Archive for June, 2010

Salome (Oscar Wilde) Hampstead Theatre 26 June

June 27, 2010


Picture of Herod and Herodias from /

This production (credited to Headlong Theatre and The Curve Leicester) appeared to be set in the Niger delta with oozing oil and characters dressed in ragged denims waving sub machine guns.  Salome (Zawe Ashton) frequently referred to the body of Jokanaan (Seun Shote) as being exceedingly white, but he looked like a black man caked with oil to me.  She also at one point referred to her litter passing by ‘idol-buyers’ at a bridge; presumably she meant ‘idol-sellers’.  She didn’t get a silver charger to go with Jokanaan’s head either.

I’m not going to complain about the awful drab ugliness of the set (after all, war isn’t pretty), though in a play it would be helpful if one lost fewer of the words due to noisy machinery or characters facing away from you (in the middle of the stalls).

My complaint is that if the play is meant to be Decadent, then there must be something to decay.  Drunken oil-covered soldiers aren’t it.  The whole point of someone like Herod was to impress his power and glory on the populace (and so reassure his Roman patrons) by  continual awe-inspiring display.  So then this gives a lot of rose for the worm to gnaw at, both in the aesthetic hypertrophy breaking out in characters’ descriptions of the moon and so on and in Salome’s perverse desires undermining the painfully-maintained order of things.  Herod wandering around in decaying denim with what appears to be an article of Salome’s underwear round his head doesn’t really do it (not even if he was whited-up, which I think is the one historically-plausible item I noted).

On the positive side, I thought that Wilde’s text was actually rather good, as far as I could tell from this (mis)treatment…Maybe like ‘Lulu’ this one is better left as an opera…

Idomeneo ENO 23 June 2010

June 27, 2010


The end (from

We had a long and uninspiring evening in the Coliseum. The original story of Idomeneus had first of all been made safe for 18th century audiences by adding a happy ending and some love interest, and then further changed by for instance eliminating any mention of a sea monster.  At times in the music one could hear things that would become interesting in Mozart’s later operas and for long periods one was deeply bored.

As many commentators have pointed out, the production was marked by extras crossing the stage while the principals were delivering their big numbers.  I can think of three reasons for this:

i)  About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

Well, in this context Mozart is an Old Master and he intended something different.

Brueghel's Icarus--a bit different from crisscrossing waiters

ii)  Electra actually interacts with the waitstaff in various ways that the other main characters don’t, so maybe this reflects her isolation and the idea she is in the wrong place and should be in the underworld with her brother Orestes.

iii)  The director (Katie Mitchell)  felt that the opera was just too boring and the audience needed to be kept entertained somehow.  In the first place, if you don’t believe in the piece you shouldn’t put it on and in the second if the production was meant to entertain the audience independently of the opera why was it so drab?

Still, the video projections were quite nice…

At the end, one of my companions remarked that a bad woman who wore red was bound to come to a sticky end.  Then she found she had left her bag in the pub.  The other felt that after 11 hours in the office 3 h 20 min of this was taking tedium too far.

St Paul’s Sinfonia, St Paul’s Deptford, 18 June

June 21, 2010


St Paul’s Sinfonia
Andrew Morley  conductor

Greenwich Trio:
Lana Trotovsek  violin
Stjepan Hauser  cello
Yoko Misumi  piano

1. Rossini ‘William Tell’ Overture
2. Beethoven Triple Concerto


3. Brahms Symphony No. 4

After Friends and supporters had been entertained to fizz and conversation in the church crypt, we clambered up the spiral staircase to the concert.  I was impressed to learn that there were other things in the William Tell overture as well as the final Allegro vivace, and my companion was impressed by the way that the church acoustic projected the sound out at us.  The Beethoven Triple Concerto was a fairly late replacement for a new piece that had never materialised, and this time the acoustic defeated me–I really had little idea of what as going on in the orchestral part.  I also commented that the pianist seemed to be trying out for the position of England goalie–but we could hear the violinist and cellist, and they were good.

During the interval, I was filled with foreboding as to how mushified Brahms 4 would be by the acoustic and I was pleasantly surprised, or to be more accurate, completely  astonished.  There followed a performance of total clarity and conviction, whipped along by Andrew Morley with great dynamism and passion, and I felt I saw the point of Brahms for the first time in something like thirty years.  As my companion pointed out, it does make a diiference when the orchestra play like they mean it, not like a group of the jaded and world-weary!  And I was most impressed by their commitment and attack.

St Paul’s Sinfonia:  very nice people and well worth supporting!–See their website.


The author is a Friend of St Paul’s Sinfonia, and on this occasion received two glasses of free fizz (and free entrance to the concert).

Anna Gorbachyova, Julian Gallant, Russian Song Series, Pushkin House 17 June

June 21, 2010


Pushkin House

Anna Gorbachyova soprano
Julian Gallant piano

1.  Poulenc Fiançailles pour rire
2.  Richard Strauss Drei Lieder der Ophelia  Op. 67


3.  Rachmaninov Six Romances  Op. 38
4.  Duparc L’invitation au voyage

Julian Gallant introduced this recital by putting it in its place in Pushkin House’s Russian Song Series and introducing the singer, Anna Gorbachyova.  In fact, the different pieces were all preceded by a general introduction from Juilan and a more specific one from Anna.

The Fiançailles pour rire were completely new to me, and I was most struck by how good the texts were (by Louise de Vilmorin, who I was aware of only peripherally).  I thought that Anna Gorbachyova here and indeed everywhere showed herself a true opera singer, determined to make her point with all the vocal and dramatic ,means at her disposal.  But in this particular section of a programme, a less declamatory style might have been more suitable.  Then the Three Ophelia Songs showed just how gratefully Strauss wrote for the soprano voice (yes we know that already, but whatever).

After the mini-interval, the Six Romances Op. 38 showed Rachmaninov in quite a progressive mood–as Julian Gallant pointed out–and the texts proved to be a great deal less slushy than in the vast majority of Russian romances.  I also enjoyed Julian’s very fine accompaniment here.  And then L’invitation au voyage–about the only one of these pieces I did know–was jolly good, and not at all declamatory…

Well done Julian, well done Anna!


The author is a Friend of Pushkin House and attended this concert for free.

Southbank Sinfonia, St John’s Waterloo, 17 June

June 21, 2010


St John's, Waterloo

Southbank Sinfonia
Oliver Gooch conductor

1.  Sebastian Rapacki Overture
2. Harrison Birtwistle Bach Measures
3.  Robert Schumann Cello Concerto

The first of my two free concerts this evening began with a new (and short) piece by a composer so young that he had brought his mother along for moral support.  Then I definitely enjoyed Birtwistle’s Bach Measures (arrangements of eight of Bach’s Chorale Preludes)–apart from anything else, the sparely instrumented and widely-spaced lines were well-suited to overcoming the church acoustic.

In Schumann’s Cello Concerto, on the other hand, I had difficulty in making out anything very much of the orchestral part and the soloist (Yuki Ito) seemed to be playing with a real intergalactic distance…

Then it was a hurried scuttle over the road to get a bus to Bloomsbury and the next event…


The author got a free glass of wine at this event.

St Paul’s Sinfonia Programme 2010/11

June 19, 2010

St Paul's Deptford

Here’s the programme for the St Paul’s Sinfonia 2010/11 season, which includes showings of two silent films with scores by Stuart Hancock on 20 May,  and a world premiere by Elena Firsova on 18 February.  No doubt more details will appear on their website soon enough!

Friday 15 October

Mendelssohn Overture ‘Ruy Blas’
Martinu Concerto-Rhapsody
Schubert Symphony No. 9 ‘Great’

Louise Parker viola
Andrew Morley conductor

Friday 19 November

Haydn Symphony No. 43 ‘Mercury’
Alan Rawsthorne Divertimento
Schumann Symphony No. 2

Andrew Morley  conductor

Friday 17 December

Mendelssohn Overture ‘Hebrides’
Stuart Hancock Violin Concerto
David Braid Score for an lmaginary Film
Haydn Symphony No. 45 ‘Farewell’

Paul Barrett  violin
Andrew Morley  conductor

Friday 21 January


Barber Adagio for Strings
Herrmann Music from Psycho
lves Quarter-tone Chorale
Benjamin Frankel Concertante Lirico
Elgar Introduction and Allegro

Andrew Morley  conductor

Friday 18 February

Herrmann Aubade
Elena Firsova Cello Concerto No. 4 (WP)
Mozart Symphony No. 41 ‘Jupiter’

Anatole Liebermann   cello
Andrew Morley   conductor

Friday 18 March

Schubert Symphony No.3
St Paul’s Sinfonia Composition Prize winner
Sibelius Symphony No. 3

Friday 8 April

Haydn Symphony No. 47 ‘Palindrome’
Mendelssohn Violin Concerto
Sibelius Symphony No. 2

Elona Laurie   violin
Samuel Burstin  conductor

Friday 22 April


Bach St John Passion

Serlo Consort and soloists
Andrew Morley conductor

Friday 20 May


Stuart Hancock ‘One Week’ (WP)
Stuart Hancock ‘Lucky Star’

Andrew Morley   conductor

Friday 17 June

Mahler Adagietto from Symphony No. 5
Bruch Violin Concerto
Mahler Symphony No. 4

John Haworth violin
Zoe South soprano
Andrew Morley conductor

Apples (after Richard Milward) Albany Theatre Deptford 16 June

June 17, 2010


An image from the Apples microsite

The stalls in the Albany Theatre Deptford were about seven-eighths full by the time this show began;  the seats near me were mostly occupied by women with blonde highlights drinking pints of lager, and they had the right accent as well.

OK so this is an adaptation of the novel Apples by Richard Milward, and it’s about a group of school-age youngsters in Middlesbrough who experience what you might think of the cliched misfortunes of working-class youth:  parental violence, drug abuse, non-consensual sex, drunkenness, shoplifting, bullying, unplanned pregnancy, infanticide.  What I liked about the book–and which this show maintains–is the constant optimism and the ability to turn what could be grim cliches into something poetic, fresh and original.

There was a great deal that the blonde pint-drinking black-dress-wearing women (and I) enjoyed immensely, especially the unconsciously self-condemning descriptions of deficient sexual technique.  And as a dance show with dramatic or comic interludes it worked very well and also provoked a whole steelworks of nostalgia.

Another image from the same place

Unfortunately, it…er…wasn’t a play.  What happened happened because it was in the book rather than because it came out of the characters and their interactions.  There wasn’t enough nastiness to be redeemed by the music colour and poetry.  So there was no real conflict.  At the beginning, the effect of Eve finding out her mother has lung cancer and then going down the disco with her mates should be like being hit over the head, and here it wasn’t.  When Adam goes to The Grove pub here for the first time, he mentions the frightening steroid freaks in his narration to the audience–in fact, a lot of the show was narration to the audience–but you didn’t see them and so discounted them.

I didn’t think that either the script or Louis Roberts the actor captured the sheer inadequate viciousness of Gary–here he simply seemed confused.  As Eve, Therase Neve embodied the kind of attractive, friendly, open North Eastern girl that everyone knows, but unfortunately she also struck me as being far to sensible to see taking Ecstasy with a bunch of losers as the height of  happiness.  Similarly, Adam (Scott Turnbull) was simply not odd enough:  he’s supposed (I think) to be displaying OCD and probably a few other behavioural pathologies as well.  A love story between a realistically-damaged Adam and a realistically-damaged Eve would have been something extraordinary and, to be fair, Milward didn’t provide it in the first place.

The programme says:  We are especially excited when we find a story which speaks with love and honesty about the North East.  It was a good show, and it treated the characters and their situations with sympathy, understanding and some of the poetic transcendence of the original, but you didn’t really see enough of what it was necessary to be honest about.

The show is a co-production between Northern Stage and Company of Angels and will be touring various locations until the end of July, before spending most of September in Newcastle–details here.

I remember a long time ago telling some people at a conference that providing sexual health services for young people in Middlesbrough concentrated in a specific building was not a good idea because you might (for instance) need to go there because you might (for instance) need the morning-after pill and there might (for instance) be someone like (for instance) your boyfriend hanging around who would see you going there…

Update 22 June: Oxford Playhouse have a £5 ticket offer to see APPLES at the BT Studio this week. Call 01865 305305  and quote “£5 offer” when booking.

Treemonisha Greenwich Theatre 13 June

June 14, 2010


Treemonisha's supposed parents

And so to Greenwich for a production of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha by Pegasus Opera.  I remember it as a story on Jackanory about 1970.   And it’s simple enough.  We are on a plantation in the American South sometime after the supposed end of slavery.  Wicked conjurors are deceiving the locals.  Treemonisha tells them to behave.  Monisha, supposed to be Treemonisha’s mother, says that she miraculously found her in a tree, which is why to she is called Treemonisha.  TM has also received an education (courtesy of a white lady), unlike anyone else around.  The wicked conjurors capture TM and prepare to throw her off a cliff.  TM’s friends capture them and prepare to punish them.  TM tells them that two wrongs do not make a right.  So in recognition of her wisdom and learning they make her their leader.

Well, it can’t be an opera–where music and drama fuse together–since there is no drama.  As for the music, I thought that Monisha’s number The Sacred Tree was nicely Italianate, and there was a nice ragtime number to finish with.  A lot of the rest was very forgettable.

Among the performers, Maureen Braithwaite as Monisha was good, and I could generally make out her words; and I liked Rodney Clarke as Parson Alltalk.  Donna Bateman as Treemonisha was squally, and I often had problems with her diction.  Bernard Abervandana as her rescuer, Remus, was very strained of voice and also rather flat I thought.  The cast were to be found standing still and waiting for the next number rather too often, given that they had by now been on the road with this show to quite a few places (including Middlesbrough).

Lulu (Gate Theatre) 12 July

June 13, 2010


Poster image

Another case of misguided naturalism, I think.  I spent the first half feeling extremely bored, because the production just wasn’t working for me–surely it should be large-scale, over-the-top, extravagant, undercut by the occasional cynical aside.  Wedekind’s original is after all set in a circus, which admittedly would be difficult to replicate in your archetypal room-above-a-pub.  In addition, lack of space meant that Schwartz (Michael Colgan) had to more or less climb over Lulu (Sinead Matthews) when they changed places to exchange repartee; you tend to think that could be a bit hazardous with such a femme fatale…But there were a couple of decent jokes (which I’ve now forgotten) and I decided to stay for the second half.

The beginning of the second half was quite successful, with Schoning (Sean Campion) and Lulu bored and resentful of each other, like Lolita and Humbert Humbert.  Countess Geschwitz was played by an unnamed understudy ‘script-in-hand’, which turned out to mean she had the script tucked under her arm with her part highlighted, and she referred to it from time to time.  You could say that this was quite appropriate since Lulu refers to her as ‘crippled’, but on the other hand you could also say that Geschwitz is the one positive character, who loves Lulu and gets nothing save abuse in return, so it’s a pity if her performance is….handicapped.

The end, where Lulu’s degraded state of a London streetwalker leads to a fatal encounter with Jack the Ripper would have done well as a naturalistic treatment of the evils of prostitution (in the spirit of the image above), but again this seemed out of place to me.

Eyes Wide Open (Odeon Panton Street, 11 July)

June 12, 2010


Men in hats!

My eyes had great difficulty in staying open, and frequently strayed to my watch, hoping that this film would soon be over.  It was only an interest in seeing how much Modern Hebrew I would recognise on the basis of my imperfect knowledge of Biblical Hebrew that kept me in the cinema to the end.  The two gay lads who made up the rest of the audience may have had a different area of interest…

Anyway, the story is that Aaron Fleischmann is a butcher in an Orthodox part of Jerusalem; his father has recently died, leaving him to run the business himself (Fleischmann means ‘butcher’ in German).  He has a wife and five or so children.  A young man appears.  He has been kicked out of more than one yeshiva and is presently homeless.  He is called Ezri (meaning ‘my help’ in Hebrew).  Aaron takes him on to help in the shop and installs him in a storeroom above the shop.

After Ezri stares intently at Aaron for the purpose of sketching him, and they have gone bathing together, they become lovers.  In the room above the shop, and rather frequently.  Rivka, Aaron’s wife, tells him that she has had her mikvah [and is so ritually pure for intercourse] but it doesn’t have the same effect.  Rabbi Weissbein warns Aaron to get rid of Ezri.  He doesn’t, but he does join in a party to warn Israel Fischer off from relations with Sara Katz, since she needs to be married off to somebody else.

Whatever.   Things get worse.  Aaron eventually sees sense gives in to social pressure and Ezri leaves.  At the end, we see him bathing alone in the loveinducing pool and then disappearing beneath its unquiet waters…

So why was I so bored?  Well, it wasn’t very interesting to look at:  there was a lot of static staring at not-very-interesting things from the same camera angles.  The background of ‘normal’ life in this community was never really established, since the film starts with Aaron’s agonised response to his father’s death and as a useful interview here says it wasn’t concerned with realism anyway.  So external events are at best a background to Aaron’s inner struggles, which I must say I didn’t sympathise with that much:  if he had been shagging Sara Katz (surely less unacceptable from a social viewpoint) then the answer would have been Have some sense (not to mention compassion for your wife and children) man…So why is this supposed not to apply with Ezri?