Lately

It’s been raining endlessly, the Easter holidays a complete washout of miserably cold, dark, wet days, and delayed spring.

  • I saw the Old Vic production of Fanny and Alexander again at the end of March, somewhat late into the run. As said before, I like seeing plays both during the previews and after the first night, to see how they change shape. F&A had definitely lost some slack, and felt an altogether leaner, meaner show. The cast was still in great form, especially Dame Penelope 🙂
  • few days earlier I caught a concert performance of Handel’s Amadigi di Gaula at St.George’s, Hanover Square, the church Handel (whose house is couple blocks up the street) frequently attended. This opera is one of his earliest operas, and through three and a half acts follows the rather jarring structure of a brief scene followed by a da capo aria, followed by a brief scene followed by etc. Towards the end, the music picks up, and brings the story (which involves a jealous sorceress and a pair of wronged lovers) to a rousing conclusion. Performed by Opera Settecento and conducted (incredibly enthusiastically) by Leo Duarte, it was fairly entertaining, although I suspect this opera would really, really benefit from a seriously overblown, period-accurate staging complete with cardboad sets, baroque fancy dress and grease paint. And candle light. I haven’t given Handel huge amount of consideration, but after this I sort of want to go and two a Handel tour of London, visit the house he lived in, next door to the house Jimi Hendrix lived in.
  • opera number two was Shakespearean, Verdi’s Macbeth at the Royal Opera, a proper occasion opera if there ever was one – this was the second revival of Phyllida Lloyd’s extremely stylish, streamlined production, this time staged with Anna Netrebko as its star attraction. She sort of needs to be heard live to be fully believed; she doesn’t sound particularly attractive or powerful on her Verdi arias record, but on stage her voice was strong and clean and her presence felt. Macbeth is considered a “minor” (or mid-ranking) Verdi opera, but this production really compliments it, and Antonio Pappano’s dynamic conducting really brought the best out of it.
  • a week later I saw Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, also at the ROH and also conducted by Pappano, and also a revival, originally directed by Richard Jones (and bearing many of his hallmarks) and by Elaine Kidd for this revival. This opera is evidence of the degree to which Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth defines the ruthless wife character – beyond the murderous lead character and the haunted, terrified bangs of quilt she experiences, this isn’t really an adaptation of the play, unlike the Verdi opera. In the hands of both Shostakovich and Jones, Leskov’s dark tale about a disappointed, oppressed housewife who forges her own way out becomes a black comedy – visually the Soviet realism is seen through a kaleidoscope of the usual Richard Jones madcap (there’s not just acres of gaudy wallpaper, but an in-between scene where the wallpaper is hung), somehow an axe murder appears absurdly funny, and the music is full of sex jokes. There are few performances left, but they are all sold out after rave reviews. If it ever comes by again, catch it.
  • at the Ashmolean, an exhibition of American 20th century paintings, on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by such artists as Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe opened in late March and will run till July.

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