Everything in its place?

In these hard times, I’ve been concentrating on cultural experience rather than administrative troubles. Through a series of concert and theatre visits, I’ve been dogged by a kind of over-arching theme – people turning up in the wrong place. Sometimes it was me, sometimes others – but always with dire consequences.

The first was the younger cast members of ‘Women Beware Women’ at the National Theatre earlier this summer. A huge critical success, it was sold out, partly on the strength of the wonderful Harriet Walter. Sadly, it was full of young actors who had absolutely no idea how to speak the verse. What were they doing there? Why were they cast? It’s a mystery. I left at the interval.

Then I decided on impulse to  go to the Rattle/Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Prom. I got one of the last available tickets, which cost £48. The programme was Berlioz (the love scene from Romeo and Juliet) and the second act of Tristan, on period instruments. Imagine my astonishment when, on being shown to my box (that phrase has a lovely eighteenth century ring, doesn’t it?) I found myself sitting next to a mother and her child, a girl of approximately five years old. Who in their right mind pays £48 for a five-year-old to sit through an hour and a half of a concert performance of a Wagner opera? I couldn’t even begin to imagine how the mother might have explained it to her: “well, darling, this is the queen who is married to the king, and this scene shows her meeting her lover – no dear, she’s not married to her lover, they’re just at it. And this is the king bursting in finding them at it, and then he tells them both how upset he is.” To her credit, the child did quite well, getting on and off her mother’s lap a number of times without audible complaint, and ending the evening with her legs draped over the front of the box. Also out of place, or at least out of tune, were  the trombones – a sad blot on and otherwise musically interesting evening. King Mark (Franz-Josef Selig) was sensational – one of those 80% cocoa solids voices with the inexorable power of the incoming tide on a very, very calm day.

I then went to the ballet for the first time in my life on 15th August –  a matinée of Prokofiev’s Cinderella at the ENO. Apart from my sex (the audience was 98% female), I was the one who was completely out of place. It was extremely impressive but I have to say somewhat uninvolving. Once or twice I felt slightly moved. But I am used to the opera, with its sex, violence, blood, guts and outrage, and, if it’s Verdi, a good dollop of politics as well. Mind you, I was pleased to note that it’s really true that among the male dancers, the more important you are, the bigger your codpiece. The Prince practically had Cinderella’s eye out during one injudicious leap.

The next two concerts I went to were Proms 50 and 51, and, thematically speaking, they both had the same problem: the wrong soloist. The much venerated Richard Goode, famous for his performances of Bach and Beethoven, played Bartok’s third Piano Concerto in a charming, lyrical and totally wrong-headed way. He seemed to have absolutely no idea how it went – all the notes in the right place, but nothing else. His little Bach encore (as usual, the relatively undiscriminating Proms audiences yelped like hungry puppies for more) convinced from the second note, because he was doing his proper stuff. (Anyone who has heard me bang on about what Bartok said about playing two notes will catch my drift there.)

Prom 51, with the gloriously wonderful and superb Swedish Chamber Orchestra from Oerebro (trns: Pennybridge), had the same fault. The luscious, huge-voiced Wagnerian soprano Nina Stemme turned up to sing Berlioz’s Les nuits d’ete, and ended up sitting on it while it squawked to be let out. She didn’t know it properly either – put the music on a stand to the side and kept taking what she hoped were surreptitious peeks which were actually totally and embarrassingly obvious to us all. Why she thought the Proms was a good place to do her first performance of this piece was another mystery – don’t you try that sort of thing out in a hall in the sticks somewhere first?

Finally, I went to a club for the first time in my life on Tuesday night – the 100 Club, haunt of jazz and rock greats down the ages (I’m told). It’s a crumbling and drab basement under the shops at the less crowded end of Oxford Street. What the hell was I doing there? I was at a classical gig of course – the Limelight series which takes classical music to places where they hope that people who don’t listen to classical music (i.e., not me) will come and listen. Actually the audience was at least half classical buffs – you could tell by looking. I was with a group of very nice people whom I didn’t know very well. The Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (very good) played Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (oh Noooooo) in a souped-up version with electronic sound effects and added shouting (oh well, if you must). Then Leif-Ove Andsnes (a Dane) played Chopin, exquisitely, while I cricked my back in a plastic chair wishing we were all at the Wigmore Hall, in a decent acoustic, with comfy seats. If that makes me an old fuddy-duddy, I don’t care. I hope they made some converts. I had to leave before they started on the Brahms – I can’t cope with late nights.

So there you have it. There have been lots of positive sides of course – fabulous Haydn 102 from the Beeb SO, wonderful Schumann symphonies from the Swedes, as well as a great new piece by Albert Schnelzer, and the ice-cream at the Royal Albert Hall coming way ahead of the stuff they serve at the Coliseum.

My next move is a trip to Munich, Linz and Vienna – I’ll let you know if I run into the same problem there.


Published in: on August 26, 2010 at 12:45  Leave a Comment  

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