nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
Or in this case, cosmonauts.*

Why? I really don't get it. There you are, a middle-aged Russian General singing about how your life has been transformed by your new wife, whom you adore, but instead of listening with rapt attention and anguished grief at the one who got away** Bo Skovhus is, quite understandably, staring at the random cosmonaut mannequins on the revolving stage. Given the random ballet dancers, people with sickles and red T-shirts, and vaguely Empire line clad women who are presumably meant to be in a Tolstoy novel, I think that they are meant to be some sort of representatives of Russian culture, but why?

Anyway, it is here:

*Rants about random opera astronauts of the past are here.

**Or rather, the one he didn't care about until she was with someone else, which appears to be the story of Onegin's love life.
nineveh_uk: photo of lava (volcano)
I posted in the summer about the terrific performance of Opera North's Götterdämmerung that I went to see. Now I can see the rest of them, as can you, because BBC4 is broadcasting Das Rheingold on the evening of 12 February, and then the rest online. See here for a trailer.

In case this semi-staged concert performance, or the auditorium of Leeds Town Hall* is too visually exciting for you, fear not!

In addition to the four complete films of the Ring operas, Opera North will also release a full Ring cycle ‘conductor-cam’ online. This sixteen-hour film is made up of a single shot of Richard Farnes conducting the entire cycle, one of the longest and most complex pieces of music ever written, which places incredible demands on its conductor.

The whole thing will also be available to viewers outside the UK.

Have the trailer:

*It is pretty special. I was in a couple of the LEA's children's music concerts, and spent the bits counting rests etc.** gawping at the faux marble pillars that look like giant bruised legs and reading the inscriptions round the top. Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh bvt in vain. Now there's a line that would cheese of Captain Vimes.

nineveh_uk: photo of lava (volcano)
There is a crucial difference between Brexit and the plot of Götterdämmerung: though both have the leaders involved throwing their hands in the air and sitting doing nothing but wait until the house burns down around them, while elsewhere a bunch of people make some staggeringly stupid decisions despite the consequences surely being obvious from the start, the characters in the latter were actually gods, as opposed to just being bitter about membership of a school club. Also, a great redemption is definitely not spreading throughout this particular world as a result of their downfall. However George Osborne was present at both.*

Despite 6 hours** of Wagner feeling like a dubious decision 24 hours in advance, it turned out to be brilliant on the day. Indeed as the end approached I felt that 6 hours was far too short and it needed at least an additional hour. Nor was I alone in thinking so, judging by the comments from audience members near me at the end, and the general riveted silence.

It was a concert performance, being the only way Opera North can afford to do something like the Ring, but it felt as if nothing was lost thereby. Big screens at the back provided surtitles (good ones, thank goodness, no faux archaism. Whatever is lost in not distinguishing between du and Sie is more than gained in not sounding stupid when read in English in performance) and a degree of setting, of riverbank or water, wooden walls of a Dark Ages hall, fiery rock etc, with the aid of some coloured lighting. It doesn't sound much, but it really worked. No singer actually vaulting onto horseback and riding into the flames*** could have been more dramatic than a woman in evening dress standing in front of the orchestra in yellowing light, voice soaring seemingly effortlessly above it. And what an orchestra! I didn't manage an on-stage count, but as an estimate combined with a conservative reading of the programme**** I'd go for about a hundred (and I've just found confirmation - 101!). The orchestra of Opera North is always one of its strengths and this occasion was no exception, they were in magnificent form.

Wagner has a reputation of being hard-core opera. On the train in I was regretting that I hadn't had time to go carefully over leitmotifs etc in order to educate myself sufficiently to appreciate it. Reader, this is rubbish. Bad Wagner is probably incomprehensible torture on grounds of length alone, but good Wagner isn't hard at all. It's wonderful music that while I'm sure it greatly rewards study is very accessible without it and the leitmotifs leap up waving and shouting notice me! Alternatively, possibly I am simply well-trained in the School of Opera North, which has long interwoven Box Office certainties with more inventive repertoire. After all, Wozzeck is not only challenging and allows you to distinguish yourself as a company, it's pretty cheap to do. Back to Götterdämmerung. The plot is perhaps not one of its strength. Wotan doesn't turn up, and we get the new family to move into Eastenders (as the preliminary talk put it, very accurately). Hagen's***** Evil Plot depends entirely on his victims all being complete idiots. Fortunately for him, this is opera, and indeed mythology. It doesn't have to make sense in order to work. Hagen was sung by Mats Almgren looking like an evil thug in a Scandinavian detective drama - the more things change, the more things stay the same - and my favourite along with Kelly Cae Hogan as Brünnhilde.

A wonderful presentation of a wonderful work. I am converted, as you can tell! I wish I might have seen it all, I'm immensely glad I saw this.

Have some music:

*This would explain why each act started 5 mins late, if he was being ushered to his seat in the dark. Perhaps he might have borrowed the rather lovely guide dog I spotted stretched out on the carpet in the bar in the second interval. It's fair to say that Goldie, alone of all the beings I saw there, did not look wholly appreciative and wore a definite air of 'how long, oh lord, how long?'

**To be precise, 4 hours 40 mins of music, the rest intervals. That makes the first act equal in length to Tosca (2 hours), and the whole thing half as long again as an uncut Figaro.

***Now I need to check if that's every been done with (i) actual soprano, (ii) actual horse, (iii) actual flames. Checked! Though the examples mentioned don't specify flames...

****No need for ten anvil-players in this one, but I've never seen so many French horns (apparently some of them are 'Wagner tubas', which he invented because he needed an extra instrument...)

***** I first came across Hagen in my German GCSE textbook, which had a really good cartoon sequence of the Nibelunglied. We didn't read that bit, which tells you everything you need to know about the approach my high school took to engaging pupils in foreign languages.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
I've been following the revelations of the Hillsborough inquest today. As this article puts it, 'It wasn't about football in 1989, it isn't about football now.' It's about vested interests failing in the moment, in the following 26 years (including the inquest in which the South Yorkshire Police kept trying to claim it wasn't their fault), in favour of protecting the incompetence and prejudice of their own against people they considered scum. While prosecutions for events on the day seem distant, I wonder what scope there is for charging with perjury those people now clearly shown to have lied and to have known that they were lying.

On a very different note, Opera North has announced its 2016/17 programme, and I think I might have to move to Leeds. Billy Budd* and Rosenkavalier (production I've already seen) in the autumn, a concert Turandot in the spring, and best of all, Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden in the winter. I admit that I want to see The Snow Maiden for Saga of the Exiles-related reasons rather than operatic ones, but I suspect that I shall not be alone in booking a ticket because of that.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
To be precise, in Helsinki. If I were the sort of person who obsesses about things in an organised way, I would be spending a long weekend in Helsinki this spring in order to see German vampires in Finnish, and the Finnish National Opera's original production of The Phantom of the Opera.

I was thinking en route to Cotswold Outdoors this morning* while listening to the music of Love Never Dies and trying not to listen to the words**, that it's good thing that I had no internet access in my teenage years or I would have embarrassing teenage PotO fic hanging round me neck, but then I remembered that I did in fact write a piece of PotO fic. In French. In graphic novel form. I've probably still got it somewhere. I was rather proud of it and showed my French teacher, who photocopied it for the class (good) and pointed out that French doesn't use 's for the possessive (less good).

Anyway, for those who wonder what Phantom looks like when not produced by Cameron Mackintosh, here it is. I can't help feeling that the Phantom looks rather like Bryn Terfel as a lank-haired Scarpia.

Of course, the best Finnish version of PotO remains Nightwish...

Not taking up a last-minute Nightwish concert opportunity because I had a cold remains one of the less-good decisions of my life, in that they broke up shortly afterwards.

*Socks, sock liners, and an impulse-purchase laundry bag. Yes, I could make some, but I haven't done so far...

** I have mentioned their direness before, but really they are so, so bad. There is some terrific music, but the book does a "Ron the Death Eater" on Raoul, and the lyrics are unspeakable. Beneath a Moonless Sky is so bad that you'd probably do better to pick a PotO fic at random off FFN and set it to music. I think the only way I could face seeing it live would be in Japanese and prepared to close my eyes when necessary.
nineveh_uk: Cover illustration for "Strong Poison" in pulp fiction style with vampish Harriet. (Strong Poison)
It's the Nineveh inquisition (with apologies to Eddie Izzard and the Church of England). Though cake is one of those things that is oft on my To Do lists, but doesn't get done, so mostly it would just be recs. But not today, because I managed to make this yoghurt, fig, pine nut and rosewater cake from the Guardian because it looked nice and I had all the ingredients, though I didn't actually use them because I decided to eat the figs as figs and use greengages instead. It is very quick and very nice and I shall make it again.

As for recs, I have a few, but then again too few... Ahem.

A couple of short Strong Poison fics:

After the End 2 by [profile] sonetka focusing on a couple of minor characters.

The Unnatural Case of the 1925 Property Act , in which people die in a different order, was a gift to me and I ought to have recced long before. I can only hope that Peter and Harriet meet over a charitable cause.

A rare toe in the water of Tolkien fic, Mechlin-Lace, an angsty Arwen and mortality vignette. I have a considerable quantity of angsty Arwen thoughts, and regret that there isn't more fic on the subject (or if there is I haven't read it, possibly because I worry about reading bad angsty Arwen and mortality fic).

Neither cake nor a rec, well, unless you're in London soon, I took myself to a cinema broadcast of the ROH's Le Nozze di Figaro on Monday. I've actually seen the production live some years ago, but this was a very enjoyable way to spend a work night without having to go to London or spend more money, and it was great fun (if long, even with the usual fourth act cuts thank God). There's a DVD of the cast I saw, but I can't buy it because it has a Wrong Cherubino, because the singer is short. Whereas Monday's involved a Perfect Cherubino, by which, I realise, I mean someone who is tall, dark, and slender and reminds me of Frederica von Stade in person, voice, and interpretation. Though I was slightly distracted at times by the extent to which baritone Erwin Schrott physically resembles Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani.

Also, I still really, really want an OTT brocade smoking jacket. I'm just going to have to make one.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
I am back at work after being on holiday (Scotland, family). I left with a cold, I have come back with a new cold. In the meantime I have had a very nice, if busy time. The downside of my immediate family all being in one place is that I not only can see all of them in one visit, I have to, something intensified by Middle Sister’s being on maternity leave, which makes of a lot of scheduling and I didn’t manage to see (or even contact) friends that I would have liked to. Clearly I just need to spend more time on holiday.

But I did see the Edinburgh Zoo pandas. Pandas plural! As female!panda is possibly pregnant (panda pregnancy involves delayed implantation and general unknowingness ), visitors must book viewing slots (no additional cost) in advance, can no longer see inside the dens, and female!panda is spending most of her time in the off-limits indoor bit. The website, cashiers, keepers, and everyone involved with the pandas spends a lot of time telling you that there is no panda guarantee. So Mum and I walked in for our viewing slot, the first one of the day, to find female!panda walking outside, though admittedly going back inside, and male!panda eating in full view, after which he slept in full view. To be honest, pandas are more exciting for what they represent than what they are, but it was still nice to see them as I’ve never seen one before, and I felt pretty lucky. More active were the usual gibbons, chimps, penguins etc. with rhinos providing good value through immense farts and sexual excitement*. I didn’t bother attempting to see the Scottish wildcat as I suspected it would take hours of careful staring and I had limited time to see the animals I particularly wanted to before the nephew-with-toddler-attention-span arrived.

A rather more obvious pregnancy was that of Sylvia Schwartz who had been parachuted in to play Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro , and who was presumably free at short notice because of the fact that she was very clearly about 6-7 months pregnant. Which it turns out can be incorporated surprisingly easily into the plot by strategically raised eyebrows at mentions of her modesty/virginity, leaving the audience to marvel at the singer’s apparently unaffected voice and breath control and ability to dash about and hide behind random bits of furniture/musical instruments. Being Figaro it was of course marvellous, being outside London and semi-staged I got to sit in the stalls, and now I need to book to see the ROH version in the autumn from somewhere behind a pillar in the Gods. Plus Carmen, because I want to see a traditional Carmen and I don’t care whether it is boring as hell in terms of innovative production, because every time someone does an innovative one, it seems to be crap. I now want to write Figaro: the murder mystery.

Otherwise I have walked on a beach, seen more glasshouses than you could throw a bag of stones at, enjoyed England winning the Ashes, and had other people cook for me (but participated in some washing up). My diary is 10 days behind. Maybe next time I get a break I’ll manage to do some reading and writing.

*Ten year-old boy: What’s THAT?
Older brother: What do you THINK?
TYOB: *thinks* YUCK, that’s disgusting!
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
I have booked a ticket for ENO's Sweeney Todd in April, a rather expensive ticket for Sweeney Todd, on an evening that is manageable but not the best option ever, because that was just about all that was left when I was booking in the autumn. Also, my father isn’t coming because there were no affordable options for two people.

This morning I have an email from ENO announcing booking for an extra performance on Easter day that would have been far more convenient, and something fun to do at Easter. ENO don't do refunds. Aargh!

ETA: No refunds, but they do do exchanges, hurrah! New ticket, a couple of rows further forward. Success all round.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
(1) This is a rather charming little Wimseyfic vignette, a missing scene set directly after the end of Strong Poison: Aftershock, Mary and Peter (there should be more fic with Mary in).

(2) Every morning at the mine you could see him arrive... My father is prone to sing the first verse of this. If only he could remember more of it - or the internet had existed in my younger years.

(3) Not so random, a short and lovely extract from The Merry Widow.
nineveh_uk: Picture of fabric with a peacock feather print. (peacock)
I went to the Live from the Met cinema broadcast of The Merry Widow yesterday evening. It was a lot of fun, being the sort of production described as ‘lavishly mounted’ on every front, and having Thomas Allen in it. But the memory that will remain most with me is perhaps not the singing, or dancing, or even the decision to shove an extra aria in the finale pulled from a different Lehar piece (WTF, suddenly she’s singing generic praise of love?), but the introduction and interval interviews presented by Joyce DiDonato, who is an American singer and a woman who never misses the chance to use an adjective.

I take back all that I have ever said about the writing advice not to use adjectives. I have found the scriptwriter who really, really needed to hear it. Every singer was introduced as “the adjective [Renee Fleming]”. In one instance before an interview she used five in a row (by that point it was so bizarrre in effect I was counting). Some of what seemed a bit weird to me was presumably expected US vs. British presentation styles*, but no one needs five adjectives in a row like that! I wonder if the singers compare what they got during subsequent performances, ranking the relative merits of being ‘radiant’ vs. ‘American’?

The Met website has tons of clips of previous broadcasts on it, which I can see is going to keep me happy for some time.

*Speaking of transatlantic style difference, I have never seen so many polo necks on an audience before.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
I have never seen the film Reign of Fire, long may such a state of affairs continue, but I remember Jonathan Ross’s summary of it as “The London Underground with dragons” (which is what it is), and subsequent riff on the theme that adding the phrase “with dragons” can make almost anything sound cooler. This is largely correct. The only things not made better by imagining them with dragons are those that already have dragons, which are largely dreadful unless they are, or are inspired by, Anglo-Saxon poetry.

Then there’s that other phrase, the one reached for by directors who want to be cool in a more ‘gritty’ way. About a month ago, I went Kidlington Amateur Opera Society’s production of The Merry Widow** (which did not involve dragons).* Humming the tunes, I naturally then turned to YouTube to see if there were any complete versions on it, which there are. I clicked on one that looked as if it was not made in the era of orange hair, and did the “move the cursor forward a random amount to see what it is like” thing. I was slightly surprised to discover when “what it was like” was a bloke on stage looking surprisingly like David Mitchell*** in the “Are we the baddies?” sketch.

Yes, someone has made The Merry Widow with Nazis.

It had to happen eventually. There’s Lehar, Hitler’s favourite composer. A libretto that contains rather a lot of cynical references to the Fatherland. Opera’s general liking for dramatic costumes and a bit of updating. It’s still kind of bizarre. The Merry Widow is not darkly political stuff. It’s fluff. Glorious fluff, but basically fluff. Who looks at it and thinks it needs political realism of any sort, let alone updating to occupied Paris c. 1944?

Actually, I can see exactly how it happened:

Company member 1: What shall we do next? Our finances are looking a bit rough, so let’s make sure we get a good audience. Something popular with the old folk, small cast, good tunes. Not too complicated scenery.

Company member 2: How about Die Lustige Witwe.

Other company members: Groan! Too staid! Too conventional! Too Viennese!

Company member 2: No, wait! We can make it exciting. You know how the characters are always going on about the Fatherland?

Other company members: Ye-es?

Company member 2: We set it in the Third Reich! Think of Danilo’s first aria. What if he’s a disenchanted SS officer, the black uniforms will look great on stage. Zeta’s a French collaborator. Hanna’s a film star, like that woman in Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter. Oh! And Rossillon can be in the Resistance and Valencienne a secret sympathiser****. It can’t fail!

Other company members: I suppose we could give it a go…

In the event it worked pretty well, though as it was in German and my copy of the libretto omits some of the dialogue, I wasn’t always able to identify where changes had been made to the text (or I could identify a change, but not exactly what it meant). It’s certainly an awful lot better than the hideous San Francisco Opera production I saw on a library DVD, which was so arch you, could drive a chariot through it. Some of the interest for me lay in the choices made by a German company in terms of representing Nazi characters and insignia on stage. So the uniforms have the SS rune and the death’s head cap badge, but the swastikas are modified, and the salute is done with the arm position as usual, but the fingers open as in a Vulcan salute. But not being a German viewer I don’t have the nuances of why particular choices are made (I know there are legal issues, but I get the impression that these are also not straightforward in all contexts). I expect my next dose of The Merry Widow, a Metropolitan Opera cinema broadcast, to be rather different.

To finish on a random note, when I went to The Girl of the Golden West with [personal profile] antisoppist last month, I remarked that it had got me thinking about what replies various opera characters would get from agony aunts. It strikes me now that Danilo would be the perfect match for Captain Awkward, since he actually does need the message “Use your words”.

*It was surprisingly good. I hadn’t gone with high expectations for the singing, because I’m not an idiot, and so it was adequate. What greatly exceeded my expectations was that they had a director who could direct and a musical director who whipped a 24 piece orchestra on apace and in tune, as a result of which it went at a good clip, played the comedy well, and was thoroughly entertaining.

**Not that I would be surprised by TMW with dragons, given opera production concepts.

***He really does. It is quite hard to watch light opera when all the way through you are thinking that the male lead looks like a slightly thinner version of a British comedian.

****Valencienne actually offers the singer and director a surprising amount of space for characterisation choice. Opera North implied she was a former grisette who really did want to keep to her side of the marriage deal out of loyalty.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
I had a terrific evening on Saturday night at Opera North's production of La Fanciulla del West, in the company of the Grand Theatre’s informed and interested audience, who know not to interrupt a performance with random clapping.

I've wanted to see Fanciulla for years, since I first heard an extract on cassette, but it isn't performed often in the UK. This is an outrageous omission, because it is brilliant. It lacks the "Now stop and listen while I sing a really impressive aria" of something like Tosca, but instead you get a continous flow of glorious music. Not to mention a really weird moment during a love scene in which the listener thinks "Ah! This is Puccini turning up the violins in typical Puccini style"
when it suddenly turns into Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Music of the Night. Really: listen from 0.35.* It also had, and I appreciate that this is opera, and not only opera but Puccini Does the Gold Rush, so what I am about to say is completely ridiculous, but it also had a surprising amount of psychological realism. Some of it was the music, some the production and acting. Some, amazing to relate, might even have been the libretto**. Anyway, put together it really worked. It is ultimately a small-scale personal story, no fate of nations hanging in the balance, and it really is about the individual people. Even the villain is human and no Scarpia - he might be willing to go along with the "Let's play cards and if I win you give up your pursuit of the hero, and if you win he dies and you get to marry me" from the heroine (she cheats), but when he loses he sticks to his side of the deal. So great music, great music direction great singing - if you're in reach and like Puccini***, go and see it.

*Case settled out of court.

**Even if I did find myself pondering the world’s easiest academic paper at one moment, on the symbolism of a love interest called Dick Johnson.

*** That's the only caveat. I don't feel it's an ideal first Puccini opera, but the sort of thing that's better when you've heard Boheme and Tosca, because you see how it's a development of his earlier work.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
The bright side of the queues for the women’s toilets at the theatre is the opportunity to hear what fellow members of the audience think of the performance. Following Julius Caesar, I bring you the Loo Report on two recent productions.


Let me begin by saying that given the time it took to clear the circle at the intervals and the end of the performance, I never want to be in the Circle in the National’s Olivier theatre in the event of a fire. Having finally made it to the toilets I met the inevitable queue, this time including a group of 4/5 American college students:

A: That Iago! What an asshole!
B: I know! I just wanted to shout “Fucker!”

They certainly spoke for me! Delayed review is delayed, indicating only my invariable dislike of writing reviews of plays. I never feel I can really convey why/how something worked for me – of course, I don’t actually have to, but there you go. Anyway, this was Adrian Lester as Othello and Rory Kinnear as Iago, and it was fantastic. It was modern dress and military and it was striking how much this laid the emphasis on Iago. I came away thinking, ‘No-one ever describes it as a play about class,’ which of course it is. Or rather, its treatment of race, for which it is best known, cannot be divorced from its treatment of class and also sex. I spent most of the train journey home shaking my head at my having never opened a Marxist reading of the thing**. Anyway, Lester was strong, but Kinnear was terrific. I also gained a new appreciation for Emilia, the importance of her character for the plot, and the depth of characterization she’s given; helped, I think, by being played by a younger actress than she often is, and having her as a female soldier, so getting away from the Generic Shakespearean Nurse.


This was Welsh National Opera at the New Theatre in Oxford, which isn’t new and has the usual problem of theatres its age: terrible water pressure at the top of the building. On this occasion I disagreed with the queue critics, or at least the one (woman in her 60s) who thought that Act I Scarpia wasn’t evil enough. She wasn’t alone in that – the Guardian reviewer thought the same – but personally, though I enjoy a black trenchcoat as much as the next opera fan, I like a little variety in my Scarpias***. The production had picked up on a lot of the political plot, and if you’re going to emphasize Cavaradossi as revolutionary, I think it helps to consider his enemy as an explicitly political opponent and not simply Satan incarnate. Besides, it turns out the sheer amount of sleaze you can achieve by putting a smoking jacket on the floor and considering whether to add a cushion is pretty impressive.

It was a fairly classic production (hurray for C18 clothing as a change from Edwardian fascist), but had some good bits of business and fresh – to me - ideas. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen the fact that Cavaradossi has been painting the Marchesa Attavanti (and thus advertising to all and sundry that she’s been there a lot lately) presented as political crisis. There he is, assuming that she’s a young woman with a juicy secret and taking advantage of it to paint her, and then he’s told the truth and has an awful moment of realising that ‘It was a sister’s love! And oh hell, I’ve just told everyone what’s going on and given away the revolution!’ I also liked the bit in Act II when the Napoleonic victory is announced and Cavaradossi celebrates, and the production has to decide what everyone else is doing while the tenor gets to digress with some high notes and why don’t the baddies just shut him up? In this case, the announcement’s made, Cav jubilates, and Scarpia and henchmen get out a map and start considering what this actually means, which actually puts everyone’s actions into context. Credit also goes to the translator/dramatist of the surtitles, which were not merely non-embarrassing (quite an effort for Tosca), but really good.

So well-sung, decently acted (Scarpia was best, he usually is) some good ideas, and a good band, which is what I want from Tosca, seeing as it has, in the central hour, some of what, as far as I am concerned, is the best music and drama in opera. If Figaro is up there alone on an aethereal pinnacle, the Te Deum**** to the end of Act II is definitely on the first earthly plane.

*A few moments later, another woman in the group, discussing Desdemona:

C: But she makes it, right?
D: No! She [lost in sound of flushing]

** I cannot reconcile myself to Cassio. Also, sod ‘motiveless malignancy’.

*** Up to a point. The Opera North version with Scarpia as an Inspector Frost-like character in a grubby mac and eating pizza was a fantastic one-off, but let’s face it, audiences usually expect a certain amount of sex appeal in their Scarpias.

****The piece I would most like to sing were I an opera singer, and the reason baritones are better than tenors. It’s also the one good bit of Quantum of Solace.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
I had a very enjoyable evening on Sunday at the Royal Opera House in the company of [personal profile] antisoppist. We saw Puccini's La Rondine, which before seeing it I had mistakenly believed was his sole comedy*. It has twenties costumes, nice tunes, and Angela Gheorghiu, who I had never seen before.

On my return home, while waiting for the open window to cool my furnace-like bedroom sufficiently for me to get to sleep, the Penguin Opera Guide informed me that it was not, as I had assumed, based on La Ronde** and so all the characters would sort themselves out with the right people in the end. This was not the case. The eponymous La Rondine is a metaphorical swallow, and the plot is basically La Traviata-lite, with everyone unhappy because they are incapable of having sensible conversations.

Which led me to think of what operas would be like if people really did behave sensibly, and by a series of leaps, to the culture of opera on various planets in Lois McMaster Bujold's Nexus.

Barrayar and others )
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
The non-piratical bit first. Does chanting “I am not getting a cold, I am not getting a cold” either:

(a) Promote mind over matter and ensure it doesn’t happen?
(b) Make it appear, like Bloody Mary?

I went to see the D’Oyly Carte/Scottish Opera Pirates of Penzance last night, having picked up a leaflet at lunchtime to see that Steven Page* was playing the Pirate King and thus moved from undecided to decided. The reviews had suggested it was a bit solid at times, and I definitely felt the initial tempos needed to be picked up a bit, but it perked up pretty swiftly. I’ve never actually seen Pirates before, though I’ve sung it. Mabel struck me as something of a proto-Madeleine Bassett, and the biggest laugh of the night came with “Because with all their faults, we love our House of Peers”.** Certainly the pirates’ notorious kindness to orphans puts them some rungs up the ladder of decency compared to the present lot.

I recently heard a recording of the Merry Widow overture on Classic FM that made it sound quite G&S-ish. Hearing G&S played by professionals was a reminder as to how far even the G&S-ish bits of Lehar are above G&S.

*Not the one formerly of Barenaked Ladies. This one was a definitive Sweeney Todd with Opera North when I was at university.

** I see a Brideshead Revisited crossover in which “Marquis’ Son Unused to Wine” Sebastian Flyte, instead of being got off by his family is convicted, sent down from Oxford, flees London and falls in with some pirates. He ends up a much happier man.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
(1) After my "maybe I should" angsting, I have now resolved that I am not going skiing at Easter. It's disappointing, but the right decision. I applied the lottery test* and confirmed that if being paid for out of a finite source, the guided bit of a guided trip really needs to be at exactly the right level or I'm going to feel frustrated. So that's that. Instead - and how's this for glamour - I shall go to the Turkish bath at Swindon and at least get a decent sauna, and save the holiday money (and the annual leave) for the summer.

(2) Writing seems to be progressing. Last night was not a success, but I think that's because the next scene is a significant one , and I am anxious about writing it not so much because I think it will be technically difficult, but because it’s a big step in the story and I’m thinking “but have I done everything I need to do in preparation”. Which is silly, because I can always go back and add material if necessary. And also because it is an essential part of a murder mystery that somebody die.

(3) From the department of "the old ones are not in fact the best", an episode summary from the back of a free disc of Upstairs, Downstairs episodes. So much for its being more realistic than Downton Abbey:

Elizabeth and Rose return home one evening after a concert to find that a certain Baron Klaus Von Rimmer, a friend of the people she stayed with in Germany,* has called on her parents. The Bellamys like their guest and invite him to stay and assign Albert to be his valet. It soon transpires that the Baron is actually a spy who has tried to bribe Richard into helping his armaments company to get a contract from the British Navy. This is not all, he has also seduced Albert.

I am absolutely not writing a Red Dwarf crossover.

(4) I have been listening to random Handel, as you do. Endless Pleasure, from Semele. Seldom has a song been better named.

*"What would I do about this issue if I won the lottery today?" It's excellent for addressing how one feels about all sorts of things, though I usually use it for analysing how annoyed or otherwise I am at work in the form of "how much notice would I give?"

**I think that must mean Elizabeth. Rose is the servant.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
Taking the usual missed connection at Birmingham New Street as read, we can move swiftly on to the good bits of the weekend, and specifically the reason I was in Leeds for the first place, Opera North's production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel. Which was brilliant. We were disappointed on arrival to learn that John Woodvine* would not be performing, assumed a lurgy, and then discovered on Sunday from the paper that in fact he had collapsed during the performance (though fortunately in the wings) on Friday night, cue "Is there a doctor in the house?", and the performance was called off. He's now in a stable condition it hospital. But my Dad recovered from the disappointment, especially as we were sitting in the stalls for once. Leg-room!

There's probably an argument that the difference between operetta and musical is that the former is written either before 1900 or not in English. Certainly the music of Carousel at least matches Lehar, and the whole experience is a great deal more enjoyable, and indeed profound, than The Magic Flute**. I've never heard a full recording, nor seen the film, but there were only two numbers I didn't recognise and I've been singing all of them for the past two days. The performances were uniformally excellent, the Opera North chorus and the Northern Philharmonia did their usual sterling stuff, and the dancers - let's just say I usually see the words "ballet" in an opera/musical and yawn, but the Louise's ballet section was enormously theatrical, helped I think by the young dancer's looking a realistic mid-teens. Though I'm glad that we didn't get the original hour and a half version, which - obviously - never made it to performance, even in 1945. It's on in Leeds for the rest of the week, then going to Salford, then the Barbican in London. Strongly recommended.

*I want to call him John Woodville, which is quite a different mental image.

**Admittedly Muppet Babies is probably more profound than The Magic Flute.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
I have only three weeks left at work until Christmas. This is both good and bad...

My colleague won't be in the office today because she is in Stockholm for a long weekend. A romantic long weekend with her new boyfriend, who is a barrister. Am I envious? Too right I am!

To the cyclist turning right last night on Woodstock Road in dark clothes, no bike lights or reflectors, and wearing a helmet: O HAI U BE DOIN SAFETY RONG!

Went to WNO's Barber of Seville last night at the New Theatre. Fun production and good singing, but the theatre decoration makes it feel like one is sitting inside a pink and red jukebox, and the leg-room in the balcony - ow! Ruddigore at the Barbican tomorrow.

My [community profile] picowrimo production for the month has hit 8000! I am resolved to keep going and try and finish the story this time. Of course, it would help if it didn't just seem to be betting longer. For a story I think of as "Potterverse/Wimsey mpreg Corsican crossover (with bonus valet-rogering" we aren't yet anywhere near either mpreg or Corsica. Or rogering.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
Term has hit like a sledgehammer, and grey-faced figures hurry around the building with the look of people attempting to surf a tidal wave. The vain hope is “if I can get this done, next week will be better”. But what I’ve got to do is not uninteresting, and I’m managing to get out of bed and in into town in reasonable time in the morning, which helps a lot. As does the fact that the regular Autumn deluges have not yet hit Oxfordshire.

After two weekends away, I’m glad that the next one will be at home. This weekend was spent in Yorkshire, and very enjoyable, but also busy. I saw a couple of exhibitions at the Mercer Gallery in Harrogate, a building that feels as if Georgette Heyer characters ought to be walking round it, including the Vale of York Hoard and prints inspired by it.

Saturday evening was The Queen of Spades courtesy of Opera North. Enjoyable, but the two leads were hampered by costumes that did not suit them, and in one case by a chest infection. Josephine Barstow giving ’em all what for at 70-plus, though. I know one can hardly complain about the plot in opera, but really – what do Liza and Hermann see in one another, and what has Hermann got that Prince Yeletsky hasn’t? I found myself ficcishly rationalising it by deciding that the ostensibly perfect prince must be one of those men who on closer female acquaintance have an indefinable odour of creepiness, so that Liza was willing to marry anyone to get away from him. I'd like to see a really Gothic production.

The Nanowrimo season approaches, and so the season of [community profile] picowrimo. I have decided that my aim is not to be ambitious and start anything new or original; rather, I am going to put my back into a serious effort to finish the Great Wimsey/Potterverse mpreg crossover. It is about time. Not least because the longer I think about it, the more unwieldy it becomes. New plot strands: doez not want.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Default)
The good news is that I’ve managed to get the Maxim’s theme out of my head. The bad news is that my head is now stuffed full of Lippen Schweigen.* I did manage not to hum too loudly at work.

Yes, I went to see Opera North’s new production of The Merry Widow at the weekend. It was great, marred only by a mysterious smell of garlic mushrooms wafting through the upper circle. I had a brief qualm as it opened, having been lulled by a CD into not quite realizing how far the show is “Gilbert and Sullivan Do Ruritania”. The plot, the court, the silly clothes**, the tendency to break into random folkdance, and the overwhelming sense of it all being a bit old-fashioned, even with a new – and very good – translation by Kit Hesketh-Harvey***. Fortunately (and I say this as someone who gets a great deal of enjoyment out of G&S), Lehár is a magnificent tunesmith. Almost every moment is hummable, and those that aren’t are so because they are too complicated, at least for me to pick up on a first run. The whole thing was well-staged, well sung, and well danced.

The plot is – well, this is opera. There are operas that exquisitely marry music, lyrics, and plot, and then there’s the other 95%. For those of you not familiar with the story )


nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Default)

September 2017

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