Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Laugh of the day

courtesy of the BBC's appalling drama series about a small village choir. Two characters talking about a funeral to be held at the tiny local church.

'Deluxe coffin, full sung Requiem Mass- I'm thinking Verdi'

Are you? Are you REALLY?

Friday, 24 April 2009

The post with the host

Some recordings of me singing stuff, for whenever I need to point people in such a direction, can be found Here

I should point out that I'm hosting this stuff for professional reasons rather than to say 'LOOK! I DID A SONG!' So sorry to anyone who's actually read that, it's just a way of giving myself a permanent reminder of the URL. I am using the internet as the equivalent of a note on my fridge.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Never got half my wishes... *

Well, look at that. There's just about time for one more tiny update on Cinderfella in the Big Apple.

Not much time though, since I've only got about 15 minutes before they call my flight. Fortunately today was spent largely doing things by mistake, so this'll be a knockabout, Keystone Kops kind of travelogue rather than the overwritten purple prose you have doubtless come to expect.

I'll tell you what was NOT a mistake- going to Gray's Papaya for hot dogs. Shamefully, I did this because of the rightly forgotten Matthew Perry/Salma Hayek vehicle 'Fools Rush In' (in which it turns out that fools rush in) which must have taken a hefty kickback from the Gray's people as the plot turns, as so often in romantic comedies, on a Fed-Exed hot dog. Blimey, but they're good though. So good, in fact, that I searched around the village for a second branch because I wanted another go on them without the staff laughing and calling me fatty. I didn't find the other branch, but I found the Stonewall Inn, which probably says something about something. I took a photo of the outside like a good little boy and then headed uptown to explore the park.

Rather further uptown than I hoped. My friend Alice was once visiting me and I told her to get the Thameslink from King's Cross. Unfortunately I forgot to mention that there are stopping trains, and trains that whizz off to St Alban's with nary a backward glance. I discovered this when she sent me a text saying 'Help- I think I'm being kidnapped by a train'.

Well, the subway kidnapped me today. I decided not to get off at 59th, because I thought I'd have an amble down from the middle of the park. This plan changed when the next stop on the inexorably thundering train was 125th. So I got to have a look at Harlem, strolling to the northern end of the park via a road which appeared to be called Adam Clayton Boulevard. Bono must be furious.

Once in the park, my famed sense of direction kicked in and I walked round in circles a few times before giving in and taking the subway back down to 86th, and walking down to fifth avenue from there. There was a lake, there was a big fountain that they ran round in 'Friends', it was sunny, it was pretty, I took some photos. You should know by now that descriptions really aren't my thing (for example, there are five windows on the frontage of the Met, not the four I raved about) so I recommend you just look at some pictures of Central Park and imagine a tubby balding man getting lost in it; you'll pretty much be on my page.

And now I've got to get on an aeroplane. Bye bye NY- you have given me several very compelling reasons to return.

*if you don't recognise this reference blah blah blah etc etc

Little Bo Peep loses, files for grounds*

Half eleven (although my body clock would tell you that it's quarter past four, or perhaps ten to seven) and I'm back at my nice brown desk in my nice brown room at the hotel. I have no doubt that there's a clamour- a clamour, I tell you- for me to provide the second instalment of my epic, two-instalment, adventures in Manhattan.

Tuesday was work day, so I went there and did that. Afterwards there was just about enough time to head back, get changed, iron a shirt (yes! I ironed! I am beyond proud of myself) before heading uptown to the Met. I'll share my opinions about the opera itself later on in this post, so as to give those of you who don't give a flying fuck about it the chance to avoid them, but in all conscience I have to say a little about the experience of the Met itself.

I get the same frisson of excitement approaching the place as I did going to Wembley Stadium as a kid, before they knocked it down and replaced it with a high-tech garden centre. The design of the Met is so daring and so (duh) theatrical that approaching the building is as exciting as anything that goes on inside it. It rises out of the plaza, all square and seemingly two-dimensional; you wouldn't be surprised to find that it was a massive piece of flattage being held up by a couple of french braces. Well, you would, but you know what I mean. Four gigantic arched windows stretch from pavement to roof, meaning that the Chagall murals and the ludicrously lush, camp staircase are on plain view as you approach it. And- Covent Garden take note- decent seats are affordable. I paid more than I'd planned to- 80 dollars- but I was in the Orchestra Stalls, which will usually set you back a good 200 notes on Bow Street. Then there was the opera, which although not a performance for the ages had some pretty wonderful stuff in it. More, as I said, later. One thing I must mention before I move on to other things- as I walked onto the subway platform with the rest of the crowd after the show, the saxophonist busker launched into a jazzed-up version of the most famous aria from the opera and that, kids, is fucking classy.

I got off the subway at 14th Street and walked 'home' down 6th, because I was determined that it would not defeat me with its sneakiness. I took a brief detour into the Village- heading down Christopher Street and returning to 6th via Gay St (snigger) and Waverly Place, just because it has a reputation for being gayish and I wanted to, oh, I don't know, be in a gay bit. My dinner companion of this evening, being somewhat on the gay side himself, informs me that I was walking through OldGay; it's more about gyms in Chelsea and hairless plastic people these days, depressingly predictably enough. But I didn't know that then so I smiled benevolently at the tribe as I passed and ambled back to the hotel.

I was woken up this morning by my conviction that it was either lunchtime or midnight, and before too long was pounding the streets, touristly. Well, I say before too long- a couple of hours and some room service Eggs Benedict had passed before I actually made it out of the room. I went to Century 21, I bought shoes, and then suddenly realised that if I didn't sleep more or less instantly I would probably die or something. So I had a two hour nap on a Wednesday afternoon, in the city that doesn't sleep. I am either an iconoclast, or old. By the time I had surfaced it was time to meet up with G, whose name I am censoring because he writes a quite widely-read blog and people on the internet are weird. He was every bit as charming and funny in person as his writing would lead one to believe. We went to a nice relaxed gay bar in the East Village, where he drank beer Americanly and I did so Britishly, and we talked about opera and plays and politics and tried to watch/ignore the couple at the table opposite who were competing in the annual Manhattan 'Get A Room' contest. There was straddling. Then we headed back west and I stuffed myself full of lovely lovely carbs and fat, in the guise of Italian food. A smashing evening.

People who aren't interested in opera stop reading now; move along, move along, nothing to see here.


How lovely of you both to have stayed. So, Trovatore at the Met...

I have to start- and will probably finish- with Dolora Zajick. She wasn't initially down to be singing Azucena last night but my god I'm glad she was. A huge voice, stupidly big and secure with it, and chest tones you could cook ribs on or slaughter kittens with or whatever ridiculous simile does it for you. I was expecting some heavy-duty vocalism, but nothing like that. I was also expecting her to be a big blank as an actor, which in a way she is; she's never going to glue you to the seat with a sudden emotional insight- but she is undeniably a stage animal. She possesses that intangible charisma that forces you to watch her. Even on her first entrance, in the crowd scene that segues into the Anvil Chorus, I spotted her at once. It was fitting that her character should end the opera. She owned it.

Now, I've got this far without mentioning that old Caruso thing about Trovatore needing the four best singers in the world, but really it's impossible to write about this opera without even glancing at it. Firstly- has it ever really happened? Maybe a 1970s night with Price or Caballe, Cossotto or Verrett, Domingo, and Milnes or Cappuccilli. Well, actually, looking at that list, definitely one of those nights. But at that time you'd have been happy with, oh I don't know, Tucci, Quivar, Bonisolli and McNeil, wouldn't you? (Maybe you wouldn't. When did you get so fucking fussy, huh?)

The point is, it rarely if ever happens. Last night it's arguable that one singer, Zajick, was the gold standard in her part. And we maybe had the best 1.5 singers in the world, because I thought Zelko Lucic was pretty special, too. A proper Verdi baritone. I love Hampson and Hvoro and Mattei and all the lyric baritones who do a good job of pretending, but it's a long time since I heard a singer with such vocal qualification to sing a part like Di Luna. Apparently he's variable and the top of his voice is unreliable. I'm glad to have heard him on one of his good nights.

Ok, so now for the moaning. A performance of Trovatore isn't going to blow you away if, in the second scene, you find yourself struck by how much nicer Inez's voice is than Leonora's. I'd heard of but never heard last night's Leonora, Hasmik Papian, and I can't say I'll be rushing to hear her again. Now look, it's good that there are committed, decent, honest professionals, and bar the odd unfortunate note she didn't do much that was actually wrong... but her voice doesn't make a very nice noise- at all- which I reckon is a bit of a drawback for, y'know, an opera singer.

As I write this, my itunes shuffle has thrown up Jussi Bjorling singing 'Di Quella Pira'. Bad luck, Marco Berti. He's sort of tubby and doesn't act much, but you come to expect that of tenors, no? By the end of the evening he was coming up with some singing which came close to being thrilling. But at the start he sounded uncommitted, and with the best will in the world his voice is just too ungainly for some of the more lyric moments in the role. The lead into 'Ah si ben mio' put me in mind (literally put me in mind, this isn't phrasemaking) of those ballet-dancing hippos in Fantasia. And if you ain't lyric enough, you'd better blow me away with 'Di Quella Pira', which he didn't do, meaty though it was. I don't have perfect pitch, but I'm pretty sure he took a B not a C, if it matters. It was high and it was exciting but it didn't have that top C ping. That's a technical term.

I'm not going to talk about the conducting, because it was bollocks and I don't like to be cruel. The production was decent, but without the sudden special touches of insight that make McVicar such a special director, although maybe you just can't do that in Trov. When I expounded my new-minted theory that Manrico is a dick (he really IS a dick, going on about how heroic he is and then cursing Leonora for, um, saving his life) it was pointed out to me that they're all pretty unpleasant people who behave in bizarre ways. There's nobody in there you'd want a pint with. Except maybe Inez. Anyway, McVicar didn't manage to negotiate some of the idiocies of the libretto (the Count asking Manrico who he is when he already knows, for example, or the moment when Leonora takes the poison 'I HAVE TAKEN POISON BECAUSE I HAVE TRICKED THE COUNT AND HE IS GOING TO SPARE MY LOVER BUT I'LL BE DEAD SO WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT?' I think he's standing right next to you, you silly cow, so stop singing so loud) and added one of his own- for the entire scene where Zajick constantly sings about how she longs only for death, she was standing up and wandering about. Try lying down love, it'll be easier. But there were some nice details, some good stage pictures, and the usual and welcome McVicar shirtless types, so I shouldn't moan too much.

In fact, I shouldn't moan too much just generally. It was a treat, more than a treat, to hear Zajick, I'm going to look out for Lucic, Berti had his moments and even Papian perked up towards the end. Plus, did I mention how much I love that building?

In summary then- I went to the Met and it was nice.

*if you don't get this reference there is an ace song you don't know, which like the last such reference, is a song named after a Manhattan street. You have to remember I am HUGELY intelligent and cultured.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Lawyers in worsted/ ad men in suede sightings so far: none*

So, I appear to be in New York. This came as nearly as much of a surprise to me as it may have done to you, given that a week ago I had no idea I'd be coming here. The actual day's work I'm here for is tomorrow from 9-5; the rest, till Thursday, is just lotus eating.

I know it's hardly the most ground-breaking observation, but it really does freak me out a little that I woke up this morning in Cricklewood and now I'm sitting in SoHo (that second capital letter is very important here; otherwise it just sounds as if I popped on the Piccadilly Line). It's another hotel room blog post- I am joining you from the comfort of the Soho Grand, where they've given me something called a Superior Queen. Too many jokes... suffice to say that this refers to the size of the bed, rather than the desk clerk or, indeed, your correspondent. The hotel is as advertised- boutiquey and chicey. Lots of muted browns, in the manner of such places. Nicer than the holiday inn was. Can I stop now? I'm not very good at describing hotels.

Nor shall I bother describing the flight. You've been on one, you know what they're like. I watched Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep pretending to be angry Catholics, and then all but the last ten minutes of 'Changeling'. I look forward to finding out how it ends, perhaps on my flight home. I'm going to stick my neck out and say I reckon the kid probably doesn't come back. More acting for Ange, that way, and why not? She's ever so good at it.

Once landed at JFK I made what I now realise was a tactical error. 'What a great idea!' I thought to myself, 'a shuttle service door to door at a fraction of the cost of a cab! I don't mind sharing with these lovely strangers if it means I get to do something so inexpensive and convenient!

Hmm. From all the waiting around as the driver awaited orders on precisely who to pick up, I fondly imagined that they were allocating shared cars to people heading in the same direction. Two and a half hours later as I was decanted at my hotel, I had been disabused of this notion. I'm sure the East Fifties are lovely but driving endlessly round them dropping people off at hotel after hotel isn't my idea of fun, particularly when my destination is the Lower West Side. It strikes me that the bridge we came in on, Queensboro bridge, must also be known as the 59th St Bridge, which means it has a place in my internal jukebox, but sadly when we crossed it I was neither looking for fun nor feeling groovy. (Another couple of turnings and we were in Ethan Mordden land- the apartment at the centre of the 'Buddies' books is on East 53rd between second and third, known in the 80s, at least to Mordden, as 'Hustler Alley'. I didn't see any hustlers but perhaps I wasn't looking hard enough).

The rest of the journey passed in increased irritation as I was forced to listen to the monotone ramblings of the world's most bored teenager. She'd modelled her voice on the dead-eyed estuary style perfected by the novelist and businesswoman Katie Jordan Andre Price, and she was keen to let the other passengers know (a) that she'd been to Manhattan like loads of times and (b) nothing in the world had ever impressed her, ever. 'Thass Chrysler with the spike. Thass Empire State. Empire State's ok.' She was talking to a Welsh lady whose trip to New York was a late replacement for a trip to Thailand. 'I didn't fancy it after all the violence. But New York was the obvious option really. It's the same as Bangkok really, for shoppping'.

Finally, though, once I'd escaped, and also checked in at the office for details of tomorrow, I was free to fall back in love with the place. The weather didn't make this easy- vicious wind and driving rain, so much that the umbrella the hotel had thoughtfully provided committed suicide, with a great sense of theatre, as I approached Times Square- but I realised what New York possesses in spades, which is so vital to being a great city; it has familiarity. I've been here once before, for two weeks, three years ago, but it felt like mine. I knew exactly where I was going, no maps necessary, as I retraced the first walk I ever took in Manhattan, from lower Broadway to Times Square. Now, admittedly this walk is pretty much a straight line, but it was the remembered detail that was pleasing. I ambled into Barnes and Noble on Union Square as if on automatic pilot, and navigated from DVDs to CDs and upstairs to fiction on some remnant of (not massively useful in my day to day life, it must be said) memory. Even more pleasingly, I avoided the trap that the city presents the unwary traveller, the bit where Sixth Avenue pretends to be Broadway** and you can end up in all sorts of trouble if you're not VERY CAREFUL. Finally, at Times Square, the weather defeated me, and I hopped onto the subway for the last part of my journey, to the Met- where I bought a ticket for tomorrow night's 'Trovatore' for rather more than I had intended to pay. Still, I've just had an email from the BBC telling me that I overshot my commission for Mitchell and Webb, so I shall allow the jokes to pay for the opera.

What haven't I mentioned? I haven't mentioned the other part of my history with New York. It was on my last visit here that the most intense relationship of my life began to fall apart (he wasn't with me- it all happened by text). I mentioned a flair for drama; the text which, in retrospect, started it all beeped into my phone when I was visiting Ground Zero. Now, I'm not enough of a solipsist to, well, you know. But I bet it's the *second* worst. So, it remains to be seen how much of my feeling for this incredible place is coloured by my feeling for that strange time in my life. I don't know. But I'm off to Lombardi's now for the best pizza in the world, so I can't say that it's bothering me over much.

* If you don't get this reference, then there's a really good song you don't know.

** I did however suffer the exact same confusion at the Spring Street/6th Ave subway stop as I did last time I was here, and set off in the exact same wrong direction. I have decided that I don't like 6th Avenue: it's sly and it tries to confuse people.

Friday, 17 April 2009

As promised

The extraordinary and disturbing moment from a performance of La Traviata when an audience member decided to, um, join in...

Linked from the wonderful Handelmania podcast.