Cultural opportunities, like the proverbial Clapham omnibus, seem to come along in groups. Within the space of 48 hours this week, we had Mahler’s second racket at the Festival hall and the Flying Dutchman at Covent Garden.
The opera did not start well – long before curtain-up… We had bought tickets in lieu of Christmas presents to each other; the price could have got us a long weekend in the Canary Islands, flights, hotel, meals and spending money. The ‘great’ Bryn Terfel was to sing the Dutchman. My wife said she hoped he was ok; I observed that our Bryn has form for doing ‘no shows’. Sure enough, he was ill. What was it this time Bryn? A dodgy batch of Bara brith for breakfast? Or was it just the relentless depressing dampness of Wales getting into your chest?
The ROH then picked our pockets for £7 for a programme, and declined to open the auditorium earlier than 20 minutes before the performance started ensuring a rush for the lavatories – after the staff helpfully directed me entirely in the wrong direction. The seats were, admittedly, superb – first row of the stalls-circle; naturally there was a quid pro quo. My neighbour, a middle-aged lady, was entirely incapable of sitting still for ten seconds at a time, and if she gently poked me in the ribs once, it must have been fifty times (no exaggeration). That, coupled with the lady or gentleman sitting behind me who would, every now and then, kick the back of my seat, as well as the man close by with a recurring fit of coughing would have been just about bearable but for the performance.
To call it lacklustre would be kind. The Royal Opera House has undergone a major refit in recent years. Visually, the inside is stunning, but the sound is, well, flat. I think the acoustics at the London Coliseum (English National Opera) are far superior. The production was flat also, although the set decidedly not; it has been critically acclaimed (the production), but apart from a constant worry about the cast slipping on a perilously steep ship’s side, the final scene when Senta, instead of leaping off a cliff to prove her love for the Dutchman, writhes centre stage cuddling a model ship, was just silly and anticlimactic. ‘Is that the end?’ my wife asked, incredulously, as the curtain came down… Ah well.
As for the glorious Sir Simon Rattle and the equally glorious Berlin Philharmonic doing Mahler’s Resurrection symphony, that was as sublime as I have ever heard it. The Festival Hall stage was packed, with standing room only, literally, half a dozen trumpets and others crammed onto the stage at the end, and some tubular bells banished to the auditorium. Rattle has been quoted this week moaning about the lack of ‘good’ concert halls in London. Well maestro, far be it from me to disagree with you, but the sound you managed to coax out on Sunday night really would have wakened up God himself.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs