Wednesday, February 07, 2007


If you haven't yet sampled the enchanting songs of Pauline Viardot - or even if you have - just try these gems from Cecilia Bartoli, accompanied by Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Nuff said.



Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Finding Trovatore...?

I never quite 'got' it before. Il trovatore was way over my head. Too difficult. What's going on? Blood and guts, sure - but why? Am I too stupid to understand? Last night we went to see it at Covent Garden, to catch Marcelo Alvarez [above - photo by Catherine Ashmore] doing that high C. Finally, I got it. The blood and guts are for the sake of it. Oh. Right.

Someone once said that all you need to perform Trovatore successfully is the four greatest voices on earth. Covent Garden has at least one who's seriously impressive: Stephanie Blythe as Azucena. Blimey, guv'nor, no wonder Manrico is dominated by his madre! (I read that the Covent Garden premiere in 1855 starred Pauline Viardot: that must have been an experience of a lifetime...) As for Alvarez, he has plenty of brawn and went for it molto con belto, which I guess is which he's meant to do. Orchestra under Nicolo Luisotti was jolly impressive - sensitive, careful, singer-oriented accompanying (which was more than could be said for Pappano in Carmen).

And somewhere there lurk the ghosts of the Marx Brothers. They couldn't have chosen a better piece to take off in A Night at the Opera.

I still expected Groucho to swing from the rafters, Harpo to materialise under Azucena's headscarf or the orchestra to burst into 'Take me out to the ball game'. They didn't. But it's still a rip-roaring good night, once all disbelief has been set to 'off' for three hours.

Here's a quick Trovatore quiz. No prizes.

As a piece of music theatre, is Il trovatore, compared to Evita,
a) better
b) worse
c) about the same?

In portraying their characters, are the stars of this opera in 2006
a) identifying profoundly with them
b) thinking 'what a load of b*****s'
c) thinking 'heck, let's get those top notes, then go eat'?

In its portrayal of Gypsies, is Il trovatore
a) remarkably sympathetic for its time
b) using colourful ethnic exoticism as raw material for its finest chorus
c) desperately racist?

Is Leonora
a) a strong, powerful, modern woman
b) a victim of circumstance
c) totally stupid, throwing herself away on a man who loves his mother better than he loves her?

Is Manrico
a) a thrilling, heroic revolutionary
b) a male chauvinist pig
c) a typical musician?

Last but by no means least, this is how to make the opera convincing:

Sunday, February 04, 2007


The first copy of ALICIA'S GIFT is due in tomorrow, I've met my deadlines, Tom earned brownie points in a beautiful charity concert last night and I have time, for once, to tidy my study. So here, to celebrate, is a picture of Solti the cat. 'Sir Georg' at his fuzziest. Have a look at his blog too sometime.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

No more January!

1 February is my favourite day of the year, because it's the furthest point away from the next time it's January. I'm one of those people who needs light in order to feel OK about life, and now the days are getting longer, the daffodils are growing in the garden and the hellebores are in bloom under the apple tree.

I've taken the plunge and declared the first draft of Novel No.3 ready for my advisory panel to read, although the book is still a structural nightmare and needs to shed at least 20,000 words. The Tomcat is in the middle of chapter 2 and says he loves the characters, which is encouraging; copies are going out to my agent, my editor and a select expert or two. Not long ago 'Janos' asked to know more about it. If you cross 'An Equal Music' with 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian', throw in a dose of Symbolisme, a teaspoon of Trollope (Joanna), Philippe Graffin's CD of bohemian-influenced violin works 'In the shades of forests', Bartok's Cantata Profana and a large dollop of goulash, then you might start to get some idea.... Well, you did ask!

Meanwhile, the first finished copies of ALICIA'S GIFT are due in on Monday! Five weeks to go til publication day.

A love letter from Callas...

"In these awful moments
You alone remain to me.
You alone tempt me
Last voice of my destiny
Last cross of my journey.”

It's from La Gioconda - Callas's first big success. An article in today's Times asks whether these words, scribbled by the soprano in a hotel room, were indeed a long-after-it-was-over love letter to her first husband, or something even more significant regarding her professional hopes and regrets. Our 30th anniversary Callas exhibition here in London is a modest affair at the Italian Cultural Institute - quite a far cry from the Swarovski bonanza ladelling on the glamour in New York (Opera Chic has the pics - look out for the Traviata piece - blimey, how does anyone stand up, let alone sing, in a thing like that?!).

But I guess that's the difference between London and New York. We're still so hung up on being tasteful over this side of the pond that we sometimes miss out on the fun. Not to mention the bagels.