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Diary: Jonathan Boardman

13 March 2015

ISTOCK

The silent type

I HAVE always fancied being taciturn - in vain, clearly, since otherwise it would be fact, not fantasy. Instead, it all just comes gushing out of me, and, as I have lived around Lancastrians and Italians most of my life, it is usually accompanied by gesticulation.

Oh, to bridle my tongue and to sit on my hands! It could almost be a late Lenten project. My models would be the characters portrayed recently by Gillian Anderson in The Fall and Mark Rylance in Wolf Hall. Dramatising myself, I see the long shot leisurely moving in to my close-up, my thought processes visible to the audience, before, with a last, self-indulgent hesitation, I drawl the fewest words necessary for communication.

Or how I long to be like Noel Gallagher's outrageously world-weary self-portrait in the video of High Flying Birds' "The Ballad of the Mighty I". (By this, Gallagher has finally displaced Morrissey in my Mancunian affections.) But no. Far from the brooding silence, the contained gesture, I cannot shut up, always racing on to fill gaps, cover silences, and disallow the emergence of space for breathing, thinking, praying, being.

Undeniably, then, more akin to Milton's L'Allegro than Il Penseroso, it will be a work "against nature" if I adopt this discipline at the eleventh hour. 

Fair to middling

YEARS ago, I much enjoyed the Mark Morris Dance Group's performance of Handel's setting of the Milton character poems, at the Coliseum. Interpolated there are verses by the Revd Charles Jennens, compiler of the text of Messiah, to produce Il Moderato, an arguably necessary addition aimed at producing a viable dramatic structure for what otherwise would have presented badly oppositional characters with no sense of development.

Shame about the poetry, though; Milton it isn't, even if the Milton itself is hardly his most sophisticated. This is Jennens:

Come, with native Lustre shine,

Moderation, Grace Divine;

Whom the wise God of Nature gave

Mad Mortals from themselves to save.

Keep, as of old, the Middle-way,

Nor deeply sad, nor idly gay,

But still the same in Look and Gaite,

Easy, chearful, and sedate.

 Cheerfulness is a real virtue - possibly even easiness - but few would currently recommend sedateness. I am not, therefore, al' Anglicane, going to aspire to moderation, but stick to my quest for the truly phlegmatic.

Royal makeover

RARELY has such a torpor overcome me as when the Oxford University Opera Society performed Purcell's The Indian Queen. Of course, the musical interludes are what they are: divinely Purcell; but the dramatic text - Betterton's reworking of Dryden's 1664 tragedy of that name - is stultifying.

Sitting in the stalls at the Oxford Playhouse, I began to think that I had lost my ability to move. As much as I willed to leave, somehow I could not. It was mind-bendingly boring: the plot, a sub-classical Racine-like showdown (slowdown?) between various princely Incas and Aztecs, remains for me the epitome of tedium.

I was pleased, therefore, to read that the current ENO production (previously seen in the extremities of Perm and Madrid) jettisoned the entire text to replace it with a story devised by the director, Peter Sellars, and based on the Spanish conquista.

Spectators have thus been saved a torture (and been provided with a joy, by all accounts) - unless they are seeking an imposed melancholy contrary to type. Copies of the original play are available - if there are any masochists out there. 

Theatrical encounter

THE late Anglo-Catholic Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp, was from Lincolnshire, as witnessed by a chapter in his autobiography Shy But Not Retiring: "A Lincolnshire 'Yellow-Belly'". He was well-known as falling into the category "penseroso". I once sat next to him, both of us in mufti, at Sellar's production of Paul Hindemith's opera Mathis der Maler.

I reminded him of a previous meeting when I had been studying in Rome, and he was visiting the city as chairman of the Anglican Centre's governors. Of course, I didn't fail to genuflect and kiss his proffered ring, even in the confines of the ROH Covent Garden's Upper Circle (Right). The eyes of the woman sitting on my other side went out on stalks.

The Ven. Jonathan Boardman is the Archdeacon of Italy and Malta, and Chaplain of All Saints', Rome.

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