Sunday, June 24, 2012

Bravo, Giovanni!

Last night I went to the Staatsoper, for the first time. For all my operatic activity and writing in Berlin, up till now, has been centred on the Deutsche Oper. The occasion was the season's premiere of Don Giovanni which I was covering for the Dutch Opera Magazine and its website Place de l'opéra. It wasn't a home-grown production. The Staatsoper one wouldn't fit into the splendid but smaller temporary home of the company at the Schiller-Theater, so they imported one from Salzburg. Good fishing!
Great show! I arrived home at 11pm, in warm drizzle, and flung myself straight in front of my computer, bubbling with the need to recount my splendid evening, and post off the text to Amsterdam. Where, of course, it will appear in Dutch. So I'll put the English version here, for we who aren't skilled in Dutch


'I never want to see Don Giovanni again. Never. Ever. Because I just want to remember the production I saw tonight, at the Staatsoper in the Schiller Theater, Berlin. I can’t imagine it being better done in the future.

I know Don Giovanni has been cited as the perfect opera, but for 21st century audiences there are a lot of theatrical conventions in its make-up which make it interesting as a period piece, but hardly viable as a modern ‘comic drama’. Well, I reckon tonight’s production came very near to achieving that unlikely transformation, from classic to tragi-comedy for our times, without in any way damaging the fabric of the opera, dramatic or musical. Casting director, director and designer have worked together wonderfully to give us a Don Giovanni for today, which is still the Don Giovanni of always.

I am the first to complain when operas are staged out of period, out of style, and not in accordance with the librettist’s instructions. But tonight I’m going to contradict myself largely. The whole action of the night takes place on one revolving forest set – and these characters are, as we know, thoroughly ‘into the woods’. All the wretched shuffling from one box set to another is done away with, and the Dons and Donnas romp in the grass and bushes in a most believable way, making absolute sense of their episodic story and their multiple exits and entrances and ensembles. Very little is forced to make it fit, and the ultimate climax with the ghostly, stalking Commendatore was stunning.
One more ‘thank you’ to director, Claus Guth. Unlike opera directors in far-too-general, everything he made his characters do had a reason, a sense to it. The piece had been thought through. O! how rare.

But I mentioned the casting director first, and rightly so. I was one of those once, and I know how difficult it is to perfectly or even adequately cast every role in a show. This one was much nearer to perfect than adequate. Everybody could act effortlessly, everybody looked right, moved right and of course sang stunningly.

Christopher Maltman seems made to play and sing the Don. Suave, sexy, the very essence of a serial man-who-can’t help-himself when a woman is of layable age. His charisma flowed over the footlights, along with his beautiful big baritone, and he looked quite delicious in pain: for this Don is slowly dying from Act I, winged by the wounded Commendatore. I know! It’s not da Ponte, but it works marvellously.

If the Don is the hub of the show, he shares – or should -- that place with Leporello. It would take this Don to share anything with the Leporello of Erwin Schrott. This was an anthology performance. His acting is so natural you almost don’t expect him to sing. But boy! can he sing. Rich, fluid, crisp tones … no silly old-fashioned buffo he, but a real singing comic actor. And the relationship built up between Leporello and the Don becomes here totally explicable, natural and even touching. Alain Delon being mothered by Robert Lindsay. Dazzling.

It often depends on which of the three ladies is the strongest performer as to which of them seems central to the opera’s action. In the old days, stars liked to play Zerlina and Elvira was given to a comprimaria. Not tonight. Tonight it was a joyous triple dead-heat. How to choose between the Sloane Ranger Anna (Maria Bengtsson) with her delicate ‘Non mi dir’ and her cigarette, the naughty country Zerlina (Anna Prohaska), hot out of puberty, who made old ‘La ci darem’ into a piece of sweetly sung sexual temptation, and poor, funny but longing Elvira (Dorothea Röschmann) whose ‘Mi tradi’ roused the audience to as much applause as her foolishnesses did laughter. And, oh joy!; all three ladies slim and sexy – ripe meat for Giovanni – and without any shadow of ‘I am a prima donna’ about their performances. Elvira (I always have a soft spot for Elvira) actually SKIPPED on for her curtain call with Leporello.

Even the less grateful roles were given fine performances. Stefan Kocan made Masetto into a believable ‘bloke’ with a rich, unforced basso; Alexander Tsymbaluk lent his powerful voice and presence to the final chilling, deathly scene, and … well, I don’t suppose anyone will ever make Don Ottavio much more than a singing cipher, but Giuseppe Filianote had a good go, making him a geeky fellow who has got himself a blonde soprano for a fiancée, and can’t really cope. He came a little to grief in ‘Dalla sua pace’, which showed up once more (to me) tonight as a non-essential. I would rather have that cut than the final ensemble (which we didn’t get). Actually, I could do without Ottavio altogether, but then we couldn’t have ‘Non mi dir’.

Daniel Barenboim’s orchestra were wonderfully unobtrusive (that is a compliment) and supportive, the chorus did their little bit in similar manner, and a good time was had by all. Especially by me.

Well, I suppose I owe it to factual reporting to state that a clique greeted the director and designer with boos at their curtain call (this is, after all, Berlin), but I reckon we who were cheering defeated them. If anyone can boo the Staatsoper’s Don Giovanni of 2012, they should give up going to the opera house, and just stay home and listen to records.

It was my favourite night at the opera in a long time.'

And so it was.

Navigating in the wrong direction ... or an evening with Little Red Riding Hood

Tonight, we went back to Radialsystem V. I know, never try to repeat a good trick. But it’s a great fun venue, and I reasoned that even if this week’s concert was only half as good as the Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Sacha Waltz evening, it would still be a splendid night out.
And that’s what it was. Exactly half as good. I will explain.

The evening was advertised as Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle. Lovely! I know the piece well from having sung the solo bass part at Strawberry Hill in 1968 or 9, and I hadn’t heard it since. Performed by Nico and the Navigators. Curious name, what could it mean? They were going to sing the music properly, weren’t they?

I needn’t have worried on that score. The evening was a musical joy. That was the half that was good. A little group of fresh young voices, and four splendid soloists .. how enjoyable to hear Rossini’s beautiful music sung this way, instead of by a ponderous and glutinous choir and pretentious vocalists. The mezzo-soprano (Ulrike Mayer) with her ‘Agnus Dei’ and of course ‘my’ basso ‘Quoniam’ (Pauls Putnins), plus all the ensemble bits, plus … well, I just enjoyed all of the music. And the way in which it was played and sung.

What I did not enjoy was the physical production. The staging, for want of a better word. The cast, dressed like leftovers from a 1970s production of Godspell, were directed in the same old-fashioned way as that piece. Lots of non-stop fidgeting and twitching, meaningless posing and tricks, chunks of foolish indistinct mono- and dialogue (much in English) with no relation that I could fathom to either the music or the liturgical text, and several ‘characters’ that by halftime (except there was no interval .. 2 hours!) I could cheerfully have strangled. An incidental little red-riding-hood lady who did 1970s choreography relentlessly against the music would be my first to the gallows, followed closely by the lady in the picture hat (why?) and the man in green who took his shirt off (why?). But I suppose they were only doing what they had been directed to. ‘Nico’ has to take the blame for the ‘konzept und regie’. The half that was not good.

I could go on at length, but it would just be to say more of the same. Grand music, beautifully sung, in a meaningless, gimmicky, fussy staging. Why?
Well, Paul came up with the only possible answer. How otherwise to get 21st century folk to come and hear a Rossini Mass? I am obviously in a minority, but hey! I found a way round it. When it got too much … I just shut my eyes and listened. Great!

They’re doing Bach next week. I’d pencilled it in. But much as I’d like to hear these talented young singers again, I couldn’t stand another dose of Red-Riding-Hood and Benedict, so I’ll be skipping it. And now, I have to put my Mozart hat on. Don Giovanni tonight … lets hope there’s no Godspell there!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Flying so high with some guy in the sky ...

Coffee, strawberries and grapes in the sunshine on a terrace at the Alexanderplatz with Olli and our friend Jens. On the ground? Oh no. At Jens’s apartment. On the umpteenth and top floor of a mammoth ex-East German posh-folks block of flats …

You step on to the lofty balcony – ignoring the waves of vertigo, and the impulsion to jump -- and look out over the rooftops of the crazy mixture that was East Berlin … the beautiful brick Rathaus and church, and the flat and uninspired 20th century buildings. Oh well, the way they’re built, they’ll probably fall down soon.

And right in front of us, so close you feel your could spit on it, East Berlin’s folly. Try standing on a top floor terrace, 50 centimetres from the edge, and looking uuuuup to the top of this monster! I had to sit on the floor to take this picture.

It is certainly a sensational view. But only for people who are up to strong sensations! Hehe. OK, Jens …

Monday, June 18, 2012

Whirlin' in Berlin ...!

It’s Monday again … and I haven’t blogged for over a week. Not because there’s been nothing to tell, but because I’ve been too busy doing (and recovering) to write about it! I just slam a nice picture and two lines on facebook …

But now it’s Monday, and a day of ‘rest’. So I’ve prepared my article about Welsh singer Eos Morlais (1841-1892), I’ve answered all my testamentary letters, I’ve made myself cream-scrambled eggs (why not!) with German bacon, I’ve been shopping at Kaiser’s … and I haven’t had a single visitor or rendez-vous! Why? Because Kevin is in LA, the Pauls are in (1) Ireland and (2) Bad something-or-other, the Thomases are (1) on his Hochzeitreise and (2) in New York. Der Olli had an-all night work session last night, Hannes only left here at nightfall …

So, before the action starts again tomorrow, it time to chronicle … in pictures, I think, rather than too many words, what I’ve been up to!

We left me, last Sunday, writing up that radiant night at Radialsystem V, and going to an early bed. For, Monday, I had two dates. My friend Frank, who is stage manager at the Deutsche Oper, came by for a Nollendorfstrasse picnic, and in the evening Paul GB and I went to the Opera House to hear the brass and wind players of the orchestra playing a ‘Big Band’ concert. Well, I guess my Big Bands have always been American or British. This one was different. Relentlessly loud. No style. The guys and their comical conductor were obviously having a good time, but I wasn’t. Then the singer came on. Paul Kuhn is very elderly, and is apparently ‘a legend’ in Germany. Sorry, I’ve no time for that sort of thing. If an artist can’t do it anymore why should I pay good money to be disgusted by him. The most obvious American songs sung with iffy pitch and no quality …
It is many, many years since I left a concert at half time. This was the night. Instead, into the Deutsche Oper restaurant for far too much of their good red wine and a delightful light supper of (oh gosh, what was it) …

The next day I was mildly dull, to say the least, but my friend Anna was coming for lunch so I hauled myself from my bed and … she couldn’t find the flat! And I don’t have a phone .. So (hallelujh!) our date was rescheduled for the next day and I went back to bed. And the next day we had a nice little lunch and a big chat at the Café Berio ..

Rendez-vous the next day with Olli and Hannes, and Friday … back to the Deutsche Oper. But not for a show. Frank was going to give me a tour of the backstage. Now, I’ve seen loads of backstages in my life and career, I practically lived in them for a decade, but this one was a Big Boy. Rehearsal rooms, dressing rooms, scenery stores, rooms for costumes, wigs, hats …even shoes … Up into the flies … down to the machinery under the stage, on to the stage where Tosca was shoved to one side to make space for the night’s Roméo et Juliette ballet ... so many stairs for wobbly me, but I was really interested, so I did it.

Home for a quick snooze, because at 6.30 I had another date. My best cavalier, Olli, picked me up and we headed right back to Deutsche Oper! Well, its only 4 stops on the U-Bahn. And again, not for a show. Paul GB and Uwe live just a hundred metres from the theatre, and they were making us dinner. The price for dinner was my now well-known photographic skills. Chuckle. They needed a duo portrait for a magazine. So my friendly Fuji was riding shot gun.

Delicious couscous dinner, gallons of wine, endless (very) good cheer and comradeship, and my photos weren’t at all wobbly! But I was glad to have my cavalier at 1.30am!

And again the next day! For Saturday was the ‘key’ to the season and the first fixed point I made when planning the points in my summer. April 16th was the wedding day of my dear ‘joli Tom’, composer Thomas Zaufke, and his longtime partner, Pablo. 110 people for a sit-down dinner, endless jollity and .. yes, endless wine! .. The whole evening was beautifully laid out … three cheers for Wedding-Planner, Helga! ... and the La Luz restaurant a wonderful venue for a party. And we were all sorts of a mixture! Family (I fell in love with Pablo’s beautiful mother!), neighbours, work colleagues, friends … and everyone had to be photographed with the happy couple ..
Fuji did his thing and … well, never has a photo of mine received so many facebook ‘Likes’!

After 4 hours and something, I left Olli and Hannes to it, and the happy couple to what was obviously going to be a very late night, and taxi-ed home to my cosy flat. Well, one has to behave like a 66-year-old occasionally!

And it wasn’t over yet. The next day was the occasion of the famous Motzstrasse Street Party. The Motzstrasse, I must add is adjacent to the Nollendorfstrasse. What is this Street Party? It is a very large, very well-known Gay Event. Last time I was here, I shut myself in the flat for the day and night, at the thought of several thousand gays en masse, but this time .. the sun was out, Hannes – a perfect cicerone for such an occasion as he seems to know the whole of gay Berlin! – was coming by, so out I went. With my walking stick. Because the crowds were enormous. You could do little more than shuffle amid the mass of humanity between the rows of booths and stalls. We had a beer and a good pizza and watched the world go by, and I was struck by several facts (1) where were the teenagers? the endless couples and groups of mostly men were largely 30 plus, and (2) where was the outrageous and merry fetish stuff the area is/was known for? and (3) where were the smiles! This was supposed to be fun! It reminded me of Sitges, full of holidaying American gays having a horrible time.
Well, I found my hero. A little bit of leather, a terrific smile and busily cheffing on the Fetish (not very!) stall. My friend, you were the star of the Party!

A couple of hours and I was able to wander the few hundred metres home … and by the time Hannes and his pal came by to say goodnight I was already in my djellaba .. the most madly social week of my recent years was ended ..

And I have had a day of rest! I’ll need it, because the out-of-towners start coming back Wednesday, and tomorrow I have a date … yes, there are still some pals I haven’t caught up with! And, heavens its 9.30 pm, boiling hot, daytime light … yes, the 21 June is near! Time for a glass of Sprudelwasser Gerolstein … and then, maybe, a curl up under (or on top of) my red and white check duvet …

Monday, June 11, 2012

A light and bright lunch in the Nürnbergstrasse


I ate so much while I was in Jersey. And so well. Barely a glitch. And I was intending to pull my belt in during my months ‘at home’ in Berlin. More home-compiled meals, less restaurants. Well, why not? My flat has a nice wee kitchen, Kaiser’s first-class supermarket is 100 metres away, on the Nollendorfplatz, the Saturday and Wednesday market at the Winterfeldplatz, full of enticing cheese, charcuterie and other goodies is 100 metres in the other direction. My ‘picnics’ at no 32 (with or without alcohol, depending on the hour!) are thus quite famous.

And then, of course, there was the fact that, last time round, I didn’t find an equivalent of Jersey’s Dockyard here. In fact, I only found one local restaurant that I liked, for a light lunch or an early supper. That, of course, was Sissi’s on the Motzstrasse, and Kevin and I repaired there on Day One of this season. I had a tasty broth with Leberknodel, followed – silly me! – by Sud-Tirolischer knödeln with spinach and cheese. They were delicious, but oh! in spite of not having eaten for 36 hours, by the time I’d finished I was noodled out and could only go home to snooze! NOT the menu for a Gänzl light lunch! So I resigned myself, not unwillingly, to picnicking chez-moi for the future.

Perhaps, I thought, the cuisine here isn’t my scene. And anyway, amazingly, Sissi – like many restaurants here – doesn’t take credit cards! And if I take cash from an ATM, I get charged some horrendous percentage… so, home cooking!

And then my friend Horst called, and said ‘let’s do lunch’. So we did. I met him outside the attractive state-of-the-art-deco Ellington Hotel and we adjourned to the open courtyard behind the very striking main dining room … the city towering up above us, the sun pouring down … nice! And very umm expensive looking.

Surprise! They have a set menu luncheon at 15 euros. Choice of soup or veggie salad antipasto, followed by schnapper or tafelspitz or pasta, plus a bottle of sparkling water and a coffee … 15 euros! And, surprise again, it was jolly good and it was liiiiiiiight.
I had a lovely rigatoni – not drowned in any sauce ... infiltrated by slices of fresh asparagus (it’s the Spargel season!) .. and Horst went for a good, straightforward tafelspitz … They were all that you would wish for. And the little veggie antipasto, in spite of being well-rocketed was a well-judged starter.

So we sunned, and we chatted, and it was all most agreeable. I’d recommend the Ellington’s set lunch to anyone. Especially if they have the good company of a Horst!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Radialsystem Go! A night of magical musical-chairs with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra


An absolute priority when I arrive in Berlin each year is a date with my musical mentor, Paul (otherwise the one and only ‘Montmorensy’). Out come the concert schedules, and we get down to planning my education and entertainment for the season. The Konzerthaus, the Philharmonie …
This year, to my distress, we couldn’t find a starter. I’m funny: as with operas, or musicals, or plays, I don’t really care to go to a piece I’ve seen before (no matter who the artists), I want to hear something that’s new to me. And the main houses seemed to be hosting an awful lot of ‘Bach, Beethoven and Brahms’. Or Berio. I prefer Boieldieu.
So we decided to look outside the square, and we found an orchestra – the Mahler Chamber Orchestra – playing what looked like a fun programme at Radialsystem V, a converted warehouse space. On-line booking … done! And, while the rest of the country was occupying itself watching Germany vs Portugal (football, you know) we set off for Friedrichshain.
I little suspected what was in store for me.
What was? Why, probably the most gloriously entertaining – no, just say plain ‘best’ – night I have ever spent at an instrumental (no singing!) concert in my life.

Firstly, the concept. Someone had had the marvellous idea of utilising the whole spaces of the building for the entertainment. The main hall (600 seats), two smaller upstairs venues, and the terrace overlooking the River Spree. We started, after a Dukas fanfare on the riverside, with the whole orchestra playing Schostakovich in the Hall, whilst upstairs hosted a Malcolm Arnold brass quintet. Then the band split up, and while some of the strings played quartets elsewhere, we had a bevy of fascinating pieces in the main auditorium…

But let’s be chronological. With the me-detail that all the pieces except a dash of Mozart were – as hoped -- new to me.
We opened with Schostakovich’s cello concerto No.1, with the young American Alisa Wellerstein as soloist. What a stunner! I whispered to Paul: they OPEN with this? I won’t be able to listen to the classic concerti for ages. This vibrant, exciting piece of music swept me off my feet, from its aggressively hacking, chopping early phrases to the wonderful extended solo cadenza that opens the 3rd movement. And it was played stunningly. I thought I had seen the ultimate in physical cello playing when I saw Guy Johnson’s Gorecki in Jersey last month. But this was something else. Miss Wellerstein must have her bow re-haired every time she plays it. The overflowing audience went wild, and eventually she had to pacify us with a bit o’ Bach before we would let her go.

Next up was the Mozart. He seemed a bit out of his fach among all the S composers. Why? I thought. I was to find out. The trio divertissement introduced the Sasha Waltz dance troupe doing a pretty routine to the pretty music. You always end up with your eye on one performer: I liked the tall elegant lady in the hideous black Mother Hubbard. And caught myself thinking ‘modern dance has whole lot of classic poses in it. Where would they be without the arabesque?’
The troupe followed up with a ‘structured improvisation’ to music by Schnittke. My brother insisted just last month that I get to know Schnittke. The piece was entitled ‘Moz-art à la Haydn’. And now we saw why it had been preceded by the ‘normal’ Mozart. This was a (seemingly) anarchic ‘joke’, full of musical jokes and choreographic jokes, and wonderfully funny and entertaining it was too, in all its parts.
Ignoring the rule about ‘children and animals’ the troupe of 7 strongly featured a talented little boy who quickly became the audience pet, but for me the star of this essentially ensemble piece was the conductor, Pablo Heras-Casado. He started the piece front-centre … well, the orchestra was in the aisles! ... and the action swirled around him, until, in the twist that absolutely made the item, he became involved in the dance ... followed by his whole agile band. What movements the choreographer had given the thankfully young players to do, while playing the closing part of their music! It was superb. It was a whole performance entity, full of joyous fun and surprises. And I loved, loved, loved it. ‘But Kurt’ I can hear a little voice from my past saying, ‘you don’t like modern dance’. Yeah? Well, I do now! A heap!

The packed house dispersed to the friendly bar, the riverside terrace, and the other rooms (Miss Wellerstein was playing again on the 3rd floor), but we decided to stay in the Hall a bit longer in spite of a 15 minute interval. Interval? Oh no. You see, this being football night, some imaginative person had got up a game. We each had a ‘football card’ with stickers of the orchestral players to collect. Well! To see teenage girls and elderly gentlemen eagerly swapping a timpanist for a flute … we, of course, joined in enthusiastically and I am happy to say we got our missing British trombonist before the end of the evening, and received our prize: a CD of the orchestra playing … Brahms!

Things got under way with three little pieces for solo clarinet, before we hit the next feature of the evening: a brass and wind octet by Stravinsky. More fun! Especially the first half. The music gets a bit wandery and unfocused later on, but watching and listening to the players (favourite: Chiara Tonelli on flute) tossing off their bits of fioratura, was a delightful contrast to the two big hits of the earlier programme.

We retired for a welcome drink on the terrace and looked at our upcoming options. John Adams upstairs and … oh! goodness a whole Schostakovich symphony down. And we’d been here three hours already. Well, Mr Adams was full, so we decided to call it a day. ‘Oh but its not finished’ said the orchestra’s official as we left. I told her we were going straight home to book for the next Radialsystem show. But, alas, it wont be the MCO. They’re off to delight other corners of the world …

After having wonderfully delighted me (the Victorian scholar!) and Paul (the professional musician) and I’ll bet every one of those 600 plus punters who crammed the house.

PS Next visit to Friedrichshain 23rd June to hear the Rossini ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’ in which I made the greatest success of my singing career … in 1968. From the pictures, it will be rather different! Hurrah!

PPS I’ve got a duplicate oboeist if anyone wants to swap. I’d like a spare of that conductor, please.

PPPS I wonder what that little boy will grow up as.

PPPPS Happiness ☺

Photos by Holger Talinski.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Night at the Semi-Opera


Tonight I went to the Deutsche Oper to see Il Trovatore. But not Il Trovatore on stage, Il Trovatore in concert.

Strange, I thought. In my mind concert performances are reserved for recondite or unstageable pieces. La Contessa d’Amalfi, Il Barone di Dolsheim or Zaira.
But I shouldn’t have worried. The theatre was packed to the rafters, and people were begging for tickets outside.
But I still have my reservations. With a concert performance, the music may get its due – and this work is one of the ‘pop’ operas of all time, one hit tune after another -- but the drama inevitably suffers. And operas don’t come more dramatic than Il Trovatore.

I suppose it shouldn’t matter in a concert if you have a grossly stout Manrico, or if you have a Luna who resembles Anna Magnani with a beard. But it does. You shouldn’t be distracted by the conductor’s shirt tails bouncing up and down, but you are. And worst of all is the hilarious business of the scores and music stands. Ruiz and Inez come on to sing their few lines with a score, and two minutes later go out with it. Luna turns pages in the middle of ‘Il Balen’. Please! How can you take the action seriously. It’s worse than an oratorio. At least there they only sit and stand. They don’t waddle or stroll on and off with a big black book.

OK. So it’s a concert. No scenery, no costumes, no action. But no drama? Just ‘songs’. Well, tonight, for the first half of the performance, that’s what we had. Just songs. We had a soprano (Anja Harteros) who was making lovely smooth milky noises, a tenor (Stuart Neill) who was singing the notes, and a baritone (Dalibor Jenis) who was non-existent vocally and dramatically, to the extent of being swallowed up by the orchestra. Only the mezzo-contralto (Dolora Zajick) seemed aware that this was supposed to be rousing melodrama, and she showed up with an alarming hole in the middle of her voice.

I returned glumly for the second half. But something had happened in the interval. Everyone seemed to have woken up. Miss Harteros had found some spirit and drama. All right, Leonora is a boring ingenue, a full-time victim with beautiful music to sing, but if she’s not more than just that? Just beautiful and boring? Thankfully, not Miss Harteros. After a super-smooth ‘D’amor sull’ ali rosee’ and a throbbing ‘Miserere’,’ this Leonora really took off, and gave us all we could have asked for until the final curtain.

Miss Zajick had found the missing three notes during half-time and she launched into the final scenes with her tail on fire, with searing top notes and plumbing bottom tones, in an audience pleasing performance of uninhibited melodrama which won over even an oldtimer brought up on the Azucena of Fedora Barbieri. The house left no doubt in the curtain calls as to who was for them the evening’s star. And rightly so. I have always thought the opera should have been called La madre del trovatore.

The Manrico made an effort to go with the flow. He really did. But ‘Di quella pira’ didn’t ring out. It might have rung somewhere near the back of his soft palate, but it didn’t ring to me in Row 17.
And Luna was still non-existent.

The orchestra and chorus under Andrea Battistoni and William Spaulding respectively did their jobs impeccably—I don’t understand why a little clique booed them at the end, for the male chorus was one of the successes of the evening – and the supporting players (especially Jana Kurucova as Inez) were fine when they weren’t coping with scores and stands and exits and entrances.

So, all in all, an evening of mixed pleasures.

I am not sure that the concert format is right for a work so well known as Il Trovatore. I am quite sure that all the exiting and entrancing and pretending to read from the score is absolutely destructive to the drama and continuity of the opera. And I am pretty sure that casting for such an evening needs to be done with the same dramatic criteria in mind, in this day and age, as it would be for a stage performance.

After all, this is an opera. And one of the most popular operas of all time.

Monday, June 4, 2012

My Charioteer of Fire

I’m here. Berlin. I’m back in my beloved flat at 32 Nollendorfstrasse, and about to launch – albeit a slightly wobbly rocket – into the joys of being in this friendful city.

Mind you, getting here was a bit of a cavalcade.

Air Berlin runs one flight a week to and from Jersey. Unfortunately on a Saturday. And more unfortunately, in spite of the name of the airline, not a direct flight. These days, you have to change planes at Düsseldorf. Anna, my travel agent in Rangiora booked my flight, and ‘assistance’ for the transfer .. ie wheels of some sort .. months ago. And since then, the airline had changed the destination, and then changed it back! But I duly flew out of Jersey, only about 25 minutes late, on the day nominated…

We arrived at Düsseldorf, and I and the other wheelchair passenger duly waited till last to descend. ‘It’s only 6.05’, I thought,’ and my plane doesn’t leave till 7.35 … and, er, is this wheelchair for me?’ Well, it wasn’t. I wasn’t listed! But my fellow passenger was severely handicapped, and they’d sent two men to help her. So we took a pusher apiece. Off we sedately set, and I surrendered my boarding card to the nice attendant. He gulped.

I had forgotten about the time zone change between Jersey and Germany. ‘It’s 7.10’, he exclaimed, ‘and the flight will be closed!’ Out came his walkie-talkie, and up went our speed! We zoomed through kilometres of empty passages, up elevators, backwards through a one-way gate. I was frisked in the chair, my cane and bag and the camera taken from my belt were whisked through the Xray, as on we rushed, until at 7.25pm we landed at the airplane door. Still open. I shoved the contents of my wallet – Jersey pounds! – into my saviour’s hand, was hoisted from my chair … and my pants fell down! When they took the camera, they hadn’t rebuckled me aright …

But I had made it. As on the first leg, the airline had kindly given me a seat with no-one beside me, so the rest of the trip was accomplished without incident, until I was delivered safely to dear about-to-be-departed Tegel, and the arms of my friend, Kevin.

I’m told Stravinsky used to take a wheelchair at airports. Well, he had the right idea. I would not only not have made it in time, I would never have been able to walk it! In fact, even in possession of my full locomtor-y powers it would have been tough.

I wish I had asked my trundler friend’s name. All I can say is, three cheers for the assistance at Düsseldorf airport … and a touch less for Air Berlin’s arrangements. When I return to Jersey, I will have a stopover in Düsseldorf!