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The opera that Covent Garden will make you see twice

We’ve received complaints from readers about next Saturday’s performance of La Bohème at the Royal Opera House. Here’s one:

News just in, Norman: in a reversal of policy and what was promised when tickets went on sale, the ROH seems to have decided an hour ago 
that at this Saturday’s performance of La Boheme, the winner of Maestro at the Opera, the BBC’s new reality TV programme for celeb baton-faciers, will conduct Act II not at the END of the evening conducted by Semyon Bychkov, as they were promising people who rang the Box Office only this morning, and indeed tweeted earlier this pm, but now we will have to sit through Act II twice, consecutively, before the actual performance can resume. What a bloody liberty.

So what’s going on? The BBC are filming a reality series in which four celebrities  compete to conduct a bit of opera. That may sound dumb, but it’s not half as dumb as Covent Garden agreeing to coach the candidates and participate in the show. Originally, as our complainant points out, the ROH specified that the Maestro contender would only enter the pit after the end of the evening’s performance. Now they’ve changed their m inds.

Act two, which lasts just 20 minutes or so, will be conducted by Semyon Bychkov. It will then be repeated by the bumptious amateur.

We asked a responsible person at the ROH what was going on. ‘We wrote today to everyone who bought tickets, telling them what was going to happen,’ he said.

What if they don’t like it? ‘We offered to arrange an alternative time for them to see Bohème.’

And what of those who can only make Saturday, but don’t want to sit through amateur night? ‘They don’t have to stay in their seats. They can take a walk outside or order a drink at the bar.’

On the house? ‘You must be joking.’

How did they get into this mess? At this point, I start to hear equivocations about late notification, they way things are in television, and so forth.

Basically, what happened is that the TV producers wanted it this way and Covent Garden gave in. Probably, the producers ran scared that the entire audience would leave at the end and they would have to film the act in an eerily empty house.

Our tip? If you’ve got a ticket, take a walk.

The Four Musketeers: Trevor Nelson, Josie Lawrence, Craig Revel Horwood and Professor Marcus du Sautoy

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  1. Duncan Reed says:

    I received an email received today. No mention of offering an alternative date.

    I was told only this morning that this would happen after the performance. Now they have decided to blow the suspension of disbelief, their principles, etc out of the window.

    Trades description act? Customer relations? Different casts? Trains to catch, anyone? Artistic integrity? I know Tony Hall used to work for the BBC, but he now works for the ROH…doesn’t he?

    Is the ROH sure that it can deliver not only bums on seats, but a pliable audience that isn’t booing especially for the cameras when this farrago is dropped unwanted into the middle of their evening?

    Oh dear, oh dear…what a mess.

  2. mark winn says:

    This pile of excrement is the thin edge of…..if i had a ticket i would ask for twice my money back!

  3. My parents and little brother were at Covent Garden on one of the nights they were filming Jon Vickers in “Peter Grimes” in the early 1980s. Something went wrong with the lighting in Act II, and they announced they were going to have to perform the whole act again. My mother insisted on the family going out and taking a long walk rather than have the dramatic experience interrupted. Me, I would have taken the opportunity to hear it again. But that, of course, was a considerably different situation.

    • I’m with your mother on this, Anne. In principle, at least. But then it was Vickers, and there has never been a more powerful Grimes… What to do, what to do?

  4. Opportunistic manoeuvre by Tony Hall, to aid his application for the post of Director-General back at the BBC? :)

  5. Are they out of their mind?! Putting someone inexperienced in front of a well-rehearsed orchestra playing some straightforward overture is one thing – the orchestra will pretty much conduct itself – but opera?? Opera conducting actually requires a considerable level of skill and experience! What will they invent next? Have celebrities step in during a flight on a 747 just to see if they’ll be able to keep it in the air? Just nonsense.

  6. I hope Semyon Bychkov objects mightily. What a travesty.

  7. James Alexander says:

    How do you know who made the decision at the Royal Opera House to open a broader tv audience to the wonders of that amazing place? It receives enough public subsidy so why not try and reach out a bit? What on earth is wrong with trying to reveal the complexities and wonders of an extraordinary skill? Hasn’t the world moved on from your deeply antiquated views where art is held in aspic. Why not trust an audience’s ears and eyes. Don’t prejudge, that’s naive surely? How do you know how naff this tv series is until it has gone out – maybe it’s not just another reality show? Maybe – god forbid – there might be a moment of something inspiring. You are excessively privileged – bravo for you – it strikes me that the more good music on the box the better. Trust your audience.
    Are the very foundations of opera threatened by some talented individuals revealing what is involved in conducting, and trying to experience how amazing opera is?

    • How would you like to go to a performance of a drama in a theater and have to watch the 2nd act twice? What if you are an out-of-towner and have a train to catch after the performance which now be much later?

      La Boheme has a plot, it has a story, people want to follow the storyline, not to have an act in the middle repeated twice.

      How about if in the same play in this repetition of the act they’ll have an amateur actor playing the lead. Now, of course, the conductor isn’t going to be on stage, but he can seriously mess up the music.

      The problem here is that paying public bought tickets for the performance expecting a certain performance. Originally, this extra act with an amateur conductor was supposed to be at the end, so people had an option to see it or not to see it. But moving it in the middle, ROH made the audience hostage, forced people who paid their money for tickets to listen to a performance they may not have wanted to listen to potentially ruining their experience. Additionally, people who have trains to catch may still have to leave at a specific time, so now they’ll have to miss the last act.

  8. Duncan Reed says:

    Does J.Alexander have a life interest in approving the BBC? ie pension etc.? Please engage with the particular issue about changing the order of the evening at this stage.

  9. James Alexander says:

    J Alexander certainly does approve of the bbc, and has done most of his life. A pension there? No. Sorry Duncan Reed, the conversation had already developed the moment you posted your comments about booing the farrago, now it engages with what bitter Lebrecht is really objecting too

    • Holly Golightly says:

      I with you, doll. The snobbish preciosity of some of the commenters is just appalling. At a moment when classical music is on its deathbed and cannot attract younger patrons, these afficionados are sickened with bile at the thought of a popular gesture. As horrid as hearing a movement twice may be, think of all the potential new opera fans this show might help attract. The more fans, the more operas, The more operas and better funded ones, the more the music snobs can study their scores and dissect each aspect of the performance down to single notes. If you don’t like the second performance, have a drink, take a walk, text more music-industry gossip to friends, or just take a nap. It’ll be over before you know it, which is to say, 20 minutes.

  10. I don’t have a problem with the concept of the programme. Reality TV, mass audience for opera… It seems to take the place of Music Education that is meant to be happening in schools. The main issue seems to be the madness of sitting through Act 2 TWICE in a row. There is the art of opera and the art of television. Wiser for both would have been the original plan of a replay after the Bychkov performance. BBC staff perhaps objected to working so late?

  11. This has nothing to do with one’s opinion of the programme but everything to do with the shameful assault on the artistic integrity of the professional performers who will have their artistic endeavor compromised. An opera is not just an evening of singing – it is a dramatic telling of a story in music and words, and the idea of repeating a bit of it in the middle is appalling. I have paid good money to see this performance, and am taking guests who are first time opera goers. I might possibly have stayed at the end for an extra bit to support the BBC programme in its aim of reaching a wider audience. But I will certainly not sit through an instant encore (by a different cast by the way).

  12. anonymous says:

    Act II of Boheme does most assuredly NOT play itself. For the conductor, it is the most treacherous 20 minutes in all of opera. Having successfully navigated it on the podium myself, I wish them the best, particularly if any of the 100+ people involved in the performance decide to…um….go on their own. Even in a world-class house with world-class everything….it’s the most formidable challenge to hold it all together.

  13. Henri Temianka in his memoir talks of going in to sub for a conductor who was doing a small orchestra version of Boheme. The orchestra started before he gave the downbeat, and proceeded to ignore him completely through the whole opera. That was probably a good idea. By any standards, Boheme is a bitch to conduct, and it is beyond stupid to let an amateur do it. The good news is that the orchestra and presumably the singers know it backwards, and as long as they can hear each other they will probably be ok. But if the amateur has any charisma, and they find themselves looking at him by accident, it will not be good. One can only hope he gets out of the way, or that they able to ignore him. I would be beyond furious if I were in the orchestra and I can’t believe Bychkov wouldn’t be as well. It is terribly inconsiderate to put the performers through the stress this was cause them for the sake of a publicity stunt.

  14. Duncan Reed says:

    I agree, anonymous. It is not easy at all. I would have stayed for the repeat at the end, but now do not know whether to sit on my hands, leave for a drink, or just seethe away.

  15. Covent Garden has taken leave of it’s senses.

    Why they are getting involved in this stupid programme in the first place is beyong my comprehension.

    They & Mark Elder for that matter, should be ashamed of themselves.

    There are 100′s of young budding conductors busting their guts off at Music Colleges aroung the Country who would love to have this kind of chance.

    Tony Hall – If you have such poor taste you should consider your postion.

    • “There are 100′s of young budding conductors busting their guts off at Music Colleges aroung the Country who would love to have this kind of chance.”

      That, I think, is the most important point.

      • James Alexander says:

        And having been at Saturday’s filming of Act II hopefully there will be 100′s more budding young conductors. It was impressive to say the least and we heard new stars from their young artist scheme. I spent good money for our seats and got more opera. Tony Hall made a very engaging and tasteful speach telling us why the opera house allowed the filming and convinced me that it was well worthwhile. He should only consider what a brilliant position he’s in and accept big thanks for the work he’s doing there.

  16. Maybe they should bring in Jackie E. to sing in the second act! (Oh, oh–I’ve opened a tempest in a teapot.)

  17. Most of these comments have been by potential audience members. Has anyone consulted the singers and orchestra who will have to perform this twice (and re-wind the act in their heads)? Perhaps we could have a group of celebs who always fancied a go filling in on stage and in the pit as well.

    • It’s the perfect opportunity for the “Welsh songstress” Kathy J to make her operatic debut. That should at least get the ratings up. If Jackie E sing’s Michaela’s waltz, so much the better.

      • I sincerly hope this was a Joke.

        ‘K J’ is not an opera singer & has no right to call herself one.

        She is nothing more than a vocalist.

        Opera singers don’t perform with a microphone shoved in their g** all the time!

  18. And what of those who can only make Saturday, but don’t want to sit through amateur night? ‘They don’t have to stay in their seats. They can take a walk outside or order a drink at the bar.’

    Oh, another interval, that’ll have done the ROH bar’s takings no harm at all, if people were stupid enough to drink there. The Globe across the road is much preferable and you don’t leave half of your limbs behind. I always pop across there if at an ROH production, not just those with one interval more than necessary.

  19. John A Brotherton says:

    I have just watched the ‘Maestro at the Opera’ final on BBC 2 and found it very moving and uplifting. The disaster which some of the above pundits predicted and probably hoped-for did not happen. Bravo to the ROH for co-operating with this programme in the way they did and for opening the door to new potential opera-lovers in the process. The contemptuous attitudes expressed above represent much that is wrong with this country and its continuing class divide – we are clearly not ‘all in it together’ and some wish to keep it that way.

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