Sunday, 31 August 2008

Peter Eötvös at Glyndebourne

"It's like a very posh refugee camp":


That was the verdict of a fellow lawn picnicker on the penultimate evening of the 2008 Glyndebourne Festival Opera season. It was the last night of Love and Other Demons, a new opera by Peter Eötvös after the novel by Gabriel García Márquez. You can read more here.

My experience was similar to that which I had at the Royal Opera House in May, when I went to see Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new opera The Minotaur. Awe at the commitment and accomplishment of the cast and production team; bafflement at what they had to contend with perform.

Actually, I found the dramatic experience of Love and Other Demons a more coherent, well paced and so satisfying piece, eventually. I think the opera suffers from its libretto which often abandons dialogue and direction for poetry. By poetry I mean both evocative language and rhyme, respectively well suited and irrelevant for Eötvös broad, melismatic approach to his singing lines.

The cast was rather, um, asymmetric. Huge (ridiculously huge) vocal demands were made of those who were either good, like Nathan Gunn and Marietta Simpson, or brilliant - Alison Bell, John Graham-Hall and Felicity Palmer . Whilst I was principally in awe of Alison Bell's Lulu-plugged-into-the-national-grid lead role the biggest cheer of the evening was for Vladimir Jurowski which continued when he brought the LPO to their feet.

As for the music, well: inbetween the EKG-twitches of extreme tessitura in the score there's lyricism aplenty; there's a constant gravitational pull to harmonic centres, if not outright diatonicism (which makes listening easier, it helps to hold one's attention); the orchestration starts off with a distracting raft of novelties but calms down. In general, in fact, the opera seemed to acquire more formal delineation as it went on - there are unequivocal arias for the abbess, Sierva, bishop and Sierva's father Ygnacio to close the piece. A clearer sense of the transition from one scene to another earlier on would have helped crystallise the organic progression of the score. Otherwise the staging was fairly clear - imaginatively designed, populated and lit.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Tilda Swinton in Venice

The Venice Film Festival opened yesterday with the Coen Brothers' new film, Burn After Reading. The screening was accompanied with a mad, mad press conference in which two of the stariest Hollywood lead men took boring questions, cheeky questions and a stage invasion from autograph hunting hacks.

And in the midst of all this sat Tilda Swinton, elegant, serene, one of Britain's most accomplished yet obscure actresses - ignored and no doubt thoroughly amused.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Portishead Third

The best album this year. Without abandoning it's sample-based, British New Wave cinematic melodrama the group have come up with something new and different but extreme and dramatic. Best of all it's an old-school album, not just a collection of singles, with a cumulative aesthetic and an abstract narrative contour. It's so good, tracks get used on shows as diverse as Hollyoaks and ITV4's Tour de France coverage. It's too radical to be shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize. No I didn't buy it yesterday. I bought it the day it was released in April and have listened to it, rapt, every other day since. It's brilliant.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

BBC Maestro

It was the first show in this reality vote-em-off in which musical celebrities learn to conduct an orchestra with an eye on the prize - performing with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the last night of the BBC Proms season.

On the face of it this is hide-behind-the-sofa-cushion cringe-making TV. Amazingly it turned out to be very little of the sort. Well-mannered and sober, honestly edited, good humoured without trying to be comic - all the competitors seemed to be taking it very seriously. The most convincing 'conductor' so far by a considerable margin has been the drum and bass pioneer Goldie, proving that probably the most valuable ability in conducting is conviction, rather than time-keeping.

There's a small cloud on the horizon which I hope disperses soon. Goldie's mentor (a pro conductor assigned to each celebrity to help them technically) is the TV-acclimatised Ivor Setterfield who's behaviour so far has suggested he may not have understood that the show's about the contestants and not him. I hope I'm proved wrong about that.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Radiohead write score for Choke

Apparently 'Radiohead' have written an original score for the new Chuck Palahniuk adaptation Choke (trailer here). Whether Radiohead means 'Johnny Greenwood' or 'Radiohead' is another matter, but if it is anything like the score to There Will Be Blood it'll be a cracker.

(Whilst I'm not a particular fan of Palahniuk's disturbing prose I thought Fight Club was a good film and I'm delighted to see that Kelly McDonald, brilliant in No Country For Old Men, is in Choke).

Friday, 8 August 2008

Sarah Brightman to sing in Beijing

Sarah Brightman is going to perform at the opening ceremony of the Olympics, reprising a compering role dating back to 1992:

Monday, 4 August 2008

The Prisoner remake

Delighted by an episode of The Simpsons this evening. 'The Joy Of Sect' is a pretty straightforward satire of American cult movements. There's a short sequence, about halfway through, in which Marge has to escape from a large blob emerging from a moat in homage to Rover from The Prisoner.

This reminded me of the news that a mini-series remake of The Prisoner is currently in pre-production. Well, I'm excited.

BBC Radio 3 Messageboards

I've recently started writing on the Radio 3 Messageboards (to coincide with an attempt to listen to the Proms more regularly). My experience so far is that this forum suffers exactly the same afflictions that clog up all the others on t'internet - squabbling, irrelevance, mangled English - but there is sufficient constructive and friendly discussion fighting for air to make it worth persevering.