I go to the BARBICAN

October 6, 2014 at 10:45 am | Posted in music, reviews | Leave a comment
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Day 250 - Stairs at the Barbican

Stairs at the Barbican. I love these stairs.

A Saturday night, and @spandelles and I found ourselves ALONE in LONDON. The excitement! As anyone who’s attended a fortieth birthday party knows, you let a bunch of parents of under-10s off the leash at your own risk. What to do with all that freedom? Go to the OPERA, of course.

We bounced off to meet the lovely @adrianartn for snacks. He kindly walked us to the Barbican in time for the pre-concert talk. Standing room only; the powerpoint was postcard-sized; the title was The Full Monte(verdi). Boyf: This is just like being at work. Me: Shall we go and get a cocktail? We sloped out, with the slight thrill of bunking off, and perched at the Martini Bar. The appropriately dry @Adrie_vdLuijt arrived to tell us stories of Joyce DiDonato ordering her audience to drink Standing Ovations*.

Gad, it’s hot in the Barbican. We removed all the clothing we felt we could get away with, and went off to find our seats.

Dueling Theorbos ~ Lynda Sayce and David Miller

Theorbos. I found out what they are called by googling ‘big lute’.

Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea is one of the earliest operas-as-we-would-recognise-them-today. Based on a true story (a groundbreaking approach for the time), it’s a tale of sleeping your way to the top, and the destruction left in your wake. This production was ‘semi-staged’, which means there are no lavish sets or complex choreography, but it’s more than just singers standing in a line. It featured a bit of fighting, some rolling around in front of the theorbos, some pacing up and down the steps in anguish, as well as that (admittedly ever-impressive) operatic staple, people singing while lying on the floor. Some characters appeared suddenly on the balcony, or wandered through the stalls. All this made it a lot easier to follow what was going on, as did the librettist’s habit of helpfully giving people lines like ‘Ah! Ottone! I am secretly in love with you!’ every now and again.

Like all good operas, it had men dressed as women (the show-stealingly fabulous Andrew Tortise as Poppea’s nurse, who was the perfect comic turn: funny and endearing, but still real enough to pull off a beautifully clear and nuanced lullaby), women dressed as men (the utterly wonderful Sarah Connolly as Nerone, who, with her stage presence and showstopping singing, quickly confirmed herself as my new girlcrush), and men pretending to be women by putting a Special Cloak on (the reliably marvellous Iestyn Davies giving a very believable performance as poor Ottone, jilted by Poppea as she heads thronewards). There’s a fair amount of falling in love instantly and seeking bloodthirsty revenge for infidelity, but also some thoughtful musings on being an ageing woman and the place of philosophy in everyday life, and an interesting duet featuring Nerone and his manservant (Nerone: Let us sing together of my lust for this woman! Her eyes! Her breasts! Let us writhe around together! Manservant: Er, OK, my Lord!)

The Academy of Ancient Music orchestra was small but impressive (two theorbos, two harpsichords – the C17th equivalent of two drummers and banks of synths) and it was brilliant to have them in full view on stage, rather than in the pit. But it was sometimes hard to hear what was going on in enough detail. (Boyf: Ah, that’s the Barbican. It’s basically shit. Everyone hates playing here.) Some lovely singing was rewarded with silence from the audience, which I found a bit disappointing; perhaps the enthusiastic applause for arias at Glyndebourne wasn’t How Things Are Normally Done**.

WP_003641Afterwards, we loitered. @didoregina and @operacreep were sensibly hiding from people wearing jokey necklaces, but I got accosted by @automatamaker (Her: Excuse me! Are you from Hebden Bridge?) who’s a massive Sarah Connolly fan. Emboldened, we headed for the stage door:

Me [enormous smile]: Hallo!

Doorman: Are you on the list?

Me: I shouldn’t think so.

Him: Shall I put you on it?***

We had jolly chats with Iestyn and Sarah Connolly and Andrew Tortise (who greeted me with a hearty ‘Hallo, Fangirl!’). We discussed train routes and York nightlife and Hong Kong tailors and inter-countertenor intrigue and where EXACTLY in Barnet I am from. Iestyn’s delightful girlfriend took my picture with him. The boyf quietly took advantage of my habit of shamelessly striding up to people I don’t know, and talked to them knowledgeably about music, much to their surprise. Evenings rarely go this well: can you blame me for being an opera convert?

WP_003891

Barefaced backstage floozery has its benefits

 

* Yes, I’m working my way thru’ my twitter friends in alphabetical order

** Or perhaps just London too-cool-for-schoolness

*** Boyf: How did you do that? Me: I’m not sure.

I get ready for GLYNDEBOURNE

August 10, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Posted in music | Leave a comment
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You may not have realised this but I’M GOING TO GLYNDEBOURNE!

WP_003086After putting up with me burbling on for WEEKS about how Rinaldo features FOUR (4) countertenors, which is basically UNHEARD OF, and one of them is ineffably marvellous IESTYN DAVIES, and it’s written by utter genius HANDEL and this is ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME chance and other stuff mostly in ALL CAPS, @spandelles buys me a ticket as a birthday present. Proving, once again, that he is the world’s best boyfriend.

Despite people warning me to pace myself, offering me training plans etc., I’m still ready to POP with excitement/ terror. I even have a Handel nightmare:

night terror

I decide to distract myself by sorting a few things out. It turns out that when you go to Glyndebourne there are an AWFUL LOT of things to sort out.

1. Outfit. Glyndebourne, terrifyingly, suggests ‘formal evening dress’. I google this to find out what it is. After a frenzied evening trawling through maybe 175842 dresses online, I realise I can put together a fairly respectable outfit from things I already own. None of them are in any sense ‘evening attire’, but I’m hoping if I sprint everywhere, they will blur enough to fool bystanders.

2. Handbag. Ransacking the house turns up three neon backpacks, several well-loved Carradice saddlebags and a Power Rangers lunchbox. Hmm. Tiffany, who is a Proper Girl, recommends TK Maxx. The boiz run about like CRAZY PEOPLE while I yell STOP THAT YOU PROMISED TO BE GOOD YOU BUGGERS and try to remember what colour my dress is. Against all the odds, something completely perfect leaps into my arms. The boiz take turns to cuddle it all the way home.

fyopera3. Accessories. My Loom Band bracelet collection may not cut it. I buy some divaesque dangly earrings, and a necklace which supplies you with all the letters of the alphabet so you can construct your own words. TOO MUCH POTENTIAL.

4. Tights. The less said about this the better. I now have some. That’s five hours of my life I won’t get back, Leeds.

5. Travel and accommodation. Thrillingly, I book a room right in the middle of Lewes, and fantasise wildly about singing in the shower and being Discovered. Or looking out the window and seeing Tim Mead walking past. Hi, Tim! Lots of Sussex people immediately volunteer to meet me for coffee, which is cheering.

6. Dining. This is utter MINEFIELD. Glyndebourne operas have a 90-minute interval, where you’re supposed to have a jolly champagne-sodden picnic with your chums. I’m going on my own. I toy with the idea of stalking the grounds with a Subway, coaxing people into doing voxpops into my Dictaphone. Then I see Glyndebourne has introduced ‘sharing tables’ especially for Wilhelmina-No-Consorts like me. I’d like a little more information on my potential tablemates, but beggars can’t be choosers:

glyndebourne sharing table

I cautiously book a meal, choosing the options which seem least likely to jump off the plate and down my front.

lightkeeper's doggerel 27. Homework. I read the synopsis on the Glyndebourne site, which makes no sense at all. I put this down to its overuse of passivisation and unclear reference, and go to Wikipedia instead. @Lightkeeper helpfully writes me some notes in a language I can understand.

Glyndebourne posts some pictures from the opening night on its Facebook page. Once I realise it contains bicycles, I know it’s all going to be fine.

iestyn on a bike

my night tweet

 

 

I go to the OPERA

June 18, 2014 at 9:09 pm | Posted in music, reviews, tv & film | 4 Comments
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I’m an opera newbie. My Dad was obsessed with Verdi and Puccini, but I never paid much attention (though I realised halfway through a school trip to La Bohème that I knew all the words to Che Gelida Manina from hearing him singing it in the bath).

But it’s sucking me in. As usual, I blame twitter: in my new experiment with classical music fandom, I’m following a gaggle of writers, performers and enthusiasts, and they’re all obsessed with it. They’re being terribly nice to me, sending me YouTube clips and reviews and blogposts, and being lovely about the fact I don’t know my arias from my Elgar. And the excitement is catching.

So. Benvenuto Cellini! Directed by Terry Gilliam! Everyone was in a flap about this. No chance of going to London to see it, but happily it’s part of the ENO Screen season, and was broadcast live in cinemas last night. Now, I was a bit nervous about this. I remember watching televised dance, and being wound up that the cameras never seemed to be where I wanted, and I couldn’t get the perspective I needed. But the trailer looked stunning, and it was the ideal excuse for a night out with a good mate. We got our gladrags on and downed a glass or two of prosecco (just to get in the Glyndebourne spirit, you know).

As we wandered in, the audience on screen were finding their seats too, standing on each other’s feet, sitting on their bags by mistake and offering each other Murray Mints. One portly chap stood and wearily hitched up his trousers (I wonder if that’ll make it onto the DVD). The cameras squinted over people’s shoulders at their programmes while we listened to the strange meanderings of the orchestra warming up. I tried to spot @joshspero, who was on the balcony somewhere.

josh conv re celliniThe lights dimmed, and we were off.

The opera, like all good operas, contained a number of essential elements: 1) star-crossed lovers; 2) rowdy drinking scenes; 3) women in elaborate underwear. I liked the staging very much: the space was used cleverly, the crowd-scene choreography was great, and there were lots of visual gags. The script’s a daft romp, with lots of implausible events, wild emoting, railing against fate and so on; the principals played along with unironic gusto and almost managed to make the story credible. Minor characters tended towards Coarse Acting hamminess, but once I’d reminded myself the scenes were designed to be peered at from the back of the upper circle, this bothered me less. I wasn’t too thrilled by the music: I’d expected some memorable, sing-this-in-the-shower type arias, but nothing stuck with me (except, perhaps, the one where the dissolute sculptor yearns for a pure life among goats, which probably sounds a bit more solemn in French). But the singing was truly marvellous; I’d convinced myself years ago I didn’t like operatic voices, all silly vibrato and peculiar pronunciation, but things have changed – or I have – and I was swept away by some performances. Willard White’s bass-baritone Pope was mesmerising, like watching a limbo dancer (lower… lower…), Michael Spyres was a clear-voiced and almost loveable Cellini, and Paula Murrihy stole the show in that other operatic staple, a chick playing a chap (this is called a ‘trouser role’, which just makes me giggle like a loon).

cellini

Well. It made me really, really wish I’d been there to experience it in person. I hate you, people who live in London. But I got a lot out of watching on the screen: in many ways it was better than being there. Somehow, seeing it all up close brought home the mad, bizarre brilliance of opera as an art form: not just the artistic vision and the organisation and the hard work, but the sheer astonishing fact of people, up there, making this extraordinary, beautiful noise, perfectly, live. Add to that the detail of faces, costumes and sets; the sweat running from the conductor’s sideburns; the glint in an oboist’s eye. Even opera glasses don’t get you that.

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