and there the horror sat, In a Prologue and Three Acts

by Penny Newell

‘I don’t know how to begin this letter or what to say or how to say it—but I guess the only thing to do is to take the plunge & get it over with.’[i]

Eight hours before the Twilight of the Idols – Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, climax of Opera North’s four-year project, the last act in the Der Ring des Leeds Town Hall, and as a prelude, I have gathered all of the books together from around my room. This felt to be the natural response to such an occasion. I have gathered that flock of agitated stock from across the tops of things-more-properly serving their purpose; books begun, books placed face down, books no longer books, but – inches of pages performing as lamp stands, coasters for a cast of coffee grounds, half-formed events discretely uncorrected; unshelved, unbooked, corners blushing mauve through reticent months and years. I will settle up the miscellany before the total catastrophe this evening inevitably brings.

‘Nothing could be done about them. And there the horror sat, glaring out over the countries of the world.’[ii]

One prologue, two intervals and three acts before the gods, encircled by flames, will bring about the unageing end of Wagner’s operatic poem, and as a prelude, I have gathered all of the books together from around my room. Here, we gather as an agitated flock of spectator-stock atop the things-more-properly serving their purpose; creak in chairs, begin and close our programmes, stand lamp-handed and silly and purposeless, coast a conversation about the triad of screens looming above the ruffling orchestra, with, ‘but it –.’ We inch to the beginning of the six hour traffic of this stage: an ‘oppressive’ work, Michael Tanner notes in the programme, ‘with hardly a bar that isn’t laden with reminiscence and foreboding.’[iii]

‘There was an immediate silence, and when I took another step and went into the bedroom I saw that they had the checkerboard open in the middle of the bed’[iv]

Two intervals and two acts before the end, and as a prelude (I think, as I swap my seat in the stalls for a stretch in the sunshine), I have gathered all of the books together from around my room. This prelude felt appropriate to this sort of ‘occasion’. In this act and in this gap now, there is a certain heavy agitation stirred by Wagner, brought forth in the loose footing with which we depart from Act One of the Götterdämmerung – a flurry of dissatisfied, unresolved chords, and more a lesion in the narrative than a natural pause; Brünnhilde’s (Alwyn Mellor) strength unshelved, undone; cheeks flushed as she departs with an unheard lover’s song. Like dismissed children, the audience kick stones on the steps of Leeds Town Hall – speaking of miscellany – waiting, hopeful, to be recalled.

‘I wish I could float face-up with my eyes closed and my ears below the surface.’[v]

One act and one interval before the ending, and as a prelude I in vagueness remember stacking books in piles, or something; circling shapes emerging as words-more-properly serving their purpose, rethreading sentences into my notebook, which falls from my pocket when the Bass of Hagen (Mats Almgren) and the Chorus somehow find breath, to catastrophically eclipse the airless Hall. Brünnhilde has us gasp and gather as an agitated flock upon the flag stone; and, looming persuasive, it is not Hagen who leaves the half-formed event of her revenge discretely uncorrected (as if the fatal consequences for Siegfried (Mati Turi) unknown), but the hole she tears through each witness’s soul, with her lament of love undone.

‘A shadow-line on the horizon told of the presence of the sea. He was conscious only of his exhaustion, and at the same time was struggling against a sudden, irrational impulse to unburden himself a little more to his companion’[vi]

Six hours through the Twilight of the Idols – six strained hours and we take stock of things-more-properly serving their purpose; buses, opening bars, closing cafes, the bustle of the City cold-pressing into half-formed events discretely uncorrected; unshelved by the unseen, unfelt, unwanted world of our assembly,– we will settle up the miscellany of the world’s mismatch to what we have seen, over midnight cups of Yorkshire tea, never quite touching the appropriate words.

[i] Elizabeth Bishop. ‘Letter to Carley Dawson. November 26, 1948 [Washington D.C.]’ One Art. Robert Giroux (Ed). New York: Harper Collins, 1994. 176

[ii] Ted Hughes. The Iron Man. London: Faber and Faber, 1968. 44

[iii] Michael Tanner. ‘That Sensual Music.’ Götterdämmerung: Wagner. (June 2014) John Good Ltd.

[iv] Mario Vargas Llosa. The Bad Girl. London: Faber and Faber, 2007. 259

[v] Ronan Bennett. The Catastrophist. London: Hodder Headline, 1997. 243.

[vi] Albert Camus. The Plague. Stuart Gilbert (Trans.) London: Penguin Books, 1960. 123


Penny Newell is a writer and poet based in London. She is currently undertaking doctoral research on the topic of clouds. Penny also collaborates on performance-based work with Aidan Moesby through FIELDWORK Encounters: a lived enquiry into the process, practice and possibilities of art and science collaboration. This work was performed at the ARC Arts Centre in Stockton. They have since received supported from TippingPoint, in collaboration with Arts Council of England, Free Word, Spread the Word, the Ashden Trust and the Open University, to perform their work at Weatherfronts: Climate Change and the Stories We Tell. Penny’s visual poetry has been exhibited at the Hundred Years Gallery, as part of WHITEOUT, curated by Jill Rock. My poetry is in print in Meatplough Magazine, the London Student Newspaper, and the 2012 Faber Academy Anthology; and online in Don’t Do It. Penny also blogs at: http://pennynewell.wordpress.com/



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