The opera Gormenghast, score by Irmin Schmidt, libretto by Duncan Fallowell, opened at the Wuppertal Opera House in 1998. The British publisher John Calder attempted to see it when it transferred the following year to the opera house at Gelsenkirchen.



John Calder


1. Opera Tragedy

I have many hobbies, and they all touch my work.
The subjects I publish are those that lurk
in my thoughts and in my taste
where nothing ever goes to waste
and things at which I like to look
often end up in a book.

And one of them is opera,
that Doctor Johnson so derided.
Eight hundred twenty-five I’ve seen;
all over the world my ears have been
to operas large and operas small;
I wish that I could see them all.

Now here’s the story. I had a fix
to see opera eight hundrred and twenty-six,
by Schmidt and Duncan Fallowell
of which there was so much to tell;
the subject matter was so vast,
being the story of
the picaresque life of Titus Groan
which I would not want to be my own.

The date was changed, but wanting to go,
I made excuses, cancelled and changed my plan.
Three changes of train, a long journey and so
in Gelsenkirchen arrived an expectant man.

First an hotel, hard by the station,
and then to the theatre, full of elation.
But the theatre was dark, and waiting for me
was the box office manager, anxiously
wanting to tell me the opera was off –
someone was ill, and I’d left no ’phone
where they could reach me. I tottered off
emitting a groan like Titus’s own.

The story ends here. I went off to dinner
never knowing if I’d just missed a winner.
And this poem that tells of a day that was nix
can hardly replace opera eight twenty-six.


  2. Brauhaus Hibernia

An Irish name
in a German town,
a little German town.
How rare for once
to hear no tongue
but German!

I eavesdrop a little of course
but the tables are too far apart.
Lovers love and others gossip
while I brood on my wasted trip.
The menu with its dishes many
tells me that William Thomas Mulvany
in 1854 came here and found
an important coal field underground
and developed it in the subsequent years.
This brought work and workers
and the industry grew
and workers get thirsty
which is why
an Irish name
is on a German Brauerai.


  3. What The Hell!

What the hell, a little wine
after a disappointment
eases the pen and the inhibitions,
and so I write
getting moderately tight.

The Brauhaus is emptying now.
I look at the faces:
three girls, one smoking, gossip –
they work I think in a factory or office –
for this is a working class town
that can afford an opera house. Apart from
Gormenghast (once a month), there’s
Flying Dutchman, ballet, Hello Dolly,
and a play I published once,
The Investigation by Peter Weiss,
a potent mix of high and popular
and deadly serious art. Take note, Chris Smith,
that these can mix without confusion
and crude attempts to level.

The lovers are too much to look at:
he, with shoulder-length black flowing locks,
and she the same but blonde and very tanned,
a skier’s tan. Both smoke, they kiss and cuddle
and presently will go to bliss in bed.
Three men come in, they could be business men
or from the theatre that is closed tonight,
perhaps like me they came for the performance,
or work there, or elsewhere. I suppose too much!
And two girls, younger, attractive, gesticulating,
they’re talking of boyfriends, comparing, fresh, intense,
they laugh and smile, and could the men but hear,
they’d slink ashamed, go to another town . . .
Oh, but surprise! A man has joined the two.
He’s handsome, crew-cut blond and makes the others laugh.
Does he sleep with both and is it he
that makes comparison?
Three glasses of red wine and one of schnapps
and I am feeling better. So,
call it a day. It’s time to go.