A Night at the Opera, Rural French Style

We are still in France for one more week, the weather is as hot as Accra but the air is dry and, being up a mountain, there is a clean crispness that is very reviving. It is a perfect counterpoint to the humidity of equatorial Ghana and I am made to feel like a swallow by my excursions here and back. To labour my point about climate, the other evening we went to a village called Mosset, armed with a variety of warm clothes, dried fruit, blankets and thermos flasks, despite the day temperatures being in the upper twenties.

Mosset has a tradition of staging operas at this time of the year in its old castle – a sort of reinforced version of the original. It tries to integrate local people in a vast chorus with a few semi-pros or young singers, hopefully on the way up. Incomers (Dutch in this case) produce and direct the whole affair and tickets are hard to come by. It begins late, at about half nine, to ensure that darkness lends it a special atmosphere. And indeed it does. Well worth the visit. The crowd scenes are full of kaleidoscopic colour and pinball vitality, hugely ambitious and yet most of the time managing to avoid catastrophe or disbelief. Mercutio is particularly virile and believable among the leads and, if better choreography had engineered it, the exceptional masks and costumes and other elements of dark menace would have lifted some scenes even more.

It would be an injustice to call it amateur opera but it also falls a lot short of professional staging. As it happens I am not a great supporter or afficionado of singing theatre of any kind, finding the plots usually too ploddingly bathetic to carry the frequently haunting melodies. Usually, too, the acting lacks a call to passion. In the end I am happiest attending some highly stylised, minimal set and a form of gesturing that stay within the convention of semaphore rather than a plunge into hot breath and fleshy contact, thereby allowing my ears to dominate my other senses.

So, in the delightful Pyrenean village of Mosset, it happened that, when Romeo the plank tried to get it on with Juliet, the ice siren, there was a squirm or two on my plastic seat. The voices were ok, hers better than his, but I was left at the end wishing that the death-embracing philtre of poison, taken by Romeo, was Viagra.

That would have made for an erect, rather than recumbent and somewhat limp end to proceedings!

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