Raphael’s no Angel, but it’s not because he’s Jewish

  Frederic Raphael intrigues me. Though I don’t think I’ve read any of his nearly 20 works of fiction, I relished his TV series The Glittering Prizes, as well as his Oscar-winning screenplay for Darling and his Far from the Madding Crowd.  His occasional journalism, replete with Latin tags and sometimes entire, un-translated passages in French, Italian or Spanish, is always rewarding. Of … [Read more...]

Mendelssohn: it’s the sound of Shakespeare

Chris Lew Kum Hoi as Flute/Thisbe in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Garsington Opera
Royal Shakespeare Company

Conductor Douglas Boyd
Director Owen Horsley
Under the creative guidance of Gregory Doran
Designer Rosanna Vize
Lighting Designer Caroline Burrell

Lysander Ross Armstrong
Helena Hedydd Dylan
Egeus/ Philostrate David Collings
Flute/ Mustardseed Chris Lew Kum Hoi
Hermia Joan Iyiola
Puck Oliver Johnstone
Starvelling Jake Mann
Demetrius Simon Manyonda
Snout/ Pease Blossom Chris Nayak
Oberon/ Theseus David Rintoul
Quince/ Moth Tim Speyer
Bottom Forbes Masson  
Titania/ Hippolyta Marty Cruickshank
Snug/ Cobweb Sophie Khan Levy
First Fairy Anna Sideris
Second Fairy Catherine Backhouse

Garsington Opera Orchestra & Chorus

There’s a bit of critical dissension about Garsington Opera’s collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company on A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Getty estate at Wormsley (and going on to Stratford-upon-Avon and the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London). I found it completely enchanting (though my wife did not). The first of several joint ventures for the Garsington company – next year they’re doing … [Read more...]

It’s not ethical to review works by friends, so I’ll simply praise some

Michael Craig-Martin, "Eye of the Storm," 2002 (detail)

  It is obviously just as wrong to review books (or performances or exhibitions) by your friends, as it is to publish criticism of works by your enemies. Sometimes there are exceptions. I did not know, when I was commissioned by the Spectator to review The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, that more than a third of the contributors were recruited from a group that I chaired (until I … [Read more...]

Picnics, Plato and Pleats: Death in Venice at Wormsley

  Garsington Opera at Wormsley has achieved some sort of artistic milestone with a near-perfect new production of Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice. Based on the richly autobiographical novella by Thomas Mann, converted into a spare libretto by Myfanwy Piper (whose painter husband, John Piper did the original 1973 sets), the opera is a curiosity, with only one major singing role – but … [Read more...]

Too Much Greek Love?

Angus Wright and Jessica Brown Findlay by Manuel Harlan

In three hours and forty minutes precisely, Robert Icke’s new version of Aeschylus’ three tragedies that constitute the Oresteia, unfolds on the stage of the Almeida Theatre in North London. The “precisely” is important, because Icke has also directed the highly compressed production, and he plays on our own sense of time and urgency. Digital clocks tell the time – to the minute – of the deaths of … [Read more...]

Bayreuth in Your Own Backyard

Details of Wieland Wagner's 1962 Bayreuth sets for Tristan und Isolde

Longborough Festival Opera is Bayreuth in the Cotswolds, our almost-local 500 seat auditorium, converted from a giant chicken shed, with the seats bought second-hand from Covent Garden. Its founders, Martin and Lizzie Graham, built this mini-Bayreuth in their own backyard with the inspired-lunatic idea of staging Wagner’s operas in the correct grand style, but on an intimate scale. They built a … [Read more...]

Best restaurant in the world? Says who?

Something to eat at El Celler de Can Roca

Would any critic dare to try to name the 50 best operas/singers/actors, artists in the world, except as some sort of perverse game? The concept of the World’s 50 (or 100 or 1000) Best Restaurants is obviously a dodgy one. Who decides who’s on the list? What qualifies them to judge the question? And are the procedures they use transparent? The list for 2015 has just been published. It contains the … [Read more...]

Whether Villains or Martyrs They’re Lions’ Lunch

Michael Fabiano as Poliuto 
©Tristram Kenton

      Glyndebourne Festival’s opening is always an exciting date in the calendar. This year it featured the inauguration of a beautiful temporary gallery in collaboration with the progressive dealer, White Cube, and an exhibition of a series of paintings, each of four whirling legs, feet and high-heeled shoes attached, by Georg Baselitz. They are very decorative, even … [Read more...]

High Society no Longer Exists, but it’s Worth Making a Song and Dance about It

Kate Fleetwood

Kate Fleetwood (Old Vic) High Society Kevin Spacey leaves his post as artistic director of the Old Vic with one last wild and vibrant fling. He’s chosen as his final production the musical of the film of the play, High Society. As The Philadelphia Story, it was the original 1939 play and 1940 movie, both starring Katharine Hepburn; in 1956, and this version was one of Mr. Spacey’s early … [Read more...]

Mike Leigh’s Piratical Sense of Duty


  We know from Topsy-Turvy that Mike Leigh loves Gilbert and Sullivan, so he was the obvious choice to mount the production of The Pirates of Penzance or the Slave of Duty that the English National Opera is counting on to rescue its shaky finances. In his programme essay he makes a good case for seeing Gilbert as a surrealist and a subversive, but not a satirist --  meaning that the point … [Read more...]