Page 12, 3rd December 2004

3rd December 2004
Page 12
Page 12, 3rd December 2004 — What does a dead stage parrot symbolise?

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What does a dead stage parrot symbolise?

My charlady doesn’t “do windows” and I don’t “do musicals”. However, occasionally, a musical warrants inclusion in the repertory of grand opera, such as Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. This is decidedly not the case with The Producers, whose splendid ly original idea of turning Hitler and his jackbooted murderers into a high-kicking chorus line must have inspired a generation of opera directors into similar jokes with Wagner’s deities. It does not work with the Ring for two reasons. The first is that you cannot make a joke out of Rhinemaidens and fat galloping Valkyries because they already are a joke, visually. The second reason is that you cannot transport Mythos into Logos. You cannot have mythological figures, be they from Greek, or Christian, or Northern sources, transported into a modern kitchen the way Phyllida Lloyd has done in English National Opera’s new Siegfried. In every culture, man has invented symbols to represent the unknowable, the Mythos, outside his daily life, which is ruled by reason and empirical proof. In our own Christian culture, the Holy Ghost (an example of the unknowable) has traditionally been depicted as a dove. Not even a card-carrying atheist director of genius, such as Jonathan Miller, would replace the dove with John Cleese’s famous dead parrot and still expect the audience to get the message.

It is particularly inappropriate to destroy the mythical in Wagner’s Ring since music, alone among the arts, can trigger an actual state of ecstacy, temporarily making us aware of the unknowable. Opera directors more familiar with controlled substances may also understand this phenomenon. In the first two instalments of this Ring Cycle, I formed the view that the director had carefully read the libretto but had failed to understand the meaning of the music. Paul Daniel’s conducting is more sympathetic, especially in the lyrical parts, but the great climax was missing. Richard Berkeley-Steele’s Siegfried is of a physical build worthy of a hero, but John Graham-Hall, who sings Mime beautifully, is a nearly two-metre tall dwarf.

The ENO is fortunate to have so many faithful patrons, and this Siegfried is musically an improvement on their earlier Rheingold and Valkyrie, but all the visual aspects are still disappointing. Nothing can come of this Nothung.

There could be no greater contrast than to travel from the red and gold Coliseum to the steel and glass East Winter Garden in Canary Wharf and there to hear Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. But it was worth it. The Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists gave a superb performance of this too rarely heard English opera. Sir John Eliot Gardiner is the finest conductor of Baroque music in the world today, and we are fortunate to hear him when he is here. He later gave some exciting additional Purcell programmes at the Barbican. Dido, the Queen of Carthage, was sung by the Croatian mezzo-soprano Renata Pokupic. The important role of Belinda was beautifully sung by the well-known soloist Katherine Fuge. Ben Davies admirably conveyed the dastardly conduct of Aeneas, the Trojan, who may have given a bad name to eastern Mediterranean refugees ever since he dumped poor Dido.

The Remembrance Day concert at the Albert Hall included Mozart’s Requiem and the Song of Destiny by Brahms; but the great experience of the evening was the 14-year-old Jennifer Pike’s rendering of Mendelsohn’s Violin Concerto. Astounding!

Sadly, there is no space to review Puccini’s La Rondine, but the star Angela Gheorghiu is beautiful to look at and has a beautiful voice, though at times too thin. Jonas Kaufman was an excellent Ruggero, an odd role for a German lyric tenor. This is really boulevard Puccini.

Nest week I will see Don Pasquale at the Royal Opera House, which the great Jonathan Miller threatens will be his swan song. That would be a great shame.

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