Anna Picard

Darkness and light

The femme fatale was invented in France. A giddy, greedy child in her first incarnation, as the antiheroine of Abbé Prévost’s L’Histoire du Chevalier Des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut (1731), she had no voice of her own. Reshaped as a sphinx by Alfred de Musset, made over as a gypsy by Prosper Mérimée, plumped

What’s love got to do with it?

The setting for Il tabarro, the first drama in Puccini’s 1918 triptych of one-act operas, is not the Paris of tourists and honeymooners, nor even the Paris of impoverished poets and painters. On a bend in the Seine a Dutch barge is moored at a soot-blackened wharf. A tableau of stevedores and seamstresses unfreezes. Sirens

Not a pretty sight

‘Forget Downton Abbey!’ exhorts David Pountney in the programme for Figaro Forever, Welsh National Opera’s season of Beaumarchais operas, The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro and Elena Langer’s Figaro Gets a Divorce. ‘A televisual age in which the vast narrative panorama of a “series” strung out across many episodes seems to capture people’s

Lady killer

‘Kiss me, Sergei! Kiss me hard! Kiss me until the icons fall and split!’ sings Katerina Ismailova, adulterous antiheroine of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Stalin was not amused by Shostakovich’s bleak black comedy but our culture would be poorer without bored wives like Katerina. Perhaps all that Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina and Laura Jesson needed

Welcome to Bedlam

Caius Gabriel Cibber’s statues of ‘Melancholy’ and ‘Raving Madness’, their eyes staring blindly into the void, petrified in torment, once posed on top of the gate to Bedlam. In 1739, when Handel’s dramatic oratorio Saul was first performed, you could pay a modest fee to pass beneath them and gawk at the living spectacles within,

Lost boys

In Beryl Bainbridge’s novel An Awfully Big Adventure the producer Meredith Potter issues a doughty injunction on the subject of staging Peter Pan: ‘I am not qualified to judge whether the grief his mother felt on the death of his elder brother had an adverse effect on Mr Barrie’s emotional development, nor do I care

Alice in Wonderland at the Barbican reviewed: too much miaowing

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson loved little girls. He loved to tell them stories, he loved to feed them jam, he loved to set them puzzles, and he loved to take their photographs. On 25 March, 1863, he composed a list of 107 prepubescent portrait subjects, arranged alphabetically by forename. Below the Agneses came the Alices, including

Rigoletto in a gentleman’s club

So it’s farewell to the fedoras and adieu to the jukebox. After 32 years of service, Jonathan Miller’s Little Italy staging of Rigoletto has been given the heave-ho by English National Opera and replaced by a younger model. First seen and disliked in Chicago in 2000, then seen and disliked again in Toronto, Christopher Alden’s

Manon Lescaut is twerking — should we applaud or shudder? 

Last seen clambering over the MDF wheelchair ramps of Laurent Pelly’s Royal Opera House production of Jules Massenet’s opéra comique, Manon the minx, the ‘sphinx étonnant’ of Abbé Prévost’s 1731 novel Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, reappears in two guises as part of Welsh National Opera’s Fallen Women season; as the