Posted in Opera

August 2: Saul

I couldn’t get to Glyndebourne, but, as luck would have it, there was a film of the oratorio Saul on their website, so I was able to watch from the comfort of my sofa.

I have to admit to liking a bit of oratorio, and Handel oratorio is the best for singing ( I did a bit of that in my youth), so I was looking forward to hearing the Glyndebourne Chorus, who are also judged to be pretty good.

What I didn’t expect was the staging. It was over-the-top and fabulous. I particularly liked the second part opening, with so many candles you couldn’t count them. I loved the ridiculousness of a rising and falling revolving organ for the concerto. (I wondered how the organist managed to not be sick).

The soloists were good. The chorus were wonderful. The acting was over-the -top but right for the staging. The gay overtones seemed to fit the text.

I loved it, and wished I’d been able to see it live.

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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 Cinema, music

July 8: Yellow Submarine

It is half a century since the Beatles sailed off in their yellow submarine to save Pepperland from the Blue Meanies. Today there was a one-off screening of the remastered film in Picturehouse cinemas, and I went along to my local (happily air-conditioned) sold out screening.

I wouldn’t normally go to the cinema on a Sunday, still less on a Sunday morning, but this was a special occasion.

The music wasn’t the best of the Beatles songbook, but there were one or two goodies – Nowhere Man and Hey Bulldog are particular favourites of mine, and of course, the wonderful Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was in there too.

The film showed its age, and the age of most of its audience, but there were a fair number of young couples with children at the screening I went to, and they seemed to enjoy it.

It is rare for an audience to applaud a film, but that happened today. I’m very glad I was there to join in.

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 Television

April 15: The City and The City part 2

I love China Mieville’s book. It is one of my favourites and one I re-read regularly, and I was very excited to hear that the BBC were adapting it for TV. I wondered how they would show the two cities, and I think they’ve done a pretty good job. I really really like David Morrissey as Borlú. Next time I read the book I know I’ll be imagining him. I downloaded and binge-watched it all, of course, although the series hasn’t finished running on the BBC yet, so no spoilers from me here, but I do have to say that I wish the BBC hadn’t gone for the missing wife angle. The book is so much more interesting without that trope as a main theme.

Posted in Art, dance, Theatre, video

Week 36

The Arts can often be an antidote to the grim reality of life. At other times they can be cathartic, allowing release.   This week’s outings were all produced by women, and all addressed the hard parts of life.

Theatre

Dorfman Theatre

Lucy Kirkwood: Mosquitoes

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This play has been the season’s hot ticket. A complete sellout from the beginning of the booking season, only two tickets allowed per customer, and only very occasionally appearing in the “Friday Rush”. I managed to bag the single ticket on offer for the performance I saw, and it was well worth the effort I had gone to in order to get that seat.  Olivia Colman was absolutely wonderful as the most damaged (and damaging) relative anyone could ever have. Scientific themes threaded through this excellent play, but it was accessible to the non-nerd.  I loved it.

Art

White Cube: Dreamers Awake

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A very comprehensive feminist surrealist exhibition, curated by Susanna Greeves and featuring work by (amongst others) Tracy Emin, Mona Hatoum, Sarah Lucas and Louise Bourgeois. There were some beautiful works, some very peculiar works, some that were hard to look at. None of it left me unmoved.

Dance/Video

Rosie Kay Dance Company: 5 Soldiers

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This piece was staged during a local festival back at the beginning of the summer. I wasn’t able to get to it then, and so was really pleased to see it being live streamed from an actual army base this week.

The dance shows the progress of five soldiers through their training and deployment. The interaction between the recruits and their officer, and between themselves were very well portrayed, with some difficult moments between the sole female soldier and her male colleagues played out effectively. One of the soldiers suffers a life-changing injury during deployment, and this is addressed well.

The female perspective made all of my “culture”  difficult to look at this week. There seemed to be a specific harshness about life itself in these pieces.

Posted in Ballet, books, Musical theatre, Opera, video

Week 28

The cough persists, but is slowly receding, and fortunately leaving me enough time between bouts to be able to enjoy stuff without annoying my neighbours too much.

Theatre

Union Theatre

Tim Rice/Stephen Oliver: Blondel

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It seems that I am gradually coming round to an enjoyment of musicals. (Not all of them, though!)

Blondel is a very early Tim Rice offering, and was good fun, if a bit panto-ish. There were some outstanding moments, great voices, and some excellent characterisations, including the best Prince John since Alan Rickman.

The Union is a theatre best experienced in winter, I think. The summer heat inside this little railway arch was oppressive, and the seats are packed in with very little legroom. I was seated near a portable air-conditioner, which was noisy and didn’t do much to cool the air. On the plus side, the cafe is good, with lots of outside space.

Opera

ROH/ Big Screen

Puccini:Turandot

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These “big screenings” are an event with their own style. Picnic suppers, live-tweeting and singing lessons in the intervals.

I wasn’t able to get to the local Big Screen this time, and so missed my traditional Wimpy takeaway picnic,  but because it was a live stream, I was able to join in via my iPad, with a home-delivery KFC picnic on the sofa. (Sadly, Wimpy have not joined the home delivery market yet.)

Turandot is spectacularly problematic. One of the best arias ever in NessunDorma, but as bad in its treatment of women as you could find pretty much anywhere.

i live in hope that one day I will see a performance of this opera that does not use yellow-face. It must surely be possible to find Asian singers; or if not, to change the setting so it is not so obviously Chinese.

Ballet

ROH/BBC4

Wayne McGregor: Woolf Works

IMG_0515I confess to not being a ballet lover. I like some dance, but generally speaking, big ballets leave me fairly cold.  Having said that, occasionally one will catch me out. This week the BBC broadcast a live-ish production of WoolfWorks from the Royal Opera House, and I was captivated. The music was modern, costumes were beautiful, design was excellent and the dancers were wonderful. i particularly liked the middle Orlando section,  and this has spurred me to download a copy of the book to add to my to-read list.

Theatre/Cinema

Donmar/Picturehouse

Shakespeare: Julius Caesar

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Okay, so not live, but this film of JuliusCaesar from the Donmar was one of the highlights of my cultural year so far. Outstanding performances by Harriet Walter as Brutus and Martina Laird as Cassius; some inspired design/props elements (particularly the red rubber gloves); and a bit of hard rock music, too. The use of a prison setting, and its incorporation into the play was clever, and the all-female, multi-ethnic casting was well-justified. I loved this, and recommend it to anyone, Shakespeare lover or not.

Books

SUMMER readingchallenge

I decided to just read these one a week in the order they come, so, first up for this week was StAubyn.

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There is a lot of hype about this author, and the book is certainly readable. It is also mercifully short, because the subject matter is shocking. I couldn’t understand why so much praise had been heaped on it, until I did a bit of research and discovered that it was autobiographical. That put a very different complexion on the story, and pushed me into buying the other four books in the series. Winner of the 1992 Betty Trask Award.

The rest of the Patrick Melrose series kept me occupied while I suffered with the lingering cough that stopped me sleeping this week.  I found this whole series bleak and populated with really unlikeable people. Thankfully, there is redemption at the very end of the last book.

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Posted in books, video

Week 27

This week was designated as “HamletWeek“. Three possible performances – two of which I actually had tickets for. Then fate intervened, of course.

IMG_0260First up was ChangelingTheatre and their outdoor offering. Great reviews, but, on the day I had booked, coinciding with the beginnings of a head cold, and, worse than that, FLYINGANTDAY. Sitting with a headache in a field of flying ants is probably one of my worst nightmares. I stayed home and re-read Ian McEwen’s “Nutshell”.

Next up was the new opera at Glyndebourne. Obviously too far away, but being broadcast live to cinemas. Irritatingly, I had already booked broadcast night to see another version of Hamlet, so couldn’t take advantage of the air-conditioning and cheap comfy seats in my local Picturehouse. I hope there will be an “Encore” screening at some point in the future.

The Hamlet I was most looking forward to was the AndrewScott portrayal at the Harold Pinter theatre. Sadly, my head cold had developed by then into a full-on coughing and spluttering chest-based spectacular. I sadly returned my ticket.

I ended up on my sofa on Friday evening watching the most over-the-top filmed version anyone IMG_0262could possibly imagine. There are many reviews of this in the world, so I’m not going to add to them, except to say that I am certain that casting Derek Jacobi as Claudius must have been a Kenneth Branagh joke. (Actually, this Claudius was one of the best I have ever seen, and made the film much better than it might have been.) I could have done without Robin Williams, but Charlton Heston was wonderful.

Books

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First up, the afore-mentioned Nutshell.

Other reading this week included two with “strange” female protagonists. Both are unreliable as narrators for various reasons which don’t become clear until the ends of their stories. Both well worth a read.

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Finally, I have set myself a challenge for the rest of the summer, which, for me, ends on August Bank Holiday. Here are my six SUMMER books, chosen by author surname initial.

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The aim is to read all these between now and August Bank Holiday (which marks the end of summer for me).

S: Never Mind (Edward St Aubyn)
U: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (Dubravka Ugrešić)
M: Sashenka (Simon Sebag Montefiore)
M: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Anthony Marra)
E: The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)
R: Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins (James Runcie)

Posted in Ballet, books, video

Week 20

This week, I was trapped at home by disappearing bus stops. The two stops I use were out of service because of road workings. Only temporarily, but annoyingly, including  a day that I had intended to go to the theatre. This week was consequently quiet, and my culture was of the armchair variety.

Video/ Online

English National Ballet: Curing Albrecht

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This was a lovely little thing. Short and sweet, and a lot of fun. I loved the old Victorian baths it was filmed in. All those tiles, all that cast iron. And water! And stripey swimwear! Do take a few minutes to watch. It will cool you down on a hot day.

Books

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I occasionally buy a play script if I am not going to be able to see a play (and if it is not available on video). I had intended to see All Our Children this week, but wasn’t able to get there. I bought an e-copy of the script before I had a message from the theatre that they could offer me a transfer to another day (hooray!), so now I will be familiar with the play before I see it staged. I wouldn’t say it was enjoyable, but it was thought-provoking. I’ll say more when I have seen the play.

I’m working toward my reading challenge goal of 100 books by the end of the year. As part of the challenge, I make myself read books I should have read years ago. This week, I suffered through two. Pippi Longstocking must be the most irritating child ever imagined. I loathed her, and I can’t imagine that I would have liked her any better if I had encountered her as a child. The Bell Jar was disappointing. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but whatever it was, I didn’t get it. The book was readable, and contained some truly shocking moments, but I wanted “great” literature, and for me, this fell short. My final book this week was written by a Nobel prize winner. A shortish novel, heavily allegorical and with an anthropomorphic personification. An interesting read, not too heavy, with a predictable ending. I’d be interested in reading more by Saramago.

Posted in Art, books, Opera, video

Week 7

A quiet week.

Culture

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Watched the the three remaining parts of the Ring. Really enjoyed Die Walkure. Siegfried was as annoying as usual, and Gotterdammerung felt slightly low-key. Even so, this was one of the best-voiced Rings I have seen/heard.

I caight up with the Portrait Artist of the Year in a one-afternoon binge-watch. I hadn’t realised this was on, and am glad to have found it before the heats end. My money is on the guy who painted Ben Okri on a concreted-over cupboard door.

Street Art

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I came across this truly awful thing in Woolwich. It was apparently presented to the town by the Mayor of Reinickendorf, Berlin.

Woolwich is, interestingly, divided by a wall. Inside, nearest the river, is the “cultural quarter”. Posh new flats, expensive bars and cafes, the farmers market….

Outside, the rougher, more common, old Woolwich, with a giant Wetherspoons pub and a big screen in the town centre showing perpetual sport (snooker on the afternoon I took this photo). It is interesting that a nice statue of the goddess Nike, presented to the borough, is inside the wall. The ghastly bear is firmly on the outside.

Books

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A bit disappointed in this. A murder mystery within a murder mystery. It had all the tropes, and I wonder if Horowitz was playing the same game as his fictional author. I’d give this 5 out of 10.

Winner of 2017 Litsy Award