Uneasy lies the head…

Duomo di Firenze, Georgio Vasari (detail) Photo: Mark Tyson

Duomo, Cattedrale di S. Maria del Fiore, Firenze; Georgio Vasari (detail) Photo: Mark Tyson

It’s a tricky one, don’t you find? When you’re struggling to maintain your grasp on regal power because the anonymous, writhing naked men dwelling in the depths of your psyche simply won’t stop distracting you. They become particularly lively, and things reach a particularly feverish and catastrophic pitch, when a so-called prophet rides into town promising all sorts of pleasures…

Thus runs, broadly, the theme (it’s not so much a plot) of Szymanowski’s Król Roger, at least in Kasper Holten’s well-judged production at Covent Garden. At last, a new production at Covent Garden that can be considered a fairly comprehensive success. The monumental head, filling the stage, starts out as some sort of totem of established worship, framed within a galleried set. As it turns, it reveals a metaphorical chamber, with enlightenment above (symbolised by piles of books) and the aforementioned baser elements slithering in the depths. This colossal stage-picture allowed the themes of Szymanowski’s opera to be very well elucidated: pulses of movement in the sensual depths accompanied each hint of King Roger’s seamier psychological undercurrents, until things disintegrated completely and broke free from the central cranium. Knowledge, again symbolised by books, was destroyed in a flaming pyre in the third act, giving way to the pursuit of pure pleasure – except for Roger, who sees a possibility of rebuilding a more meaningful life.  (more…)

A book backlog…

Pile of wonderful books

The persecutory culprits (artfully arranged, I should add, not ‘tossed’ into a heap!)

So if things have been a bit quiet around here lately, it’s one more sign that the 5:2 effect is in full force. I don’t mean the intermittent fasting diet, I mean the five days that pass in a blur of work and commuting, followed by two days in which you frantically try to pack in everything, from self-enlightenment down to mere life admin, not to mention sleeping, reminding yourself you have friends, and just sitting quietly and wondering about it all.

Amidst this frenzy, I’m becoming increasingly aware of my book backlog. Yes, let’s set aside for now the opera DVDs that are unwatched (in the proper sense of actually concentrating on them) and CDs unlistened to (ditto): there’s something about small piles of unread books that can gang together and take on a persecutory air.  My partner is a fantastic eBayer and peruser of charity shops.  Consequently I have a nicely growing collection of books that are antiquarian, or bordering on it, or otherwise quirky or interesting. A number of them just haven’t made it to being read yet… (more…)

Quick catch-up…

Programmes April 2015

It’s been a hectic old time the last few weeks, so capturing thoughts on performances has rather got forgotten. They’ve been a diverse bunch as well.

So, in brief: (more…)

Masterful Mastersingers

Woodcut of Nuremberg from the Nuremberg Chronicle [Wikimedia Commons Public Domain]

Woodcut of Nuremberg from the Nuremberg Chronicle [Wikimedia Commons Public Domain]

Anyone coming afresh to the superlative performance of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg at the Coliseum last night would be astonished to find out that the company behind it was facing such challenges as it is. English National Opera demonstrated in this one performance just how essential it is as a part of London’s operatic life. It was a performance of fresh immediacy, for once the English language translation absolutely sharpening its focus, and a production of inventive, well-observed detail. (more…)

L’Ormindo

There can hardly be a greater contrast between The Mastersingers of Nuremberg at English National Opera, which I’m about to head out to, and L’Ormindo performed in the warm intimacy of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe Theatre. The 340-seat theatre, tightly packed and lit exclusively by candlelight, is a perfect setting for early Baroque operas such as this one by Francesco Cavalli. Standing for £10 was a bargain on any measure, even if my days of standing through performances are rapidly running out. (more…)

Well-matured ham

It’s great to see the increasingly fervent Twitter commendations for Andrea Chénier at Covent Garden as the run reached its climax with the last night on 6 February.

(more…)

A love of old books

Title page to Virgil's Works, 1696

Title page to Virgil’s Works, 1696

Whether for their content, or simply as beautifully crafted objects, “old books” are undoubtedly a pleasure. In my modest collection the oldest is a copy of the works of Virgil dating to 1696. As someone who can’t read Latin, it’s never likely to be well-thumbed, a fact which is fortunate as the front cover increasingly loses its grip on the spine. Nonetheless, looking through it has thrown up some fascinating annotations which seem worth sharing.

First, the title page: set in red and black, so far as I can make out (and begging your pardon for the Latin translation and interpretation!) it says,

Virgil’s Works. Interpretation and notes illustrative by Charles de la Rue, Society of Jesus [Jesuit], by the command of the most Christian King, as for the use of the most serene Dauphin according to the latest edition of Paris. London, printed by A Swalle & T Childe at the sign of a unicorn, at the cemetery/churchyard of St Paul’s.

(more…)