Michael tanner

Michael Tanner remembers the greatest musical experience of his life

No surprise: the greatest musical experience of my life was Parsifal at Bayreuth in 1962. I thought at the time that I would never again be so moved by a performance of anything. I have kept an open mind ever since, and still it takes me no time or effort to answer the question. Obviously I can’t discuss here why I regard Parsifal as a supreme work, but even if I thought that Wagner had written greater ones, or that some other master composer had — in fact, I do think there are several works by four composers that are as great as Parsifal, though at that altitude rankings and

The turf | 9 November 2017

Imagine Ryan Moore getting caught on the line by a rival’s late spurt at the end of a Newmarket race and being so upset that he goes to bed without supper, crying like a baby. Then imagine him offering to recompense the owner personally for his lost bets. That is how the popular George Fordham, champion jockey 14 times between 1855 and 1871, behaved after losing that way in 1962. Famed for his scrupulous honesty in the days when racing was riddled with corruption, Fordham has attracted less attention than his younger rival Fred Archer, known as ‘the Tin Man’ for his relentless pursuit of money. But when the two

An actor’s notebook

It is delightful to be writing for a magazine I’ve read, man and boy, since I was 15. Such is my affection for The Spectator that I felt a particular puff of pride when my name appeared on the cover a few weeks ago. The fact that the words in question were ‘Simon Callow’s Wagnerian disaster’ barely dented my pleasure. It advertised a quite collectibly horrible review of a short biography of Wagner I had written. The reviewer was Michael Tanner, a great explicator of philosophers, and indeed of Wagner himself. The review, dripping with scorn, had a certain personal edge to it. After having for my work as either

The turf | 8 December 2016

It is a long time since I spent a morning on the gallops with the footballer-turned-racehorse trainer Mick Channon (he was in Lambourn at the time), but it proved an education for me and for two inappropriately dressed young owner’s daughters who also turned up. Their vocabularies were extended considerably. National Treasure though he became, as one of our great footballers, Mick Channon the trainer is expletive-driven and easily angered to a Basil Fawlty level, which is disheartening for the jockeys and apprentices he often fires at roughly fortnightly intervals, who are still there the next week. His default mood is somewhere on the downside of grumpy. In the best

Letters | 20 August 2015

The morality of the A bomb Sir: In questioning whether we should celebrate VJ Day (Diary, 15 August), A.N. Wilson is confusing ‘why’ with ‘how’. The debate on the rights or wrongs of the nuclear attack will continue probably until long after the grandchildren of the last survivors have passed on. What should not be forgotten is the necessity to defeat the cruel, expansionist, militaristic regime that arose in Japan between the wars. Something happened to Japan during that period. The treatment of Allied prisoners of war and the atrocities in China during the second world war are well documented. What is less well known is the Japanese treatment of

Spectator letters: On wind turbines, Churchill’s only exam success, and the red-trousered mayor of Bristol

When the wind blows Sir: Clare Oxford’s piece (‘Gone with the wind turbines’, 12 April) is both timely and sad. Those who applaud the use of these infernal machines are prone to eulogise their efficiency by saying (in the same annoying, dumbed-down way in which commentators always compare the size of something with the number of football pitches it equates to — presumably on the basis that a normal person is unable to conceive of anything larger) that the number of machines to be erected ‘could provide power for x thousand homes’. It would be far more honest of them if they went on to make the caveat ‘when the wind blows’, and

Mozart magic

It was some time since I’d been to a performance of Mozart’s greatest though not his deepest opera, Le Nozze di Figaro, one of the works of which I can’t imagine ever tiring. And it is, despite some heavy vocal demands, an opera which normally suits students at the music colleges well. There weren’t any obvious grave shortcomings in the first night’s performance of it at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, but it annoyingly failed to achieve lift-off. Nerves may well have a lot to do with that: the playing of the Overture had enough problems of intonation among the winds, which later played beautifully, to suggest that.

Production values

In the absence of any operas to attend, I’ve been reading the most recent defence of ‘director’s opera’, a book with the characteristic title Unsettling Opera, by the American academic David J. Levin. In the absence of any operas to attend, I’ve been reading the most recent defence of ‘director’s opera’, a book with the characteristic title Unsettling Opera, by the American academic David J. Levin. Anyone braving one of these books — there are plenty of them now — needs to have a high tolerance for jargon, indeed for deformed prose of many kinds. They tend to rehearse the same basic argument, in Levin’s case with close attention to