Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Sussex by the Sea

God gave all men all earth to love
     But since man's heart is small
Ordains for each one spot shall prove
     Belovèd over all.
Each to his choice, and I rejoice
     The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground - a fair ground -
     Yea, Sussex by the sea!

So wrote Kipling, who lived there and loved it.   I spent yesterday in Sussex, partly in the beautiful Cuckmere valley, where the river runs down to the sea, partly in the village of Wilmington, at the feet of the Long Man, carved on the down above us, and partly listening to stupendous opera at Glyndebourne.    It was a glorious day, a day such as we dream of when we think of the English summer, and the countryside was in its full glory.   At Glyndebourne people were picnicking on the lawns in the late sunshine, drinking champagne and looking out from the magnificent gardens across the ha-ha to the sheep grazing in the fields and the line of the Downs beyond. 

The opera was Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd, not the easiest or most cheerful of operas, set in a British man o' war in 1797, with an all-male cast, a tragic tale of good and evil and innocence betrayed.    It was a marvellous production, beautifully sung, powerfully evoking the claustrophobic atmosphere on board ship and the terrible inevitability of the unfolding events.    We might have emerged less harrowed after a tale of love and a happy ending, but it was an unforgettable experience to end a perfect day. 

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