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.

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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.

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.

Blog Updates

Do you talk to yourself? I do. I think it is something that kicks in when you’ve been living alone for a long time. I might be doing stuff around the house and sometimes I comment out loud on how it is going. I say things like ‘right, then’ and ‘ffs’ and quite often ‘I’m not having a very good time’. Today I was happy. Everything seemed to be coming together. I am free from the world’s worst job. Business is doing okay. I have recovered from a 10-day sinus infection. I am popular with boys and lots of people want to date me. I’ve been seeing art and culcha around London. I said out loud, a propos of nothing, ‘I am having a good time!’ It was a rare moment of genuine and complete happiness. Of course, I was tempting fate by saying this and I stupidly returned a phone call to receive news of a family member who is one long, perpetual, expensive, time-consuming problem and a bad news generator. Fuck me for being happy for five minutes. By the end of the phone call, I’d started smoking again.

Anyway. I planned to update the blog today and that’s what I’m doing. It’s even more important to keep updating the blog when your patience is being tested and so I shall attempt to restore my previously good mood.

I’ve decided to start collecting Achievement Points and Brownie Badges again and have updated the blog pages. Also, we used to have themed seasons here on TLYW and now I finally have a more normal life, I am reinstating them. Here are the two major ones.

Classical Music, Yo

classical

I have developed a sudden taste for classical music. I don’t know where that came from, I am usually all about house, hip hop and reggae. As you know, I’ve recently been to two performances by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and then I went to The Pirates of Penzance by the English National Opera, which I have already blogged about. Then I went to see Verdi’s Rigoletto, which I will blog about separately. I’m going back to the London Phil next week for some Stravinsky and before I forget, we have these magical things coming up in London over the next few months:

I am just going to ride this wave for as long as it lasts. It’s educational and uplifting.

Year of the Console: 12 Games in 12 Months

console

As you know, I take gaming very seriously and this year I am expanding my repertoire by taking up console gaming. There are so many things that I want to at least try, so I am ambitiously going to play 12 games in 12 months. Just the other day I was overcome with a stroke of genius. I could have played 12 games in no particular order, or played them in order of the date of publication but instead I am going to play them in order of the historical period in which they are set. This is going to be great, it will prevent the gaming from becoming too repetitive, will give a theme and sense of progression to the gaming  year and will encourage me to play things I’ve never considered or tried before, which is what Console Year is all about.

January and February are both pre-history. If I’d had this idea earlier I would have played Ark: Survival Evolved (dinosaurs) in January and Far Cry: Primal (Cro-Magnons) in February but instead I did them the wrong way around. But I won’t remember this in a few months.

Far Cry Primal. Screenshots of my actual game play! Finally figured out to get photos off the Playstation.

Ark: Survival Evolved. It took me a while to figure out how to not get killed all the time. Now I’m really into it but February is going to end on Tuesday so I have to play as much as I can in the next 36 hours.

It’s almost March and so my history theme suggests that I need to play something set in either Ancient Greece or the Roman Empire. This isn’t going to be easy as there was a rash of games set in antiquity 10-15 years ago and barely anything since. Also most of the Roman Empire games were for the PC. But I will find something. After that we will zoom through the Middle Ages, slaying dragons along the way. Then some 18th century piracy. A spot of Victorian steampunk. World Wars 1 and 2. I expect to hit the present day around September and we will be playing futuristic sci-fi by Xmas.

Hong Kong, part 11 (last one): Lohengrin

So as you know by now, I was located practically on the doorstep of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. I didn’t take this photo, it is a publicity shot, but just so you know what it looks like, it is that wedge-shaped building.

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Inside, it looks like this.

opera house 2

opera house 1

I had the immense good fortune to see this: Wagner’s Lohengrin, performed by Opera Savonlinna, from Finland.

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I had a great seat and almost the last available ticket. A few minutes later, the posters looked like this.

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They are really strict about photography during the performance, so I cannot show you any, but I can show you this video clip of the same company performing Lohengrin in 2013. It is basically the same production; the same set, same costumes and mostly the same cast members, so you can see and hear a little bit of it.

Savonlinna Opera Festival: Lohengrin

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OK, so what you should know about me is that I know jack shit about opera. I’m not totally illiterate where music in general is concerned, and I had a lot of 19th century music around me when I was a kid because my mom liked ballet scores. So I’m not a complete philistine. But I know next to nothing about opera, specifically, and the reason I am saying all this is because it is a massive disclaimer for what follows. I will try to explain Lohengrin to those of you who, like me, don’t know how to talk about opera or really how to appreciate it. Those of you who do know about opera, I apologise in advance.

First of all, the music is great. It is not hard work in any way. It is not hard to like. Lohengrin is supposed to be a magical, romantic fairy tale involving castles, princesses, magic swans, Knights of the Holy Grail and suchlike, so the upshot of that is that the music is melodic and easy to get along with. There isn’t a lot of shrieking or battle noises.

Secondly, I obviously would not dare to fault the singing. Opera Savonlinna is internationally renowned and I am in no position to criticise. Everybody sounded like they were in fine voice.

Thirdly, it was a fairly spectacular production. The sets were impressive, there’s an exciting part where the huge, magic swan bursts into flame, the art direction was thoughtful, with interesting use of video films projected on to the set, for example, of hands painting relevant scenes and symbols, such as flowing water. Also the costumes were mostly very appealing.

Now shall we talk about the story, the casting and about suspension of disbelief.

I can get along with fairy tales when the occasion is right and I totally willingly suspended my disbelief right up until the end of Act 1. Allow me to summarise. There’s a prince and princess, brother and sister. They are waiting to inherit power in a part of mediaeval Germany. The young prince has disappeared, presumed dead, and his sister is being framed for his murder. The king drops by to try and sort things out. It looks as though the princess is guilty and she’ll probably have to be hung. But then, a miracle occurs. She’s been dreaming of a knight in shining armour, as one does, and lo! Just as she’s about to be put to death, a giant magic swan appears on the river, and it is carrying that exact knight in shining armour. He’s come to save her.

At this point, I was totally buying in to the magic fairy tale aspect of it all, and I need to perhaps apologise to Bryan Register and the rest of Opera Savonlinna for saying that the illusion was utterly crushed and ruined when the knight Lohengrin, played by Bryan, appeared, looking like your average, untended, severely overweight World of Warcraft player who lives with his mom. It was kind of a shock. Especially as Lohengrin’s knight costume involved a jumper knitted out of a tinselly yarn that’s normally reserved for Christmas decorations, and trousers with such an eye-wateringly high waist that even Simon Cowell would have rejected them. It was … it was … it was not magical or romantic, that’s all I’m saying.

From this point, the credibility of what was being acted out plummeted downhill. In brief, Princess Elsa instantly falls in love with Prince Fatty of Azeroth. I suppose this is just about understandable at first because when he initially shows up, she has a noose around her neck, so she was probably under some degree of stress. But even after he’s successfully defended her honour in a sword fight and she’s been set free, instead of screaming and running in the opposite direction, she continues to act as though she’s absolutely ridiculously in love with him, even though he looks a fright and has done nothing to deserve it, as the sword fight was the most half-hearted and lack-lustre ‘fight’ you ever did see, and involved Lohengrin and his adversary vaguely waving their swords at each other and then giving up almost immediately. Honestly. It was nothing she couldn’t have easily handled by herself. Her nan could have handled it.

So anyway, she’s ardently draping herself all over the scruffy fat bloke in the lurex jumper and high-waisted trousers, in a manner that would have been unconvincingly over the top even if he’d been paying her, and meanwhile the defeated adversary is blaming his wife, because what else is new. Then Prince Fatty says they’ll get married but Elsa has to promise never to ask who he is, because that’s reasonable. And she says yes, because that’s reasonable. Then there’s more swooning, and then they get married, in the most outrageously camp wedding you ever saw, conducted by the bridegroom, because he’s far too much of a diva to let anyone else be involved with it. I mean really. I know video game culture and consequently I’ve seen my share of hairy lard-arses mincing about in home-made armour, crowning themselves Sir David of Brent, in the absence of any real woman ever showing an interest in them in real life, but this set new standards of unreality. The Chinese guy sitting next to me in the audience started laughing at this point, and frankly I was relieved that I wasn’t the only person who thought it was funny. It was preposterous. It was the most preposterous thing I’ve ever seen.

So anyway, if you want to know what happens after that, the adversary’s wife tricks Elsa into asking Prince Lardarse what his name is. So she does this, and then he announces that even though their love transcends any love known to humanity, he’s walking out on her, because that’s reasonable. So he flounces and minces off, her brother the young prince suddenly returns, and Elsa promptly falls down dead out of grief or something, despite being a perfectly strong and healthy young woman, because seemingly there wasn’t another way to finish the story. So there you go.

And that is the last time I ever let anyone mock World of Warcraft players for being fat, campy losers with over-active imaginations without checking to find out if that person likes romantic opera. And that is all I have to say on the subject. You are welcome. 1 Art point.