This should have been an interesting week. I was going to see Titus Andronicus, a Shakespeare play I have only ever seen excerpts of. In addition, it was the last week of the Opera in the City festival, and I had tickets for a couple of new pieces.
Sadly, life intervened, in the form of illness in the family, and I didn’t get to any of the things I had booked. Once again, it was a couch culture week.
Rodgers and Hammerstein: Oklahoma!
This was a lively, semi-staged version of an old favourite. A bright spot in a dark week.
SUMMER reading challenge
E is for Eco. This was a bit of a variable feast. In some parts, it was a fast and lively murder mystery; in others a tedious wade through pages of description or chapters of historical detail. I found it hard going, although the central story had me hooked. I might revisit this one day, as I am not sure I really did it the justice of giving it my full attention.
A quiet week in cultural terms. I was out quite a lot, but only in shopping centres. My opera, like my reading, took place on the sofa.
This is Beethoven’s only opera, and I had high hopes. It was obviously concertised rather than staged, and had some good characterisation by the ingenue couple, Marzelline and Jaquino (Louise Adler and Benjamin Hulet). Stuart Skelton as Florestan was excellent, but the whole thing was let down by the supposed main character Leonore/Fidelio (Ricarda Merbeth), who screeched her way through the performance. James Cresswell did well as Rocco, particularly as he was a last-minute stand-in and was “on the book”. Sadly, I felt the ending was a bit limp, and I would have liked more chorus work.
SUMMER reading challenge
Marra is the first of my two “M” authors. This book was not my usual fare, but I enjoyed it very much. The characters all go through nightmares of one sort or another, and I felt that these were real people undergoing real trials. We don’t get a happy ending all round, but in life, who does? I recommend this heartily.
Halfway through the year, and I have kept my resolution of doing something “cultural” every week. So far…
National Theatre Live
Yaël Farber: Salome
I must admit to booking this under the impression that I was booking to see the RSC gender-bending version of Oscar Wilde’s play. (It was cinema-live, an easy mistake to make).
This version was touted as a feminist play, from a female viewpoint, but I’m not sure that anything with two on-stage rapes of the main character quite works in that way. The staging was imaginative, using the Olivier’s revolving stage very effectively. Costumes were good, acting was very stylised. The script switched between English and Arabic, with occasional subtitles helping the audience along. This was lovely to look at, but a bit short on substance. The best part was the beautiful throat singing of the two serving women.
ENO at the Royal Festival Hall
Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius
This was billed as a semi-staging, but it really wasn’t. There was an interesting lighting rig, and a lot of haze, but otherwise it was a straight concert performance, of the type that the Festival Hall was made for. The ENO chorus were breathtaking, and the 90 minutes sped past. The soloists were good (Gerontius himself being the weakest of the three); Simone Young kept the orchestra under firm control, and the performance received a well deserved extended ovation.
I haven’t actually finished any books this week, but I did come across a nasty little dystopian short story by Shirley Jackson. This was written in 1948, and there is a 1950s radio version you can listen to here.
This week started badly, with the horror of the Manchester bombing. I had tickets for a big gig just a few days later, and it was with not a little trepidation that I took a deep breath, donned my biker jacket and headed out…
O2 Arena: Iron Maiden (Book of Souls Tour)
When rock legends are playing in your home town, you just have to go. These guys really are legends, and the show was terrific. A mix of old and new songs, a fantastic stage set, pyrotechnics that nearly took my eyebrows off. They finished with the now-obligatory selfie of themselves and the audience. If you look closely, you might be able to see me – I’m the one waving…
Security was of course very tight; my first encounter with armed police was more than a little unnerving, and the ticketless entry system led to long queues in addition to the already long queues for the electronic-arch-and-patdown security stations. Once inside, we headed for the food and drink franchises (shocking prices), and my companions found a small merchandise stall, where they were able to bypass the enormous crowd of people trying to buy t-shirts at the main merch stand outside the arena proper. All in all, it was a great night. The joy of screaming the lyrics of an old favourite song, along with thousands of other people of all ages, nationalities, genders, colours was a much-needed catharsis at the end of a tense week.
I didn’t manage to finish anything this week, so I spent a little time putting together a “bingo grid” for my reading challenge. Last year’s was pinched from the internet, and worked okay. I’ll stash it here and come back to it at the end of the year. Please feel free to use it if you want.