Posts Tagged ‘Covent Garden’

Tannhäuser Royal Opera House 15 December

December 18, 2010


Another black-themed brothel (from

There were some entertaining points to this production.  When the curtain rose on the first act, to reveal another ROH curtain in another proscenium arch, the audience–at least, the stalls audience–laughed, which made a difference from the groan that greated the reappearing table here in the Bolshoi’s Eugene Onegin.  Then during the first interval my companion was able to espy the bottle of Campari that the barman said didn’t exist.

But otherwise I found myself deeply out of sympathy with the piece–in this case, Wagner’s music wasn’t good enough to disguise the insane solipsistic paucity of the story.  If there is a dramatic point, it occurs when the dead Elisabeth persuades God to forgive Tannhäuser–that happened securely offstage, and showing it would have needed too much chutzpah even for Wagner.  And of course first of all Elisabeth and then Tannhäuser die spontaneously when the plot demands it–there isn’t any cause in the action.

I did hear Semyon Bychkov (the excellent conductor here) on the radio describing Tannhäuser as the model of the artist scorned and despised for being different, when murderers and rapists were pardoned.  But from the admittedly idiosyncratic perspective of the Pope of Rome, having sexual relations with a pagan deity is quite a severe breach of bon ton, and  different from the things that mere humans do to each other.  The cynical expedience with which Wagner deployed the  drivelling about God and holiness here leads me to believe that he was as much an atheist as I am, but I can’t give him any credit for it.  I had the feeling that on this occasion the giant’s robes had failed to cover the dwarfish thief Wagner, and you were all too aware of him gesticulating frantically and crying Look at me, Look at me.

Johan Botha as Tannhäuser (from

The production rehashed many of the cliches that irritate me in the theatre:  the Malevich-styled brothel, the men with guns and general war-torn ruination (but at least they weren’t covered in oil this time), the crowds standing around in no particular shape for no particular reason.

I can’t say I was worried by the commanding presence of Johan Botha sitting on a chair downstage for most of the evening–he put his part across with commendable strength and clarity and even infused the Rome Narrative with genuine fatigue and disillusion.  In fact, apart from the tired errors of the production concept, I thought the Royal Opera did this about as well as one could–the problems were down to Wagner.

La Valse/Invitus Invitam/Winter Dreams/Theme and Variations Royal Ballet 18 October

October 21, 2010


Picture from

The evening started in sprightly enough fashion, with a La Valse that was engagingly silly, and well-danced as well.  Then we had Invitus Invitam.  My companion said that she had heard many explanations of the title.  It appears to come from Suetonius’s Life of Titus, Ch 7:  Berenicen statim ab urbe dimisit inuitus inuitam (He immediately sent Berenice away from the city, he unwilling and she unwilling)–inuitus inuitam is a nice example of polyptoton if you like that kind of rustic humour.  Then there’s something interesting about the dancing eunuchs Titus didn’t send away….

Picture from

So there was a ballet, which had a couple of stage hands putting up barriers and dancing and then Titus and Berenice dancing.  There were many changes of cast announced in the programme, but Leanne Benjamin (in place of Alina Cojocaru) hollowed her back expressively as Berenice and Edward Watson (in place of Johan Kobborg) didn’t make much impression on me as Titus.  I enjoyed the music, by Ades out of Couperin, but in general I had the feeling that someone was trying to tug at my hearstrings and not managing to reach.

Then it was the interval and after the interval Winter Dreams.

I think this one comes from

This was some kind of balletic digest of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, and it left me irritated.  What was that dreary trash by Tchaikovsky the poor pianist had to grind through?  (I see there’s a full listing on page 29 of the programme.)  What where those people doing dining noisily behind a scrim at the back of the stage?  Where was the bloody fire and the brass band?  During the interval, my companion said that it had satisfied her storytelling nature, but it would have been better with Darcey Bussell.

And to end with we got Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, a fine example of his everything-is-emphasised-so-nothing-is-emphasised style, and we might actually take more notice if you stopped kicking us in the balls mate.

The Gambler (Royal Opera House) 25 February

February 26, 2010


For a long time, I thought this was going to be a kind of Makropoulos Affair without the ascent into real opera at the end.  The plot, concerning various Russian and other parasites losing money they hadn’t earned in the German resort of Rouletteburg (or Roulettenbourg in the Frenchified version adopted here) unrolled with them all being suitably grotesque but without the feeling of people living on the edge of the abyss that is the other side of Dostoevsky’s novella.

My companion suggested that you couldn’t really make an opera from a novel, and was unimpressed with my rejoinder of  From the House of the Dead and Manon/Manon Lescaut.

But after the interval Grandma and Polina actually had something legato (and affecting) to sing, the climactic scene in the casino came off with brilliant effect, and Polina’s declaration that Aleksei Ivanovich couldn’t expect to buy the Marquis’s discarded mistress for 50,000 francs more-or-less explained what she was about.

And it was all exceptionally well done–John Tomlinson as the General was in extremely sprightly voice, not at all like a man who has sung a few too many Wotans rather too loudly, while Susan Bickley (Grandma) and Angela Denoke (Polina) had the most prepossessing parts and made the most of them.

The orchestral playing under Antonio Pappano was brilliant, too.