Monday, March 24, 2014

Metropolitan Prince Igor HD Season at The Bridgeway Cinema Auckland NZ

Greeting Opera Lovers everywhere! The Metropolitan Opera's brand new production of Prince Igor, Borodin hit the Bridgeway Cinema, Auckland New Zealand, as the highlight of it's season.

I am mature and have been going to the opera since I was 10 but I have never actually seen a performance of Prince Igor. I did know the famous bits especially the Polovtsian Dances as at the age of eight  a choral version of these were the warm up for Disney's Fantasia. The famous theme is better known as the musical comedy song Stranger in Paradise.

I never go to any opera without doing my homework which on this occasion was the Bolshoi's latest production. It lasted 2.34 hours. It had a particularly rousing Polovtsian Dance sequence which lasted for 15 minutes of exhausting dancing of which the Ruskies are particularly good and bought the house down as it is meant to do and a very effective final scene. The plot seemed creaky and a succession of set arias. This was not effective.

I  discovered thanks to Wiki that Borodin had had a problem with this creaky plot too. Not surprising because he had no idea of exactly what he was aiming at. He just composed a few set pieces when he felt like it and after 18 years gave up. It was left to Rimsky Korsakoff to orchestrate the famous dances and with the help of the ballet composer Glazunov who wrote Act 2 and 3 finish the opera. A glimpse of the structure shows just how little Borodin wrote.

I was determined to enjoy it but the opera did not get off to the best of starts. I was late! Or rather the opera had started early. Half an hour earlier than in the brochure so I missed most of Act I, the best bits. Luckily I had seen the Bolshoi. I arrived just before the poppies. I read and watched my friend's review so I had been warned.

Price Igor is a Russian icon so it is courageous of the Met to have a go at staging it. It is rather like the Russian's having a stab at Mary Poppins they tried but it doesn't quite work. I find watching the Russian's Mary Poppins amusing and I expect the Russians are falling in the aisles with Met's version of their Price Igor.

Admittedly having a Russian director should have helped but this work relies on brilliant singing and scintillating Polovtsian Dances.My USA friend did not like these dances and thought that they were the best example of the worst opera ballet ever. I am not going to be quite a unkind as that. I can appreciate that even with all the money in the world the Met is never going to rival the Russian's in this type of spectacle in any way but I liked the conception and choreography which was imaginative and creative. This was not helped by the camera angles which went for close ups so missing the overall pattern of the dancers which was extremely well danced.

I really could not take to Anita Rachvelishvli as the luscious, sexy Polovtsian princess. I do not like wobbles and you could drive a double decker bus through her vibrato. The costume designer who obviously hated women did not help by giving her the most unattractive costume. A dirty white off the shoulder shift. Why is it that well endowed opera singers feel they have to go for off the shoulder bare it all ensembles which leave the audience wondering when exactly the boobs are going to pop out? They all do it from Renee Fleming down.  Every time the diva takes a breath the audience gasps in anticipation. All the budget went into the flowers and none went into the ladies costumes.

Vibrato seems to be in vogue at the moment. All  the singers with perhaps the exception of Oksana Dyka exhibited this trait. Maybe it is fashionable in Russia but I don't like it. Vocally too I found some of the men had a fuzzy range when it came to tonal accuracy. I like singer to be bang in tune not just nearly in tune and this is essential with the most melodic of operas. Boro/Rimsky/Glas knew how to write good tunes but some of the singers seemed way off the mark and the vocal line unrecognisable.

It is a slight, uneven work but I enjoyed it on its level. I would have enjoyed it more if this work which lasts 2.34 hours in Russia was not drawn out for 5 hours in the cinema. The intervals were just too long. I couldn't decide if the presenter would have made a better Happy or Bashful in the Seven Dwarfs as he was sort of bouncy. Then it appeared the Met had its problems too. Cut these intervals please.

Being an opera director myself I was intrigued to see the advances in backstage machinery since my day. I never had moveable sets. When I was in the opera and ballet we were never allowed on stage during the scenery changes as it was too dangerous. I don't think the best is made of its opportunities. I think too a lot more could have been made of the Polovstian Dances if the cyce had been used for imaging. Could have been magical.

Another thing that still bugs me about opera direction is the way that emotions/actions are so unlifelike. This type of direction is so old hat. When did you last get down on your knees to beg for anything? Or walk around clutching every bit of furniture you can see? Or stand with back up against walls while talking to someone clutching the door post occasionally for effect? Or curling up on the dining room table and going to sleep? This production went in for stroking, everyone stroked. Stroking people is off limits these days, people. The scene with the huge Princess pulling at her lover and the father pulling the other with her crawling on her knees was embarrassing. People never behave like that ever. Less is sometimes more in opera direction as the music heightens emotions without any help.

Well I have seen it once and I think once is enough unless I go to Moscow but good show Metropolitan, 6 out of 10 for trying. Onto Werther another opera I have never seen. That's three in a row. La Boheme, always miss Puccini and then  Cosi, one of my favourites.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

When will women gain equality? Ros Atkins BBC World Have Your Say

When will women gain equality?

This was the question that BBC World Have Your Say presenter Ros Atkins asked all women today on the radio.

When women are allowed go to Eton, join the Freemasons, become Pope and not have to wear a headscarf  is my simple answer. Until then women will always be second class citizens.

I admire Ros Atkins. I have listened to him for many years now. He comes from a Cornish fishing village and I come from Brixham, a Devon fishing village so we have a childhood in common.

I am so pleased that Ros Atkins has been brave enough to tackle this problem of female inequality. It is hard for any man not to resort to  male superiority in the heat of the moment and forget that a woman might be involved. Ros Atkins is no angel in this respect. In the past he has had his moments that now would make him cringe.

Early in Atkins career he had to interview a male South African statesman on this very subject and the poor female protagonist was very badly served on this occasion by Mr. Atkins. He grovelled to this disgusting example of male misogyny and the poor lady who was opposing this monster hardly got a word in. In fact Mr Atkins cut her off before she had a chance to reply saying that they had run out of time.

So wonderful to have you on the show Minister. Thank you so much for your time Minister. Is there anything else you want to say Minister. It was so embarrassing and I was so incensed that even though the hour was early in NZ I made an effort to email him and point out that he had been rather insensitive and unfair to the woman.... or words to that effect.

Ros Atkins must receive hundreds of emails but to his credit he did reply....almost immediately. He was very annoyed that I felt he had been insensitive. He said it was a Minister  and he felt he had to behave politely.

I replied that if it was necessary to be that polite  that he should have given the woman interviewee more of a chance to put these questions to the man himself or put the difficult questions to this example of male chauvinism if he did not allow time for her to do so. I think the Minister may have refused to speak to her but it was a long time ago.

I also told Ros Atkins if he did not believe me to go and actually listen to his performance which I expect he did because Ros Atkins has produced a TV documentary that I hope I shall see but because I live in NZ where BBC iPlayer is blocked I probably shall not.

I was impressed that Ros Atkins answered my criticism. Women have a long way to go to fight inequality. I can recall when I applied to the BBC for the production course when I was 18 and had won the GSM&D production prize judged by the BBC that my application to attend the BBC production course was refused because:
  1. I was a young woman who would leave for marriage and family so I was not worth the investment.
  2. I was an attractive woman and the BBC did not employ attractive women behind the camera as they would always be trying to get in front.
  3. I did not have a university degree and the BBC preferred degrees preferably males from Oxford or Cambridge.
 This was crushing especially as I saw my male peers who had not won the prize being accepted and going on to produce programmes while I was denied the opportunity.

When 14 years later I did get the opportunity to produce a TV series, I was not allowed to direct as their boys would never take orders from me! They were right their boys didn't until the end when they apologised as they knew I had done a good job. My series ended up on the BBC and finished as a finalist for best edited programme USA LA Monitor Awards alongside CBS 60 minutes. Think what I could have done with some help.

My life has been one long line of male jealousy and harassment. Production stolen and given to a male director. Fine art I have commissioned and paid for and somehow never received now on Art gallery walls and worth a fortune. Family paintings removed by male cousin who was miffed at the will where he was left out because of his behavior, after all he was the male and males come first. I have jumped out of first floor hotel windows to avoid rapists and been harassed and goosed by any male who felt like it and not only in Italy.

All my family expected me to have a career and do the housework. Never once did my husband cut the lawn or paint the house or feed the cat and birds. In fact I got no help from any of my family even when things went wrong. Women of my age were superwomen and totally unappreciated. However I did achieve my dreams with great difficulty.

I am not allowed to be bitter. I mean that would never do for a woman to be bitter  and  even today I must  never be allowed to ask:

Hang on? Would this happen to a man?

Like Ros Atkins I too have a daughter who I was quite certain was not going to have a life similar to mine  A daughter who I  and her father saw to it was educated and could stand up for herself. I might not like it as she can put me in my place and frequently does but she is no push over and no doormat. I am so proud of her. We need more women like this.

Lastly when I am allowed to be a Freemason, a Pope and do not have to wear a headscarf so that a man can go to heaven I shall know true equality has arrived.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Line of Duty Series 2 Finale What a disappointment.

Oh dear! What a disappointment. After five hold onto your seats Line of Duty episodes the great reveal was the most enormous let down.  Instead of a mind blowing conclusion we were served an episode that would make Agatha Christie blush. Christie would never deliver such a lame final chapter. It is easy to see now why the BBC was reluctant to commission Series 3 as any audience loyalty will have been sadly diminished with the lame duck ending. Let us hope that the BBC insists on knowing the conclusion before shooting starts to ensure this fiasco is not repeated.

It is said in the theatre that one is only as good as your last production and perhaps this is also true of television series. After a magnificent penultimate episode with the fans staying up nights trying to work out who dun-it the writers were obliged to deliver a finale that would shock and thrill by it's brilliance. Sadly this did not happen and it is a great pity.

So what went wrong? Maybe the problem was that the writers did not have a clear idea of the ending right at the start and left it until about episode four before they decided who the culprit was and then had to resort to a flashback which is such a cliche and is not worthy of their intelligent audience.

It also smacked of waiting to see which of the actors would be available for Series 3 and writing out all those actors who would not be available which meant the two best actors who acted the rest of the cast off the screens were guilty. Denton and Dryden both had unfortunate personalities but the actors , Keeley Hawes and Mark Bonnar were such consummate artists that they made the audience like them. Especially Denton who even at the end one felt sympathy for her plight. One wanted to see them again. What a charismatic performance.

This would have been acceptable if the remaining characters had been likeable too but the way the characters were written and played meant that most of the audience positively disliked them by the end. Fleming had not redeeming feature and one felt delighted that she was shut out of her house and was living in a car.  Arnott showed he was a nasty bit of work and never to be trusted again. The only one with a slight appeal is the devious Dot. This line up does not inspire confidence for a follow up. Surely the writers realised that their audience have to like and trust at least a few of their characters in the future.

The denouement was a massive let down. The tracking meter bit was rubbish and Denton leaving the money in her flat while going off with Fleming was too silly for words. Denton was much cleverer that that. Quite frankly some of the bloggers came up with better endings and the discussion was lively and fun. Many will feel cheated and never do this again.

So would be writers make sure your ending is the strongest part of your series. Make sure that your charismatic actors do not get written out and no more flashbacks as you audience will feel cheated and make sure the remaining characters have at least one likeable feature each if you want you audience to hola for more.