Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Seige of Calais

Cultural coincidence: in the same week a visit to Perry Green where this season the Henry Moore sculpture collection includes guests from the Musee Rodin, including the great Burghers of Calais, never very happily seen next to the Houses of Parliament, and rather incongruous there, given the English responsibility for their humiliation; and then the ETO production of Donizetti’s seldom-staged Siege of Calais, about the same event, which also occludes this dimension, casting the English army and king chiefly as a generic enemy of the brave citizens (and omitting or rather deleting the happy ending).  Both sculpture and opera celebrate heroic defeat  I don’t think there was any specific historical resonance for Donizetti, who apparently intended the work for the Paris Opera, though it premiered at the San Carlo in Naples, but the defeat both of the Carbonari and of Napoleon were fairly recent memories. For Rodin, perhaps the Franco-Prussian war and siege of Paris were background inspiration for his self-sacrificial Bourgeois.  An element of political reconciliation can also be inferred from the historical fact that the volunteer victims’ lives were in the end spared by intervention from Edward III’s queen Philippa.

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