General chit-chat

Bits and bobs of unclassifiable frippery

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…)

Twilight in Hamburg

A rather sudden trip to Hamburg this weekend, for a family event, provided an opportunity to drop in to the Hamburgischer Staatsoper for the last instalment of Wagner’s Ring in the emerging production by Klaus Guth. A kitchen-sink drama of generally consistent quality, in spite of a few hiccups here and there. (more…)


Since that rather disappointing Rosenkavalier back on 10 December, it’s been a rather arid month for all events musical, hence a bit of radio silence on this blog.  And perhaps this contributes to a rather unfestive-feeling Christmas period, which thus far has been characterised by a lot of driving and EDF Energy managing to make a full five-act tragic Grand Opéra (in the rather overblown French manner, appropriately enough) out of the simple act of fixing our heating supply.  No matter:  2010 is just around the corner and, if it starts with a bit of populist frippery in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and ROH’s Bohème, we soon hit the real deal with Elektra at the Barbican.  Onwards and upwards.  Happy New Year.

Getting out

Must do this more often.  Despairing of weekends spent doing nothing in particular other than noodling about on the computer, and having the evening to myself, I decided to whisk myself off to the South Bank Centre with a view to settling down in the public foyer of the Royal Festival Hall for a glass of wine and a belated start on research for my dissertation.

My dissertation has not, as far as I recall, figured in this blog to date.  It’s for a Masters in Public Administration at Warwick Business School, entering the second ‘extension’ year.  Which means I have to get my arse in gear because this really cannot go on!  I have other things to do, beyond taking five (FIVE!) years to get a bloody MBA.

Anyway, having stopped halfway through for a pizza, I am now in the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer with another glass of wine, bringing online researches to a close.  A rather pleasant and contemplative evening.  The QEH is much buzzier than the RFH, though to be fair, I think they had more happening on the programme…

Note to self:  next time, less wine and more research.

[Both QEH and Purcell Room audiences have just been recalled to their respective auditoria.  My buzzy temporary ‘study’ now looks like the aftermath of a controlled explosion on a Glyndebourne lawn.  Plastic glasses and drink puddles everywhere.]

And the rest is silence

The blogging disappeared for a bit there, possibly on account of having a pleasant but nonetheless rather aimless summer.  We were last seen heading to St Pancras for the wonderfully fast trip non-stop to Paris.  A few days in a stupendously expensive city (€11.90 for  a 500ml beer?  Get real!) which were nonetheless very pleasant, and then back home to slowly wind back up to the daily grind and the great bank-holiday-free expanse that is September to December.  (Actually, that’s a bit overly-bleak, given I’m going for a week in Mykonos in a few weeks’ time!)

Opera season starts up again soon, wahey!  Our first engagement is, I think, Don Carlos on 18 September and there is much excitement at the prospect of Mr Kaufmann.  Tristan is up next (will Heppner cancel? How will the principals compare to the faintly Noel Coward picture advertising the production?) and then I think we have a Carmen to inject a bit of trashy kitsch into the gloom of October, alongside the wonderful L’Heure Espagnole and Gianni Schicchi which proved such fantastic introductions to these works when the production aired in 2007. 

Can’t complain I guess, although we have made a resolution to ensure that there are more concerts and other stuff interspersing the opera.  I think the rather heavy end to the season (was it seven operas in two or three weeks, or something similarly daft?) taught us to pace ourselves and vary the diet!

Glorious countryside and an interesting Creation

The last few days have been spent pottering around north Wales and Shropshire on a few days rest and relaxation away from the terrors of local government.  For the musical amongst you, it also included a sojourn in Bridgnorth at a performance of Haydn’s The Creation (more anon…).

With glorious weather, this truly was a wonderful few days.  We stayed at Harlech and drove around the area:  Portmeirion, Betys-y-Coed, Snowdon, Valle Crucis abbey.  In typically British style, the railway up Snowdon only went three-quarters of the way up because (and I quote the woman behind the counter) “the new visitor’s centre has been delayed for a month”.  The guide said ‘frequent intervals’, we arrived and next train was over an hour hence – oh well, Snowdon was nice to look at and drive around, who needs to go up it?!

Then to Shropshire: a day spent trundling through Ironbridge, Ludlow and thence to Bridgnorth.  All quite lovely.  We stayed with friends in Bridgnorth and I was left with that feeling (again) of why do I bother putting up with the rubbish quality of life that London offers?

The Haydn concert was in St Leonard’s church in the main town centre.  A lovely space, if a bit Victorian bland-gothic.  Bloody uncomfortable as well, despite taking along luxurious John Lewis cushions on which to sit, courtesy of our hostess.  The English Haydn Festival takes place in Bridgnorth each year – we spent ages trying to fathom the connection between Haydn and the town, and it eventually turned out that there isn’t one.  The founder of the festival, John Ried (who died last year), seemingly felt that the absence of an English Haydn Festival was remiss (and who could argue) and that Bridgnorth was the place that he designated to become the ‘Salzburg of Shropshire’ (doesn’t every English county have a Salzburg?!)  A fine endeavour and an enjoyable evening.

The English Haydn Orchestra (I am assuming a festival-specific creation made up of players either freelance or ordinarily of other, more ‘permanent’ orchestras) played very well, incisively, although with the slightly off intonation that, on occasion, comes with the territory of a period band.  The best bits were undoubtedly the orchestral and choral moments.  The chorus (the Birmingham Festival Chorus) were every bit a match for the orchestra, with finesse and lustiness in equal measure when they were demanded.  The penultimate choral number in particular was a marvel of restraint being slowly unleashed as it escalates to full-on awe-inspiring power.

I call it the ‘penultimate choral number’ because the programme was useless in its outline of such a programmatic piece as the Creation.  No information about the numbers at all!  In the words of Michael Flanders, ‘a dead waste of a shilling…’

The soloists – Catherine Bott (sop), Andrew Slater (bass) and Lynton Atkinson (tenor) – probably didn’t benefit from the harsh acoustic of the church, but only Slater really seemed to make his presence felt.  Bott started quite gently with a voice that seemed to be quite light and ‘breathy’, but gained some power in the second half, culminating in a wonderful duet with Slater as the young lovers.   I was looking forward to hearing Bott (other than on the radio, obviously) and initial disappointment was, ultimately, banished as the evening drew to its close.  Atkinson never seemed to quite hit his stride in the context and he seemed to ‘hoot’ occasionally when reaching for high notes.  Still the whole thing was a very worthwhile endeavour and throughout there were flashes of that Haydn touch, mostly emerging from the orchestra: the little figures that emerge in the bass lines of the orchestra in response to a word, the changes of mood coupled to the restless onward energy.  Patrick Larley as conductor kept things well-paced and buoyant.

I would be tempted to look out for the English Haydn Festival in the future.  A lovely setting for a festival, Bridgnorth has a minor jewel here and it was particularly heartwarming to see the active sponsorship of Bridgnorth Town Council and the now-defunct Bridgnorth District Council.  As an employee of an authority that seems to glorify the subsidised provision of low culture amongst its residents (who seem not to ask for anything more), I couldn’t help thinking that this was real civic leadership.  Sorry if that sounds reactionary, but good on you Bridgnorth!