Archive for December, 2006

Mini-review – Carmen – Royal Opera House – Art Review – Daily Life in Renaissance Italy

December 29, 2006

Art goes down better on a full stomach, I think. With that in mind, a snacky J and I hit the 4.50 all you can eat buffet at the Paper Tiger in South Kensington (between the tube station and the Victoria and Albert Museum). It was rather dank and cavy in the restaurant, but appropriate given the low rent they must have to afford their cheap prices – well, they also compensated with over priced tea and other beverages. Ten items sounded convincing enough for me to brave the depths. In exchange, I got egg fried rice and all the egg rolls I could manage – these being the best things on offer. Also available: slightly chilly sweet and sour pork, bland black bean beef, some kind of chow mein thing that was pretty good but just … lacking something, mystery chicken dish (I think it wanted to be tandoori but it just didn’t resemble any chinese food I’d ever had), Nothing Nothing soup (all it needed was a stone), unflavored yet cooked noodles, and … chicken wings. And wontons and dipping sauce. Next time, I’ll eat at the Oriental Canteen, which charges just maybe a pound more for a meal but delivers much, much better food. Oh well, live and learn – and at least this was a cheap lesson, and extraordinarily quick.

We headed to the V&A afterwards for their “Daily Life in Renaissance Italy” exhibit, which is kindly available to Oyster card holders at a two for one price. In some ways, this exhibit really did take on the stuff that doesn’t really get covered much in museums – the daily workings of a household, which is very woman-centric. So there was lots of stuff about cooking and sewing and childbirth that you wouldn’t normally see, such as “birth plates” and lots of paintings of women post-baby. I got creeped out about living a life where my contributions were basically based on biology and I had a one in five chance of dying in childbirth. Woo. But most of the stuff just seemed so inconsequential – an olive/vinegar cruet, some pins, a few beat-up pewter plates, and eight people shoulder to shoulder in front of them. Grr. The highlights of the exhibit were (for me) the nice Fra Angelico work they had and the gorgeous blue and white terracotta tondos (Della Robbia, of course) depicting the months that had adorned the ceiling of Cosimo De Medici’s study. There was also some leatherwork from a Venetian “Gold Room” – apparently all of the wood would be gilt, and the walls would be covered with gilded and painted leather, so the whole thing would just glow – a perfect effect for that lovely Venetian light. I loved that they were so popular they tried to legislate them away. Down with the authorities who try to crush beauty!

Anyway, mostly I didn’t think this was worth much of a bother, though I did like all of the paintings that were exhibited. The signs really should have been higher up and I wish there had been less people there. (One can only imagine what the Leonardo exhibit was like, since there was a line to get in after you’d bought tickets.) We finished up the outing with some tea and a scone, eaten (of course) in the Morris, Gamble and Poynter Rooms, which is tied with the Sainte Chapelle and the Asam Church in Munich as the most beautiful places I’ve every been. The MGP rooms are probably best, though, because you can sit in them and natter.

Then it was off to Covent Garden for some pre-show shopping. Ultimately, we bought <1) hot chocolate mix (half off) and 2) some 2nd flush Darjeeling from two different Whittard shops and 3) a few very cheap tools for the gig J is supposed to be working tomorrow AM. I failed at buying boots; I'll try the Clark's up the street and see if they inspire me more. (I had no luck even finding a Clark's today, which maybe meant I was in a nicer neighborhood or something. I did find a Birkentstock store, though, and they had boots, so who knows.) After a very light dinner at Paul (soup for me and quiche for J), we went to the very sold out Carmen at the Royal Opera House, tickets for which (and blocked view at that!) were his Christmas present from me.

*looks at the time* My, it’s late. I think the ROH Carmen was a great production, if a wee bit too sexed up for my taste – I just don’t think flamenco dancers should ever lift their skirts to mid-thigh, and given the period in which it was set I really found the behavior of the gypsy women impossible to swallow. But the staging was generally very good, all of the singing and music was right on target, and the costuming was fun. So what wasn’t to love? I think that this Carmen will be the one I hold in my mind through years and years of non-sexy singers with no stage presence and no ability to flirt on stage. Did Carmen cast a magical spell on Don Jose, or was he just an obsessive loser? Tonight, it seemed that sorcery was the right answer, and Carmen herself seemed a little bit more evil because of it. But at the end, when she said, “Carmen will live free!” I was right there with her, watching Don Jose grabbing her by the hair and trying to shove her in a little box like those poor Renaissance wives. You said it, girlie, I just wish that at the end you’d had your own little knife with you.

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 28th, 2006. The review was migrated from my other blog.)


Mini-review – Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” – Sadler’s Wells

December 21, 2006

I had a great night at Sadler’s Wells with Jess, Libby, Caroline, and Wechlser watching handsome shirtless men dance around stage with leather pants on. Er, I mean, with feather pants on, at least in acts one and three, as this was Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. Something about the production seemed to leave us all very … energized. Not sure how to put it really, but I do think “festive” captures it. Talk about getting in the spirit of the season! What is it about watching actors die on stage that could possibly be so cheering? At any rate, I end the day in a very good mood, which I must frankly admit has a LOT to do with it being the start of my Christmas vacation. No work until January 2nd … WOOOO!

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 20th, 2006. It was migrated from another blog.)

Review – English National Ballet’s “Nutcracker” – London Coliseum

December 17, 2006

Alternate title: Clara’s First Acid Trip. Clara comes home from college and decides to chemically improve her holiday visit. With all of the wacky guests “dropping” in her folks’ house, there’s no doubt she’s having a great time! Her uncle Elvis Drosselmeier gives her a toy nutcracker, which she completely gets hung up on in a way sobriety will prove oh too embarassing. Too wired to sleep, she returns to the living room after everyone else has gone to bed, only to discover the Christmas tree glows and glows, then grows and grows! Later on she has fights with giant mice, sees her Nutcracker come to life, and then goes on a magical journey to Sugar Plum Land, where she watches snowflakes dancing. Eventually, she flies away on a paper crane with her Nutcracker man, and thus ends another fine holiday.

Anyway, that’s what I saw today, though I think it’s not the subtext they intended. The backdrops were SO “Oh the Places You Will Go!” and the dancing not so good. Next year: the Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker.

Review – Carissimi’s “Jephte,” Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas,” and Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” – English Touring Opera at the Theatre Royal, Bath

December 3, 2006

We’re back from our weekend in Bath. I’m really tired, probably from swimming around in the pool on the roof of the Thermae spa. It was neat – cold rain came down on us while we were in the warm water, looking at the green hills and church spires through the spattered glass walls.

We stayed at Elgin Villa in an overly large room (a queen and two extra singles, wish we’d brought some more people!) quite close to the center of town, slept 9 hours both nights, went to some lovely CAMRA listed pubs (the Volunteer Rifleman’s Arms and The Raven), saw two nights of Baroque Opera at the Theater Royal Bath, hit the Christmas market over and over again (couldn’t get away from it, really, since it was also Smack Dab in the Middle of Town), bought some books (ooh, I held out for a month!), looked at costumes, and generally Frittered Our Time (and Money) Away. And we bought cheese, because Bath has an awesome cheesemonger’s shop but also a stand selling Bath Soft Cheeses.

Our first night we decided to see if we could get tickets to see the English Touring Opera’s performance for the night (Carissimi’s Jephte and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. We were lucky and got the 5 pound bench seats in the back – and the performance was quite sold out! The music was very good, but there was no set to speak of for either show, and the performers seemed to have forgotten that they could actually act while they sang, if they chose to. But for the price, we had no complaints, and figured the next night, with Monteverdi’s Orfeo, would make up for it.

Alas, this was not the case; though Orfeo had MORE of a set, the stage direction was atrocious! It was, in fact, so bad that it DISTRACTED from the action on the stage. Lovely quartet? How about having Orpheus have sex under a blanket while we’re listening to the people sing? Solo? How about having people get in a stick fight off on the side? We really just did not get what they were thinking, and, at the higher price we’d paid for these tickets, we felt quite annoyed. Come on, folks! It’s not like there aren’t people in this country who know how to direct! We were glad, though, we’d gone both nights, because if Saturday had been the “highlight” of our trip, I would have considered the weekend perhaps not all that well spent!

We rounded off our trip by going (on Sunday) to the spa. The Thermae Spas are not too expensive (20 pounds per person for two hours, but they make up for it with £2.50 towel rental, good gods!) and well-laid out, with a pool in the basement, four “aromatherapy” steam rooms (though the eucalyptus one smelt of cat box to me, ick), and the quite neat roof pool. However, the pools just weren’t warm enough for us, and I really wanted a proper jacuzzi. Still, we spent a very nice hour and a half chilling and soaking, and it was a nice end to our weekend.

(The performance of Jepthe and Dido and Aeneas too plake on December 1st, 2006, while Orfeo was December 2nd. This review copied from my old blog.)