A Great Winter’s Journey at Oxford

Ian Bostridge This week I was present at the finest performance of Schubert’s song cycle, Winterreise, I have ever seen or heard. I am unable to review it properly, because I know both the performers. I have a profound and historic foodie connection with the tenor, Ian Bostridge, and the pianist, Thomas Adès, first signed our farmhouse guestbook in 1978, aged seven. The recital at the … [Read more...]

King Henrietta IV?

Henry IV

Dame Harriet Walter as King Henry IV by Helen Maybanks   The idea of an all-woman Henry IV (now playing at the Donmar Warehouse Theatre, London) didn’t much grab me. I gave a miss to the same company’s Julius Caesar and have to confess that I didn’t bother to read the reviews, even when it transferred to New York. But then the press night invitation for Henry IV arrived, and I had a … [Read more...]

Remembering Sally Morphet

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My friend Sally Morphet was an immensely accomplished diplomat and academic; but those who also knew her in the company of her husband, Richard, former Keeper of the Modern Collection at the Tate Gallery and Bloomsbury enthusiast, could not fail to notice her arresting resemblance to the tall, slender and beautiful Virginia Woolf. Sally died last April, and though there was an obituary fairly … [Read more...]

Richard Jones’ gold mine for ENO

Photograph by Robert Workman for ENO

photograph by Robert Workman for ENO It wasn’t the best introduction. I have an awkward feeling that I first saw La fanciulla del West with Dame Gwyneth Jones singing Minnie, sometime in the late 1980s, when she was approaching 50, and her vibrato was so widely spaced you could drive a London bus through the gaps. So it isn’t a piece I was disposed to regard with a great deal of seriousness. I … [Read more...]

Elektricity at the Old Vic

Incest, jealousy, betrayal, murder, and cannibalism are in Elektra’s genes. The poor woman is descended from the House of Atreus, and these are just a few of the negative features of the lives and deaths of her ancestors. She makes an appearance in Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy and gets plays all to herself in Euripides and Sophocles. Sophocles’ Elektra, like all Aristotelian Greek tragedies, … [Read more...]

Please don’t throw the chairs, Otello

Stuart Skelton and Jonathan Summers photographed by Alastair Muir for ENO

  David Alden’s new production of Verdi’s Otello at the English National Opera is interesting chiefly because its Australian-born, Florida-resident tenor, Stuart Skelton decided not to black up for the title role. That’s a little unfair, as his magnificent heldentenor was clarion-bright in tone and unflaggingly dramatic. In truth, I wasn’t for a moment bothered by the political correctness … [Read more...]

Flowering Barbed Wire Means War

A round of raucous applause for my friend, Sir Jonathan Mills, who has just completed his eighth and final year as Director of the Edinburgh International Festival. I’ve attended them all. His tenure has been a success by any measure – even money. The 2014 Festival took more than £3.15m in taking sales income, making more than £3m for the first time in its history since 1947, and with 80% of the … [Read more...]

King Tut’s Tomb Reopened

The gold mask

    “Discovering Tutankhamun,” an exhibition currently at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford celebrates a remarkable fact. Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon of course discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings in 1922. The archive of the excavation was presented to the University of Oxford by Carter’s niece, Phyllis Walker, following his death in 1939. It … [Read more...]

My Night with Reg, La Ronde and the Daisy-Chain Plot

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There are many ways a work of fiction or drama can date. If the intention is satirical, it can become dated within a matter of weeks, or even days, as the details of the political or social scandal (or whatever its target may be) are forgotten. Satire doesn’t automatically become dated: after all, we still read Pope, Swift and Orwell. Plays (and films) can also appear dated simply because there’s … [Read more...]

Next Stop, Elysian Fields

Gillian Anderson and Ben Foster

There really was (and possibly still is) a streetcar names Desire. I know because I photographed it as a precocious, naughty 12-year-old on a school visit to New Orleans in 1953 – only six years after the play opened on Broadway. Of course I didn’t see anything of the real working-class culture represented by Stanley Kowalksi and his poker-playing buddies. But our group stayed in the Vieux Carré, … [Read more...]