Monday, 24 December 2012

La Boheme, Royal Opera

All the Messiahs in central London were sold out on Saturday night - well, the one I wanted to go to anyway - so I wandered into the Royal Opera Box Office foyer making speculative queries about standing tickets to that evening's La Boheme. Clearly, this works occasionally. £8 gave me a standing position in the upper slips with a reasonable view (pictured) of the stage and an excellent one of the pit where Sir Mark Elder was in charge.

John Copley's production is one of the wonders of the West End, a show that has lasted more than 25 years (and the mixed blessing of being the backdrop to the BBC's recent reality-type competition show for aspiring conductors, Maestro). I had come primarily to see friends and colleagues in the cast, not least after having read an entertaining blog post about the shenanigans that go on in the background of ensemble scenes in such a well-worn production. Indeed that celebrated second act was a marvel of the orchestrated stage-scrum, with great detail and sub-narratives that always give way to - indeed point towards - the more important foreground story.

Now that I have taken the opportunity to sing in a concert production of La Boheme myself, I appreciate the difficulties of the score, especially one that demands such flexibility, so to see and hear a high-calibre live performance was a joy. And the perfect Christmas apéritif.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Poems On The Underground, New Edition Launch

Once, in finesse of fiddles found I ecstasy,
In a flash of gold heels on the hard pavement.
Now see I
That warmth`s the very stuff of poesy.
Oh, God, make small
The old star-eaten blanket of the sky,
That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie.

T. E. Hulme (1883 - 1917)

Hulme's poem The Embankment (or The fantasi of a Fallen Gentleman on a Cold, Bitter Night) - entirely familiar to anyone weaving their way home down Villiers Street after an evening on the tiles in the West End - is typical of the succinct but pungent poems that have made up the various editions of Poems On The Underground for more than quarter of a century. Judith Cherniak's idea, that verses should be posted on the inside of the carriages of tube trains, jostling proudly alongside advertising, has proved an enduring success, a programme adopted not only in the English capital city but across the world.

Yesterday I attended the launch of the latest edition at Europe House in central London. The editors Cicely Herbert and Gerard Benson, joined by poets Paula Meehan and David Constantine, read some of the poems whilst Judith Cherniak's son David led a string quartet in performances of music by Dvorak, Bartok and J.S. Bach. Part of the success of the project is that which made this launch party a success - the brevity of the poems, that which allows travellers to read a complete extract between station stops, also allowed us to hear the poetry alongside the appropriate pleasantries, explanations and votes of thanks that accompany such an event.