Last week I went to the BBC SSO’s performance of Act 1 of Tristan and Isolde which was really astonishing. I’ve always had reservations about attending a concert performance of opera and always feel like I’m missing some of the key parts of what’s going on. Not here. Perhaps because pretty much all of the drama in Tristan is carried in the text, it’s full of exciting stuff like murder and subterfuge and kidnap that’s just happened offstage. Luckily there are lots of people ready to tell you all about how you missed it. The SSO are splitting the acts across their whole season, so we were left hanging at the end of Act I just at King Mark’s triumphant entrance. Honestly, if they’d just sent someone down the aisle at the end with a bit of ermine and a wee plastic crown I could’ve kidded on we weren’t quite so rudely interrupted. Need to wait and see if the fantastic tension that was built by Donald Runnicles can keep its momentum over the next few months.
The element of the evening though, that I keep returning to, was an elderly gentleman seated two rows in front of me who was clearly in some discomfort. The gentleman was incredibly frail and was displaying symptoms of dementia. He was seated between his two younger relatives, who understandably seemed to find the experience stressful and rushed to dress the older man back in his outdoor clothes and lead him gingerly up the aisle the second the music died away.
I’m desperate to know his story.
I’m assuming that it was a difficult decision for his relatives to bring him to the concert, given the difficulties that he had concentrating on the music and being in a concert environment. They all clearly found the occasion stressful and difficult, and the younger family members must have been aware of the attention they were attracting from the rest of the auditorium.
So what was it about that evening that made them decide to put all the man’s current health issues to the side and bring him to such an event? Wagner’s music certainly attracts some of the most ardent fans in classical music; was this man a Wagner-nut in his younger days? Did his family feel that attending the concert helped him? As an outsider looking in at their family I struggled to see how this man could be gaining much from the evening – at points he seemed in quite a bit of distress. But then, for all I know, they were seeing him enjoying again something that has maybe been lost to him for a while. I really hope so.