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


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...]

Selling Waste Food – Make Mine a Harlequin

Jake Tilson's design for Pepe's Lefotovers Menu in Homage to Alicia Rios

  “One third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted before it is eaten, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization estimates,” said a BBC bulletin on 3 July. The 34th annual Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery took place 11-13 July 2014 at St Catherine’s College on the topic “Food & Markets.” Waste was on our minds. It might seem a far cry from the subjects … [Read more...]

Maria, Violetta and Opera Queens

Joyce DiDonato as Maria Stuarda about to lose her head (by Bill Cooper)

  One of my greatest regrets is that I failed to see Maria Callas at Covent Garden in 1962 and 1964. The truth is that, at the time, tickets seemed very expensive to me (I was only 21 in 1962, and only visiting Britain from the US, though I was at university in London in 1964); and it never occurred to me that it might be my last chance to see a live performance by the greatest singer … [Read more...]

Star-struck and lazy

Time and the exigencies of newspaper production meant that few reviewers were able to group together two theatre productions that opened recently in London, and are a natural fit. It’s a pity, but the British national papers are going the way of American local ones and cutting down the space or even eliminating reviews of every kind – except, it would appear, restaurant reviews. Longer, more … [Read more...]

Facing the Music

Clive Barda

Sometimes you see and hear a production of an opera that makes you rethink the story of the piece; less frequently, you hear the music differently. This last happened to me twice last week, on successive nights. The first was Garsington Opera at Wormsley’s ’s superb The Cunning Little Vixen, directed by Daniel Slater and designed gorgeously by Robert Innes Hopkins. What stuck me forcefully was … [Read more...]

Opera: black tie and picnic, circus or seminar?

Garsington Opera Pavilion by Night
photo Mike Hoban

Picture this. Near the end of Act I of Fidelio, the prisoners are just being released from their dungeon. You, the audience, are sitting in a glassed-in auditorium. The first prisoner climbs onto the stage and the sun comes up in the heavens – the real sun, not stage-lighting. As Rocco finally agrees to let them enjoy the miraculously-timed appearance of the sun, the prisoners walk into an … [Read more...]