Opera has been a part of my life from an early age and I was torn between the Empire Theatre in Liverpool and the Coliseum home of the English National Opera as the place. The Empire was where I first fell in love with opera on family trips to see the WNO and the SCO on tour. The Coliseum was where I recovered my interest post University back the 1980s and I’ve had season tickets for the ENO ever since and also the Royal Opera for over 25 years. I still find ways to see most of the WNO productions, saw the best two Ring Cycles of my life in Berlin and San Francisco and have also managed to get to opera houses in Vienna, Zurich, Sydney, Moscow, Leningrad (well it was called that when I went there), Seattle, Paris, Verona, Milan, Washington, and all the Scandinavia Houses. I may have forgotten a few and there are many yet to visit! I’ve never managed to get to Bayreuth so if anyone knows how to acquire tickets let me know, the ballots haven’t worked. So give the difficulty of choice between two physical locations I decided to use the generic concept of The Opera House as the place and my selection of which pictures from the WHO and ENO are linked to significant moments in those houses. Someone suggested I should write a series on the most significant opera productions or operas I have attended and I may yet do that. Each production is different, with constant novelty, a constant inspiration.
NowThatopera is a sacred experience possible best summarised in this 2001 post where we had the good, the bad and the ugly. The good were the teenagers who inspired me and triggered the odd tear, the bad was the sweet paper rustlers. The ugly is a mini-story in its own right. At the end of the blog, I reference a decision to take a friend from San Francisco to his first Wagner opera in London. That had a bad ending; I turned to him at the end of the first act and asked what he thought. I will remember the response to this day: “It’s alright shall we get a drink”. I haven’t spoken to him since. When I asked the same question of daughter at the end of the first act of Däs Walkyrie at the ROH she couldn’t even speak more some moments; Wagner is transcended and she is still my daughter. Opera is a means of accessing the numinous, of rising beyond the mundane while remaining engaged with the world. It is the most complete of the arts: music, song, and stage.
Readers are not short of options for my views on opera and operas with 83 hits on a search. That includes the first Rock Opera, Tommy, which allowed me to bring rock music into a household as a teenager. Parsifal has twelve results and it is one of the most memorable of my WNO performances. Reginal Goodall production is the best Wanger interpreter in my view in part because he doesn’t rush things. his Ring Cycle is about three hours longer that one I dislike from Karajan. Goodall conducted Parsifal for the WHO with Warren Ellsworth, a true Helen tenor in the title role. Ellsworth died tragically young but he was perfect for the role of the Innocent that the opera demands. The staging itself was experimental which a shifting metal gantry that contrasts with an ENO production which was based on magical realism. But that is one of the beauties of opera each performance is different. To complete productions in the British Trio I can add an ROH production this was the first time I took my mother to the opera as opposed to being taken. A brilliant production set in the Blitz but the worst of audiences. That WNO production is one of the most memorable of all time and I saw it in Liverpool with my family deriving back through the Mersey Tunnel in a picture of reverent conversation and reverent silence.
The banner illustration is from the 1984 production of Birtwhistle’s Mask of Orpheus who first burst onto the scene with Punch and Judy and whose most recent opera Minotaur I really wish the ROH would revive. I choose it to represent the ENO but also my introduction to modern music. I have since gone on to fall in love with Minimalism even managing to watch Einstein on the Beach which was performing without intermission over five hours without leaving the theatre. I prefer Adams to Glass but will travel to see the work of either of them. Of recent years I’ve started to pick up obscure opera recordings from around the world and I’ve never been disappointed. Opera is a living art and a true Cynefin as it can only be known in part, it shifts us into the abstract and we wee the world from a different perspective. The Tristan Chord changed music forever and we are changed and change by engagement with it.
I am writing this while listening to Goodall’s recording of Meistersinger with the WNO and I’ve already been in tears from the sheer beauty of it several times and that is a comedy, take me to the love duet at the end of ACT I of Die Walküre or the final scene of Act III and the tension between anger turning to love in the exchanges between Wotan and Brünnhilde and I can barely breathe. However now, I am dealing with the irritation of background noise from the television in the bedroom above me. I’ve moved over to headphones but it’s not the same thing. I am going to have to build a new study at the back of the garden both to accommodate an overflow of books and to create isolation from noise of any kind!
Banner Photograph is from the ENO’s An Introduction of The Mask of Opheus on their web site and shows Birtwhistle and a cast member from the original 1986 production. The inset production is from what I consider a must buy version of Parsifal