Monday, April 14, 2008

Peter Grimes is an Opera for Knitters (a Rather Pretentious Post)

After reading Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise, Jared got very excited about the music of Benjamin Britten. Britten was a 20th century British composer of many works, including several operas. This is where Jared got me interested too. I'm only a passing fan of much classical music, but I am an opera fiend. So we decided to rent a production of Britten's most famous opera, Peter Grimes, on Netflix.
When we sat down to watch, it was a Friday night and I was (as usual) very tired from a long day at work and consequently not too interested in anything "complicated." (These are the nights when I convince Jared to watch a Jeeves & Wooster or he convinces me to watch a Trailer Park Boys.) But I dutifully agreed to watch the two and a half hour opera.
I'm sorry to say that I don't remember much of the beginning, including what I now know is a brilliantly ambient and evocative overture. But once the scene in the pub came around, my jaw hit the floor. This is, of course, the central aria for Peter Grimes: "Now the Great Bear," and the tenor is Jon Vickers. He comes in through a dead silence at a pianissimo E above middle C and holds it through the first few phrases of the aria. A sudden forte outburst takes him all over the scale, then back to the pianissimo E which swells to a fortissimo, then drops the note and the volume to conclude. The vocalization and the music are ingenious; and as I watched, I was spellbound. Jared got tired quickly after, so we went to bed with the idea of finishing the opera the next day.
In the morning, we turned the DVD back on, and I insisted we started it from "Now the Great Bear" so we could hear it again. This time, Jared was just as transfixed, and we gushed about the great find we had made. "Jon Vickers," I said, "is such a powerful, brilliant tenor. And," I added as an afterthought, "he really rocks that fisherman gansey."
It never stops, kids.
A few weeks later, the Metropolitan Opera came out with their new production of Peter Grimes, so Jared and I went to the local theater to catch the simulcast. In that setting, I was able to pay more attention to both the music and the story. This time it really struck me how integral knitting was to the plot of the opera. The leading female role, Ellen Orford, is a knitter in a big way. She constantly carries her basket around, and skips church to do her knitting by the sea. One of the items she knits is a jersey for Peter's apprentice (a new hire, for the first apprentice died under suspicious circumstances). When the boy falls to his death from the cliff outside Peter's home, the jersey is washes up to shore. Ellen finds it and bemoans how her knitting and embroidery, which had once filled her idle hours, had now become "the fatal clue" that would prove the undoing of the man she tried to save. The townsfolk assume that Peter murdered both boys and form a mob, driving Peter to madness and suicide.
I'm not sure how this translates to the "sweater curse"--never knit a sweater for your gentleman suitor's apprentices if they have a habit of getting suspiciously killed, perhaps--but it has me thinking about those "traditional" ganseys, made of rough, weather-proof wool and intricately cabled. Well maybe I can use something a little softer--we're not going fishing after all. And maybe not so bulky, since Jared is skinny, not like those burly fishermen or barrel shaped Wagnerian tenors. But it is about time I knitted him a sweater, and what better theme than one inspired by his favorite opera? I might have to find a gansey book and start designing something.

You can listen to a little of Peter Grimes on this New York Times story about the Met's 2008 production. This clip starts out with "Now the Great Bear" and continues through the end of the pub scene. It features tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, who has a beautiful and disarmingly gentle voice.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Finally got my socks back, and have happily been working on them while riding the bus every morning and evening. They are coming along nicely, and are almost to the point where I can begin the toe on Sock #1. On the feet, they feel great! I always thought a knitted sock would bag and be too loose, but these hug my high instep very nicely, and they feel soft and warm.
I have two issues, though. One is with the yarn itself, and the other is my own fault.
First, the yarn is VERY splitty, even with my very sharp little rosewood size 1s. I'm continually having to go back and restitch, or rescue half of the yarn that has fallen due to slipping off the needle. To be honest, it's only a minor quibble, and I think the benefits of the yarn outweigh the splits.
Second, I seem to have knitted the leg part a bit too tight. Sock #1 barely squeezes over my heel, so it's a struggle to get on and take off. Once it is on, it feels great, but I'm worried about damaging the yarn too much. I think I'll try the same size with a looser hand on Sock # 2 and see if it pays off, then decide if it's worth frogging Sock #1 and re-knitting.
Anyways, here is the picture of Sock #1, "Hobo Style".

I don't know if I'll ever be a Sock Knitter, as I like sweaters too much, but it is handy to have a sock to work on while commuting. I'm thinking about some lighter ones for the spring, and maybe try out the delicate and intricate cables on Eunny Jang's Bayerische Sock. (I'll probably do a post on how obsessed I am with Eunny Jang patterns in the future. I wonder if she thinks it's creepy that so many of us worship her?)

My Print O' The Wave headband went nowhere fast. I loved working with the yarn, but it's just so not me. I'll never wear it, so I'm giving the yarn to my mother, who likes the colors better than I do. It was fun to try out the pattern, so I'm glad I tried it. Oh well. I think part of being a Good Knitter is to recognize when something just isn't working... that's something I struggle with daily.

I'm also considering designing some simple sweater patterns of my own. It's a very exciting thought, and something I've been meaning to do for ages. First, I want a light cotton cardigan in chartreuse green and cream for warmer weather, and second, a warm wool turtleneck, because my favorite sweater (a black turtleneck from H&M that fits me perfectly) is getting terribly mangey. I need to toss it, but first I want to measure it up and see if I can knit a clone in some chocolate brown Debbie Bliss Cashmerino.

A finished project is coming soon, once it gets warm enough to model outside in the sunshine!