Events, Film, Music, opera

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag Richard Wagner

Today is the 200th birthday of Richard Wagner, for many the greatest composer who ever lived. Germany has been celebrating. A monument is to be erected in Leipzig, his birthplace, and there will be concerts at Bayreuth.


Wagner once said, “I hold the Jewish race to be the born enemy of pure humanity and everything noble in it.” No surprise, then, that Adolf Hitler became a great fan. Wagner’s great-granddaughter at least wants to lay the ghosts to rest and has announced that she will make private letters available to historians so they can look into the rumours that Wagner’s  daughter-in-law – Winifred, an English woman – had a relationship with the Führer. Whether he was a beast or not, his music is remarkable. Here is one of my favourites, the overture to Tristan und Isolde, conducted of course by my friend Antonio Pappano:


Wagner had the opera house at Bayreuth built solely for the performance of his own work and today the tradition continues under the management of his heirs. It is said that the building was largely funded by the extravagant Ludwig II of Bavaria, famous for perhaps his greatest folly, the castle of Neuschwanstein.


I have never understood people who say they hate Wagner’s music, or can’t abide any of it. Personally, I will admit that I don’t like it all. I know, for example, that true fans will think me a philistine for saying that, for the most part, Das Rheingold is a drudge to sit through. It has its moments, as the famous quote says, but I am always amazed that the singers can remember their parts as they have no melody at all to work with. I’ll come back to The Ring after treating you to the Tannhaüser overture (can you spot the Doe, a deer bit?)

Well, we can’t have Wagner’s birthday without perhaps his best known tune! Used in films like Apocalypse Now and more recently Valkyrie, it is almost always heard on the radio without the voices. And it’s the voices that make it. Have a good one!

Music, opera, Theatre

Savage Amusement

This bright and sunny Monday (though still bitterly cold and windy, I must say) I felt like getting off to a lively start. Last week a follower commented how he rarely gets much enjoyment from dance, so this little excerpt from Rameau’s 1735 opera-ballet Les Indes galantes will hopefully set him off on the right foot.



Incidentally, this piece is commonly known as the Dance of the Savages, not terribly PC these days. However, note that it is knocking on for 300 years old and was inspired by Louis XV’s meeting with chiefs of the Illinois Metchigamea tribe when they sealed a pact by dancing in the Theatre Italien. Does this treasure we have inherited justify the French invasion of Illinois? Not in my book, but we can still enjoy it as a product of the times.


Horror, Music, opera, Theatre

To Hell With It

I’ve been awake rather a long time and it’s barely turned 9am. Why? Getting angry. I don’t get angry much, I’m a calm person as a rule and others tell me I have a calming influence. But last night I read something that really upset me, and I’ve been writing a blog post in my head. Then just about an hour ago another piece of information came my way that had the same effect as having a brick thrown in my face (I know, it may be improvement). Neither of these things is personal to me, other than they affect writers and publishing in general, but the implications of what one who should know better has said, and one who should know better has done, create a rather bad start to the day for any writer.


Hear no evil
If you own the copyright to this brilliant image please contact me


But as a calm person I have decided to trash the post and share some music to banish the bad thoughts. Here’s The Dance of the Furies and Ghosts (known usually as just The Dance of the Furies) from Gluck‘s opera Orpheus and Eurydice. I am sure you know that Orpheus went to the Underworld (not the knicker factory) to rescue his wife. Enjoy. I am now writing.

Oh, to Hell with it! Look at this clip if you want cheering up. Offenbach gave us the Can Can in Orpheus in the Underworld.


You all know it. This is Moulin Rouge‘s take on it – with the utterly fabulous Jim Broadbent.

Dontcha just want to be at that party?

DVD, Events, Horror, News, opera, Other Sites

Verdi: Otello – Horror in Tragedy

For my third instalment on the great composer Giuseppe Verdi, I’m jumping forward to his last but one opera – Otello. Why do this at such an early stage? Well, because I note that Otello is being performed by Opera North from January to March, and if I can help sell a single ticket for them by doing this the whole exercise will be worthwhile.

Click to Purchase Tickets
Click to Purchase Tickets

Based on William Shakespeare’s play and premiered in Milan in 1887, Otello is considered by many critics to be Verdi’s greatest tragic opera. It breaks from tradition, having no prelude and, whilst the orchestration is masterful, some feel it lacks the catchiness of Verdi’s earlier works such as La Traviata and Aida. Nor can parts of the music be easily separated and played in a concert since it is continuous. It is, therefore, very much an opera for opera-goers. However, it boasts three wonderful lead roles – Otello (tenor), Desdemona (soprano) and Iago (baritone) and few cannot have heard some of the arias. Here’s the opening (note the lack of overture):

As the lead roles are amongst Verdi’s most demanding it will come as no surprise to learn that some of the world’s greats have played them. Famous Otellos of the past have included Tamagno, Albert Alvarez, Francisco Viñas, Jose Luccioni, Ramón Vinay, Mario del Monaco, James McCracken, Jon Vickers and Carlo Cossutta. But it is Placido Domingo who has appeared in more video productions than any other tenor, as well as in numerous live performances on both sides of the Atlantic.

Here’s Renata Tebaldi as Desdemona (with subtitles for our Japanese visitors) –

Opera North is presenting a new production by Tim Albery. Iago, an ensign in the Venetian army, is a man who bears a grudge. When his general, Otello, passes him over for promotion in favour of Cassio, Iago’s festering resentment quickly turns to downright malice. He poisons Otello’s mind with suspicion, and step by step, leads Otello to believe that his young wife Desdemona is in love with the young and handsome Cassio. And so Iago, a man consumed by envy, makes Otello into a monster of murderous jealousy.

Murderous Domingo

The horror is in the very domestic tragedy that touches us all.

Opera North provides a cultural lifeline to those of us forced to live away from London. They deserve support if you are able. Their website is:

(I will return to chronology in my next post)

DVD, Film, Horror, opera

Verdi: Macbeth And Terror At The Opera

Who needs a happy ending?

Not me, for sure. Recently, and I wish I’d tagged it, the great Clive Barker declared on Facebook that any any good horror avoids a happy ending. I’m no fan of romance either, not in books and generally not in film. Opera is about the only place for romance, yet even then the happy ending is often avoided with the death(s) of the main character(s). So, where’s my rambling going today?

Macbeth Poster

When Giuseppe Verdi wrote Macbeth in 1847 it was the first time that he attempted opera without a love story. This was unheard of in 19th century Italian opera.


Shakespeare’s plays provided Verdi with lifelong inspiration, but Macbeth was the first to be set as an opera. It was rewritten in 1865 but this version proved less successful, and Verdi’s Macbeth went out of fashion and was virtually unheard until a revival in the mid-twentieth century. Here’s Maria Callas:

In 1987 the Italian horror director Dario Argento flung Macbeth into the limelight with his brilliant film Terror at the Opera (also known simply as Opera).

Opera Poster

In the film, a young soprano gets her big break when the star of a production of  Macbeth is hit by a car. Reluctantly she accepts, believing the opera to be bad luck. Naturally, disaster follows when she becomes the target of a psychopath.

Terror at the Opera

It is a superb film and features some of Argento’s finest set pieces. The sound track combines opera and rock – Brian Eno having had a hand in it. If you know nothing of the film you may be surprised to see Ian Charleson of Chariots of Fire fame in a lead role. And the stars of the show? Many, including the music of Verdi – but oh, those ravens!