Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Today...

...we are fetching the new kittens. There just had to be a hurricane, didn't there. Please send us some good vibes and with any luck I'll be back later (most likely tomorrow) with the first pictures.

Meanwhile, huge sober thank-yous to my Go Sober for October donators in the past week:
Judith Mellor, my lovely neighbour
Barbara Maria Rathbone, dynamic head of Musica Universalis Collaborative Artists' Management
A kind anonymous donor.

Current amount raised for Macmillan Cancer Support by Team JDCMB: £272. Keep it coming, folks - just 10 days to go. You can donate here for this marvellous charity.

In other news, I very much regret to say that the planned Hungarian Dances concert at the Bishopsgate Institute on Thursday evening is now not happening, due to circumstances beyond our control.

And due to other circumstances beyond our control, the 23 November Alicia's Gift concert for the International Wimbledon Music Festival, originally planned for the Orange Tree Theatre, has been moved to the Rutherford Theatre of Wimbledon High School, Mansel Road, London SW19 4AB. There will now be just one performance, at 2.30pm. Please contact the festival box office for further details, and there are some special offers available. http://www.wimbledonmusicfestival.co.uk/boxoffice.html

Apparently Mercury is in retrograde and there's also an eclipse due on Thursday. I couldn't possibly comment.

Meanwhile, The Death of Klinghoffer got a standing ovation at the Met last night, & nobody more so than its composer. "Uncle Norman" has the full story from someone who was there.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A debate about Klinghoffer - the British way



This is the civilised debate that ENO held about The Death of Klinghoffer and the nature of art before Tom Morris's staging opened here two years ago. The run itself was generally well received and passed without incident.

Parterre has provided an audio streaming of the opera from its world premiere in 1991 and a link to the libretto, so it is perfectly possible to make yourself well informed about the reality of its content if you so wish. http://parterre.com/2014/10/20/hearing-klinghoffer/

Update, 9.40pm: here is my article on Klinghoffer from The Independent in 2012
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/features/fear-and-loathing-in-london-the-death-of-klinghoffer-is-staged-in-the-capital-for-the-first-time-6671388.html?origin=internalSearch

Ten things we should change at gigs

[Warning: you need your Sarcasm radar in working order for this one.]

We've been hearing an awful lot from people desperate to change classical concerts into...well, rock gigs. Places where there are big screens, drinks on tap, you stand all the way through and so forth. Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead is prime, and even the conductor Baldur Brönnimann suggests that tweeting and texting should be OK (believe me, it is bloody distracting if someone next to you is busy tapping on a bright screen while you're trying to listen to The Art of Fugue).

So why don't we hear anything about what's wrong with pop, rock and crossover gigs? In my experience they are intimidating, confusing, cliquey, frustrating things. How could these be changed into pleasanter experiences, more accessible to the over-16s, a demographic that is seriously underrepresented at such events? We have to widen the scope of this audience to make it more inclusive, especially for the fastest-growing part of the population: older people.

1. Have more seating, raked, available for those of us who are vertically challenged and who therefore, in a mosh pit surrounded by tall people, can't see a damn thing. It's nice to get the weight off your toes from time to time, too and it's also nice not to have to worry, in a crowd, about being squished.

2. Hold performances in smaller venues, rather than a stadium or arena, so that we don't have to see the performers only on the big screen or at the size of a pin in the far distance. If you're only experiencing visual and aural amplification, you're not really experiencing the music, are you? It's always a distortion.

3. Why so loud? Why, why, why, why, why? I'd like nothing better than to go and hear some of the more interesting singers live, like Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen or Madonna. But I value my hearing and I just don't see why you have to risk damaging yourself.

4. Address the offputting atmospheres of the venues. Stadiums and arenas are soulless places. The O2, for instance, is like visiting a run-down 1960s swimming pool within an airport, even though it was only built for the millennium. Brighten them up. Give them a little bit of character. Still, the smaller and better ones can also be very intimidating to those of us who are not already intimately connected to this area of culture. All that cool steel, all those trendy young people - how are we supposed to know when to go in, when to applaud, what to wear?

5. Have better food available and don't let people bring it in. Preponderance of burgers, chips, burritos and pizza does little for the odours around you, let alone the slurping noises. And if you have to let people take drinks in, make sure they don't get actually drunk and try to encourage ways that they can be prevented from spilling the lager all over other audience members. Speaking of which, please improve ventilation of indoor venues. Crowds can really smell.

6. At outdoor venues like festivals, some shelter could be a nice idea, and mud should be kept at bay with boardwalks or paving.

7. Tickets for the big names are MUCH too expensive. It's elitist!

8. Don't even get me started on ladies' loos, which seem totally inaccessible with queues of 2km, or might be dominated by dodgy plumbing, and you'll probably find notices telling you not to even think about taking drugs in there - and therefore you suspect you might be observed by CCTV while you're on the bog. (My favourite events, loo-wise, are Wagner operas: the lines are always longer at the men's room.)

9. Let the performers be good. Singers need to be able to hold forth unaided by that pitch-autocorrect trick. Ideally, they should be able to sing without a microphone, should they wish to, and a range of expression in the voice is always a good thing, rather than simply yelling or, in the case of certain "crossover" easy-listening jobs, bleating out a croon, and if they're doing songs everyone knows, with a backing band, they should know when to come in. Needless to say, miming to a recording makes a mockery of the entire exercise.

10. Make sure the transport is working. I was once trying to get back from Richmond on the night of a Beyoncé concert at Twickenham. It was a Sunday. South West Trains was down. The District Line was down. The Overground wasn't working for some reason. It was chaos. Luckily I could walk home, but thousands couldn't, and you didn't want to see the bus queues, let alone wait in one.

In all, why not... just make pop events more like classical concerts? Then we can appreciate the music itself a bit more - rather than only the commercial claptrap around it. Anyway, mwahahaha, that is the music I like so I want everything, but everything, to function exactly the way it does, and I can't possibly accept the idea that anyone else might prefer something else...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Boy Who Cried Wolf

To cheer us all up, here is the Muppets' take on The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Warning: you'll need a sense of humour for what follows, so if you don't have one, please surf away now.






Saturday, October 18, 2014

Meet Jonathan Kent

I interviewed the director Jonathan Kent for The Independent, trailing the opening tonight of his celebrated production of The Turn of the Screw at Glyndebourne Touring Opera. Do catch it if you can. Interview is in today's Radar section, but somewhat chopped, so here's the director's cut.



Search online for “Jonathan Kent” and you might discover he is the adoptive father of Superman. As it happens, the real Jonathan Kent, 68, the versatile theatre director, has nurtured many super stagings across an eclectic variety of styles and genres. I catch him during a break from rehearsals for his new Gypsy at Chichester Festival Theatre, starring Imelda Staunton; simultaneously, Glyndebourne is reviving for its autumn tour his production of Benjamin Britten’s opera The Turn of the Screw. 

A former actor himself, born in South Africa and resident in Britain since the late 1960s, Kent was joint director of the Almeida Theatre with Ian McDiarmid between 1990 and 2002; but since testing his operatic wings at Santa Fe in 2003, he has soared in this field. 

Kent describes himself as “a theatre director who does opera”, rather than a specialist. “I was occasionally asked to direct an opera while I was running the Almeida,” he says, “but opera books you three or four years ahead and it was always impossible because theatre operates on a much shorter timescale. One of the glories of being freelance is that I can now take on more opera and I’ve had a very happy and fulfilling time.”

He insists that working with singers is not so different from working with actors: “It’s rather a canard to think that singers don’t want to act,” he says. “They absolutely do – they are interested in the psychology of their roles – and they want to be recognised for it, especially now that so much is being filmed.” 

Psychology is more than central to The Turn of the Screw. Britten’s opera is based on Henry James’s novella in which a governess tries to save two children from what she suspects are malevolent spirits bent on their destruction. “It’s about the nature of being haunted” says Kent, “and the exploration of what evil is – whether there is such a thing, and how we generate our own evil.” 

This production, first created for Glyndebourne On Tour in 2006, has travelled well – it been taken up by Los Angeles Opera, among others – and Kent says he is “thrilled” by its longevity. It makes use of contemporary devices such as filmed projections, while nevertheless placing the action firmly in the 1950s, in which era Britten composed it; the mix gives it a timeless feel. “That was a decade when social hierarchies were in place, however shakily – governesses and housekeepers ‘knew their place’ and also had credibility,” says Kent, “but it also marked the end of a sort of age of innocence.” The two ghosts sing a terrifying line from WB Yeats: “The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” 

“The opera is different from the novella because the ghosts inevitably are corporeal: they sing, they exist and there’s no question about it,” Kent continues. “The ‘thin skin’ of a window separates reality from imagination and keeps feared things at bay, but of course it’s completely translucent and permeable.” 

The projections, which Kent says he wanted to resemble the wobbly old home movies he remembers from his childhood, were mostly filmed at Glyndebourne itself, apparently more out of necessity than design. “Still,” he adds, “one could almost do a production of this opera that travels around Glyndebourne as an installation. It has a lake, an old house – everything is there.” 

Unlike certain other directors, Kent’s stagings do not have recurrent hallmarks; he brings each an individual approach on its own terms. For Glyndebourne he has created visions as distinctive as what he terms “a firework” of celebration in Purcell’s The Fairie Queen for the composer’s 350th anniversary in 2009, last year’s venture into Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie, and a powerful Don Giovanni in the style of Fellini’s La dolce vita.

At the Royal Opera he has tackled Puccini: his Tosca is a detailed period-piece that has been filmed with the all-star cast of Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel. But earlier this year, his Manon Lescaut – again with Kaufmann, singing opposite the Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais – transferred the action squarely to the present, drawing out the squalid nature of its tragedy. Perhaps inevitably, some critics took against it. 

Tosca demanded to be done in period,” Kent says. “There’s so much historical reference; it’s absolutely specific. But Manon Lescaut explores many of our current preoccupations – the exploitation of women, the cult of celebrity and the collateral damage of all that – so I am unrepentant about not having done that opera in powdered wigs.” 

Does he ever feel that critics just don’t get it? “If one’s waiting for critics to ‘get it’, one could be waiting a long time,” he laughs. “You can only do what you do and hope people will like it.”


The Turn of the Screw launches at Glyndebourne on Saturday 18 October before touring to five venues across the country. To book tickets go to: Glyndebourne.com