Monthly Archives: April 2013

Operaed out


Two operas in three days.  Last night it was Nabucco from the Royal Opera House; not such a marathon as the screening from the Met on Saturday, and rather more successful, I thought, as an experience (though of course I’m not entitled to judge the music).  Like Giulio Cesare it was staged in modern dress. The 40s costumes were very downbeat compared with the Met’s gorgeousness, but somewhat appropriate for a story of the Jews undergoing persecution and enslavement. There were polystyrene monoliths representing the Temple of Jerusalem, a gyrating chorus, some puzzling back projections and a number of chicken wire idols (Baal).

They got away with it, though, because the story was allowed to remain both religious and political, and one could see how it related to the Italy of its time (unlike Giulio Cesare, which was forced, it seemed to me, into an inappropriate Romantic mould, when its heart lay in an Enlightenment apprehension of the classical world).

Placido Domingo sang Nabucco, obviously knocking on a bit but still game, and it’s  impossible not to have Lear in mind when watching an old man deal with difficult daughters, lending the role an extra subtext of pathos and irony.   Liudmyla Monastyrska, who sang Nabucco’s power-hungry un-daughter Abigaille, was suitably alarming:  she could have grilled steaks with her gaze alone, and to stand anywhere near her mouth while she was giving forth must be like being directly in the beam of a disinto-ray gun.

Maybe if I keep going I’ll understand opera one day…

A Handelian kip


We had tickets for the Live at the Met screening of Giulio Cesare tonight.  Ten minutes in, and I was snoozing.  It often happens at these opera showings; it’s not an insult to the opera – on the contrary, that slide into the darkness of the cinema and the light, sound and colour of the stage make me relax, relinquishing quotidian demands and tensions.  It’s a power nap, and I wake soon, ready to inspect whatever is on offer this time.

What was on offer was a huge, long, strange confection, seeming (to me) uneasy in its twenty-first century production.  Do producers just feel the urge to be different, do they secretly think Handel is dull and needs to be livened up, or are they not really at home with a classical setting and high seriousness?  I didn’t mind the costumes hopping from period to period (though the barrage balloons were coming it a bit strong).  I’m fine with humour and tragedy occurring side by side; but here I wasn’t convinced that there was any justification for low comedy either in the music or the libretto.  The dancing was slightly distracting, but I took my hat off to Natalie Dessay for her sheer stamina in the Cleopatra role.

I’d love to know what Handel himself would have made of it.  Handel’s music, however, came out strong, and dusted off the incongruities like dandruff.



Hamlet’s teeth


I had plenty of time to think about Britain before the universal availability of orthodontics while watching a version of Hamlet recorded in 1969, with Nicol Williamson in the title role, Anthony Hopkins as Claudius and Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia.  Apparently this was a recording of a stage play, rather than a film proper, and the director’s intention seems to have been to exclude the set by filling the frame with closeups of the actors’ faces. Thus it was a trifle unfortunate that the actors playing Gertrude, Claudius and Hamlet were all the same age…  in fact the rosy-cheeked Claudius looked younger than his step-son.

prissy Dane

There was little dramatic magic to counteract this (though perhaps it worked better live on stage).  Nicol Williamson delivered one of the greatest theatrical moments I have ever seen as Coriolanus in (I think) 1972, and I had hopes.  But this Dane was not so much gloomy as prissy, and, bizarrely, I kept getting a whiff of Graham Chapman in Pythonesque form.  Ben Kingsley at The Other Place in Stratford in 1975 remains my top Hamlet;  sad to say, I only want this version as a swop.

Beating the system


It’s occasionally possible to beat the system, or at least to shove a bend in it, but at a  cost in wearance and tearance.  As we all know, moderate stress can be ameliorated with chocolate, but for the real stuff jelly babies are better;  something to do with being able to viciously bite their legs off.


Today was a sixteen-jelly-baby day.  But I did put a bend in a system.



The waves surged with a leisurely display of might, self-regulated by natural checks and balances.  Occasionally a more emphatic wave rolled over its cancelled predecessor to strike the sea wall I stood upon.  Wump!

(click for the gallery)



The strange conjunctions so characteristic of alphabetical order:  Larry Niven next to Mary Norton, Isaac Asimov with Jane Austen, Tove Jansson alongside Samuel Johnson, while George Herbert and Georgette Heyer are alphabetically congruent whichever name you sort them on.

What a pity that my non-fiction is thematically aggregated.

Something to be said for winter


– as after a couple of days of milder weather things are beginning to wake up, and some of those things have more legs than is decent.  Last night as I sat on the sofa a (quite large) spider emerged from its hidey-hole and tried to run down my neck.  The sewing went one way, the needle went the other, and I went straight up in the air squeaking and walloping.

This resulted in a morning spent poking dusters down the backs of radiators and shelves, and much hoovering of soft furnishings.  When the sofa could be deemed safe, I sat down upon it to finish a brown waterfall cardigan.  It’s not a very special yarn as the pattern is experimental, and brown does have a tendency to look rather …. brown, so I sewed on 36 carefully-selected buttons ( 🙂 ) to cheer it up.  Yet to decide if this fashion statement works.


The buttons took a considerable time, so we fetched out some old videos of Series 1 of Farscape, which can’t have been played for the best part of ten years, and we were soon chuckling away.  The first few episodes were classic SF, with their trademark Creature Shop puppets, and all the characters confused, edgy, selfish, unpredictable, and randomly violent or vomiting.  Sadly, like many long series, it all got a bit soapy later on, so I will stop while the going is good.