Saraghina, la rumba!

It’s Friday evening at 7pm, and I have actually finished work, for a change. I am doing no work this weekend. The next several days are going to feature cute boys, arts & culture and exotic locations. Stay tuned for more news.

I would like to celebrate this situation with a clip from Fellini’s 1963 film 8 1/2.  There are many things one could say about this important film but I will be concise. One of the most memorable figures in the film is La Saraghina, a woman who lives in a hut on the beach. In exchange for a coin, she dances. She is – well, I will let you decide.

Saraghina, la rumba! La rumba!

The Magic Flute

OMG. That was possibly the best thing I have EVER seen.

OK, so I am an opera aficionado now. I have been to many official, impressive and very expensive venues such as the English National Opera and the Royal Opera House to see world-class performances. Everything has been magnificent. The singing, the orchestras, the set design, everything. It’s all been the very pinnacle of refined culture.

Today, I went to see Mozart’s Magic Flute, an opera I knew nothing about. I went to see it at the King’s Head Theatre, a theatre that I had never heard of.

OMG. It was AWESOME. I was BLOWN AWAY.

First, the theatre. When they say ‘theatre’, what they mean is ‘back room of a pub in Islington’.

Pub exterior. A typical London pub.

kings head ext

Inside the pub.

kings head interior

Where’s the theatre? Oh, it must be back here.

kings head entrance

It is a miniature theatre! It is amazing! It seats maybe 120 people, at full capacity. It is a real theatre, it has proper lighting and everything, but is tiny. 120 people might sound like quite a few, but let’s take into account that the Royal Opera House seats 2,500 people and that means you are going to pay £200 to sit approximately 8 miles away from the stage. At the King’s Head Theatre, you pay £30 and you have actual Mozart performed by people who are less than three feet away. It was absolutely unbelievable. It was like having a private performance. The Magic Flute was performed in the round, which is to say, in the middle of the room, with the audience no more than four rows deep around the perimeter. Here’s a cheeky photo that I took during the interval so you can see the tiny scale of the place. I’m sitting at one end of the room, facing the scenery on the back wall, and then there are more seats and audience members to the left and right. As you can see, one is basically on the stage with the performers.

magic flute stage

The Magic Flute is a fantastical tale set in “a distant land”, according to Wikipedia. The highly imaginative Charles Court Opera production that I saw today transplanted the action to a South American jungle. Mozart wrote it for a full orchestra, with the original libretto in German; today’s slightly abridged production was sung in English with the accompaniment of a single piano. Mozart intended it to be a comic opera – if you’ve ever seen any opera you’ll know that the comedy element can be a little bit elusive. There were no such problems here. The Charles Court version of The Magic Flute that I saw today was hysterical. I absolutely laughed my head off. It has hand puppets! It has singing birds and snakes! It has the most glorious, over the top costumes! It has hammy acting and joyfully camp dancing! It was by far the most fun of any opera that I’ve ever seen and indeed the best time I’ve ever had at the theatre in my adult life. I split my sides laughing. I clapped my hands over my mouth because I couldn’t bear the moments of suspense. It was a riot. I didn’t know opera could be like that.

If you are within reach of London, you really must go, I cannot say enough good things about it. I have already raved about it to a bunch of people and persuaded them to buy tickets immediately.

Links.

Charles Court Opera: The Magic Flute

A review of this same, fabulous production when it first appeared in 2016.

Go here to buy tickets: Kings Head Theatre

The show is on until 3 June.

Here is a larger, more traditional and serious production that was at the Royal Opera House in London in 2003, with a full orchestra and everything. I will go and see this type of version of The Magic Flute at some time, but nothing will ever take away from my first experience of that intimate production in that tiny little place. It was magical. Mozart would have approved.

Jewels

I may not be able to retire, but no-one can say I didn’t go out and enjoy London.

I was at the Royal Opera House again tonight, for the second time this week.

roh3

roh2

It was ballet this evening, I felt extremely fortunate to see George Balanchine’s Jewels, which is now 50 years old, just like me (sigh).

Here’s the official trailer for the version I saw tonight.

It goes without saying that the dancing was amazing, this is the Royal Ballet, they are world famous.

Thanks to my mother I saw many 19th century classical and romantic ballets when I was a kid. Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Giselle, Coppelia, La Fille Mal Gardee. It was a treat for a little girl. The last time I saw a ballet performed could have been 30 years ago. So it was a very interesting experience going to this 1960s ballet (in fact, 1967) as a mature adult.

Jewels is an abstract ballet in three acts; there is no story-telling. It is divided into three sections: Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds. Dancers, performing solo or in groups as large as 35, are elegantly arranged on the stage in geometric configurations. The effect, especially in their sparkly and bejewelled costumes, is kaleidoscopic. Each dancer is a jewel and they form chains and make squares and triangles on the stage. Music by Fauré (emeralds), Stravinsky (rubies) and Tchaikovsky (diamonds).

I also want to remark on the set design, which is gloriously 1960s. There are ostentatious chandeliers and pillars that make the stage look like a grand American hotel.

Royal Ballet dancers and members of the creative team who worked on this 2017 production discuss why it is a special ballet.

See the whole thing in this Russian production broadcast by Euro Arts Channel:

Madama Butterfly

The Classical Music, Yo season continues on TLYW. Last night I went to see Madam Butterfly at the Royal Opera House. It was one of the best things I’ve ever been to. Here’s the official trailer.

When I see opera (I love that this is a phrase that I use now), I want to be able to follow the story. This is a tragic opera about unrequited love, the story is simple and it only has about half a dozen characters.

Madam Butterfly is a beautiful, captivating young girl. She lives in Japan. She is temporarily ‘married’ to a handsome American, with whom she is in love. She takes the wedding and the marriage very seriously and calls herself Mrs Pinkerton. What she does not realise is that he is just taking advantage of a loose legal arrangement that allows him to enjoy the comforts of a temporary wife for a time until he feels like abandoning the relationship. So that’s what he does. He lives with her for a short time, gets her pregnant, then makes his excuses and disappears back to America. She waits a long time for him to return, believing that she is legitimately his wife and he will come home to her. When he eventually reappears in Japan with his new American wife in tow, he is too ashamed to even speak to her, steals her child, who she will not be able to support on her own, and leaves her to commit suicide.

As if that were not heart-rending enough, there was a real Miss Butterfly. The opera, written in 1903, is based on a play, which was based on a story, which was based on real events, described in this extract from the programme:

butterfly storybutterfly rain

Discussion by the Royal Opera House concerning why it is such a powerful opera:

The music – this is 19th century Orientalism. Puccini was Italian but was very fascinated by The Orient, as it was then known, as were many people of his generation, including writers of other operas (e.g., The Mikado). He’s very interested in creating a Japanese atmosphere and incorporates tunes from Japanese music boxes and other Japanese motifs into the context of an opera with an Italian framework and flavour.

There’s a rather nice French film version here, from 1995, with a handsome Mr Pinkerton and delicate Miss Butterfly.

Mahler 5

I was so relieved when they let me out of that horrifyingly awful hospital, you can imagine. That was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had. As predicted, I missed the opera on Sunday evening but I did make it to Royal Festival Hall last night to hear Mahler’s 5th Symphony, which went SOME way towards redressing the horrible sense of injustice that distressed and hurt me more than my actual illness. My face is going down, by the way, so I’m not worried about that, the infection is retreating almost as fast as it arrived. I’m more inclined to cry about the secondary injuries that they inflicted on my arm when they forced in a cannula that was too large.

ANYWAY, you can imagine how deeply glad I was to be back in the world of the living, away from that screaming house of horrors. I am never going to hospital again, I will just let myself die next time. I will put on some Mahler and die with dignity. Here is Mahler’s 5th, being performed in Switzerland in 2004, and here is Mahler’s annotated conducting score. Apparently he was utterly obsessive about detail, authoritarian and prone to anger and so he was “regarded with respect, if not affection” by the orchestra, according to the concert programme. I have a lot of sympathy for him. I’m not interested in being popular, I just want everything and everybody working to a high standard. Do your bloody job bloody correctly or go home.

mahler-conducting-score.jpg

mahler-difficult

 

Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932

I went to see the Russian Art exhibition that is on at the Royal Academy.

It’s quite a large exhibition. It describes a fifteen-year period following the Russian Revolution when artists working in many different media (painting, sculpture, textiles, ceramics), representing various different schools, including a new avant-garde movement, made art for a new Russia. A post-revolutionary Russia where the old, imperialist ideas and religion were dispensed with in favour of industry, collectivism and the state. Interestingly, it seems that Stalin took art much more seriously than Lenin. He knew that, under his reign of terror, he could make individual artists disappear if they said counter-revolutionary things, but he could not reduce the impact of their work. And that is why Stalin eventually decreed that Socialist Realism was the only acceptable art form and the avant-garde was suppressed.

I was very interested indeed to see the painted cups and plates. An Imperial Porcelain Factory was founded in St Petersburg in 1744. For 150 years it produced ceramics of the highest quality which were hand-painted. These items were for the use of the monarchy and the imperial court. After the revolution the factory was seized and renamed the State Porcelain Factory and artists began to paint the plates and cups with propaganda images that would suit the new regime.

I was particularly taken with this plate, painted by Mikhail Adamovich in 1924. It shows Lenin’s mausoleum (Lenin died in 1924 which is when Stalin took over). I had never seen ceramics painted in that style before. It uses enamel paint and gilding. The exhibition features quite a lot of these ceramics and now I want to get some plain, white plates and paint them.

adamovich plate

A section of the exhibition focuses on Symbolism, a romantic and idealistic style of painting that was left over from the 19th century and threatened by the new Soviet politics. It regularly focused on religious subjects and argued for the preservation of churches and the Christian faith. While I personally disapprove of Christianity, there is no denying the beauty of Russian Symbolist paintings.

Mikhail Nesterov, Philosophers, 1917 (the philosophers are Russian orthodox theologians Pavel Florensky, in white, and Sergei Bulgakov, in black).

Nesterov philosophers

Konstantin Yuon, The Day of Annunciation, 1922

yuon annunciation

Finally, a little sport. Both these paintings are by Alexander Samokhvalov, 1932 (Girl in a Football Jersey, right) and 1933 (Sportswoman with a Shot-put, left). Before the revolution, sport was for wealthy, leisured men. After the revolution, efforts were made to extend sport to everyone, especially women. Physical education of the young was regarded as very important for producing fit and healthy Communist citizens and future soldiers.

samokhvalolv

Annual sports parades were held in Moscow’s Red Square during this period. Here’s a video of one such parade in the 1930s. The film is edited so that Stalin regularly appears, looking approving.

The exhibition continues until 17 April.

Marc Almond

I ticked another item off the bucket list by seeing the glorious Marc Almond in concert in Camden on Wednesday. He is going to be 60 this year, his voice remains incredibly powerful and seems unspoiled. He is a vocal athlete who has somehow preserved all of his abilities. He was a big influence on me circa 1982 and I was glad to go and pay homage at long last.

almond poster

 

Soft Cell ft. Marc Almond: Where The Heart Is (1982)

I am still dating the stunning red-haired model and another guy who’s also young and extravagantly good-looking but my heart isn’t in it really. I am still attached to the Person from last year. I personally think it is a bit cruel to text me and ask cryptic questions about how I am and then don’t ask to see me.

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