‘The house that Ho Chi Minh built.’ That’s how Nicholas Hytner refers to his ample north London home. In 1989, at the age of 34, he was hired by Cameron Mackintosh to direct the musical Miss Saigon. ‘It just felt like a huge lark,’ he said at the time. The show ran for ten years in the West End and on Broadway and the royalties enabled him ‘to do what I wanted to do thereafter. It was a massive stroke of good fortune.
There was something vaguely disappointing about seeing Abel Tesfaye appear on stage at London’s Electric Ballroom. A wide-eyed, puffa-jacket-clad figure isn’t what you expect from his enigmatic alter-ego ‘The Weeknd’ — it seemed incongruous that we should watch this self-styled introvert performing to an audience.
At 23 years old, Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd) has released three mixtapes, achieved eight million downloads and, this year, completely sold out his British shows.
To hear Christian Thielemann conduct the Dresden Staatskapelle in Wagner’s ‘stage consecration play’, in Salzburg at Easter, proved a musical experience that could only deepen anybody’s love of this extraordinary opera. To see it was another matter, as it often is. But let us first praise the musicians who, guided by their conductor, gave it wings.
At six minutes under four hours (battle-hardened Wagnerians will appreciate the timings) this was not a long Parsifal.
What sort of room do you prefer to hear classical concerts in? We have all got used to industrial-strength symphony halls and opera houses, capable of holding 3,000 people, with dry acoustics and omni-look interiors. As with art galleries around the world, once inside you could be anywhere: there is little to tell you which culture any particular one comes from, apart from the signs indicating the lavatories.
The general public have come to accept the implicit anonymity of many halls, where individuality has often been sacrificed to size and comfort.
In his ‘Love Song’, T.S. Eliot’s ageing bank-clerk J. Alfred Prufrock protests he isn’t ‘Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be...’. David Farr’s new production sets out to put this to rights. The result is indeed a very strange affair. It is built around Jonathan Slinger, who last season starred memorably as Prospero in The Tempest and as Lenny in Pinter’s The Homecoming. A little further back he’s been Macbeth in a curiously Popish staging by Michael Boyd and Richards II and III in Boyd’s great Histories sequence.
Inspired writer, John Logan. His 2009 play, Red, delved brilliantly into the gloom-ridden, suicidal mind of the misanthropic modernist painter Mark Rothko. The play’s unflinching and sordid honesty earned the author, and his director Michael Grandage, a bagful of gongs on either side of the Atlantic.
The pair have reunited for Logan’s new play, Peter and Alice, which opens with a meeting between Alice Liddell (of Wonderland fame) and Peter Llewellyn Davies, who inspired J.
Yes, well...aphorisms are never easy to deal with, they are a naturally intimidating form of utterance. If you admit that you don’t understand them, you may well be thought thick. If you reject a request for an explanation of one, on the grounds that what it says can’t be put any other way, you may well get away with it. Many aphorisms are intended to shut down a line of thought, La Rochefoucauld’s for instance, while the best of Nietzsche’s say, in his words, ‘what other people would take a book to say, and would still leave unsaid’.
Everyone’s loving BBC1’s new, Sunday-night period mega-drama The Village (32 episodes long if writer Peter Moffat has his way). It’s taut, spare, grown-up, accomplished, dark, strange and poetic, according to the critics, which I think are all euphemisms for ‘not like Downton Abbey’.
And it definitely isn’t like Downton Abbey. There’s a lot more brooding, the dialogue’s more Pinteresque (which is to say it’s more often there to evoke mood or the banality of existence than to carry the plot, amuse you or illuminate character), its view of the past (a Derbyshire village on the eve of the first world war) is much less rosy.
The American artist George Bellows (1882–1925) is best known for his boxing paintings, but as this surprising exhibition reveals, that was only the half of it. We don’t really know his work in this country, apart from the odd picture in a mixed show, but here is indisputable evidence that we have been missing out. Bellows died from appendicitis aged only 42, so this exhibition inevitably offers us work which varies wildly in style and competence, as he tried his hand at different approaches and different subjects.
Why the sudden spate of movies about classical music quartets and impending death? Early this year, we had Quartet, about four senior singers in a retirement home. Now we have A Late Quartet, about a string ensemble facing the loss of one of its members. The film industry couldn’t possibly be subliminally associating classical music with ageing and fuddy-duddyness, could they? Shame on them. Perhaps before the year is out we’ll have The Latest Quartet, then we’ll know that classical music has carked it altogether.
You could say that Neil MacGregor revolutionised radio with his mega-series A History of the World in 100 Objects. In each of those 100 programmes he took us on an extraordinary journey of the mind, to show us what we’ve been up to since the first ‘primitive’ reindeer carvings of the Ice Age. He did this not by the usual route for such grandiose series of going on a whirlwind trip through history, but by looking at the small, often tiny details and drawing from them as much meaning as possible.