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Category archive: Theatre

Thursday June 11 2015

I love learning about two-man teams, and in Paul Johnson’s short, excellent biography of Mozart (see also this earlier bit) I have been learning more about just such a team, although a very temporary and unequal one:

In the meantime, Mozart had met his great partner, the Abate Lorenzo Da Ponte.  The letter (May 7, 1783) in which he tells his father, “I have looked through at least a hundred libretti and more, but I have hardly found a single one with which I am satisfied,” also says he has met the new fashionable poet in Vienna, Da Ponte, who “has promised ... to write a new libretto for me.” The emperor had decided to abandon singspiel in 1783 and embrace Italian opera again, and he put Da Ponte in charge of the words.  Da Ponte was a converted Jew, the son of a tanner, who had embraced Christianity in 1763.  He had led a bohemian life, as a teacher, a priest, a lascivious escort of married women in the Venetian fashion, a friend of Casanova, expelled from Venice for sexual depravity, and thereafter making his living as a translator and writer in the theatrical world.  He had an extraordinary gift for languages, rather like Mozart himself but on a much more comprehensive scale, and seemed to think multilingually.

Da Ponte wrote the librettos for three Mozart operas, The Marriage of Figaro (K. 492, presented May 1,1786), Don Giovanni (K. 527, October 29, 1787), and Cosi fan tutte (K. 588, January 26, 1790), and the collaboration between the two men must be accounted one of the most successful in the history of opera.  By almost universal agreement, Figaro and Giovanni are Mozart’s two best operas, though a small minority argues that Cosi contains the best music and superb staging and that a first-class production can make it the best evening’s entertainment.

The two men worked successfuly together for two reasons. First, they both understood that creating an opera was collaboration and that composer and librettist both had to know when to give way; sometimes words must yield and sometimes notes. The truth is, of course, that Mozart was extremely adept at words as well as music, and often he took over as librettist, Da Ponte acquiescing. This raises the second point: Both men were good tempered, used to hard knocks, nasty words, and intense arguments.  They had the admirable habit, essential to success in the theater, of drawing a firm line over a disagreement, once it was resolved, and moving on quickly to the next problem.  Mozart’s good nature was absolutely genuine and went to the root of his being.  He was incapable of real malice or the desire to wound (the one exception was the archbishop, and there, too, hatred was expressed in words rather than deeds). Da Ponte was a much more flawed creature.  He was a fearful liar, to begin with, and his various volumes of memories are not to be trusted at all. His subsequent career after he left Vienna and went to New York, becoming a trader, a bookseller, a bankrupt, a poet, and other things, shows that his commitment to the stage and to music - drama, particularly - was not total.

Moreover, it is not clear that he recognized quality in opera. He thought the best composer he worked with was Vicente Martin y Soler, and he had the most fulsome praise for Antonio Salieri.  The implication was that both were Mozart’s superiors as musicians.  Both were more successful commercially at the time, and their operas were performed more frequently than Mozart’s - so were those of many other composers, at least eleven by my reckoning.  But both were so inferior to Mozart by any conceivable artistic criteria as to cast doubt on Da Ponte’s musical understanding.  And it is a significant fact that his three Mozart operas are the only ones whose libretto he wrote that have remained in the repertoire or that anyone has heard of today.

Hence the inescapable conclusion is that Mozart was the dominant figure in the collaboration.  Da Ponte understood or learned from Mozart the need to keep the drama moving by varying the musical encounters and groupings, by altering the rhythms of vocal speech, and by switching the moods.  He may even have understood the great discovery in the writing of opera that we owe to Mozart - the way in which character can be created, transformed, altered, and emphasized by entirely musical means taking possession of the sense of words.  But the magic touch is always provided by Mozart as music dramatist.

Saturday June 06 2015

Goddaughter 2 is a student at the Royal College of Music, where a fellow student of hers is a certain Edward Jowle.  This evening, GD2 and I both greatly enjoyed the Grosvenor Light Opera Company’s production of Ruddigore, in which Edward performed the pivotal role of Sir Despard Murgatroyd.  It was great, as was Edward in it.  The duets Edward did with Dauntless (Jack Roberts) and later with Mad Margaret aka Lady Murgatroyd (Laura Burgoyne) were two of the evening’s highlights.  I already know Edward a bit, so I was never going to tell him afterwards that he had been anything other than terrific.  But the thing is, he actually was terrific.  It was a quite small stage and a quite small audience, but his total command of both were nevertheless very impressive.

I also thought that director Vicky Simon did a fine job.  Not everyone in the caste sang like a present or future pro, the way Edward and Jack Roberts did, or as the lady who sang the part of Dame Hannah (Charlotte Collier) did.  Not everyone seemed perfectly cast.  But everyone did as well as you could imagine them doing, and every moment was entertaining and absorbing, wherever you looked.

I love Gilbert and Sullivan, but Ruddigore is one of the less famous ones and I was seeing it on a stage for the first time.  Beyond sensing that a reasonably happy ending would eventually be contrived, I had little idea of what was going to happen until it did.  But it is a very strange show, as well as very funny.  And the contrived happy ending is indeed rather contrived.  But, having been outshone for a century and more by the likes of The Mikado and The Gondoliers and The Yeomen of the Guard, perhaps Ruddigore is an opera whose time has come.  Ancestral oil paintings are very old school.  But when the people in them come to life and the stage is suddenly filled with zombies, you could be watching a stage musical written just a few months ago.

Sadly, tonight’s performance was the last of the very short run that this production was getting.  Unless, that is, you fancy a trip to Harrogate in early August, where it will apparently be given one more outing, competing for a prize with a dozen other G&S shows.

There will surely, however, be further opportunities to see and hear the likes of Jack Roberts and Edward Jowle in dramatic action.  And although there is no point in me now recommending that you see this Ruddigore, when GLOC announces its G&S show for next year I will be recommending that, sight unseen.

Saturday May 16 2015

One of my happier fancies here at this blog has been a category of photos called: I just like it!  And I just like this:

image

The point being that the sort of things that I write about here, and investigate, and then photograph very purposefully and self-consciously, often begin just as things that I like.  When I trawl through the photo-archives, I find things that I thought I only started noticing quite recently cropping up casually, years back.

So, what do I like about the above picture?  It certainly isn’t how well those leaves have come out.  (Although in my opinion out-of-control light in a photo at least tells you that it was very sunny.) Do I think the RSC is GENIUS?  Only a bit.  No, I think what I like is the way that the advert is about as pompous as it is possible for an advert to be, yet life goes on right next to it and indifferent to it.  Or maybe not.  Maybe something else completely.

It’s the top of one of those open top double-decker buses, by the way.  And below that, the advert is for a show called Matilda.

Sunday February 15 2015

While half-watching the rugby yesterday I was also half-rootling-around in my photo archives, and I came across a photo of a carpet.  I had put it in a special separate directory, on its own, but then forgotten about it.  It had a rather interesting message to impart.

Click on this …:

image

… to get the bigger carpet.

But whose carpet was this?  This is where the internet comes in.  I googled “true hearts and warm hands” and immediately learned that this is the motto of the Worshipful Company of Glovers.  Turning to images, I found no other pictures of the actual carpet, but scroll down to the “Glover’s window” here.  The same graphics as on the carpet.

As for my picture, I took it on November 6th 2006, at an event organised by the Globalisation Institute, now long gone.  The event was attended by, among others, the Prime Minister.  Most of the pictures I took, including those I took of the Prime Minister, were very bad, because my camera was no good in poor indoor light, such as prevailed that evening, somewhere in the City of London.

Did you know that Shakespeare’s father was a glover?  If you didn’t you do now.

Friday February 06 2015

Pride of place in David Thompson’s ephemera today, and pride of place this Friday at Bmdotcom, goes to the cat who changed her mind.  She stepped out, with just the one paw.  She pawsed.  Paw cold cat!  She pawed cold water on the original plan and retreated back into the warm.

In other cat news: Why cats like to hide in boxes.  It’s because they like to hide.  They’re not good at conflict resolution.

So rather than work things out, cats are more inclined to simply run away from their problems or avoid them altogether. A box, in this sense, can often represent a safe zone, a place where sources of anxiety, hostility, and unwanted attention simply disappear.

I’m not the only one doing frightful cat puns.  Belfast Telegraph headline:

Why Cats is still not feline its age after thirty years in the limelight

Guardian headline:

Cats take centre stage at Perth’s first internet cat video festival

More cat news from Oz, this time transport related.  Brisbane Times headline:

Uber delivers cats on demand with UberKittens

Finally, the New York Times reports on work by Professor Matthew Ehrlich on the history of media coverage of cats.  From the Ehrlich’s abstract:

This article critically examines the Times’ cat tales in the context of the cultural history of journalism and the academic study of human–animal relations, also known as anthrozoology. Trends and themes in the coverage indicate that cats have been used and portrayed as commodities, heroes, villains, victims, women’s best friends, and urban symbols. The stories demonstrate how and why animal news should be taken seriously by journalism scholars. Not only does it offer insight into our evolving relationships with animals, it also provides a provocative means of thinking about where journalism has been and where it is heading.

Critically examines?  He just wants to get lots of internet mentions.  This is mere academic postmoggyism.

Time to stop.

Friday November 21 2014

Being the Godfather of Goddaughter 2, who has just started out as a student at the Royal College of Music, is a bit costly, but it most definitely also has its privileges.  Yesterday I was kindly allowed to sit in on one of GD2’s one-on-one lessons, and today I got to see (at no further cost) the first dress rehearsal for the College’s production of The Magic Flute.  GD2 was not performing in The Magic Flute.  She merely arranged for me and various others of her acquaintance to be there, and she watched it along with us.  As did many other RCM students by the look and sound of things.  GD2’s singing lesson was most encouraging, and the Magic Flute was terrific, truly terrific, reflecting huge credit on all the professionals named at the other end of the above link, who between them set the tone of it. 

Michael Rosewell conducted stirringly, emphasising the menace as well as the grandeur and beauty of the music.  Jean-Claude Auvray directed wonderfully, with lots of pertinent comic business.  Ruari Murchison’s set was dominated by a big, black, modernistic wooden box, with big sliding hinged doors at the front, with little doors in them, and with more doors at the sides and the back.  This moved the action along with minimal fuss.  They could shut the big doors at the front and do a scene in front of them, while inside the closed box other cast members could then set up the next scene.  Since so many of the scenes in this opera are contrivances by some of the characters within the drama, them opening the doors to reveal the next scene made perfect sense.  The production reminded me, in its clarity and austerity, of the best sort of Shakespeare productions that I have seen.

The costumes were modern, in a way that illuminated the characters and the various stages their lives were going through, rather than in a way that stuffed Mozart’s story into a specifically different era and made an anachronistic nonsense of it.  Mark Doubleday’s lighting emphasised the brightness and lightness of the final scenes, but in the meantime it emphasised what a dark and morally ambiguous story this is, ending up as it does with the hero and heroine joining a religious cult.  Tamino and Pamina started out in jeans, then found themselves clad in pantomime hero and heroine costumes, and they ended up power-dressed, City-of-London Moonie/Mormon style, in matching grey suits with, in Pamina’s case, shoulder pads.

Mozart loved being a Freemason, but a modern audience can’t be so unreservedly happy about this particular happy ending.  In many ways, this is a story about the triumph of religious fundamentalism over the forces of modernity and of female emancipation.  There are numerous references to how women must subordinate themselves to men, with the only Queen involved being the Queen of the Night, the leader of the eventually defeated forces of modernity, individuality, and darkness.  These anti-modern references became particularly chilling when spelt out in plain English, in the illuminated surtitles at the top of the stage.

The Three Ladies were dressed to kill at a Premier or a Charity Fundraiser, but not in uniforms, rather as three individuals.  The Three Boys, on the opposite side of the conflict from the Three Ladies, were all dressed identically, like Mrs Krankie, being also ladies underneath their boy costumes.  All six acted and sang splendidly, individually and as teams.

As for the singing generally, only Sarastro, the leader of the ultimately triumphant cult, needed to be granted a little slack.  It was absolutely not his fault that although most of his singing was fine, his voice lacked that final ounce of basso profundity required for those fearsome low notes.  This was the one time when you wanted to be hearing one of the half dozen, or however many it is, aging-giant Sarastro super-specialists who roam the earth, bestowing their show-stealing low notes upon rich opera audiences everywhere.  But this Sarastro acted very convincingly, especially given that he had less help from his grey suit of a costume than I presume most other Sarastros tend to get, and not much help either from his relatively short stature.  Being the one black man on view, on the other hand, meant that he was instantly recognisable.  (I want to hear this guy singing other things.) As for everyone else, terrific.  This was the first time I have actually seen The Magic Flute on a stage, and I can’t imagine a better introduction.  GD2’s mother, who has seen other non-student productions, reckoned this one to be the best.  Yes, really.

The biggest round of applause came at the end for the entire cast, and quite right too.  But the Queen of the Night got the second biggest ovation for her famously spectacular and difficult aria, and thoroughly earned it.  Sensational.  Watch out for her.  Papagena also stole every scene she was in, although I didn’t get her name.  (Maybe I can later add a link for her too.) Papageno handled his various musical instruments with particular aplomb.

But better than any individual excellence on show was the general air of sincerity, enthusiasm and esprit de corps.  As the lady teacher said at the end of GD2’s lesson yesterday, opera has changed from the days when all you had to do was stand there and sing.  You have to be able to sing and act, and often to sing in very demanding circumstances.  You may have to “sing with your legs in the air” was how GD2’s teacher put it yesterday.  There was nothing like that on the stage today, but the director did demand lots of acting of a less undignified sort, and got it in abundance.  The show came alive from the first minute, and stayed alive throughout.  These young singers are being very well prepared for the sort of careers that most of them will surely have.

I’m looking forward to more RCM dress rehearsals, and hope one day soon to be seeing GD2 in one of them.  I am reluctant to enthuse too much about her prospects.  Just to say that her voice sounds like a pretty fine one to me, that her teachers and fellow students seem to agree about that, and that she seems to be working hard at learning how to make the best use of it.  But, as yesterday’s teacher said, there are a lot of circumstances - some of which you can surely imagine and many of which you can hardly begin to imagine unless you also know one of these singers yourself - that can derail a classical singing career.  So, fingers crossed.

Sunday September 07 2014

I am still waiting for God.  But when God returns, he will be different.  Major internal organs will have been exchanged for faster and better ones, or that is the idea.  But, the new dispensation is taking for ever to arrive.

A new name suggests itself, for the new computer, when I finally get it and get it going.

Godot.

Saturday September 06 2014

Late this afternoon I had another go photoing the Ballerina, the idea being to do this photo again, but better.

But then I noticed what comely wenches the statues below her were, photoed them, and then picked one and photoed her with a crane behind her:

image image

What I like about her is that she looks so relaxed and happy about what she is doing, and for that matter about what she is wearing.  Pavlova, dancing up above them, looks otherworldly and untouchable.  The statues look like girls next door, but really nice looking.  To be more exact, they look like the kind of girls you wish had lived next door, instead of the ones who actually did.

When I click on either of the above photos, I get the big versions rotated ninety degrees.  All I can say about that for now is: my apologies.  It is far too late at night for me to be working out why this happens.  Does it happen for you?  Comments would help, as would explanations of what I am doing wrong or what is going wrong, or whatever.

The ballerina and her support act
Ballerina with cranes again - this time with added spy cameras
Cat photo and cat news
Pavlova with cranes
Painted people
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
Sneezing chat
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
Screen back
Oscar Wilde defends society
Jeffrey Archer - blogger
Jeffrey Bernard is unwell but very entertaining
Debussy denounces Massenet but Puccini follows him
Roll playing
Midsummer Night’s Dream now downloadable for free
Shakespeare Sunday
Rylance’s Richard II – and how Richard II pre-echoes Lear
Rylance’s Richard again
King Kevin