Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The best lack all conviction

while the worst are full of...well, probably not passionate intensity, but the impression of it is enough for some. The fact remains that Farage, loathsome as he may be, is A Personality and journos seem to love him, while they still turn down factual pieces about the EU's essential nature. Oh dear, Cameron, Clegg, Miliband...is it surprising that Ukip got away with murder? The main parties should have been spelling out messages like this

and, on a smaller scale, this

instead of which we heard little, as usual, about the calm, sane facts which would highlight an imperfect but well-meaning institution. Let's put it into perspective: a majority in this country WANTS the European project to continue, as do 75 per cent of the French. This is not a wipeout, it's a warning to get the message out there. And it might not be a bad thing if, given far right and left wingers now in some of the seats, the complacent elements were forced to limited compromises which would show the Greeks, for example, that they mean good and not harm.

In the meantime, after all the unsavoury facts about Ukip's representatives emerging in the papers over the past month, people still vote for it. Which means they're either disenfranchised old codgers, bigots, covert racists, hatemongers who think their day has come and it's time to have a bonfire of 'all that political correctness', or just plain stupid. Wake up, people! Would I be quite so rude to my Tory confreres? Absolutely not. Just check out what Ukip stands for, set grinning Farage aside for a moment and take a careful look at its spokesmen down in the cesspit. Farceurs like John Lydon Sullivan, who tweeted 'I rather often wonder if we shot one "poofter" (GBLT, whatevers), whether the next 99 would decide on balance, that they weren't after-all' (sic). There's an inspired rejoinder to this from my blogpal Jon Dryden Taylor here.

I'll leave you with the superb Stewart Lee* whose act was sent to me by friend Peter. For some reason the YouTube clip isn't downloadable so watch it here. The deliciously orchestrated wind-back-history 'they come over 'ere' rhetoric which is the heart of this genius turn starts around 2'57.

Bloody Latvian, coming over 'ere, knocking a national treasure into best-ever shape (Andris Nelsons pictured above by Richard Battye); bloody Finn, bloody Austrian, stealing plum Strauss roles from our girls and boys. Read my Arts Desk review of the Birmingham concert Rosenkavalier. Perfect it wasn't, but when it delivered, it was the tops. More anon on the preceding German Opera Discovery Day in the classy CBSO Centre: a palpable hit, I think I can say, with Dame Harriet Walter and other superb actors (plus two fine singers and pianist) saying they learned from the lecturers, said lecturers stunned and moved (to tears, in my case) by the performers.

*I think I love this man. From his Wiki entry:

'Lee caused controversy on his If You Prefer a Milder Comedian tour with a routine about Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond. Referring to Hammond's accident while filming in 2006, in which he was almost killed, Lee joked, "I wish he had been decapitated and that his head had rolled off in front of his wife". The Daily Mail termed this an "extraordinary attack" and, having been doorstepped by a Mail journalist, Lee quoted the routine by replying "It's a joke, just like on Top Gear when they do their jokes".

'Lee subsequently explained the joke:

' "The idea of what's acceptable and what's shocking, that's where I investigate. I mean, you can't be on Top Gear, where your only argument is that it's all just a joke and anyone who takes offence is an example of political correctness gone mad, and then not accept the counterbalance to that. Put simply, if Clarkson can say the prime minister is a one-eyed Scottish idiot, then I can say that I hope his children go blind." '

Watch the 'it's only a joke, just like on Top Gear' sequence here - because this one is downloadable. If you don't have the patience for the full works, zoom in at 6mins to see bully and sidekick impersonated.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Straussian high days and holy days

Tussock time, as in leaping from one pleasure to another, truly began the Friday before last with the annual Europe Day Concert in St John's Smith Square and continued on Sunday and Monday at Glyndebourne. 150th birthday boy Richard Strauss was central to both: for the Rosenkavalier Study Day, obviously, in anticipation of Richard Jones's production opening this afternoon - can't wait - and in the truly surprising component of the European Union Youth Orchestra's yearly marriage with singers from the European Opera Centre (official credit to the European Commission for the concert photos).

I can claim some credit for that, since I advised on the programme, marking the Greek Presidency of the European Union, and most of my Hellenic-themed suggestions were adopted. For practical reasons of orchestral size and the lack of a soprano to fit the Straussian bill, the closing scene from Daphne wasn't possible - I'm still having the Haitink/Popp recording played at my funeral - but EUYO supremo Marshall Marcus did adopt the idea of the extraordinary interlude Strauss composed for his performing edition of Mozart's Idomeneo. With only a fragment of Mozart, 'Torna la pace', at its heart, it's seismic and disturbing; my worries about where it might fit in a programme of plums were dispelled at the two-thirds mark, when gravity was required - how could one not think of Strauss looking back at the First World War, and of Ukraine today? - and the segue into Mozart's sublime Quartet, as good an ensemble as he ever wrote and the first great one in his oeuvre.

Vindicated, too, by my suggestion of conductor, the versatile Dominic Wheeler, who was as refined directing Monteverdi, Handel, Gluck, Purcell and Rameau from the harpsichord as he was spirited, yet still precise, in two fabulous Skalkottas dances and Vaughan Williams's Overture to The Wasps (why some punters had a problem with its Englishness I don't understand. Relax, enjoy the generous melodies). Marshall took responsibility for the engaging spatial effects - Monteverdi brass from the gallery, La Musica advancing to the stage from the centre of the hall,  the three orchestras of Rameau's Dardanus Tambourins making for dazzling music theatre. It was his idea to end with the finale of Offenbach's La belle Hélène, and the singers were so relaxed in conveying its comedy. After which we were happy and proud - at least I speak for myself - to stand for the European anthem, Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

Every year there's a revelation among the singers. Tara Erraught, Glyndebourne's Octavian, stood out in 2009*; last year it was young Viennese tenor Martin Piskorski. Here there were two stars in the making. Another Austrian, mezzo Sophie Rennert, is already the finished article, flawless and very moving in Dido's Lament - so she and Piskorski give Conchita Wurst a run for his/her money; Romanian soprano Monica Bancoș is a baby dramatic soprano, giving old-fashioned divadom to 'Divinités du Styx'. Milanese Elsa Galasio engaged as La Musica, while tenor Camille Tresmontant came into his own as Offenbach's Paris in shades. Wonderful at the end to see the young players embracing and kissing, just like they do in Lucerne.

A few shots from the aftershow drinks in the Footstall. Monica with my old friend, singer and pianist Tom Pope, and musical man about town Yehuda Shapiro (from now on the pics, except the one of Peter and Edward, are mine).

Monica and Elsa flanking Dominic Wheeler,

and Elsa and Sophie (a dead ringer for Martine McCutcheon, and a rather better singer).

Can't resist this official shot of the world's leading Ochs, our dear Peter Rose, talking to our equally dear Edward Mendelsohn.

And so from one group of promising young artists to another. I was quite excited to learn that soprano, comedienne and presenter Miranda Keys, whom I met when she was covering Jenufa and appeared at that Study Day, was not only singing Marianne the Duenna in Rosenkavalier but also covering the Marschallin. On Sunday, in a day down in Sussex which started grey but turned out beautiful, she sang the Monologue and launched the trio, while two other covers sang Sophie - Louise Alder, stupendous, could go on now - and Octavian - Rihab Chaieb, lovely presence. Their pianist, Matt Fletcher, has just won the Kathleen Ferrier Accompanist's Prize, and brought down the trio from its climax with terrific artistry. Here he is with Miranda on the left and Rihab right (Louise had left by then to move house).

The magic of Glyndebourne never fails, and I was in seventh heaven entertaining, or so it seemed, a very responsive audience with different voice types in the main roles, from the Marschallin's creator Margarethe Siems up to Kiri, Frederica and Lucia (as good a Marschallin as a Sophie, possibly my favourite on disc in both roles). In the morning Raymond Holden set the scene and Mark Everist shed further fascinating light on the French operetta on which it turns out, courtesy of Count Harry Kessler's diaries, Hofmannsthal and Kessler had based the entire scenario.

A superb lunch in Nether Wallop - spicy meatballs, excellent - and chats with Cory Ellison, James Hancox, Lucy Lowe and above all the ever-supportive Christopher Cook, a consummate moderator, all added to the pleasure. Here's CC chatting to singers and accompanist in the Ebert Room.

There was time to spray the singers with my Jo Malone Red Roses cologne, and to dab them with the remains of my rose attar from Kashan. Then at the end the crowds suddenly vanished and, having given my bags to delightful BBC researcher Sinéad O'Neill and her Strauss-knowledgeable partner Nicky to drop off at Pelham House Hotel in Lewes, I wandered the grounds before setting off over the hill to Lewes.

The lakeside, deserted until a couple with dogs appeared in the distance (Gus and Danielle?), had its special magic in mid-May.

The last of the tulips gave a splash of colour in the meadows above

and a lone peony flourished on the other side.

I had to pay homage to the bust of Sir George, who sadly died before the season's start; Gus wrote that he had been listening to Act 1 of Rosenkavalier in the 1965 Glyndebourne recording the night before his death.  Brian Dickie has paid eloquent tribute on The Arts Desk.

Then I inspected the flower beds in the formal garden - iris blooming

and incipient,

a fabulous flock of tulips

and others at the end of the long walk -

before I struck off up the field opposite to inquisitive stares from sheep and lambs.

I've always taken a higher route from the Lewes direction so never realised quite how beautiful this perspective on Glyndebourne and the Downs can be.

A gate at the end leads to the bare and glorious heights

from where, in a blasting wind, trees with raked shadows added features to the bare hills on the other side.

I confess I took a route the wrong side of the golf course and had some retracing of a valley to do

but it was worth it for the moon visible above the trees.

And then a quiet supper and sleep in wonderful Pelham House Hotel, to be greeted the next morning by more clarity from the bedroom window

and off on the 9.15 company bus to film back at the house. Frustrated that the bus filled up before Helene Schneiderman, the Annina who was such vivacious company in Dresden, and the Ochs, Lars Woldt, could get on. There was certainly a buzz outside the theatre before the pre-dress rehearsal, which had been opened to desperate friends and relations who hadn't got tickets. Sitting on a bench before the cameras in the formal garden dominated by the Henry Moore sculpture, I had a luxurious hour to chunter on to Sinéad for a luxurious 90 minute documentary, to be broadcast on BBC Four when it screens the opera on 24 June.

We'll see what they use, but I'm just so glad that with Tony Hall at the helm of the Beeb, the tide may have turned for decent coverage of the arts, and this doc is a real flagship example of good intentions. Coffee with the crew, another bus back to Lewes and back home to prepare the latest Poulenc Carmelites class before pedalling to the City Lit for 4pm. And now a glorious weekend ahead at Glyndebourne: lucky, lucky.

*22/5 Only just found the right year, and this is what I wrote about her: 'Did you know his [Balfe's] Falstaff? I certainly didn’t. (N)Annetta’s cavatina is as good as your average Donizetti number; the Irish mezzo despatched it with sparkling engagement of the audience and a musicality to match Talbot’s'. She looks lovely both in the pictures of that occasion, when she was only 22 - I've closed in on the one of her animation in the Carmen Quintet -

and, indeed, in a fashionplate photo that contradicts a certain journoass's latest piece of rubbish. I wouldn't link to it because I don't want anyone to read the rag in question. I can't stop my mother, but I can try not to feed an all-too visible troll and his paper.

As I've remarked in the comments below, few folk are coming out of Taragate, Dumpygate, call it what you will, with any credit. One treasurable phrase has emerged, applied by La Cieca of Parterre to a certain storm-stirrer: 'hit-whoring windbag'. 'Hit-whoring' will definitely enter my terminology.

Anyway, I've had enough now, just missed a radio summons which I would have resisted anyway, and only want to hear from those who've actually seen the Glyndebourne Rosenkavalier. Which is marvellous: read my more or less uncontroversial, Jones-lovin' Arts Desk review.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Traboules de Lyon

From a Renaissance staircase at the mysterious heart of a tenement building sloping up the hill of the Croix-Rousse district

to this amazingly futuristic design of the early 19th century,

the traboules of Lyon are an impressive civic resource I'd failed to access on my previous flying visits to the city. But over the Easter weekend, between Britten performances at the Opera, we managed to explore quite a few. 'Traboule' may come from the Latin 'trans ambulare', and signifies the labyrinthine alley routes between the main streets possibly in existence from Roman times. In the middle ages, they led to water supplies in the courtyard shafts, which accounts for the byways often crossing private housing areas.

The most commonly held perception is that they were created to provide covered access for the transport of the silks woven by the cordeliers/canuts of Croix-Rousse, whose uprising in 1831 followed by even bigger revolts in 1848 and '49 led to improved social conditions. There's a commemoration on a plaque in the cour des Voraces, done up by the the Habitat et Humanisme Association led by Father Bernard Devers in 1995 and illustrated in the second of the photos above.

Later the alleys were of vital help to the Resistance.

Armed with my main source of information, Corinne Poirieux's Lyon et ses traboules, we left our peaceful hotel near the Place des Terreaux and the Opera - despite its rather blingy makeover, the charm of the old, narrow building and the view down the street from our room still worked their magic - and climbed the Croix-Rousse via the second of the city's Roman amphitheatres, des Trois Gaules (AD 19). 'Not of great interest', says my Blue Guide, but its situation and views were welcome on a sunny Sunday morning.

Nearby is the Rue des Tables-Claudiennes, where antique bronze plaques reproducing one of Claudius's speeches were discovered in 1528. I wonder whether the most prominent of the graffiti here marks a Christian protest against the Emperor?

At any rate, it was one of very few reminders in Lyon of the seasonal event passing relatively unmarked.

Our first attempt aller trabouler, from the rue des Fantasques, was blocked by a locked door. It shouldn't have been: by agreement between owners/dwellers, the city and the Urban Community, approximately 60 traboules should be kept open during the hours of daylight. But many are resolutely shut. No matter; we wandered into the little jardin Villemanzy with its splendid view over the Rhône and gawped at a group of tranquil tai-chi practisers.

And then the first mystery opened up, from the montée Saint-Sébastien up to the place Colbert, which meant ascending and then descending the staircase of the futuristic 1830s staircase. Many of Lyon's immigrant population live here, in a kind of echo of the waves that have passed through London's East End.

And then we ambled back and forth from the hilltop place Colbert with its cafe reflecting Lyon's hilly position

down the rue Diderot

finding one entrance in the narrow Rue Capponi shut, but having better luck on the montée de la Grand Côte side, which led to the magic staircase and up to a pretty garden, and sampling one more traboule off the rue des Tables Claudiennes. Note the outside toilets still in use.

Then it was time for an open-air interlude coming down the south-east side of Croix-Rousse. The place Ronville gives views over both sides of the Saône valley, very lush and green going north-west

and along the rue de l'Annonciade is one of Lyon's many dynamic art-projects, the Mur peint Végétal Lumière, frescoes alternating with vertical planting.

Down past more quirky wall-painting on the rue Tavernier

we came across a more familiar tourist attraction, the trompe-l'oeil Fresque des Lyonnais Célèbres down by the quai Saint-Vincent.

The local celebs include the Brothers Lumière alongside the inventors of the Grand Guignol and the Petit Prince (after whom, of course, Lyon's Aéroport Saint-Exupéry is named)

as well as Bertrand Tavernier shooting from a corner.

Then we crossed  the passerelle St.-Vincent

and as we had plenty of time before our late lunch reservation at the Musées Gadagne, we tried a few more traboules in Vieux-Lyon. Nos 7, 8 and 10 of the quai Romain Rolland were closed, but folk were just coming out of No. 17 so we got to see its well shaft

and to look up

before coming out on the rue des Trois Maries (-Salomé, -Jacobé and -Magdalene) where the entrace/exit is surmounted by a smiling woman's head on the keystone.

A quick wander past the Cathedral

via its 'jardin archeologique'

and we walked along the rue du Boeuf, stone-signed

and No. 16 with its celebrated 16th century round pink tower, next door to the hotel which according to Vadim Repin makes the best madeleines (the receptionist denied all knowledge when I asked),

back to the Gadagne, which offers one of the best courtyards and a bit of a traboule.

Its museum of the city's history takes you from the basement upwards via a spectacular winding staircase and architectural features on each floor, including a monumental Renaissance fireplace. Thihs doorway gives a small-scale idea of the decoration within.

The museum hour I saved until after lunch while J went back to the hotel to nap. And the food was good, though it had turned a bit chilly outside - Lyon should have been warmer than Basel and Zurich but our earlier glimpse of summer had vanished and the weather was a typical Easter mix. Britten report (over)due on The Arts Desk on Sunday.