Posted in Opera

July 12: Don Giovanni

Every year, the Royal Opera House live-streams three of its summer season performances to a number of “Big Screens” dotted around the country. There just happens to be such a screen not too far from my home, and I often brave the noise and traffic fumes for an evening of culture which always includes a Wimpy takeaway in the interval.

This year, the offerings were a little bland – Swan Lake, La Bohème and Don Giovanni. I’m not really a ballet lover, and I have already seen this particular version of Bohème on this particular big screen, so the only one for me this year was Don Giovanni. As it happened, the performance started well before sunset, and the day was too hot for me to sit in an open, unshaded space, so I plugged the laptop into the TV and live-streamed the opera into my living room via YouTube. Wimpy has joined the ranks of fast food outlets that do home deliveries, so I didn’t even have to miss my interval picnic.

I find it odd that while ballet live-screenings are introduced by Darcey Bussell (who has the validity of actually having been a ballerina), opera live screenings are nowadays introduced by Gok Wan, who seems an odd choice.

The set for this production was interesting- a blank cube of doors and staircases, revolving slowly. There was little colour, apart from the occasional washes of red used to represent blood, and at the very end, hellfire. It is difficult to describe the way that lighting and projection were used to bring the set alive – the images below give a flavour of the way that text and “grey veiling” was used. The ghosts of past conquests were effectively creepy, and there were some moments, such as the role-swapping of Leporello and Don Giovanni where video was used comically and cleverly, but overall, I found the set very distracting, and the closeup camera work made it difficult to see the complexity of the character action.

The story is an old one – a life of debauchery gets its fitting end, but I felt that there was a little too much of the debauchery and not enough of the end. The voices were all excellent, the characters were all stereotypes, and the only one I warned to at all was Leporello, played by Ildebrando D’Arcangelo.

Posted in Opera

June 22: Cave

I spent a less than happy half hour trying to find the venue for “Cave”. The Printworks is an old industrial site in the back woods of Bermondsey, nowadays apparently used as a nightclub. The security staff certainly looked like nightclub bouncers.

Once inside, I was amazed at the immensity of the place. A vast, empty, galleried warehouse, with a floor of what seemed to be wood shavings, and sheets of white plastic hung from the highest ceiling I’ve seen outside of a cathedral. There was no sign of an orchestra or stage, and seating consisted of a few rows of wooden chairs (the posh seats), a back row of high plastic bar stools (the cheap seats), and for some poor souls, a standing spot on a high balcony.

The performance space turned out to be the long wood-shaving carpeted corridor. And it was a long corridor. At times there was action at both ends, which meant a lot of tennis-match style swivelling to see the action, and the orchestra were hidden behind a sheet to begin with, which was odd.

This was modern opera, with modern music. No songs, but an excellent performance by the tenor, Mark Padmore, who was on stage and singing (mostly solo) for the entire performance.

The concept was good. The aftermath of a climate change disaster; a father dreaming of his eco-warrior daughter at various stages of her life. I felt the interlude with the adult daughter fell flat, but the scenes with the child daughter were good.

There were some very interesting moments. At one point the father lit a fire on the floor of the “cave” and I worried that the wood shavings might catch. Later, there was a storm and a downpour of actual rain from the roof, soaking the singer. There was a lot of water, it went on falling for quite a while, and the front row of the audience were in danger of a soaking too. It certainly made sure the fire was out.

I liked this opera very much. I like the way the Royal Opera are getting out into parts of London where any sort of live theatrical performance is rare. And I give them kudos for venturing south of the river.

Posted in Opera

May 1: Macbeth #2

I couldn’t afford a ticket for Macbeth at the Royal Opera House. Actually, I can rarely afford tickets for live opera in anything other than “fringe” venues. Sometimes there are live broadcasts of operas I want to see, but they are always on only one specific night, and I wasn’t free for the Macbeth broadcast. Occasionally, there are “encore” broadcasts scheduled as matinees, usually a few weeks later. Unusually, I wasn’t free for the encore of Macbeth either. So I bought the DVD.

I don’t have, and don’t want, a giant TV in my living room, but I must admit it would have been good to see this opera large-size. The set was very dark, with strange apertures and cages appearing every so often. The costumes were excellent-apart from Lady Macbeth’s, which were very boring. Macbeth had his arm in a brace for some reason, but it looked good. The gold chain mail he changed into partway through was a bit overdone, but not as overdone as MacDuff’s red leather coat.

There were a lot of witches. A whole coven of them, all with thick black monobrows and red turbans. There was a lot of blood. There were a bunch of very detailed fully-trapped warhorses, and a lot of strangely devoid-of-detail Birnham Wood branches.

Verdi always gives a good stir with the music, but there weren’t any “songs”, and while the voices were good, there was no outstanding performance for me.

It was good, but suffered from being on a small screen.

Posted in Opera

March 31: Coraline

Let me start by saying how much I loved the Barbican Theatre. This was my first visit, and I found the separate doors for each row entrancing. I loved the live video feed of the audience, and it was amusing to see other audience members waving to themselves. The air conditioning was a little fierce, but that bodes well for the summer.

The opera was a little shaky for my taste. I wasn’t really overwhelmed by any of the singers, and I thought the inventor father was a bit silly. I liked Kitty Whately as the mother/other mother, and her bad cold didn’t seem to affect her performance. The music was typical Turnage – no “tunes” for the many children in the audience to take away and sing, and I wish there had been a cat.

The set was clever and made full use of the revolve stage, although I didn’t understand the significance of the large hole in the ceiling.

Overall, it was an enjoyable experience.

Posted in Cinema, Opera

March 21: Carmen

I love the fact that there are live screenings of opera. I love even more that there are encore matinee screenings. This time, my local cinema was offering the Royal Oper’s controversial version of Carmen. I have to say, the cast’s expertise on that flight of stairs blew me away. I loved the costumes. I loved the campness of the Toreador Song. I just absolutely loved the whole thing, and would happily go to see this again.

Posted in Opera

February 16: Satyagraha

So it was off to the Coliseum for English National Opera and Philip Glass’s Opera about Ghandi. I thought myself lucky, having bagged a front tow circle seat in the secret seats lottery. A £68 seat for £20! Unfortunately it was front row in the slips. The view of the orchestra and conductor was excellent. The action was visible, although half the projected text wasn’t, being on a very curved set, and as I hadn’t shelled out for a programme, I was at a bit of a disadvantage. I liked the music, a lot. The soloists were good, the chorus were good. There was some excellent puppetry and stilt walking. But it was very hot in the theatre, and I was bundled up in boots and jumper ( February!). My coat was under the seat in a bundle. My admittedly oversized handbag was wedged between my waist and the circle rail ( remember to take a smaller bag next time). My knees were pressed hard up against the safety barrier ( and I am not tall), and when I later took my boots off, I found bruises from where I had had to twist my feet to fit them into the available space. By the end of act 1 I was in such discomfort that I had to leave.

I did really like the first act of Satyagraha. I wish I could have seen the whole opera. Sadly, this may never happen, as if doesn’t seem to be available on DVD. I suppose I’ll have to hope it isn’t too long before it gets put on again. And I’ll book a better seat.

Posted in books, Cinema, Opera, puppetry, Theatre

Week 47

Ooh, it’s getting cold…


Metropolitan Opera live in cinema

Thomas Adès: The Exterminating Angel

This is an opera I couldn’t afford to see at the ROH. Luckily, the Met performance was the same production, conducted by the composer, which was a bonus. The opera was another of those modern ones with no memorable “tunes”, but a lot of very difficult, very very high soprano singing, and some wonderful musical moments (a room full of drummers; a string section of miniature violins; a lot of bells). The story is odd, a surrealist nightmare, and I enjoyed it very much.


The Puppet Theatre Barge

Wendy Cope: The River Girl

I really enjoy puppetry, and this production was lovely – some beautiful underwater scenes, and a literally breathtaking opening when a huge wave of haze rolled out over the audience. I found some of the puppetry a little clunky (the puppeteer working John Didde didn’t seem to have mastered the art of making a marionette kneel, for instance), but the use of narrative poetry was clever, and I came away from the boat very happy.

Reading Challenge

This is moving ahead slowly. I like Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series, and this book brings me up to date with that. I find it odd reading books that have been translated out of order, and I am still very irritated with Ari Thor Arason, but that is part of the experience. No spoilers here – I recommend these books.

Posted in books, Opera, Theatre, video

Week 42


Glyndebourne: Hamlet


Finally, I got to see  one of the Hamlets I should have seen back in week 27, as the wonderful BBC broadcast the Glyndebournd production. I have to say that I don’t quite get the thrill from modern opera music as I do from “classic” arias and choruses. I find it literally impossible to distinguish the music in one modern opera from another. Having said that, I do notice the voices, and what was interesting in this production was the two countertenors playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Ophelia was a bit over-the-top in her madness, and I’m not sure it was necessary to put her in a scanty bikini. I liked Alan Clayton’s Hamlet very much. The set was grey. The costumes were grey. It worked. The splashes of blood were shocking against all that grey. I did like this production, even if there weren’t any standout songs.


Young Vic: Wings


This was brilliant. A short, no-interval play charting an older woman’s experience of and recovery from s stroke. The direction was inspired, and Juliet Stevenson was overwhelmingly good. How she managed to act while suspended on a wire for 90 minutes is beyond me. See this if you get a chance to.

Reading challenge


One book this week, and not a brilliant one. I found the three-section three-narrators structure irritating, and the plot was clunky. I didn’t like the characters, and I was left dissatisfied, despite the no-loose-ends conclusion. Read it if you like lost-manuscript stories.

Posted in audio, books, festivals, Opera

Week 33

An interesting mix of things this week.


Arcola Theatre: Grimeborne Festival

Kurt Schwitters/Lewis Coenen-Rowe: Collision


This is described as part sci-fi, part Weimar-decadence, and is a short ( hour and a half straight through) opera, set in prewar Berlin, with an end-of-the-world plot involving a large green globe on a collision course with earth. I have to say, there wasn’t much sci-fi to be had, and perplexingly, all the lighting effects were blue and red. So, no sign of a green globe,  but there was a bit of Cabaret-style decadence. Casting a high soprano as the (male) chief of police was odd, especially as the soprano was scantily clad in a thankfully well-engineered red brassiere. The other voices were strong, apart from the inevitable weak tenor. The music was performed by a live band, and was very good. The set design and costumes looked very amateurish, but this was possibly deliberate. Overall, this was an enjoyable performance, well up to fringe standards

Tod Machover: VALIS


This is another short, sci-fi opera, based on the VALIS novels by PhilipKDick, and available to download free.

I really liked this, even if I didn’t fully understand it. You can make your own judgement-  read more and listen to it here



On August 15th, 1947, India was partitioned and Pakistan was born. To commemorate this, the BBC broadcast a dramatised adaptation of SalmanRushdie’sMidnight’sChildren. I binge-listened to all seven episodes on August 15th 2017.

I had read the novel, quite a few years ago, and liked it. I liked this version too.

SUMMER reading challenge


The challenge comes to a successful early conclusion with R for Runcie. This is the fourth Sidney Chambers book, and one in which the female characters have become particularly grating. I go on reading these in the hope that something dire will happen to Amanda, Helena or the irritating Hildegard.

Posted in books, festivals, Opera, Theatre

Week 31

This week’s cultural outings took me to the Isle of Dogs and Blackfriars, both parts of London better known for commerce than art. Both were fringe performances, both tiny venues and tiny casts, both biographical accounts.


The Space

New Diorama Theatre: 12 Million Volts


This was an interesting account of the life of Nikola Tesla, performed with a lot of fast-paced physicality by the cast of three men and one woman, who interestingly, did most of the heavy lifting in the show. There was some very clever use of lighting, including backlighting and projection on a bubble-wrap screen – something I hadn’t seen before. I enjoyed the play, but was disappointed that there was no sign of a Tesla coil.


Bridewell Theatre: Opera in the City Festival


My first “festival gig” was the second biography this week:

Andrew Bain: Lanza


This was less an opera than a monologue with arias. It was sung very well by Andrew Bain, who is clearly a Mario Lanza fan. I like a good tenor voice, and this was very enjoyable, despite a very distracting shirt-buttoning mishap in the first act.

SUMMER book challenge

My second “M” is Montefiore.


I like a tale of Russian intrigue, so I was looking forward to reading this.

It was okay. An easy read, a fairly obvious ending, but I didn’t warm to Sashenka at all, and I didn’t really like the neat way it was all tied up at the end. A bit disappointing, as the author is so lauded.