Remembering Tony Staniland

Tony Staniland was one of those hard-to-categorise, larger-than-life people who was a hero to those whose lives he changed, but who was modest about his own ambitions, and seems to have worked so hard simply because it gave him pleasure.   A physically big man, well over six feet tall, this philoprogenitive educator had six children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren by three … [Read more...]

Why you should give a fig


An invitation to a lecture about the “cultural” part of agriculture, reminded me how rarely we think about food and culture. Joining the usually* delightful set of foodie monographs called “The Edible Series” published by Reaktion is a volume called Figs: A Global History by my friend and colleague, David C. Sutton, Director of Research Projects at Reading University. Its tone is odd and amusing – … [Read more...]

Rembrandt Late Style: the Greatest Show on Earth?


Self Portrait at the Age of 63 (1669) The National Gallery London “Rembrandt the Late Works” at the National Gallery until 18 January (and at the Rijksmuseum from 12 February - 17 May 2015) is one of the great exhibitions of our lifetime. The NG must have called in every favour it was owed to have borrowed some of the finest paintings and works on paper of Rembrandt’s last years – the selection … [Read more...]

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


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...]