Michael Henderson

Parsifal at Salzburg Easter Festival

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

Tom Courtenay vs fame

‘You can’t talk about what might have been,’ says Tom Courtenay, reflecting on an acting career that blazed like a meteor the moment he left drama school and is now in its sixth decade. ‘The things you might have done, the films you might have made. I just didn’t feel comfortable with the world of

Chorus of approval

Is there anything more essential to one’s well-being than the sound of an English choir at evensong? Is there, for that matter, any word in our language more beautiful than ‘evensong’, with its evocation of architecture, music and the Anglican liturgy? This is the season to reflect on such matters. On Christmas Eve, Cambridge once

In praise of Bryan Ferry

Francis Lee, the barrel-chested footballer who banged in goals for Bolton Wanderers and Manchester City, was my first idol. Billy Wilder, Johnny Mercer and Philip Larkin rank among the heroes of my maturity, though nobody will ever displace Chekhov and Schubert at the head of the table. But the vicar’s son who went up to

What Federer isn’t

This summer, like so many others in the past decade, belongs to Roger Federer. By reclaiming the men’s singles title at Wimbledon, after giving Andy Murray a set start, the peerless Swiss revealed what true greatness looks like in sporting togs. Seven times a Wimbledon champion, 17 times a winner of Grand Slam events: his

Notes from Salzburg

Gratefully we cast our bread upon the blue-green waters of the Salzach to give thanks to this festival city. Across the river the famous castle stands fortress over the old town. On the terrace of the Cafe Bazar one hears the tongues of France, Italy and Spain as well as Austria, because this is old

The alternative Olympic song book

The song list drawn up for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is a disgrace. Surely everybody knows that by now, but then what can you expect when the selection is made by a pair of disc jockeys? There is nothing that reflects our nation’s love affair with the sea, no acknowledgement of our

Whispering death

It is midsummer, and England are playing the West Indies at cricket. The teams have completed a three-Test series, which England won 2-0, and they are now playing five matches of 50 overs a side, a form of the game that suits the big-hitting Caribbean batsmen. You would have thought that West Indian supporters would

Spirit of Schubert

Every December, for the past decade, I have laid a red rose on Schubert’s grave in Vienna’s southern cemetery. What began as a gesture has become a custom, a way of giving thanks to the most lovable of all composers. Schubert may not be as great as Bach or Beethoven, who established the musical language

Man about the House

They are lighting the candles at Covent Garden to honour one of the great singers of our age. Thomas Allen (as he was then) first appeared on the stage of the Royal Opera House in 1972, as Donald in Billy Budd, when Benjamin Britten was alive and his opera not nearly so highly thought of

Those I have loved

It is one of Kenneth Tynan’s most-quoted observations. After seeing the first night of Look Back in Anger at the Royal Court Theatre in May 1956, the mustard-keen young critic could not contain his enthusiasm for John Osborne’s play. ‘I could never love anybody,’ he wrote, ‘who did not want to see Look Back in

Top of the pops

Michael Henderson talks to John Wilson, whose obsession with songs from the golden age of musicals led him to form his own band ‘People think I am an expert on musicals,’ says John Wilson, in his pleasing Geordie voice, ‘but that is something I am certainly not. I am obsessed with songs, written by professional

Deadly game

When, two decades ago, the cricket historian David Frith published his study of cricketing suicides, By His Own Hand, the book carried a foreword by Peter Roebuck. As an opening batsman, Roebuck had represented Millfield School, Cambridge University and Somerset, where he was the club captain. In his second life he proved to be a

Let’s hear it for elitism

Last month, on the most glorious of autumnal days, the world of music paid its last respects to Robert Tear. St Martin in the Fields was packed and the singing, as you can imagine, was magnificent. Sir Thomas Allen gave us Kurt Weill’s ‘September Song’, Sir John Tomlinson contributed Sarastro’s aria from Zauberflöte, and Dame

Let’s hear it for elitism | 26 October 2011

The latest issue of The Spectator is out tomorrow, but we thought that arts blog readers might appreciate a very special preview of one of its articles. It’s by Michael Henderson, and takes umbrage with Katherine Jenkins’ recent comments about opera and elitism: Last month, on the most glorious of autumnal days, the world of

Great expectations | 1 October 2011

Talent, said Laurence Olivier, was plentiful; skill much rarer. Genius in a performing artist is rarer still, but Olivier had it, and so does Christian Gerhaher, the Bavarian baritone, who presented Schubert’s three song-cycles last week in a series of concerts that brought splendour to Wigmore Hall. This was singing of exceptional quality and, just

One day at Headingley

The cyclist sipping wine on the terrace of a Thames-side pub may not look much like an English hero, but anybody who loves cricket knows that he ranks only slightly lower than the angels. Thirty years ago Bob Willis bowled England to the most astonishing victory in the history of Test cricket, taking eight for

Seeking closure

What makes an appropriate encore? And when should they be performed? Michael Henderson on the art of finishing well After a recital at Wigmore Hall earlier this year András Schiff performed an encore, as pianists often do. Normally a Bach prelude or a Schubert impromptu will round the evening off. It is part of the

The great game

Some of the best writing about sport in recent years has been done by journalists who tend their soil, so to speak, in another parish. Peter Oborne’s biography of the Cape Town-born England cricketer Basil D’Oliveira was a deserved prize-winner, and another political scribe, Leo McKinstry, has done justice to Geoffrey Boycott, the Charlton brothers