Saturday, May 28, 2016


Some numbers I heard today, down by the canal.

165 million cups of tea are drunk a day in UK
98% with milk

234 million surgical procedures take place world wide a year
51 mill in USA

Every 13.5 Kg increase in body weight requires an extra 25 miles (40 km) of blood vessels

Friday, May 27, 2016



Our second visit to the Philharmonie was a completely different experience. We were in good stalls seats this time and how I managed that was a stroke - this performance should have sold out the day it was announced.

The concert was Daniel Harding with the Orchestre de Paris - Berg's Violin Concerto in Memory of a Dead Child, with Isabelle Faust, and Mahler's 4th, with Christina Landschamer.

The Berg I find a hard nut to crack. And it keeps on popping up, and I keep on thinking I'm nearly there. And then I hear it again. Faust was very good but I wasn't moved although I wanted to be, perhaps that's the problem.

The Mahler 4 was a benchmark. I don't think I've ever heard anything quite so beautiful. My first Mahler 4 was decades ago, a student buy, the Klemperer with E.S. I've waited till now to hear it and feel I've heard it. I've moved on from my last - the Budapest Festival with Fischer. Harding is amazing. Balletic. There was a total suspension - of the past or the future, in the hall, in the breathing, in the sound, which would sit there, crystalline at times, in the those impeccably timed and potent moments of sudden stillness. What a great orchestra. Christina Landschamer was perfect - a richness infusing innocence. 

It was our last night in Paris.


Any lingering quibbles about the cancellation of Anja Harteros (not that much of a surprise) from the current Paris run  of Herbert Wernike's Der Rosenkavalier were soon banished when at the end of the overture, bristling and waltzing and bubbling along with Phillipe Jordan and the Orchestra of the Opera Nationale of Paris, Mohammed appears as a Commedia dell'arte clown in black face and with a sweep of arm and white gloved hand welcomes us and bids us enter ....... the bedroom.

The production dates from Salzburg in 1995 (has been distributed on DVD(*) with a glamorous highly marketable cast and remained till yesterday an unseen bit of operatic legend for me. Thankfully. The evolution of the beauty of it seen the first time live is something pretty special - especially on this big Bastille stage. And in the vastness of it all, whether dealing with large scenes of chorus and endless numbers of extras, or two lovers in a bed, the choreography seemed faultless, impeccably stylish, brilliantly clever and witty, detailed to a inch, and never without old Vienna in focus.

We have stepped into a vast multi-pannelled mirrored early 20th C bedroom glowing under an acre of fractured (lit-from-behind) deco ceiling, a woman motionless on her back while some way from the bed a boxers and shirt clad young man smokes a cigarette. It's a bedroom of importance.

Scene changes move seamlessly with slides, turns and revolves of these panels, broken by (hand-painted I understand) murals evoking the Marie Therese epoch. Everything and everyone is at once on stage in 3D and reflected at any number of angles and pserpectives, or not all all. Reality is a shifting thing and nothing is as it might seem, nor stays the same.

Yet in the midst of this hologram (if you really let yourself go), the characters are as beautifully alive as are the household patterns, the country city divide, the hint of darkness, and the shimmer of love.

And Mohammed will draw the curtains back together several hours later, wiping his black face off, the show's over folks, and bid us farewell. (All three dropped handkerchiefs and Mohammed picked up .... Octavian's!)

It's not fair to get into the voices really; I mean what's to say. They were stunning. Michaela Kaune stepped beautifully up to the plate restricted only by the size of the barn though she'd conquered (or save for) it by the big trio. And she did look a bit young, Countess's wish notwithstanding.

Daniela Sindram's Octavian is outstanding, blitzing the role vocally and dramatically. That she may be leaving the role and moving to bigger heavier stuff is understandable; Countess's loss. No silvered knight this betrothal agent but, in genus at work, he arrives from the depths as the (reproduced in flats) Empire stairs cleave wide, on a big black stair case and with black on black looks breathtakingly suspended in midair immobile in a cream white topcoat and tails, Dietrich -esq. Cross-dreassing cross-dressing.

And it is Erin Morley's lovely girlish (but never silly) and on the cusp Sophie who ascends the stairs, a startling seduction in lieu of the usual descent by the male.

I've seen Peter Rose's Ochs before and it is a wonderfully beguiling performance. And long - he doesn't drop it for a second. Beautifully articulated, his muddied aristocracy is endearing and his bafflement at the ways and mores of the city, rather than the oft over-gauched performance, is very engaging. You need to like Ochs and Mr Rose makes it easy. You needs to like everyone. And there was lots of everyones, and they were perfect.

The other presence still well in my mind is Eve-Maud Hubeaux's Annina. What a fabulous performer - tall and elegant, naughty but nice, and a big voice.

The lighting by Werner Breitenfelder is simply masterful.

We went Sunday May 15 in the afternoon in really good seats - way to go here. S and friends had come from Nuremberg.

Some idea of the numbers on stage:

Phillipe Jordan with principals behind from (our) left to right - Kaune, Morley, Rose (behind PJ's arm) and a very masculine looking Sindram just in frame on the right :

(*) It's impossible to believe for a second that the specialness of the production, the sheer scale and beauty of it, is within the scope of the camera. It's vital that you decide where the eyes go - it's huge - and for how long. Otherwise you miss out on a lot.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


I hadn't intended visiting the Musée d'Orsay. I've never really liked it actually. Thought it was a bit of a mess to be honest.

But something strange happened. 

The other night at a favourite local restaurant we were crammed into two seats - you know: table to table, cheek by jowl, drizzly rain, the heater on under the green canvas, cigarette smoke everywhere - when a red sweater caught my eye, and then a greying clutch of hair tucked into a bun. Without saying a word I took out my phone, got this up on screen, and showed the man in the red sweater, our elbows already rubbing, this 

from a recent post.

Shocks all round. They were from New York. Anyway, chatter chatter and when the Henri Rousseau (1844 - 1910) retrospective came up, highly recommended, I was there. These things don't just happen. 

It was brilliant. I'm mad about the style - the loss of the third dimension, the brilliance of the colouring, the naivety; the wit; the savagery, and the sadness.

He was quite a character. Several marriages; children dead - two from seven surviving; early rejection by the establishment; fiercely nationalistic; influencing and influenced by his peers - other works inserted to demonstrate ...

Photographs even without flash (which is generally permitted everywhere theses days) were not allowed, as I along with many was gently reminded not long after the first room.

Never mind - there is still this delicious "Footballers" from somewhere on the internet and now in my luggage as a fridge magnet!

And I did discover one particularly interesting corner of the Musée - the little cafe high up behind the old station clock.

Monday, May 23, 2016


(really worth the click)

It's where we stay. It serves the best Tarte Tatin in the world (we should know). And it's changing. There are encroaching more and more designer and repetitive any-where-in-the-universe shops for the tourists, tourists, and tourists (we should know). The street of old is being forced further north up beyond Rue Bretagne and Rue Oberkampf.

But then there's the French - irrepressible, inventive, and endlessly witty.


The big attraction at the stunningly refurbished Musée Picasso was the 'Picasso.Sculptures' which had rolled into town after MOMA for the first major international exhibition since the reopening.

Upstairs there were a few painting from the collection, none more arresting than La Mort du Torero.

After, we sat quietly nearby for a while and I thought the light was nice on the two gentlemen in front.


                                                    Louis XIV    1638 - 1715     King of France

In the middle of a cool thunderstormy week, the clouds broke and the sun shone down on Versailles.

The French invented the Parterre and they perfected it. Many others have adopted it, but for me Versailles is the pinnacle.

Sections were being planted for their summer display. The fountains, which as I recall from decades ago would 'play' only on the second Sunday a month in the summer months, now play on Tuesdays and Sundays. Well, one did - the Bassin du Miroir (the Mirror Fountain) to the booming of Berlioz from base heavy speakers hidden in the bushes.


                                                                      (click to enlarge)

Seen from an early morning RER C train at a stop between Paris (Hotel de Ville) and Versailles (Rive Gauche), this woman stood completely immobile for the duration, several minutes, lifted from a page of a John Wyndham novel.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


Somewhere, and it could well have been at the Philharmonie (so all is forgiven), I chanced upon a what's-on-Paris music magazine. I thought I'd been reasonably conscientious in scouring the internet for same, but here was the opening night, tomorrow, of a new production at Theatre des Champs Elysees (which I'd not ever been to). K had work to do. So what chance of a good single seat - a very good chance!

It's a delicious creamy Art Noveaux theatre which sweeps you not so much off your feet as certainly upstairs.

For 140 euro (Opera Australia charges 500 dollars for each opera of the Ring) you have a quite sumptuous bucket chair ...

... one level up, six rows back from the pit, excellent sight lines, a view of about half the orchestra and the conductor directly side on as well from the far side pit monitor, should you wish. Parfait.

The talk was of how the scheduled Isolde, Emily Magee (we had heard her in Britten's War Requiem in Berlin, with the partout Mr Goerne), had after three weeks rehearsal returned to the United States 'for personal reasons'. The British soprano Rachel Nicholls had come to the rescue.

It is a stark cold monochromatic production - essentially black and white / night and day / darkness and light / ego and the loss of (*). Act 1 is dominated by three proscenium height thick pseudo-steel verticals which move about - sails, cliffs, walls, castles, barriers emotional or otherwise. They were very effective. Act 2 is bare and wind swept with warped trees, curved like ancient whale bones, and a mysterious angled black ovoid object which is stripped to its shell before disappearing, like a dark force dissolving. Act 3 is a barren landscape of scattered rocks with a mummy high to the side on a wooden frame and a dominant rectangular box, a shelter, a tomb, becoming a see-through zone of transition. 

Pictures worth a thousand words:

The 'sword' is present throughout, first seen at the end of the prelude when in silhouette Isolde's attempted killing of Tantris is aborted. I assume. There is no end of debate about bringing the action or back story into a prelude, or overture, and there was some on the night re this. It was at first distracting in the what's-this-all-about sense, but I don't want to be a fundamentalist about this, or anything.

For me, the whole show belonged to Gatti and the orchestra. It was a marvellous and beautiful reading, with tremendous tension at times - the chilling scene between Isolde and Brangäne over the use of the potions capped by a spine-tingling drinking of same by the protagonists as Brangäne by force of goodness 'beamed', as of from her third eye, the love potion force into the vial of death. I peaked in Act 1 I have to confess, and Act 1 belonged to Michelle Breedt whose beautifully articulated warm and loving sister-like Bragäne totally absorbed me. 

Act 2 is the hardest to pull off I think - just what do you do with these two. This was pretty much business as usual, and that's fine. Torsten Kerl was hitting his stride (little did I know what was to come); Rachel Nicholls was a feisty young (really young) Celt now melting into another realisation; and Steven Humes stamped his Kingship firmly on proceedings with tremendous vocal authority. Round two - Mark.

Act 3 brought a Tristan of extraordinary endurance as Torsten Kerl unleashed singing of unending depth and passion the likes of which I don't think I've ever heard. Isolde's beautiful transition to another place was very much in the hands of Daniele Gatti, his fingers and hand a joy to watch, supporting Rachell Nicholls phrase by phrase as her voice, now pulled back from some of the more harsh loudness of earlier scenes, evolved into calm transcendence as she stood motionless silhouetted totally black against brilliant white.

And very fine were the others - Kurvenal, Melot (crippled, presumably to further exaggerate the capitulation of Tristan, but I'm done with the cripple thing), steersman and chorus. 

Amid the tremendous general ovation there were boos for Gatti and the production team. Idiots.

(*) I need to spend much more time on this, but it seems to me Wagner doesn't embrace complete detachment from the ego in that to aspire to selective 'joining' - as in 'I love you and only you' - in whatever sphere you care to place it is not to reject the ego but try to take it with you --- complete rejection (of the ego) is to be fully joined with everyone and everything with no exclusions and no specialness.