It was a particularly good year for non-narrative ballet and ENB’s triple bill had to be my favourite dance programme of the year. I watched the matinee on 12 March and did rather expect the B team, so I was particularly thrilled to see dancers such as Tamara Rojo and Erina Takahashi in three superb examples of modern ballet. The Royal Ballet also thrilled with Connectome and Monotones, although both were repeats of recent productions.
Of the narrative ballets, Vienna Festival Ballet was as enjoyable as ever with Coppelia and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Carmina Burana was wonderfully spectacular. Apart from Onegin at the start of the year, it was not so good for the Royal Ballet, culminating with a Carmen that had me laughing for the wrong reasons.
When I retired I thought it would be the chance to go to all the concerts, theatres, exhibitions and restaurants I never had time for when I was working. This year I’ve enjoyed 70 concerts and performances, plus those for which I’ve been a volunteer usher. I’ve also been to 37 exhibitions or other days out and eaten 71 restaurant meals (plus those on holiday). That’s not been anywhere near enough – the number of important art exhibitions and concerts I’ve missed is horrifying. Despite that, I’ve decided to resurrect my blog with a few of my favourites of the year as there’s not enough room for on Twitter. I’ll just wait for the year to finish first.
I loved it at ENO and OperaUpClose, so why not Royal Opera? I used to think I didn’t like Verdi, then a friend talked me into Simon Boccanegra at the ENO which I enjoyed. Interested, I tried OperaUpClose’s Traviata and loved it. It was a tender story, delicately told and carried a huge emotional charge. The same charge was there for the ENO’s Traviata. It was grander and more dramatic but there were also great choruses and terrific orchestration. I’ve loved plenty of Royal Opera productions, most notably their astonishing Wozzeck last year, so I tried their Traviata.
The singing was superb, the orchestra magnificent, so why did I leave at the second interval? Party I didn’t get the sense of being drawn into a terrific drama and hardly cared what happened to Violetta. The superb soloists sang their arias to the audience who applauded them, then went off in the excessively long intervals to drink their G & Ts and their champagne or pack the restaurants. I drank my free plastic cup of water and just felt so alienated. I don’t think these were people who would have appreciated Wozzeck or Satyagraha – they just loved the experience of Grand Opera and the singers showed off to them. Now I understand why I didn’t like Verdi or Puccini – this is the Verdi I don’t like. I am looking forward to the ENO’s Carmen tomorrow. I know the audience will be full of real people enjoying wonderful music and an absorbing story but I’ll give the more famous operas at the ROH a miss in future.
I have not been updating the blog for a while. Since Man and Superman I have not seen anything early enough in its run to be worth reviewing, but also I now tend to use Twitter instead, so if you are interested in my immediate comments on productions, please follow me there.
A brilliantly written, astonishingly well staged examination of morality in the virtual world. A grey interrogation room opens up to show a very beautiful virtual reality in which people can experience anything they want to. Is it acceptable to rape and murder a child when you know the ‘child’ is really a willing adult who wants to partake and the the ‘child’ will be resurrected instantly? This play will not give you an answer but I guarantee it will leave trying to work out your own answers: I haven’t finished yet. This is easily the most important play I’ve seen this year and really should be seen by anyone interested in the Internet.
Aeternum was the star piece in this triple bill and Claire Calvert was the star in Aeternum. If there were another matinee I’d go back and see it all again and maybe appreciate the other two ballets better. I missed Aeternum last time as I was nodding off after 24 Preludes due to the Chopin effect and went home early. This time, the preceding ballets were more interesting. They were both narrative ballets – they are obviously coming back into fashion – not that I’m sure what the story of Cermemony of Innocence actually was. It was good to watch and Britten’s music was excellent. The Age of Anxiety had a much clearer story, apparently based on an Auden poem but very reminiscent of Coward’s Design for Living. Set in New York to music by Bernstein, it made me think of Jerome Robbins’ choreography for West Side Story. I knew it was an unfair comparison: the dancing was superb but I still haven’t seen a British company manage to swing like that, although Boston Ballet did when they visited London. These were only the second performances of both works and I suspect they’ll be just that bit better when they are revived – they are certainly worth seeing again. For Aeternum, everything was superb: the choice of music by Britten, the orchestra under Barry Wordsworth, the choreography by Christopher Wheeldon and the dancing, but it felt like it was all there to support the stunning performance by Claire Calvert. She is still only a soloist but on the basis of this I strongly look forward to seeing her in other major roles.
No review for Ghost Stories @GhostStoriesUK as they ask you not to give anything away. It was fun and a bit scary, but nothing like as scary as the stage version of Let the Right One In
(which was scarier than the film) but why were there no women in the cast? Many of the parts could easily have been played by women or adapted for women. Sometimes gender is important to the story. The whole point of ENO’s The Girl of the Golden West was to look at the role of a lone woman in the tough world of the California gold rush and the wonderfully expressive conducting of Keri-Lynn Wilson helped make up for the lack of women on stage. There was no excuse in Ghost Stories.
Kathleen Turner is absolutely the star of this show, delivering a fantastic performance as a ballsy trailer park mom. Ian McDiarmid plays a perfect foil as the English public school educated art expert arguing about her claim to have bought a Jackson Pollock for $3. Yes, the plot is rather slender and there is no very deep analysis. Who cares? The audience last night certainly didn’t as they rose to their feet to give a standing ovation. This one is all about the acting, not the plot, and the acting is wonderfully enjoyable. As a bonus, I’m planning to go back to Tate Modern and look at the Jackson Pollocks there. I’ve never really appreciated his work, compared to the massive emotional power of the Mark Rothko paintings there, but having listened to McDiarmid‘s character explaining their power and importance, just maybe I will get it this time.
You certainly get your money’s worth with this double bill at 1 hour 20 minutes for David Mamet’s Squirrels and 1 hour 15 minutes for Caryl Churchill’s The After Dinner Joke. The Caryl Churchill was a real treat, a play about aid, poverty, charity, hunger, disasters, politics and more. Amazingly, it also managed to be very funny. Lydia Larson and David Gooderson were brilliant as the two central characters with three other actors playing a huge number of different parts as it jumped from one story to another, all illustrating the central themes and keeping the interest going. Sadly for me, my interest didn’t stay with the Mamet. I have no doubt it was a very clever, well acted play but I have a feeling you need to be a fellow writer, director or actor to appreciate it. Don’t worry, though as the Churchill alone is well worth the £10 a matinee costs for an oldie like me, and if you are lucky enough to be under 26 there are even £5 tickets available!
It’s odd to see a very traditional production of an opera performed in its original language at the Coliseum but this is not the ENO. The prologue and first act did not grab my attention, but Act 2 moves to the Polvtsian camp and the music lifts up wonderfully with the spectacular Polovtsian Dances. Act 3 is quite amazing, starting with a very simple and beautiful aria from Yaroslavna (Elena Popovskaya) wishing her husband, Prince Igor (Sergey Artamonov) were there. It then moves to the stunning a capella chorus as the people lament the loss of their land to the Polovtsians. Then it ends. Leaving out out the triumphant celebration which should follow may seem odd but it works – a beautiful ending to a rather mixed but unmissable production.