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Jessica Duchen
Sunday 18th July 2010
Hegdish at the Albert Hall

I'd hoped, on Monday, to bring you my review of the entire opening weekend of the Proms via the Indy. But there's a Sod's Law whereby the only time in your life you can hear Domingo and Terfel within 24 hours of each other, you end up being horribly sick in the Piccadilly Line instead. I don't know if it was the heat in the hall, which was considerable, or food poisoning; still, I fainted towards the end of act 1 of Meistersinger, spent half an hour in the Albert Hall's First Aid room and then headed back to the tube station... Hmm.

Some of those on Twitter are reporting that it was the best Prom they have ever experienced in 40 years of attendance. Another tweet declares that the Proms are "what our nation should be celebrating, not our overpaid footballers" - and I couldn't agree more!

Therefore what follows may seem a bit churlish, but...well, my own sorry episode followed scenes before the show the like of which I've never before seen at the Proms. My mother would have described it as a 'hegdish' - one of those untranslatable words that might be Yiddish or might be Afrikaans, but captures the sense of chaos, of giant queues moving in different directions outside the hall with nobody knowing quite where to go or how, of painful crossed-legs syndrome in the line outside the ladies' loos, which have never been and probably never will be plentiful enough especially where Wagner operas are concerned, and people literally sprinting round the circular corridors to find their correct door while a disembodied voice booms: "Please take your seats, this evening's Prom is about to begin." Amazingly, the performance started less than ten minutes late. (Then, once you're inside, it is HOT.)

This cause is easy to diagnose: security has gone stark raving mad. The bar-code on your ticket now has to be electronically swiped at the door by an official with a red bleeper. There are bag searches, too - somewhat random, I suspect, unless Cath Kidston is an Approved Brand. Bag searches I can live with, but what exactly is to be gained by the red bleeper? It means each person takes three times longer than before to cross the threshold, and when you're trying to get 7000-odd individuals into a concert hall this is no joke. Later, when I had to throw myself upon the mercy of the excellent hall medics, it proved impossible to get round the circuit to the First Aid room until the right official with the right electronic key had been located.

Now, I accept the need for security In This Day And Age, but I can't help thinking it needs to be applied with a modicum of sense - and that we should have been warned to please allow an extra half hour for admission to the hall.

The hour of the performance that I was able to hear was great, and Bryn was amazing; but to my delight it was Christopher Purves as Beckmesser who had possibly the most beautiful voice on stage. Also loved Amanda Roocroft as Eva.

All I can say this morning is: thank goodness for the BBC iPlayer, Radio 3 and the Internet: I'll catch the performance later in the week. And for Glyndebourne, which is doing Meistersinger next year with the dream-team of director David McVicar and conductor Vladimir Jurowski, and the likelihood of accessible air.

Enjoy Simon Boccanegra, folks. I'm going back to bed.

UPDATE: Here is a perceptive, in-depth review from OperaBritannia...

And in the UK you can see the whole opera on the BBC iPlayer, here. I'm loving it!


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Jessica Duchen
August 2nd, 2010
6:08 PM
THANK YOU! That is amazing, indeed revelatory. As some of my own great-great grandparents were born near Minsk, it is also quite close to the bone. Thanks so much for taking the time to write it.

Sheldon Stolowich
July 27th, 2010
5:07 AM
"Hegdish" or "hekdish" is Hebrew for something consecrated and here's an explanation of its colloquial meaning in Yiddish: In the Middle Ages the hekdesh was a communal shelter and infirmary for the poor, transient, and the sick. The term does not appear until the late Middle Ages, though Jewish *hospitals are found much earlier. By the 17th century every important community in Central and Eastern Europe had a hekdesh for the sick and the poor. The institution persisted into the 19th century. The size of the hospice ranged from a rented room to a house or group of small buildings. Most often it was located out of town near the cemetery. The hekdesh was administered by a local *ḥevrah, usually named bikkur ḥolim, and supervised by the kahal. The *gabbai of the association, often a local merchant, was expected to visit the hospice as often as several times a day and to supervise the work of the beadle, the physician, the surgeon, and the hekdeshleyt ("attendants"). The hekdesh was usually so unsanitary and dirty that a person would view with horror the prospect of staying there. The patients in Altona, about 1764, described themselves thus: "We the poor, fathers with children, lying-in women with their offspring, nursing mothers with their sucklings, old men and young men, all of whom are cast upon the bed of sickness, enduring our ailments, crushed, wasted; also we who are insane and distraught…" A British missionary who visited Minsk in the early 19th century writes: "In the Jewish Hospital we saw 45 young and old of both sexes, seemingly without any classification of disease, placed in several small rooms. They certainly presented one of the most appalling scenes of wretchedness I ever witnessed; filth, rags, and pestilential effluvia pervaded the whole place." Thus in Yiddish hekdesh became synonymous with disorder and disarray in the home, in a room, or concerning a person. Not until the modern hospital came into its own did the situation improve. [Isaac Levitats] BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Lampronti, Paḥad Yiẓḥak, S.V. Hekdesh and Beit Hekdesh; Gulak, Yesodei, 1 (1922), 50–54, 98f.; Gulak, Oẓar, 112, 128–31, 347f.; Herzog, Instit, 1 (1936), 288–91, 295; 2 (1939), 17, 30, 68 n. 1, 189; B.Z.M.Ḥ. Ouziel, Sha'arei Uziel, 1 (1944), 93–107; ET, 2 (1949), 40–42, 201f.; 5 (1953), 51–65; 10 (1961), 352–442. IN THE MIDDLE AGES: J. Marcus, Communal Sick-Care (1947); I. Levitats, Jewish Community in Russia (1943). Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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