My local library is really good when it comes to buying opera dvds. I often go there and leaf through the selection and find stuff I never knew I craved – but then there it is. Many I just pass visit after visit and then perhaps one day I decide to pick it up. One such dvd was this:
I first saw it some months ago and left it because the cover is plain ugly and because concert performances on dvd are just one more nail to the coffin of opera as an art form. But then later that day it returned to me. Because – what would the barytone Thomas Hampson be doing in an opera with a tenor hero? And embracing the heroine on the cover?
So when I stumbled upon it again last week I decided to bring it home with me.
It turned out to be musically stunning and acting-wise not bad at all.
The conductor Michel Plasson and I are not the best of friends…not that he knows. But I once witnessed him furiously screaming the text at a poor mezzo-soprano who couldn’t remember her part but who had also just been flown in to rescue the performance from cancellation. Not nice Monsieur P.
But I have to admit that with this Werther he does a remarkable job.
And then what I really wanted to share with you: the best love scene I can think of just now. And here performed by two singers, Thomas Hampson and Susan Graham, who are everything but 20-year-olds but who manage to put all the pain, vulnerability, and love into this encounter and make it one of the most touching scenes I have seen.
Have a look and try to ignore the impossible filming:
If you want to see what it all ends with then look here for Werther’s death.
The cast also includes delectable singers as Stéphane Degout as Albert and Sandrine Piau as Sophie.
And the barytone thing? It turns out Massenet revised his opera and turned Werther into a barytone in order to make him more brooding. Not sure I think that is the right thing to do – but Thomas Hampson is always welcome to do any of my favourite opera heroes!
Library Custodian: “Do you have a library staff card?”
Me: “No, I just wanted to get a little a water from the-”
Library Custodian: “THEN YOU CAN’T BE HERE TILL AFTER ONE O’CLOCK!!”
Me: “Well…. ok, then…. but…”
Library Custodian: “YOU CAN’T BE HERE!”
Seriously. I have worked as a telemarketing phoner for a charitable organisation. For more than a year, several nights a week, calling up random individuals, asking them for financial aid. I have been yelled at, called names, cursed at, damned (Ah! La maledizione!), and, as a representitive of the organisation in question, I have been accused of stealing poor innocent people’s money and spending them ruthlessly on expensive lunches. But you know what? During all this I remained polite. I never raised my voice at people. And why? Well, because it makes people uncomfortable. Because it’s rude. And because there is really no reason to – it won’t help anything.
So here’s my question: why does one so often get snapped at, even for the smallest things, by people working within customer service? Will their faces crack if they smile? What is so wrong with politeness? And isn’t politeness and polite smiles, like, part of your job when you’re in customer service? And if you feel like you can’t deliever this, politeness and good-natured directions instead of snapping and yelling, then don’t you think maybe you have the wrong job?
And yes, I’m talking to you, Library Custodian Who Was So Offended By the Sight of Me Getting a Glass of Water in a Plastic Cup That You Felt You Needed to Yell at Me Instead of Just Kindly and Quietly Setting me Straight and Telling Me Where I Might Go to Get Myself Some Water.
This approximately matches the death-stare I received from Library Custodian of Wrath. You’d think I’d, like, had nymph-sex with her husband and then gotten pregnant with his child, but I really only wanted to get myself a plastic cup and some tap water.
Oh no! Another web page has gone over to the enemy. The home page of The Royal Danish Library has a new design. They have thrown away their old beautiful design in order to do as other libraries and public institutions in Denmark have done: to put all information on the front page.
Before they had a simple design with an image from their collection of prints and about five of six clear main headlines that would lead you to more information. And now they have killed it! I really liked being welcomed by a new image every time I went there. Not a lot, just one. Now they had a jumble of text and images that makes me dizzy.
I think they do it in order to make the page more user friendly. You don’t have to peel your way into a labyrinth of pages, instead you try to find your way on the frontpage.
And I hate it. Way too much text crawling the surface, making it hard to get a quick overview.
It is an almost impossible task for a graphic designer to make it look pretty and simple when large institutions like The Royal Library want to put all their knowledge and information on one page. And even if they fill it with text it’s an illusion because you will still be led to other pages behind the front page.
The result is a collection of boxes that would make any five-year-old Lego collector envious. And a collection of boxes? Well, boxes are boxes, and it makes all the pages look rather alike.
On the top of the page they seem to like a band where all the not so sexy stuff (which you will find in the boxes) is listed. Listed and made into fold-down menus, that open and cover the boxes and makes even more visual mess.
Here are a couple of pages I use a lot but hate the look of: Library of Frederiksberg, The Royal Danish Theatre (when they went online with this I was really annoyed…but now, compared to the rest, it looks much better in my eyes. Sad, sad), All About Copenhagen. And now The Royal Library too. *Sniff*
Just in order to keep up the cosmic balance – here are some examples of beautiful and user friendly web pages: Glyptoteket, Apple, Louvre, Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Call me old-fashioned…they just work for me.
Today when parking my bike in front of the Royal Library I noticed Marie’s bike already standing there. Of course I couldn’t be sure that it was her bike, but it looked a lot like it and Marie has been known to frequent the Royal Library… So I went to the reading room I thought was most likely to be her choice. No Marie, but plenty of French dictionaries for correcting my French exercises. Then I went to the other reading room – the one I like. No Marie there either. So I concluded the bike must have belonged to someone else. After having studied for some hours I went to the café to have some coffee and check my e-mail. The inbox contained a message from Marie beginning with the words: “I am at The Diamond (nickname for the Royal Library) working my brains out.”
The message was sent around the time I had entered the building.
After the coffee I went to the rest room and as I entered the cubicle my eyes fell on a cd-case left on a shelf above the toilet. It was a recording of Don Giovanni conducted by Daniel Harding and with Peter Mattei as the main character. There was no doubt in my mind: Marie had left it there like a small trail. She is the only one I know who owns this recording and who else would bring a recording of Don Giovanni to the Royal Library and forget it in the rest room?
So I put it on top of my little private mountain of books and laptop and left the cubicle. Only to spot Marie’s bag peeping out from behind a wall. And it was hanging from the shoulder of – Marie!
She was waiting for the someone in the cubicle to leave so that she could search for her Don Giovanni!
Sju jætter? How weird was all that?!
Aimlessly looking through old documents on my laptop tonight I found some diary records from my time in Rome in 2002. I lived there from January to July while studying at one of Rome’s universities.
I found one note I liked a lot.
This is where our adventure takes place.
5th of February 2002.
Slept late. Then I went to Palazzo Venezia to go to the library. I found it, deposited my passport for the key to the locker where I left my bag. Then I entered my name in a large register. The library is a confusion of oddly shaped and sized rooms with open bookshelves in three storeys. Apparently the books aren’t ordered by any particular system other than an arbitrary number which you will have to find in order to locate the volume you are looking for. No such thing as an order by topic or author. There is a database, but it only contains books that have entered after 1998, but that goes not only for books written after 1998 but could go for any book. 1998 was when the base was established. All other books are on index cards. So you cannot just look for a pre-1998 book in the index. It could just as well be in the ever growing database – remember – no system.
When you have found your title you have to find out which of innumerable numbers on the card is the collocation number. And then you have to find the room containing books with the initial of the collocation number, and then on which storey that initial is located. Then you should look for the staircase, well hidden among the shelves. And then – there is the book!
First victory of the day – I have deciphered the code and found the book I was looking for.
Next book. The code is different. I search on cards and walk through all rooms – no such collocation number. The librarian is busy but a lady in the queue tells me that I should look in the author index. There I find the same collocation number. Back at the librarian I am told that the book is in another department on the other side of the entrance. I am not allowed to bring the victory book over there, so I put it on a special shelf and leave for the other department. Which is closed for lunch until 14.30. My watch tells me it is now 13.45. I give up and ask the librarian where I can check out the book I have found. She points to a dusty corner in the farthest room. Hidden between two bookcases I find a small counter. It will open after two o’clock so I wait. At two a balding employee with three ears turns up. Triumphantly she tells me that to borrow books I must show documentation from the university, two passport photos and some sort of ID. So I produce my student’s card, two passport photos and leave her momentarily to collect my passport at the entrance. The three-eared employee is clearly disappointed but reluctantly makes me a library ticket.
Second victory of the day.
Books are lent for a week and renewals are only made by personal address and for a maximum of a month. I was lucky I didn’ t want to borrow more than two books since that is all you can borrow at a time and I was also lucky to be there today since books are only checked out on two weekdays.
Third victory of the day: I present my receipt to the guard, hand in the key to the locker and exit radiant with joy to Piazza Venezia with the book in my arms. I smile all the way to the Danish Academy.
I guess all libraries have to be deciphered when you first enter them. But this library was the most reluctant I have ever been in. It was situated in the rooms whence Mussolini held his speeches to the Roman people, so maybe that explains the bad karma. I liked it though. So completely disorderly and so overly filled with books that any book lover would have given in immediately. It was also crowded with students, so crowded that my few attempts at studying there were complete failures. I did have a key to the Danish Academy and their library where I was allowed to study. But as soon as summer approached the heat made it impossible to stay there. Rome didn’t have enough places for students to read so my hunt for a desk and some quiet led me to different libraries and academies (the American Academy was quite nice but they only let me in once). I even studied in the cast collection of the university surrounded by other desperate students and hordes of plaster copies of ancient statues.
Today I went to the Danish Royal Library. How nice it is to sit in the Harry Potter-like reading room with the eleven books you have just checked out and plenty of peace, time and space for your perusal.
Surely nothing as exotic as three-eared employees and Fascist atmosphere but quite, quite comfortable.
By the way… you may ask why I had two passport photos ready for the bitter employee. Well… when in Italy you should always carry lots of passport photos and copies of you passport if you have a wish to engage with any sort of authority or offical place (be it libraries, national registers, university canteens). You never know when you are going to need them, you only know that you will need them at some point.
A couple of days ago I went to Danmarks Kunstbibliotek (the main library of art in Denmark, and the largest of its kind in Scandinavia) to return some books. And behold! They had an exhibition on Giotto’s Arena Chapel which included a giant model of the chapel. And it is beautiful! And you can walk inside it! The size is 1:3 which made me realise how small the chapel must be (sadly I have never been there).
Some quite funny meta sensation occurs when you, standing in the model, look at this part of the fresco where the donor Enrico Scrovegni offers a model of the chapel to the Virgin Mary:
How cute is that?!
I didn’t have time to read all the texts (there were way to many in my opinion), so I’ll have to come back. Such a great idea, and so well done. The only thing I regret is that I didn’t have such a model when I wrote my paper on the chapel. The paper was very much about the limits of space in the chapel, so to be able to walk inside it would have been wonderful.
To read more go here. Only in Danish unfortunately…