Nairn’s fabulously evocative London

Nairn's London - PenguinLittle knowing its timeliness, my partner picked up a copy of a new book in a charity shop the other day: Nairn’s London. A reprint of the 1966 ‘guide’ to London’s architectural interest, launched just at the beginning of November, it has immediately got me hooked.

I’ve had to discipline myself to stop dipping in to interesting areas, and read it through from the start. Otherwise, much like London of the period, there’s so much waiting to leap out from unexpected corners that it would be easy to miss many a delight.

I say ‘of the period’ because what makes this work so captivating is the way in which Nairn conjures London in transition, perhaps even at the start of a post-war journey that has led us to the rather po-faced, in-thrall-to-money, oh-so-shiny city that we have today. (more…)


House detail, Limone sul Garda, Brescia, Italy. Image: Mark Tyson

House detail, Limone sul Garda, Brescia, Italy. Image: Mark Tyson

A cool, sunny Autumn day in London; a warm, sunny comedy at the Royal Opera House: Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, in Laurent Pelly’s energetic production.

Lucy Crowe was an Adina with a little more bite than usual, helped by a keen comedy swagger and a plangency in her voice, which amply gave to the more thoughtful moments what may have been missing from the farcical. There was no dimming of Terfel’s ebullience in Dulcamara’s daft scenes. Levente Molnár had the Monty Python-esque physical comedy of Belcore in good measure, but could have done with a bit more vocal brilliance to match it. And Vittorio Grigolo… ah well, his puppy-dog over-acting rather suited the role of Nemorino, in fact more than I had expected. Sledgehammers and nuts had come to mind when I contemplated this casting and, indeed, we should gloss over an Una furtiva lagrima which sounded as though written by Giordani, for which Daniele Rustioni in the pit shared the blame. But, that said, his Nemorino won the house over on the basis of vocal heft and force of personality.

Rustioni seemed to me to struggle with some co-ordination between stage and pit here and there, but kept things buoyant. The orchestra played brilliantly; the chorus – on slightly muted form, I thought – framed the action with giddy excitement. The dog did its thing. The sun shone. We all went out smiling.


A little local disappointment

The first non-music, non-opera post since I revamped the blog. My blog isn’t the only thing to undergo a facelift, though hopefully my blog’s is for the better compared to this alternative example.

As I trundle up to Norwood Junction of a morning, and back of an evening, my bus takes me up Portland Road. You may know Portland Road, a once-bustling local high street which is now fallen on distinctly hard times. That gives it an immediate heritage interest: there are small traces of its busy commercial past to be found in a series of façades which look, at casual glance, scrappy and irregular. That’s local history. Recently, one of those façades has changed.



Temple of Athena, Rhodes

Another new production at the Royal Opera House; another unsatisfying evening in the theatre. Much has been said about Martin Kušej’s new production of Idomeneo, mostly about the shark. In many respects the shark was the least of its problems.

By the interval (by which time the shark had made its appearance) I was feeling relatively well-disposed towards the production. It was one of those standard grey-white walls, unspecified-villains-in-trenchcoats, bewildered-peasantry-in-50s-ish-modern-dress affairs. Much use was made of the revolve, as different empty room configurations swung into view. The basic theme was of dystopian civilisation in which the libretto’s references to Neptune are applied to a sort of cult which demands his worship: hence the shark becomes some sort of ritualistic maritime offering. By the interval, though creaking a bit at the seams, it was holding together passably well. (more…)

All hail Madame Rose

Chichester Festival Theatre - Gypsy title image

Chichester Festival Theatre – Gypsy title image

Back from a weekend in delightful Chichester – a place I’ll definitely be back to and not only for the wonderful hospitality of the friend we were visiting. Our first, flying visit was memorable not least for an absolutely sensational performance of the Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents musical, Gypsy.

Jonathan Kent used the thrust stage to great effect, and from our £15 side stalls seats (stunning value!) we were able to enjoy the show with relatively little compromise. It was fast-paced, sassy and touching. A lovely transition, mid-dance number, between the ‘Baby June/Baby Louise’ and the older daughters was well-executed and gave comic effect to the tiresome sense of the poor things having been doing the same old shtick for years. (more…)

Winter’s icy blast at the Wigmore

Snowy Path (Krakow, Poland)

On Saturday, I attended an interesting study day at the Wigmore Hall, entitled Capturing a Moment: the Art of Photographing Music and based around the fantastic career of Clive Barda. If you have anything at all to do with classical music and opera, you’ve seen Barda’s work: he’s probably the foremost photographer of musicians, both on stage (for formal rehearsal photographs, for example) and off stage.

He was charmingly straightforward as he talked about the interpersonal – as opposed to technical – aspects of his photographic art. A film retrospective, directed by Philippe Monnet, was part of the day and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in music and opera.  There’s a Youtube trailer that’s certainly worth a couple of minutes of anyone’s time:

One slight snag with the day was that the Wigmore was a little chilly, which led to an idle speculation that the cold desolation of the previous night’s winter’s journey had somehow lingered into the Saturday. Friday night had seen the second of Simon Keenlyside’s Winterreise performances, with Emmanuel Ax accompanying. It was astounding in its intensity and raw power.


I due Foscari

Window on the Ca' Foscari, Venice. John Ruskin, plate VIII from The Seven Lamps of Architecture

Window from the Ca’ Foscari, Venice. John Ruskin, plate VIII from The Seven Lamps of Architecture

Not an evening to provoke wild enthusiasm. Verdi’s 1844 opera struck me as being some long way short of his later masterpieces, whether or not a particularly persuasive case was made for it. Its greatest virtue was brevity: 111 minutes of run time, and a half hour interval. The half hour of chatting was more eventful, frankly. (more…)