10 June (surprise opera at the art gallery!)

I am still trying to figure out what I think about this trip. Language has been a real problem – it’s difficult even to go into a cafe and order tea or a beer. I’ve seen/heard a lot of things that I don’t think I would have encountered outside Russia – some of the music at that piano recital we went to earlier in the week, and certainly the ancient Siberian stuff at the Hermitage museum (fabric and objects from 2000+ year old burials – felt saddle blankets and a carpet and all these little ornamented parts of horse harnesses and things). I also enjoyed all the little differences in concert hall behavior. The ‘no flash photography’ rule, even during ballet, is one of those Russian ‘sometimes’ rules that doesn’t always apply. And people are more likely to leave phones on and be talking and rustling around during concerts. And of course they dress up more. I stood out because I am basically perennially underdressed for everything and was wearing, e.g. for Pelleas and Melisande, a nice blouse but also corduroys and casual shoes and no makeup. (I hate makeup. It sucks and I refuse to wear it.)

I also like the light here. This is St. Petersburg in early June, so it’s still twilight at midnight and light again not long after that. The light in the afternoons/evenings is beautiful – it’s warm and golden and lingers for hours. The sky at twilight is also lovely. I am no photographer so I haven’t even tried to capture it, but it’s worth experiencing.

One more cool thing that happened. We went to a slightly far-flung contemporary art museum the other day (the Erarta). In terms of absorbing visual things I have a limit of about two or three hours, and as a result was hanging about with glazed eyes waiting for S when what do I hear but “o mio babbino caro,” sung by a youngish-sounding but quite nice voice albeit with some cringe-inducing intonation issues. I followed this sound into the 3rd floor cafe, where there was a section of the seating area curtained off. Down the hall nearby were several nervous looking young people in formal clothes. The curtains were translucent, though, and the sound carried – there was some sort of audition for something going on in there. So I hung around and listened. Some of the young singers sounded nice, some were fine, and others were struggling. The heavy reverb of the building wasn’t doing anyone any favors either. Later, when we stopped for tea, it was still going on – there was one tenor who sounded very good, and one poor soprano struggling gamely through Susanna’s “deh, vieni” with decidedly mixed results. I’ll have to figure out what it all was about, although I’m not sure how.

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