Michael Tanner

Grave and glittering

While it’s clear, from the ending-times of most of their performances, that neither of London’s major opera houses feels it is worth considering seriously their patrons who don’t live in the capital and have to use public transport, it often seems even clearer that most Londoners wouldn’t dream of going further afield for an opera than Bow Street or St Martin’s Lane. At least I can’t see any other explanation of why each visit I have paid to Sadler’s Wells this year has been to a theatre half-full, if that. And several of those visits have been far more enjoyable than almost anything to be found in the West End in recent months. The Polish King Roger, Opera North’s largely magnificent ‘Little Greats’, and now the Hungarian National Opera & Ballet’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and The Miraculous Mandarin have played, at the performances I attended, to houses which would cause panic attacks at Covent Garden or the ENO. Yet in each case top prices have been about the same as those at the lower end of prices at the Royal Opera. And it’s not as if casts at the regular opera performances are so dazzling that their audiences need a rest before they are overcome anew.

Why? Snobbery, lack of curiosity, having to travel to the Angel? I’m lost for a plausible answer, but with the wealth of weekend supplements supplying information about most conceivable ways of spending time and money, and quite a few inconceivable ones, perhaps people have given up trying to consult so bewildering a list of options, and just go in for what habit and sloth dictate.

There were three performances of Bluebeard, of which I went to the last. I was so impressed that it was stunning to read a few reviews in the dailies damning it with, well, faint damns.

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