempt those who don't already like their fiction with a spritz of fantasia

Friday, 5 September 2014

The World of the Castrati: Patrick Barbier

The History of an Extraordinary Operatic Phenomenon

(published by Souvenir Press, £12.99, or from Amazon)

««« ½

The audiences of the baroque era enjoyed illusion: nothing, from their point of view, could detract from the physical pleasure procured by a few moments of enchantment.
I should really have kicked off my Baroque reading project with this book by Patrick Barbier. It's a really useful introduction, which offers a broad survey of the history of the castrati across Europe, from their beginnings in the church choirs of Byzantium, Spain and the Vatican, up to their twilight years as outdated anomalies, and the departure of the last few castrati from the Sistine Chapel choir at the beginning of the 20th century.

Barbier's focus though, predictably and gratifyingly, is on the heyday of 18th-century opera and, to my relief, he prefers anecdotes and colour to the technicalities of musical vocabulary. He delves into every aspect of life for a young virtuoso at this period: his likely family background; his training; and the rigours of the music schools. He considers the singers' support networks of teachers, older castrati and patrons; the debuts, often in female roles in Rome; the constant travelling between courts and cities; the rivalries, the friendships and the personalities; and their lonely but often charitable old age. Throughout he takes care to show that the period was far from united in its admiration of these singers. Some of the division was down to national preferences: the English couldn't get enough of them; the French tended to look down on them. However he also makes the important point that it grew increasingly difficult to reconcile enthusiasm for the castrati with the 'natural' philosophy of the Enlightenment. This, compounded by the Romantic movement - with its distaste for the frivolities of the ancien régime - spelled the death knell for the operatic castrati at the start of the 19th century.

It's a thorough book but it never descends into dryness, although the translation I've been reading isn't always as smooth and elegant as it could have been. However, there are so many good stories and flashes of colour that it's very hard to put down. There are some remarkable characters: Atto Melani, who moonlighted as a spy for Cardinal Mazarin (I've just heard about a recently reissued biography of Melani); the endearing Filippo Balatri, who left us the only autobiography by a castrato, which I'd love to read in its entirety; Caffarelli, who seems to have swaggered around Europe irritating almost everyone; and the unfortunate Siface, who fell in love with a young widow and pursued her even into the convent where her family had hidden her away, only to be ambushed on the road and assassinated by her brother's henchmen. Even our friend Tenducci makes an appearance, although without the depth of detail uncovered by Berry in her book. In fact, Barbier devotes some time to looking at the incredible impact the castrati had in Britain, which interested me greatly. He explains that, after a relatively late start, two castrati performed within months of each other in London in the first years of the 18th century. One was the talented Nicolino, whose 'performance struck them like a bomb, and from then on the English swore only by castrati'. (At least I can flatter myself that I'm continuing a venerable tradition in finding this music so wonderful). Barbier continues:
It was a real shock to them... The attraction of novelty and the pronounced taste for the exotic among the English, as it was said at the time, cannot explain everything. These voices surpassed all that they were used to hearing... in future no expense would be spared to bring the most famous castrati over from Italy.
Primi uomini: Caffarelli, Cusanino (Carestini), Senesino and Luigi Marchesi
The book throws a lot of light on recent Baroque revivals (and naturally gives me plenty of excuses to watch Artaserse again). I'd already spotted for myself the way that an aria would be progressively more ornamented with each repetition (Vo solcando comes to mind of course), but I hadn't realised the extent to which this was taken back in the 18th century. The singer could do exactly as he pleased, for as long as he pleased, and the arias could go on for ages, becoming increasingly complex. I wonder - does anyone know? - to what degree singers nowadays have such freedom in their ornamentation? I would imagine that no one really wants a single aria to go on for half an hour, but in terms of the ornamentation: is it already specified in the score or is it up to the singer to add as much or as little as he wants? And I was reminded of the same aria when Barbier talked about costumes. Apparently the primo uomo would damn well make sure that, regardless of his role, he'd be turned out in fine style: high heels, beautifully tailored clothes and a very flattering wig. If the castrato was playing a female role, the demands were no less stringent. Barbier notes one singer, playing the role of Dido, who 'demanded a hairpiece built up into a pyramid, decorated with feathers, flowers and birds'. This delicious vanity was taken to extremes by the gloriously absurd behaviour of Luigi Marchesi, one of the last great castrati, who had immense stage presence and beauty... and knew it.
He insisted that ... [he should] make his first appearance, whatever the opera, at the top of a hill, carrying a sword, a gleaming lance and wearing a helmet crowned with white and red plumes 'at least six feet high'.
As if this wasn't enough, he also invariably made his entrance with the words 'Where am I?', followed by a trumpet fanfare, after which he would always sing his favourite aria (which presumably was virtually never appropriate in the context of the opera). Only then, once he'd processed down to the front of the stage, could the opera actually carry on. By this point, if I was the conductor, I'd have had a nervous breakdown and would have to be retrieved from a crumpled heap beneath my harpischord. However, the theatrical impresarios of the 18th century were presumably made of sterner stuff - not least because you had to cope not only with the massive egos of the primo uomo and prima donna, but also with horses, hecklers, potentially malfunctioning stage machinery and, in one case, an actual elephant. Good God. Going to the theatre in Italy in the 18th century must have been absolutely incredible.

Jacopo Amigoni, The singer Farinelli and his friends, c.1750, National Gallery of Victoria
Despite all the tantrums and colour and drama, however, I was most struck by what Barbier had to say about Farinelli (for whom he obviously has great affection, since he's also written his biography). The man seems to have been a complete paragon. He was not only tall, well-proportioned and good-looking, with the most splendid voice of the century, but he was modest, compassionate, generous and loyal. He had a lifelong friendship with the poet Metastasio, who's responsible for so many of the libretti I've been hearing, and he seems to have charmed everyone he met. There's a wonderful portrait by Jacopo Amigoni showing Farinelli with his friends, who include Metastasio, the singer Teresa Castellini and Amigoni himself, with Farinelli's servant and dog stepping into the picture from the right. (If you've got sharp eyes, you'll notice that a detail of the portrait was used on the cover of Berry's book.) No doubt it's a little idealised, but it's a warm and appealing image nevertheless. The portrait was painted in Spain, where Farinelli spent much of his later life. He'd given up his glittering operatic career to answer a request from the Queen of Spain, who'd asked him to see if his singing could relieve the King's crippling depression. Farinelli's beautiful voice worked its magic and drove away the king's darkness - for a time - and eventually he became just as valued in Spain as an adviser and minister as he was as a musician. It's a remarkable story, almost like a fairy tale (incidentally the Globe will stage Claire van Kampen's new play Farinelli and the King early next year. I've already got my tickets, of course, and I'm itching to know how they'll go about the casting. It'll be slightly annoying if they go for a female soprano in breeches*).

The book has energy and scope... but it does feel a little out of date. Barbier is quite an old-fashioned historian and, through not wishing to be salacious, he steers away from some of the more colourful questions that more recent scholars would probably tackle with more openness. Moreover, he was writing at a time (1989) when the revival in Baroque music was clearly still something rather new, and he is quite dismissive of countertenors and 'falsettos' tackling these arias (how is a 'falsetto' different? Can someone tell me?). Generally he seems to feel that female sopranos offer the best contemporary parallel for castrato voices; though he acknowledges that it's a moot point, since we have no idea of what we should be trying to replicate. But is that really still the case? Yes, I'm a newcomer to this field, but I remember hearing countertenors on the radio when I was growing up, and I have the impression that the last ten years have completely changed the lay of the land. Baroque operas seem to be being cast, staged and sung in an entirely new way; and the countertenors of my generation are rising to the challenge with flair, vocal power and incredible virtuosity. It's very exciting. As someone who spends most of her life trying to imagine what it was actually like to live in the past, I'm completely beguiled by this, and it'd be fascinating to know what Barbier - with his deep knowledge of the music and the field - makes of the current situation.

So: a very good introduction to the subject, full of tantalising stories and also with a rich bibliography at the back which should offer plenty of new pathways to explore. I learned a lot and I feel that I'll have a much better grasp of the context when I watch my next opera on DVD or when I go to Covent Garden in November for Idomeneo. On the books front, one of the decisions I have to make now is whether or not I have the courage to tackle Barbier's biography of Farinelli in the original French (since there seems to be no English translation).

*Though, to be fair, the soprano-in-breeches solution was adopted by the play Castradiva, which I saw at the Theatre Royal in Bath when I was at school, and the actress did a phenomenal job.



Thursday, 4 September 2014

Stefano Landi: Il Sant' Alessio (1632)

(performed in 2007 with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants; available from Amazon)

«««« ½

Over the weekend I treated myself to another DVD, this time one which transported me back to the very earliest days of opera, in Rome, in 1632. At this date the Counter-Reformation was in full swing and the Baroque was just coming into being. Gianlorenzo Bernini, who would become the supremo of 17th-century Rome, was 25 and had been asked to design the stage set for Stefano Landi's new religious oratorio Sant' Alessio. The production available on this DVD attempts to recreate the feel of that first performance and I admit I came to it with some trepidation. This all felt a very long way from the exuberance of the 18th century. To my astonishment, I enjoyed it almost as much as Artaserse, though in a very different spirit. As a beginner in Baroque music, I found it beautiful to listen to. As a theatre-goer, I felt that the performances were uniformly superb. As an art historian, I was thrilled by a production which felt so authentic and which included such a wealth of visual references. Who'd have thought a sacred drama telling the story of an obscure saint would be so immensely compelling?

St Alessio (Alexis) lived in around the 5th century and came from a wealthy but devout family in Rome. Conscious that worldly riches would inhibit his purity, he decided to renounce them all. On his wedding day he abandoned his wife and went to the Holy Land; but, when a fateful wind carried his ship back to Rome, he returned incognito to his parents' house. Their kindness towards the poor was well known and, without recognising the impoverished pilgrim who turned up on their doorstep, they gave him a place to sleep. For the next seventeen years, Alessio lived under his parents' stairs, striving for holiness and humility. He only revealed his true identity after his death, in a letter found clutched in his hand. Naturally, if you start thinking about it too closely, the idea that someone could live under his parents' stairs for almost twenty years without being recognised, either by them or by his devoted but estranged wife, is just a little silly. But fortunately both saints' lives and operas can cheerfully embrace the implausible - even though Alessio in this version is so startlingly young that seventeen years clearly haven't gone by. The fact no one recognises him feels even more unlikely... But let's lose ourselves in the fiction, shall we? As Alessio strives for holiness, the forces of good and evil battle over his soul: the ambitious Demon, in particular, has no scruples about manipulating Alessio's residual affection for his Mother and his wife (the Sposa) in an attempt to divert him from the path to glory. Landi's oratorio surrounds the central religious drama with a vivacious medley: comic servants wearing Roman theatrical masks; demonic dances; colourful crowd scenes; and a brief Carnival parade. Quite contrary to expectations, it's enormous fun.

Unfortunately there aren't many good-quality pictures available of the production. I wish I had more!
The Demon (Luigi di Donato) hatches his plots  |  Roma (Terry Wey) introduces the drama  |  Alessio's faithful Sposa (Max Emanuel Cencic)
As a production written for the Roman stage, like Artaserse, Sant' Alessio had an all-male original cast. That's reflected in the current production, which features a boys' choir and eight countertenors as well as tenors and basses. I've already mentioned the oratorio's distinguished Baroque pedigree, with the set designed by Bernini. I'm not sure how faithful the present set is to his designs, but it certainly preserves the essence if not the detail of his work. Everything takes place against the wooden backdrop of a classical building, whose wings move and rotate to reveal staircases, or to provide space for dances or crowd scenes. The upper storey of arched windows provides a setting for singers to perform, framed like saints in glowing niches. Even the lighting is historically authentic: the footlights are formed from a bank of candles, linked by trailing fuses. It makes for a stunning opening as fire leaps its way unassisted across the front of the stage. And the costumes. Good heavens, the costumes! The 'men' wear gorgeously patterned tunics in a late antique style, like figures come to life from a Byzantine mosaic. The 'women' seems to have wandered out of Titian's Paduan frescoes: blouses with wide necklines and billowing white silk sleeves, colourful overdresses cinched at the waists, and diaphanous veils over their hair.

One of the most wonderful things about this production is that it preserves the ballets and dances which formed a key part of late Renaissance and early Baroque theatre. I've spent a lot of time recently studying 17th-century Italian costume drawings and it was fantastic to see this kind of design translated into reality here. My favourite examples were the little black-clad devils with red, orange and yellow streamers of flames fluttering from their backs as they performed a sprightly demonic ballet. Simply wonderful. The same six male dancers performed all the balletic intermezzi, down to the final dance of maidens around the figure of Religion, and they were astonishing. I'd always thought it rather silly that the ban on women performing in Rome meant that men had to get up in long skirts to dance the female roles - but here I learned just how skilful and convincing the illusion could be. I begin to sympathise with Sarrasine.

A choir of angels in the finale |  The Nurse (Jean-Paul Bonnevalle) and the Mother (Xavier Sabata) comfort the swooning Sposa
And if the costumes and dancers were wonderful, then the cast were even better. Part of the reason I dared to buy this was because Max Emanuel Cencic and Philippe Jaroussky were in it and I knew they would be extremely good; there was some comfort in familiarity. (As I learn to love new voices, I'll get more daring.) My faith in them paid off. Jaroussky is absolutely brilliant as the eponymous Alessio. The music suits his voice perfectly and his tone seems richer, purer and even more seraphic than it does in his recent recordings, while his acting is also very good. He suggests just enough inner torment that you find yourself feeling some warmth for a character who is essentially profoundly unsympathetic. As this production was filmed seven years ago, he seems startlingly young and fragile. With his oiled black curls, pale skin and reddened lips he really looks the part of a Baroque saint, as if he's absconded from a Caravaggio picture, leaving his basket of fruit behind.

Cencic plays the Sposa, Alessio's abandoned young wife, who languishes with his parents cherishing her thwarted love. His voice here is slightly lighter than it sounds now; it's gentle and full of emotion; and, as always he's an excellent actor: I found him captivating to watch. He doesn't make an especially pretty girl (there's a bluish five-o'clock shadow under the makeup), but he conveys an immensely graceful femininity through a repertoire of elegant gestures. (They reminded me of the stock gestures used by boy actors on the English stage at the same period; see Stage Beauty.) Through the sufferings of the Sposa, we come to appreciate the sheer scale of Alessio's renunciation (and, to modern eyes, his selfishness), while an equally moving context is given by the anguish of his Mother, played here by Xavier Sabata. I have Sabata's Handel album, but I haven't yet come across him very much and he did a wonderful job. Older female characters played by men, whether nurses in opera or the dames in British pantomime, are too often comic foils, but Sabata gave the Mother immense humanity, dignity and pathos, and his surprisingly light, full and powerful voice was a lovely counterpart to Cencic's.

There are three other voices new to me which deserve a special mention. Well, one isn't completely new, because I have Terry Wey's recording of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater with Valer Barna-Sabadus (a more angelic combination of voices is difficult to imagine). But I hadn't seen Wey in action before. He was great in the dual role of Roma and Religione; his voice works incredibly well with this kind of sacred music and he had wonderful Baroque poise. Then there was Jean-Paul Bonnevalle as the Nurse, who was just mind-blowingly good; it's a part that could easily be overshadowed by the bigger roles, but I thought his voice was remarkable without being showy and, like Sabata, he took a character which could have been overdone and performed it with innate grace. Finally there was Ryland Angel (who wins the prize for the countertenor with the best name). I didn't actually have him down as a countertenor at first - I thought maybe he was just a very light tenor, and at any rate his voice had the gorgeous quality that you hear in some priests singing choral eucharists: light, piercing and incredibly elegant without losing any of its masculine timbre. Honestly, the more I hear the more I'm fascinated by the variety of voices and by the way that they can be combined to create such a richly-textured sound. And that's even before you factor in Alain Buet's Eufemiano (a baritone) and Luigi di Donato's Demon (a bass), not to mention the boy trebles making up the ranks.

It was just such an intriguing experience, quite apart from the musical side of it. In lieu of a time machine, this is one of the ways I'm going to get closest to the sensation of being in 17th-century Rome; and I rather liked it. It may not have ousted the splendours of Vinci and Hasse from my heart, but it's definitely given me more courage to try other early music; and I have to say that I enjoyed it far more than Monteverdi's Incoronazione di Poppea, which I also watched at the weekend... and which I found much less agreeable.


Monday, 1 September 2014

Countertenor Albums

Spurred on by my infatuation with Artaserse, which I now know pretty much by heart, I've bought rather a lot of albums to supplement my existing collection of countertenor music. Most of the purchases have been from the back catalogues of the opera's cast members. It's been a voyage of discovery and a genuine delight, and I thought it'd be fun to share some of them here. I'm only going to discuss those I enjoy, because it isn't fair to be critical, especially when it all boils down to the subjective question of which voices you prefer. Of course, I have no background in music so I don't know the technical language to describe what I'm hearing: this is all very much aimed at fellow newbies. If you're like me - keen on the sound, but floundering a bit about where to start - this might point you to some music you'll enjoy. Depending on how many more albums I unearth, there may be a follow-up post. (The albums are listed in order of purchase, to avoid any accusations of favouritism.)

A bit of everything: Handel, Porpora, Hasse, and lots of Broschi

This is a good place to start, although it's cheating. The voice you hear on this album isn't a countertenor - or at least not purely a countertenor. It was created in 1993-94 using the digitally spliced voices of a countertenor (Derek Lee Ragin) for the lower registers and a female soprano (Ewa Mallas Godlewska) for the higher notes, in an effort to achieve the full breadth of Farinelli's range. The result is beautiful but artificial; and we probably wouldn't have to do that now, because we have singers who can tackle virtually the full range of these arias without digital tweaking (which is hugely exciting). But the music on this album is a perfect introduction to the countertenor repertoire: there's a smashing mix of arias from Handel's delicious Cara sposa to a treasure trove of Broschi. Broschi doesn't get much love on the other albums I own, but he wrote some gorgeous pieces, often tailored for his talented brother Farinelli. Particular favourites are Broschi's Son qual nave ch' agitata and Ombra fedela anch' io and Porpora's Alto Giove (which everyone has recorded; it seems to be something of a countertenor rite of passage).

Max Emanuel Cencic: Venezia: Opera Arias of the Serenissima (2013)
Vivaldi, Caldara and friends

If you want someone to blame for all this, you can point the finger at the Croatian Max Emanuel Cencic. Last February I returned from Carnevale in Venice, intoxicated with masks and costumes, and bought this album as a way to prolong my immersion in the Baroque. It's sophisticated, grand and refined, very much like Venice herself. Favourite tracks include the sparkling Anche in mezzo a perigliosa by Vivaldi, with its demanding vocal runs up and down the scale; and the beautifully romantic Pianta bella, pianta amata by Albinoni. I hadn't really heard many countertenors before and most of those I had heard had been a little strained, so nothing prepared me for Cencic. This luxurious, warm, resonant and amazingly natural voice wasn't what I'd imagined at all. I was hooked. Having now listened to some of his earlier recordings, I can hear that his voice has grown a little deeper and richer in the last few years, making it a sumptuous delight to listen to. I'm going to see him in concert in December and I simply can't wait. 

Philippe Jaroussky: Carestini: The Story of a Castrato (2007)
Porpora, Handel, Hasse and co.

Shortly after buying Venezia, I spotted this album with its cover image of a brooding masked figure. It was my introduction to the French singer Philippe Jaroussky: his delicate, clear soprano was an eye-opener, different from Cencic's voice but equally stunning. It was sheer chance that I started out with an album by each of them, but it was fitting: they're the two current superstars of this field and their voices represent the two 'types' of countertenor that you tend to hear: the high sopranos and the lower, richer mezzos. This album appealed because it was structured around music connected with one particular castrato, which gave me a context to follow its 'story'. I'd assumed that the Handel tracks would be the highlights for me, but from the very beginning they had serious rivals. Certainly, I liked the virtuoso Sta nell'ircana from Handel's Alcina (where I kept thinking, 'When is he actually breathing?') and the exquisitely yearning Mi Lusinga from the same opera, but I also loved Se Mai Senti from Hasse's La Clemenza di Tito, which is very beautiful.

Philippe Jaroussky: Farinelli: Porpora Arias (2013)
Does what it says on the tin. Much Porpora

The combination of Jaroussky and Farinelli was too much to resist; and I loved the cover, with the two of them just hanging out having a chat. I have to be honest and say that I'm a little less fond of this album now than I was when I first bought it. That's because I've developed a taste for slightly more rounded voices and more power behind the flashy kind of arias. However, there are still some stunning moments here: the opening Mira in cielo is full of drama, and Come nave in ria tempesta from the opera Semiramide is a real showpiece. There are also a couple of duets, including La gioia ch'io sento from Mitridate - and I believe I'm right in saying that Jaroussky is singing here with Cecilia Bartoli. I can't think of a better modern parallel for the great Baroque pairings of primo uomo and prima donna. Of course, Jaroussky also does Alto Giove here, which develops into a jewel of modulated elegance that melts your kneecaps slightly when you listen to it. For sheer purity and delicacy, it's a stunner. 


Max Emanuel Cencic: Handel: Mezzo-Soprano Opera Arias (2010)
Unsurprisingly, rather a lot of Handel

Even though I got slightly sidetracked by Jaroussky, I hadn't renounced Cencic, and kept being drawn back to his rounder, fuller voice. I bought this album at about the same time as Artaserse and it really shows off his talent, playing to his broad range and the richly sensuous burr of his lower notes. It's hard to choose favourites because every track's gorgeous, alternating between lively and introspective. Plunging straight into the action, the album kicks off with Imeneo's aria Sorge nell'alma mia, which is nothing if not a showpiece. It's accompanied with some frantic strings, which is all rather fun, and even as a listener you scarcely get to draw breath all the way through. I also do love Pena tiranna, which Cencic performs with exquisite poise and richness, and turns into a feast for the ears. The album is pretty close to perfect. His control is practically faultless to my unpractised ears and, if Jaroussky's voice is like clear spring water, Cencic's is like sumptuous honey.


Franco Fagioli: Arias for Caffarelli (2013)
An embarrassment of riches: Vinci, Porpora, Hasse and more

Moving on from spring water and honey, this is a little blast of champagne for the ears, as the Argentinian Fagioli shows off some more glittering swagger-arias. Things get underway with Fra l'orror della tempesta from Hasse's Siroe, with some splendid high notes. There's more Vinci courtesy of the brilliant In braccio a mille furie from Semiramide riconosciuta, with which Fagioli predictably has a field day; but there are also some calmer pieces. My current favourite is Lieto così talvolta from Pergolese's Adriano in Siria, with its gorgeous instrumental opening. The whole album has a delicious energy, perfectly suited to his playful verve as a singer. I'm very bad at concealing my enthusiasms, so it's probably obvious that I'm completely in thrall to his voice. What I most enjoy is the sense of bubbling possibility: every aria teeters on the brink of a firework display. Apparently he's even better seen live. I'm going to see him in just over a fortnight and I'm so excited: there are no words.

Max Emanuel Cencic: Rokoko: Hasse Opera Arias (2014)
At last! Some love for Hasse

This is probably a good moment to point out that Cencic has a very individual take on album covers. His outfits are often particularly off-the-wall (the current winner is his 2006 Scarlatti album), but when you have such a divine voice, I suppose you can wear what you darn well please. Anyway... I happened to buy Rokoko and Reloaded (see below) at the same time in an acquisitive flurry, without realising that they're both devoted to the works of Hasse. Fortunately, whether by accident or design, they present completely different programmes. Here, it's once again hard to choose favourites because Cencic is so good throughout, but his opening track, Notte amica from the Cantico dei tre fanciulli is simply stupendous. Just savour those opening notes... By contrast, the closing Vo disperato a morte from the opera Tito Vespasiano is a beguiling combination of splendour and sensitivity. I can forgive him anything: even the fact he gives away three tracks for a mandolin concerto when I just want to hear more of him. Whether I compare his voice to honey or velvet or melted chocolate, one thing's for sure: the man has class.

Valer Barna-Sabadus: Reloaded: Johann Adolph Hasse (2012)
And actually... more love for Hasse


The Romanian Barna-Sabadus is the youngest of this crop of countertenors: only 28. He has a remarkably distinctive voice: richer than Jaroussky's and considerably higher-pitched than Cencic's, with something of a thrush-like warble (yes: see me, with my lack of musical vocabulary, clutching at metaphors). He took on the challenge of championing Hasse two years before Cencic; and his album tends towards more delicate, introspective pieces, which allow his voice to do what it does best: soar to simply ethereal heights. The opening aria, Tu mi disarmi il fianco from Hasse's Didone abbandonata, is lovely, but my favourite track is the beautiful Bei labbri che Amore from a cantata called La gelosia. It's an angelic, thoroughly gorgeous tone. He'll probably end up singing a lot of female roles: he's already been a stunning Semira in Artaserse and he'll be taking on another female role for Team Artaserse in the near future (see below). Since in real life he has rakish good looks to go with that lovely voice, I think he's going to continue doing very well. 

Philippe Jaroussky and Max Emanuel Cencic: Duetti (2011)
Porpora, Bononcini et al

This is one of a number of CDs I've bought which focus not on the showy operatic pieces but on quieter, smaller-scale chamber pieces: it's good for me to broaden my horizons. This album unites the two current idols of the countertenor world, and it's a treat to hear them together, especially because their voices are distinctive but very complementary. One of my favourite tracks is the immensely refined Chi d'amor tra le catene, the eponymous duet from Giovanni Bononcini's opera, which is stately and very close to divine. By contrast, La nobile luce from Benedetto Marcello's cantata Chiaro e limpido fonte, is a trippingly cheerful duet which frankly makes me want to dance around the room. And the album concludes with a bit of a fireworks show from Scarlatti, courtesy of Nel cor del cor mio, which is a sparkling twining of the two voices which ripple in and out of one another like a waterfall. The album was the brainchild of William Christie of Les Arts Florissant, of whom you'll be hearing much more very soon.

Valer Barna-Sabadus: To Touch, To Kiss, To Die (2013)
Music by Purcell, Matteis, Poole and Dowland

This is a bit of a curiosity in my music collection because it showcases some 17th-century English music, which feels rather mannered in comparison to Hasse and Vinci. However, Barna-Sabadus's beautifully controlled voice gives it a bewitching elegance. As ever, his high notes have a thrilling purity and power that make your jaw drop. O solitude, my sweetest choice is intoxicating; and the album also fittingly includes Purcell's If music be the food of love. I find it rather magical to hear such a lovely voice singing in English. I should take the music with me to Hampton Court or Banqueting House, to listen to it in context. The title is taken from Come again, sweet love doth now invite by Dowland, which shows off Barna-Sabadus's pellucid high notes: 'To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss to die!'. It's the musical equivalent of one of Isaac Oliver's melancholic young men: perfect music for serenading maidens by moonlight (which doesn't happen enough nowadays, if you ask me).

Franco Fagioli: Canzone e Cantate (2011)
Early Baroque Italian music

Fagioli's pre-Artaserse album is another collection of early music: this time Italian. Stately and courtly, it's generally a little more fluid than Purcell and Dowland, offering a rare opportunity to hear Fagioli in a much less frenetic mood. Most of the songs are by anonymous composers and are performed with the accompaniment of a single lute, with the occasional cheerful intrusion of the harpsichord or cello. The more I listen to it, the more it grows on me. Monteverdi's Si dolce è 'l tormento is full of yearning, while the anonymous Care luci is austere but beautiful, given colour by Fagioli's vibrant voice. He gets into slightly more familiar territory with the virtuoso aria Cor ingrato dispietato, in which he fits an absolutely unbelievable number of notes into one line: so many, that it's quite exhausting to listen to. But then he returns to the more delicate and romantic Nel cor più non mi sento (though he can't resist a few little trills here and there). It's serene and graceful, a perfect counterpart to the flamboyance of his operatic arias (though I think I'm always going to prefer those).

Yuriy Mynenko: Mortelmans: When the Soul Listens (2013)
Something a little different and more modern: piano works and songs

You wouldn't believe how hard it is to track down Yuriy Mynenko. For someone who has such a fabulous voice - his Megabise in Artaserse was immensely impressive - he hasn't recorded very much at all and, although he has a website, it doesn't seem to list any forthcoming concert dates. I eventually found this album of piano music by the Belgian composer Lodewijk Mortelmans (1868-1952), which features three songs performed by Mynenko: Hoe schoon de morgendauw, Perels and Als de ziele luistert. Huge credit for not only singing in Dutch but making it sound beautiful. It's just a taster of his voice, unfortunately, but its power and grandeur come through very clearly and I really hope he gets round to recording more Baroque music. I should add that the pure piano tracks, performed by Peter Vanhove, are also wonderful to listen to: fluid, sweeping and very relaxing (perfect listening for a lazy Sunday breakfast). But if anyone knows of anywhere I can find more Mynenko, I'll be grateful.


And finally, looking forward...

No, there are not enough chandeliers! I demand more chandeliers!
The Opéra Royal at Versailles. Image from here
I was sent into transports of delight about a fortnight ago, when I discovered that Team Artaserse are coming back for another bash at Leonardo Vinci. In June next year, at the Opéra Royal at Versailles, they'll revive Vinci's Catone in Utica... and oh what a cast! Unfortunately Jaroussky and Mynenko won't be involved, but Fagioli will sing the role of Cesare, the tenor Juan Sancho (formerly Artabano) will be Catone, Cencic will be (a different) Arbace and Barna-Sabadus will be taking on the prima donna role of Marzia. There are also two names I don't yet know: the tenor Martin Mitterrutzner will sing Fulvio, and Vince Yi will play Emilia. Of course, I had to be rational about it. Grown up. Sensible. The opera at Versailles doesn't come cheap and so I had to ask myself whether I really wanted to see these guys in the flesh... performing an opera by Vinci... in a small theatre crammed with gold, chandeliers and 18th-century bling.

Oh, come now. I was rational for approximately five seconds. It's going to be my 30th next year, so I've booked seats at the Opéra Royal for myself and my parents as a kind of birthday present-to-self. Based on the Vinci I've heard so far, I'm pretty sure I'm going to love it. More importantly, I can't get over the thought that I'll be mere feet away from no fewer than three of my favourite singers at once. Be still my beating heart. Here's hoping for more crazy costumes, cuffs dripping with lace, dramatic feather headdresses, and meltingly sublime singing. Now I just have to be patient for eight months...


Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Castrato and his Wife: Helen Berry

(published by Oxford University Press, £9.99, or available from Amazon)

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I've had an unintentionally Baroque-themed summer, so you've got a series of posts on countertenors and castrati coming up. (Although I was going to apologise for it, I've changed my mind: if one person discovers Leonardo Vinci or Franco Fagioli because of these posts, I'll be happy.) It's all because I've spent the summer shuttling back and forth across Europe for work, which sounds glamorous, but actually just means that I'm more familiar with the layout of Schipol airport than anyone could really desire. It's been hard to concentrate on books so I've been trying to teach myself about music instead. You've already had my Artaserse post and there's plenty more where that came from, although I will start reading more novels again soon, I promise.

For now, I decided it was time to give myself a bit of historical background to the music I've been listening to, and I kicked off with this intriguing glimpse into the archives. Helen Berry's research lays bare (unintended pun) a unique English legal case from the mid-18th century. She follows the ramifications of the love affair between Dorothea Maunsell, an impetuous Irish girl of good family in her mid-teens, and Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci: one of the most celebrated singers in London, a composer and a renowned music teacher. After a whirlwind romance, the lovers eloped and married in secret, leaving Dorothea's family seething with fury. They had some cause. Despite his celebrity, Tenducci was by far their social inferior: he was the son of a servant. Worse than that, he was Italian. Even worse, he was thirty years old, twice their impressionable daughter's age. 

But Tenducci's worst crime was something over which he had equally little control: he was a castrato. Unlike Italian law, English law didn't actually forbid castrati from marrying (in Italy, Tenducci would have faced the death penalty), but that's only because no one ever imagined the question would come up. Tenducci was no stranger to gossip, of course. He was condemned to a lifetime of prurient interest in the contents of his trousers. But he would find that his passionate attachment to Dorothea brought him into a whole new realm of scandalous publicity. At first the newlyweds outfaced their critics - Dorothea even published a breathless autobiographical account of their courtship, emphasising their romance and their commitment to one another in spite of her family's attempts to kidnap her and murder Tenducci. Gradually, the scandal began to lose its edge. And then, when the perennially indebted singer and his wife returned to his native Tuscany, the worst happened. Dorothea met and fell in love with a wealthy young Englishman. She hurried back to Britain with him, to the relieved embrace of her parents, and embarked on another, much more acceptable marriage. But to what extent had her first marriage been legal? She and Tenducci had certainly gone through the ceremonies. But what exactly determined if a marriage had taken place? Was it the ceremony itself? The consummation? Or when the woman became pregnant? And if it was either of the latter, then had Dorothea and Tenducci ever been married at all? One has to feel for the poor man. Abandoned by his young wife, whom he obviously adored, Tenducci had to watch as a humiliating court case unfolded, which examined his anatomical peculiarities in unforgiving detail and asked whether a castrated man could legally enter into marriage, which existed for the sole purpose of procreation.

Berry uses this remarkable case as a springboard to look at the marital and sexual mores of the 18th century and, more specifically, at the phenomenon of the castrati, particularly as they were regarded in Great Britain. She does her best to recreate Tenducci's childhood and his training at the conservatory of Santa Maria della Pietà dei Turchini in Naples, where one of his tutors was the temperamental Caffarelli. He made his debut in 1753 in Venice and in 1758 he was head-hunted for the King's Theatre in London. Tenducci's time in London would cement his fame - but also prove to be his ruin. Despite our reputation for stiff upper lips in England, we've always been peculiarly susceptible to all things Italian. That extended to these singers with their ravishing voices, their boyish looks and their statuesque height (often six foot or more, due to the disruption of usual growth patterns). It's also interesting that this is one of the comparatively rare cases in history where the female gaze takes centre-stage: Tenducci and his fellow castrati were famous for their voices, but they were infamous for the fervent adoration they inspired in their hordes of female fans:
Earlier in the century, an Englishwoman had notoriously shouted from the audience during an operatic production by the greatest castrato of them all, 'One God, one Farinelli!', at a stroke breaking the taboo against a woman raising her voice in public, blaspheming, and making a spectacle of her desire.
Well, if you're going to do something, do it properly. But the problem was that the singers were all too often very ready to oblige their admirers. A central issue in the Tenducci trial would prove to be the extent to which they were able to oblige. It was a question that had already been energetically debated for some time, primarily by male satirists (one senses an element of insecurity in the face of the dazzling success these foreigners were having with their womenfolk).

Tenducci painted by Gainsborough (left) in about 1773 (Barber Institute, Birmingham)
and by Thomas Beach (right) in about 1783 (Garrick Club, London)
Berry's book is full of information and it's well written. I always enjoy fiction or history that starts from a chance mention in the archives and spirals out to offer a broader picture of a period. Of course, this book was particularly fascinating because it offers both a new perspective on the history of my city and a context for the music I've been listening to. On that note (another pun - sorry), I found it rather amusing that Tenducci's signature aria was Water parted from the sea, from Thomas Arne's Artaxerxes, based on the same Metastasio libretto as Vinci's opera ("Go on," I mentally challenged Tenducci, "I bet it wasn't as good as L'onda dal mar divisa"). Throughout, Berry admirably fleshes out the bare archival facts and she is enormously sympathetic to Tenducci, who certainly ended up with the raw end of the deal in so many ways. 

I freely admit that I'm guilty of romanticising the castrati. Their stories are so tantalising: the love affairs, the tempestuous arrogance... the music! As I said, I've been immersing myself in a lot of these arias recently and I was rather surprised by Berry's implication that it's hard to understand the castrati's appeal for their female fans. For me it isn't difficult at all, if they sounded even halfway like some of the talented young singers tackling this music today. You'll hear more about them soon, but for now go and listen to something like Alto Giove done by Cencic, or Barna-Sabadus or Jaroussky: their blend of sensitivity, bravura and soaring notes is intoxicating. So I completely understand why a romantic young girl like Dorothea would have been swept off her feet by Tenducci's exotic charm and the beauty of his voice. If I'd been alive then, I'd have been fighting my way into the Haymarket for his concerts too.

And yet, Berry's book emphasises that we're actually better off being able to hear this music sung beautifully by men who've chosen to make this their art form. Tenducci and his fellow castrati had no choice. The choice was made for them, when they were too young to understand what they were giving up and, as Tenducci's life shows, some of them were never able to come to terms with the fact that they couldn't be husbands and fathers as they longed to be. This must have had a profound psychological impact. When questioned at the trial, Tenducci's former flatmate remembered that he always carried his testicles in a little velvet bag in the pocket of his breeches: a detail which, first of all, rather took me aback; but which I then found desperately sad. Berry notes that he must have seen them as relics of sorts: fragments of the man he'd never been able to become. And another affecting detail comes from a deposition given to the trial investigators in Florence. A witness remembered a conversation he'd had with Tenducci's mother about the time her son was castrated. 
I have... heard his Mother say that she had not Courage sufficient to be present at the Castrating of her... Son, but that she was in a passage next the Room where the Operation was done, and when she heard him cry out, 'Ayi My Mama', which was in the the very Instant of the Operation, she thought to have Died of the pain she felt at that Instant.
Tenducci was eleven years old at the time. And that's something that has to be borne in mind. Probably thousands of boys were castrated during the course of this craze. A mere handful reached the dizzy heights: the glamour and the gold and the performances for princes. The rest were condemned to obscurity or, at the very worst, destitution. But they must have all started out in much the same way as Tenducci: terrified, confused children, strapped to makeshift operating tables and screaming for their mothers as any alternative future was cut away.

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