A couple of weeks ago I made a whirlwind trip to London – all of four days – impressions of which are now starting to be remembered through a jet lag induced funk.
What an extraordinarily rich and at times bizarre world we inhabit in opera.
On my first day in London I was fortunate enough to attend the Thanksgiving Service for Dame Joan Sutherland at Westminster Abbey, attended by a throng – strictly speaking a congregation – of opera lovers, including His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. Particularly beautiful was the playing of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under its Music Director, Antonio Pappano; and particularly moving for me was a reading by Richard Bonynge. Add to this the many, many Australians in the audience (Yvonne Kenny, Jonathan Summers, Jonathan Mills, Jennifer McGregor, Geoffrey Robertson, Kathy Lette and our High Commissioner, John Dauth, to name a very few!) and I felt I had flown to the other side of the world to feel right at home. And then there was the transcendent voice of Dame Joan…..
Next day (after a series of meetings with the Commercial Director of our Digital Media Unit, Hans Petri, who resides in the UK and is in charge of selling our HD recordings to Europe and the United States) came Parsifal at the English National Opera. Now this is a long way from Dame Joan’s and Mo. Bonynge’s world of bel canto – and entering the world of Parsifal is like entering yet another time zone. I pretended not to be jet lagged as I plunged into the massive swell of this final Wagnerian rumination, beautifully conducted by Mark Wigglesworth, by the way, who many of our audience will remember for his admirable conducting of Peter Grimes last year. It was great to hear our own Stuart Skelton in the title role, his voice sounding as warm and focussed as ever, and the sonic super-abundance of John Tomlinson’s Gurnemanz.
And on the final day, another time-shift away from the bel canto artistry of Dame Joan, came the opening night performance at The Royal Opera of a new opera by Mark-AnthonyTurnage, which floated on a sea of silicone as it depicted an overblown pornographic phenomenon, namely, the notorious life and sickly-sad demise of a Playboy model and gold digger, Anna Nicole Smith. This corner of London was abuzz with the theatrical promiscuity of Anna Nicole, the libretto of which was written by Richard ‘Jerry Springer’ Thomas. The score was eclectic and inventive – Brecht, Britten, Stravinsky and any amount of jazz riffs; the design seemed inspired by the larger than life, playful grotesquery of Jeff Koons; and the performance of Eva-Maria Westbroek in the title role was…well, large; and also virtuosic.
Three days, three completely contrasting experiences of opera – all suggesting a corner of the canvass my colleagues and I get to paint on every day. Come to think of it, my severer than usual bout of jet lag probably had more to do with the operatic time-shifts rather than the hemispherical ones.