Artistic Merit, the Vagaries of Fashion and the Revenge of the Marketplace: a memory or two

Lynn Chadwick, Crouching Beast 1, 1990

There is a photograph of the British sculptor, Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003) by Lee Miller. It was taken in 1957 in East Sussex in the garden at Farley Farm (where she lived with her husband, Roland Penrose). Lynn is shown, seated on the ground, leaning against a sapling, cigarette in mouth, beside a tray of kitchen knives, which he is sharpening, He is totally nude, and in very good shape. Coming … [Read more...]

Genius Deserves Transfer


At the wonderful, modest Old Red Lion Theatre, above the famous pub in Islington, North London, is a genius play by a 29-year-old, Moses Raine, directed by his not much older, equally skilled sister, Nina Raine. Donkey Heart is a Chekhovian drama set in contemporary Russia – a little comic, a lot wistful, with an undercurrent of past terrors gently meandering though its two acts. The pub … [Read more...]

Opera and Fat Lady Fashions


photograph by Bill Cooper Opera has caught the eye (rather than the ear) of the British people recently – and of the New York Times and Time Magazine – because several male colleagues of mine have been damned for their negative comments on the appearance of the mezzo singing the title role in Glyndebourne’s new production of Der Rosenkavalier. Some of them have found Tara Erraught’s body-type … [Read more...]

A Supremely Improbable Così

Overture photo Mike Hoban

Of the Mozart/da Ponte operas, Così fan tutte was the least appreciated until fairly recent times. Some high-minded critics, such as the psychoanalyst, James Strachey (brother of the more famous Lytton), and also a musicologist who pronounced the composer’s name as Moz-ahr’, thought the plot a touch trivial. James Strachey wrote the original programme notes for the Glyndebourne productions of the … [Read more...]

Does Britain’s new Minister for Culture like opera?

Sajid Javid, new Minister for Culture

A couple of days ago I sent a brief email to my MP about the Minister for Culture. My MP happens to be PM, the Prime Minister, David Cameron. I said that his Culture Minister Maria Miller, who'd been under attack for falsifying her expenses and for making only a perfunctory apology to the House of Commons when ordered to do so by a parliamentary commission, needed to resign or be sacked. The fact … [Read more...]

How to Handle Rodelinda

photograph by Clive Barda

  photograph by Clive Barda After a series of dud new productions, the English National Opera has at last got a palpable hit, with its first-ever staging of Handel’s Rodelinda, directed by Richard Jones and conducted by Christian Curnyn. The company needed this badly, especially in view of the failure of their new Rigoletto, an ill-advised replacement for their money-spinning old production … [Read more...]

Refreshing Rigoletto? You must be joking

Quinn Kelsey as Rigoletto photograped by Alastair Muir

  The English National Opera has a really big problem – or, rather, has given itself a big problem. It has decided to “refresh” its core repertory by commissioning a new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto. The rub is that the former staging wasn’t just any old Rigoletto, it was Jonathan Miller’s greatest of all Rigolettos, first staged in 1982 – a production that brought new audiences to the … [Read more...]

Dear George Clooney, About those marbles…

British Museum, The Elgin Marbles

    Dear George Clooney,   As another Lexington, Kentucky boy, I’ve often wanted to write a fan letter to you. (I’ve been told that some members of our families knew each other, though I’m a good deal older than you, and left my old KY home when you were a child.) Monuments Men is the perfect excuse, as I’m now working on a feature  and a video piece for The Wall … [Read more...]

Don self-absorbed and solitary?

photograph by Bill Cooper

Royal Opera House Director of Opera Kasper Holten’s first dive into directing a production at Covent Garden was a belly-flop Eugene Onegin. He was been more successful with the current Don Giovanni, at least to the extent that seeing and hearing it is an enjoyable experience.  If his staging contains no new insights into the piece or its title character, it is good to look at, and sung and played … [Read more...]

It ain’t Shakespeare

Ben Miles as Cromwell photo by Keith Pattison

The secret of the success of Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies is seeing the events of the reign of Henry VIII through the eyes of an unlikely character in the grand sweep of history, Thomas Cromwell. A London lawyer with a reputation for toughness and bullying, the son of a butcher and therefore not a gentleman, a collector of books by Luther and Tyndale’s bible – and … [Read more...]