Tuesday, 15 January 2019

The ten greatest/funniest/etc. operas I've recently watched, Part 2: Der Rosenkavalier, Bluebeard's Castle, Katya Kabanova, Wozzeck and Lady Macbeth of Mtensk

(You can find the first part of this post here.)

6. I hope I manage to squeeze in another viewing of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier (1911), which is, quite simply, one of the most enjoyable operas I've ever seen - and the music is certainly some of the loveliest I've ever heard. While Der Rosenkavalier harks back to frolicsome, melody-laden, semi-comic operas of earlier eras - in particular, to Mozart (as well as to more recent operettas, such as Franz Lehar's amusing soufflé, The Merry Widow), many of its themes are surprisingly adult - the way the Marschallin acknowledges the impending loss of her sexual allure by helping her young lover, Count Octavian, to unite him with his true love, the innocent Sophie (who's far closer to his own age), by helping him to prise the girl from the grasp of the her fiancé, the morally disgusting Baron Ochs, is truly touching...

The ten greatest/funniest/most interesting operas I've recently watched, Part 1: Parsifal, Orfeo and Euridice, The Barber of Seville, Der Freischutz and L'elisir d'amore

I have somehow managed to watch 35 operas since the end of November. I so enjoyed the experience of listening to the whole of The Ring Cycle on CD that I decided to try one or two others, and it just snowballed from there. I haven't enjoyed all of them - for a variety of reasons, Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, Donizetti's Lucia Di Lammermoor and Bellini's Norma all failed to hit the spot - but my response to the majority has been overwhelmingly positive. Here's the first half of my top ten:

Monday, 14 January 2019

So, farewell (perhaps), Andy Murray - quite possibly the finest British sportsman of his era

Normally, I'd have the decency to wait until Sir Andy formally announced his retirement before writing this - but circumstances suggest I'd better just get on with it, and today's loss in an epic five-setter in the first round of the Australian Open to the formidable Spanish player, Robert0 Bautista Agut seems as good an opportunity as any...

Friday, 11 January 2019

The fat lady's been doing a lot of singing, because I'm in the middle of an extended Operathon: Aida, Carmen, and Giulio Cesare

I was so wildly enthused by listening to the whole of the Ring Cycle at the end of November, I decided to seek out a few more - only, this times, ones I hadn't already seen or heard. Given my somewhat obsessive nature, this turned out be 32 more operas between the start of December and yesterday morning, despite two hospice stints. My main guide as to what to watch has been a Guardian article, Top 50 Operas, by the paper's classical music critic, Fiona Maddocks, backed up by Rupert Christiansen's Faber Pocket Guide to Opera, Opera by Alan Riding and Leslie Downer (part of DK's Eyewitness Companions series), and Michael Tanner's The Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner - every one a winner. I haven't had to buy any DVDs, because every opera I've seen has been available on Sky Arts catch-up, YouTube, or as part of my Amazon Prime Video membership. I've learned a thing or two during the process:

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Latest health bulletin: fizzy drink are good for you - and when the NHS works, it's brilliant!

In order to still speculation by the international news media, here's where I'm currently at, health-wise. My stay at the wonderful Meadow House Hospice in Ealing just before Christmas, and the scan at Ealing hospital on Christmas Eve, revealed that all my recent digestive problems were due to two strictures in my duodenum, resulting from...

Monday, 7 January 2019

Yet more classic Noir films, Part 2 - Raw Deal, Out of the Past, Night and the City, They Live By Night, and Vertigo

Raw Deal (1948) was directed by Anthony Mann, one of the truly great Hollywood directors (his five 1950s Jimmy Stewart westerns represent one of the most impressive bodies of work by any director). Dennis O'Keefe as a criminal who has escaped from prison is the only weakish link, while Clare Trevor (O'Keefe's moll), Marsha Hunt (his legal caseworker, whom O'Keefe kidnaps),  Raymond Burr (as the gang boss for whom he took the rap, and who owes him a share of the $50,000 take), and John Ireland (the sneering weasel who Burr tasks with killing O'Keefe) are all in superb form. Burr, in particular, is wonderful...

Yet more classic Noir films, Part 1: Phantom Lady, the Glass Key, and Angel Face


Phantom Lady is a 1944 murder mystery based on a story by the great Cornell Woolrich (he also wrote Rear Window, Black Angel and The Bride Wore Black), directed by noir-specialist Robert Siodmak, and starring Franchot Tone and Ella Raines. As it didn't seem to be available online, I had to order a DVD. Wise move, because it's an 87-minute stunner. Engineer Alan Curtis (who gives a rather wet, hangdog performance) is nursing a drink and two tickets to a Broadway musical when he strikes up an awkward conversation with a distracted fellow-drinker, and asks her if she'd accompany him to the theatre. She reluctantly agrees, but refuses to tell him her name...

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Listening again to the whole of Wagner's Ring Cycle made me realise what I've been getting wrong about Opera all these years

It's not that I don't enjoy opera: it's just that I've never quite found the best way to enjoy it to the full - i.e. to be truly immersed in it, to be overwhelmed by it. I've attended a few live performances (about 30-35, I suppose),  I own and have listened to quite a few vinyl box-sets, and I've enjoyed CDs of highlights of individual operas and single-artist compilations of great arias and duets etc. But none of them has truly hit the spot in the way that so many live performances and recordings of symphonies and concertos have. I used to blame the mode of consumption...

Friday, 28 December 2018

BLOG EXCLUSIVE: "People's Poet" Benjamin Zephyr Zodiac has just sent me this heart-rending masterpiece...

"Lines on the Blog" by Benjamin Zephyr Zodiac

Some things even Ja cannot fe to explain
Like de madness of Christopher Huhne in de outside lane
As him rocket like de devil wid a stomach pain
Treatin’ de speedin’ camera wid’ liberal disdain
An’ let him woman fe to tekk de blame
An’ points
An’ t’ing...

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Scott, I hear you ask, how do you manage to watch all these wonderful old movies on your TV screen without needing a DVD player?

To be strictly accurate, three people have asked me this question recently, and I promised each of them I'd post some advice: here it is. I'm sure there are other ways of doing it, but I'm no expert, so I'll just describe how I've gone about it. For starters, we own a Samsung "Smart" TV - i.e. a set which can be hooked into your broadband network and which is festooned with USB ports so you can plug other devices into it. We used to be able to access YouTube videos from the TV, but the app was pretty useless, and was finally removed. In order to restore this capability, I bought an Amazon Fire Stick (approximately £50 when I last looked) and connected it to the TV vis a USB port. (As far as I can tell, the Fire Stick communicates wirelessly with your broadband router, rather than piggybacking on any connection between your TV and your broadband network.) Instantly, I could once more choose to watch any of the thousands of films available for free or pay to rent one of their pay films (the only movies I pay to watch on YouTube are those offered by the company itself - many other pay films are available on the platform from other providers, but they all require a monthly subscription, and ...