Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life

Article excerpt

In February each year the Oldie magazine gives 'Oldie of the Year Awards' to people who show unusual vigour and enterprise in old age. This year's winner was Mary Berry, the cookery teacher, who at 78 had achieved sudden fame as a presenter and judge on the BBC television show The Great British Bake Off. 'I just love being an oldie, ' she said. 'There's no Botox, no implants and no tucks, and that's how I think we should all be.'

While this surely reflects the views of Richard Ingrams, the Oldie's founder and editor, not everyone would agree. To look one's age as a pastry cook may be no disadvantage, but survival in other forms of popular entertainment may well be dependent on the odd tuck. My question, however, is whether the Oldie's exaltation of spunk and energy in old age is the right approach. Should everyone be encouraged to go on and on and on? Might not the ideal condition of the senior citizen be one of calm, serenity and wisdom? Must a person be ambitious and competitive till the end of his life?

Anyway, given the Oldie's attitude (and I can see that it might seem odd to present awards to old people who just sit around doing nothing in particular), it seems clear to me that next year's winner has to be Placido Domingo, the famous operatic tenor. I say 'tenor', but that is no longer the case; for at the age of 73 (one year younger than me), he has a new career as a baritone. Though it is completely irrelevant, this reminds me of a joke my mother used to tell me about an aspiring male singer who once went for an audition with a distinguished singing teacher.

After he had sung, the teacher shook his head in disapproval. The singer took his rejection manfully; but as he was leaving the room, he turned and said, 'Just one thing. Am I a bass or a baritone?' 'No, ' replied the teacher.

Well, this decidedly would not apply to Domingo. To any such question the answer would be 'Yes, whatever'. For he was one of the greatest tenors of the last century, and now - if not in the same league as a baritone (or 'baritenor', as he sometimes likes to call it) - he is still very well received by audiences and generally also by critics. As the New York Times said in an article last week, Domingo 'has been defying the gravity of age, and continuing to command the stages of the world's leading opera houses, as a result of one of the more remarkable transformations in opera history . …

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