Is this even true, I wonder? The thought came to me just now as I discovered the first roses of summer blooming by the back steps leading up to the deck off my bedroom. They are “Mme. Plantier”, an alba-noisette hybrid, of such innocent pale pink, fading to white, and with a sweet musky scent. It’s a rampant plant, this one, rambling up the stair railings and even finding its way under a transparent roof over our hot-tub. In fact, that’s where these blossoms were — tucked under the panels of PVC or whatever it is.
Somehow the first roses, their sweetness and beauty, remind me that seasons have their beginnings and their endings. That it was only a few months ago that this plant was leafless and bare, that I trimmed a few of the longer canes, and remembered cutting bouquets of roses the previous June, for it’s June when the roses will be so numerous that I bring them in most mornings to fill vases and jugs with them. And lament the fallen petals a day or two later.
One of the discoveries of my middle years was the music of Benjamin Britten. I love the operas (and saw a spectacular Gloriana in Prague last winter), his chamber music, and oh, his settings of English and Irish folk songs. I took voice lessons for a few years and kept trying to sing the Irish ones and they’re very difficult. One of my favourites is “The Last Rose of Summer”. In my childhood, this was something we’d sing in choirs, thumping our way through it without any idea of its power. It wasn’t until I heard a recording of Peter Pears singing it that I realized it was so darkly beautiful. That the line, “Oh, who would inhabit this bleak world alone?” was so heartbreaking. It felt like a travesty to even attempt it during my lessons — the line is so beautifully embellished, nothing like the version we sang in elementary school. But when you hear these arrangements, somehow you imagine your own voice rising to the challenge. (Mine never did.)
I can’t find a Youtube link of Peter Pears singing it (or the Canadian soprano Lois Marshall, accompanied by harpist Judy Loman — an exquisite recording if you can find it) but discovered this, the young English mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, accompanied by David Jones. She’s wonderful, with something of Kathleen Ferrier in the dark richness of her voice. Perfect for Britten.
(One day soon, I promise, I’ll figure out how to actually embed the video on my screen. It’s not rocket science…)