Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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- Mr Ed has some metaphorical fun
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- To Tottenham (8): Zooming in on some Big Things
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- Timing shits instead of forcing them
- Lincoln Paine shifts the emphasis from land to water (with a very big book)
- Classic cars in Lower Marsh
- Stabat Mater at St Stephen’s Gloucester Road
- A selfie being taken a decade ago
- Gloucester Road with evening sun
- Lea River footbridge
- “Yeah, no …”
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Category archive: Theatre
It went on for a really long time, though. The show kicked off at 4.30pm, and only ended at 10pm. There were two intervals, each of just over half and hour. I was careful to drink very sparingly beforehand.
During the overture, before the curtain went up, I also fretted that there might not be titles in English of what was about to be sung, which would mean me spending the best part of an entire working day of time trapped in a seat and bored out of my skull, with nothing to do except listen to not-my-favourite Wagner, with constant interruptions from singers, of a sort that I typically don’t much like the sound of. And I further fretted that if there were such titles then we might not be able to read them, what with us being stuck right next to the roof about a quarter of a mile away from the action. But all was well. There were titles, and they were clearly readable.
A distressing effect of us sitting up at the back and the top, was that, what with the house being pretty much full and spring having got properly started during the last day or two, it became very hot for us. I heard one middle aged lady complaining vehemently about the heat to some hapless programme girl during the second interval, and from then on it just got hotter and hotter.
Another drawback of sitting at the top and at the back, for me and my faltering eyesight, was that I couldn’t see properly who was who on the stage. It was just too far away. The titles told me the meaning of what was being sung, but omitted the rather crucial detail of which character was actually singing it. In part one this was a real problem, because the stage was mostly full of similarly dressed and similar sounding bassy-baritony blokes of a certain age, the Mastersingers of the title. It helped that, as the night wore on, there tended to be fewer people on the stage, and I thus found it easier to deduce who was singing than it had been in part one
But oh boy, Wagner certainly takes his time with this one. It’s supposed to be a comedy, and occasionally it was. But one of Wagner’s favourite jokes is that he signals that something is about to happen, but then whichever dithering bass-baritone is supposed to be getting on with it then takes another five minutes actually to do it, or to sing it, or whatever he is supposed to do. This device peaked in the final act, when Mastersinger Sixtus Beckmesser takes an age to start his butchered version of the prize song, which he has stolen from the tenor.
Leading the caste was the noted (Sir) Bryn Terfel, as Hans Sachs - philosopher, poet, Mastersinger and cobbler. I was disappointed by him. Terfel’s voice in no way stood out during part one, with all its other bass-baritones, and one of the other bass-baritones, Mastersinger Pogner I think it was, sounded much better to me. This was, I believe, this guy.
The tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones, regularly complimented throughout the show on his beauty, was a fat middle-aged bloke who made a point of dressing down, rather than overdressing in the properly pompous Mastersinger style, at any rate in this production. He looked, from my distant vantage point, more like a nightclub bouncer than a romantic lead. But, and this is the only thing that really matters in opera, he sang brilliantly. His voice was amazingly secure. “Secure” sounds like damning with faint praise, but what I mean is that his voice combined the best qualities of a voice and a really well played musical instrument. In this respect if in few others, yesterday was exactly like my earlier ROH experience, when tenor Joseph Calleja was also by far the best thing to be heard. Hughes Jones’s performance of the prize song, right at the end, after Beckmesser’s mangling of it, was, as it should be, the musical highlight of the evening.
As with that earlier Verdi show, everyone else in this Meistersinger cast (apart from Pogner) made the usual operatic singing noises in the usual operatic ways, these usual operatic ways being the basic reason I mostly prefer classical music without singing, and as a rule avoid opera houses. It isn’t just the crippling cost of the tickets.
There are two ways to sing opera badly. You can sing with quite nice tone, but with far too much and far too slow and wobbly vibrato, to the point where neither pitch nor meaning are clear, even if you know the language. Or, you can have less vibrato but a tone that sounds more like an industrial sawing process than a nice voice. Last night, the singing wasn’t ever bad enough to be seriously off-putting to me, but there was more than a whiff of both styles on offer. As often happens, the women were the worst wobblers. And Bryn Terfel was the worst offender, to my ear, in the industrial sawing department, although perhaps the effect was made worse by me having been hoping for something better from him. He did seem to get better as the evening wore on, although that could just be because both the music and the drama got better. It got better very slowly, but it got better.
Die Meistersinger is a kind of pilgrimage, from old geezer fustiness to youthful brilliance as exemplified by the prize song, from light opera to heavy opera, from dreary pre-Wagnerian operatic frivolity, which Wagner could do only moderately well, to full-on Wagner, at which Wagner was, as you would expect, the supreme master.
This production, especially in part one, was a bit off. It was supposed to start in a church, but instead we were in a posh gentleman’s club, containing Mastersingers who looked more like affluent Victorian eccentrics than the real late-Middle-Ages deal. Also, the ending was a bit un-Wagnerian, in that the lead soprano, Eva, wasn’t happy about the way the tenor was persuaded to join the Mastersingers, the way she surely was in Wagner’s mind when he wrote it. But it was never freakishly stupid, like a Samuel Beckett play, and on the whole it didn’t just sound reasonably good, it looked very fine too. Although Wagner takes an age to tell his story, there is at least a story to the thing that you care about. Well, I did. By the end.
Time to bust open the DVD of this opera that I have long possessed, having bought it for a tenner about a decade ago. The early staging already looks much more convincing.
But, crucially, the tenor doesn’t sound, to me, nearly as good as the one I heard yesterday. He really was something.
Yet more evidence of how digital photography has encouraged temporary art, by making it digitally preservable. What we see is videoing, I think. But we can be sure that a straight up still photo of the final result will be included in the photography process.
Note the silver paint, on top of what was there before. If the previous occupant of this spot (in the Leake Street Graffiti Tunnel) didn’t have what he had done photoed, he has only himself to blame.
Don’t ask me what the graffiti means.
Just heard an announcer on London Live TV pronounce Persephone as “Percy Phone”. It should be Per Seffany, in case you also are not sure. Y(oung) P(eople) T(hese) D(ays). They just don’t have the Classics.
I’ve been photoing the Pavlova Statue outside Victoria Station for a long time. On the left here is how she was looking, on a particularly sunny day ten years ago:
But look at the state of her now, as shown on the right. I got quite a shock, I can tell you, when I came upon her about a fortnight ago, looking like this.
The Victoria Palace Theatre is being refurbished.
Or should that be smart batphone?:
He is also holding a weapon, a knifey thingy. somewhat like this.
Photoed by me in Trafalgar Square last Friday.
Keeping things nice and face-recognition-hostile.
I’ve spent all my blogging time today trying to write a couple of things for Samizdata, so once again it’s quota photo time, this time in the form of a photo of Tom Cruise that I photoed recently, just a few minutes before I took this footbridge photo. To be more exact, it is a photo of a photo, of Tom Cruise:
That photo that you see in my photo is to be seen outside the Duchess Theatre in the West End, where the play being shown Goes Wrong, every night, without, although this may not be quite the way to describe things, fail.
I assume that you can only exhibit a picture of Tom Cruise like that if Tom Cruise gives his permission. If that’s right, Tom Cruise proves himself to be a good sport. Or, perhaps, a greedy bastard. But for now, I’m going with good sport, if only because if he got greedy, they couldn’t afford it.
Is there another such in London?:
Well, probably yes, quite a few such. But, there is definitely that one. It’s the top of the restored guess version of the Globe Theatre.
As seen, of course, from the top of the Tate Modern Extension. It’s right next to Tate Modern (the thing on the left of the picture), and you need to get right to the back of the viewing gallery, or you don’t see it.
I reckon it’s already starting to look a bit threadbare.
The Park in question is Finsbury, the Park Theatre being near to Finsbury Park, and more to the point from my point of view, Finsbury Park tube station. I was there last night to see a friend perform at the Park Theatre, which she did very well.
That LIFE sign thing is just outside the smaller theatre space, where my friend was performing, at the top of the rest of the theatre. I do not know why it is there. Could it be that they hope that people will photo it, and then mention the Park Theatre on the internet?
I suppose the creator of this sign could also have been thinking of that old Blur tune. But that, I believe, concerns a different park.
Bard and Shard
Steven Johnson on how technology (such as the Magdeburg Sphere) grows science
Quota caption competition
Ronald Harwood on Karajan
Some quota reflected cranes and a quota white van
The light outside the Proud Archivist on the evening of July 22nd
Digital photography ballet
Tomorrow I will get out less
Lots of photos of the camera man
Paul Johnson on Mozart and Da Ponte
Ruddigore in Blackfriars
A photographer and an advert
True hearts and warm hands
The Magic Flute at the RCM
Waiting for …
The ballerina and her support act
Ballerina with cranes again - this time with added spy cameras
Cat photo and cat news
Pavlova with cranes
Ballerina with crane
A photo of a photograph
Big London Things with clutter in the foreground
Monkey Toast at the Leicester Square Theatre
That Clive Woodward gets around
More signs of the times
The bike behind the theatre
Everybody draw Mohammed every day!
Andrew Hughes on making heroes of cricketers
London Bites @ Sway
What next for Guido Fawkes?
Dream magic that spoilt the magic
“Dying is a fulltime business. You haven’t time to do a lap of honour.”
The impossibility of God but the possibility of Michael Flatley’s cure and of super-super-flees
And here is a real quotation
On autobiographical ruthlessness
John Carey on Shakespeare and the high-art/ popular-art distinction
Avoiding barbarism in the street
Pictures with words
Hear ye hear ye
A picture of a Wheel seen through a field of corn
The Emperor Jones
A dreadful age
Struggling Actress quote of the day
Cats can be taught!
Me and Alex talking Gilbert and Sullivan
The Pirates opens in New York
Hellcab at the Old Red Lion
Another quota photo of the Docklands towers
Oscar Wilde defends society
Jeffrey Archer - blogger
Jeffrey Bernard is unwell but very entertaining
Debussy denounces Massenet but Puccini follows him
Midsummer Night’s Dream now downloadable for free
Rylance’s Richard II – and how Richard II pre-echoes Lear
Rylance’s Richard again