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Showing posts from 2015

Nevermind the gaffer....

Cesc Fabregas's appearance on Sky with Thierry Henry last night has been seen by many as a confirmation that Chelsea players, and not the manager, are the true cause of the club's present malaise. But what Fabregas's appearance told me, quite categorically, was that the dressing room is a pernicious place to be. He was saying - and he would, wouldn't he? - that players had to take responsibility, had to lift themselves and show pride. What I didn't hear was any suggestion that the manager's behaviour had nothing to do with them being in the position they are in. This interview told me that the players recognise their responsibilities, but that it now doesn't matter how they got here and that they have to put in the hard yards to get themselves out of it. For me, rather than being a show of support for the manager, it was an interview with horrific subtexts. 
Henry, who as a consequence of his relationship with Fabregas likely knows far more about it th…

The English Baccalaureate; a 'modern' obsession

The government has recently launched their consultation on the extension of the English Baccalaureate to 90% of pupils by 2020. They are determined; the consultation allows no space in its questioning for any answers that articulate the view that the subjects contained within the EBacc are proscriptive and doctrinaire
Of course, the policy is draped in the kind of language many of us would find hard to disagree with: more core subjects, ensuring more of our pupils can read and write when they leave school or go on to higher education. Sure, young people should know their sums and sentences, their history and if possible another language. The other fanfare for the common man contained in the policy is the elevation of standards and examination quality. We have heard that before.
The five pillar themes from which pupils have to study 8 GCSEs in certain core subjects before anything else has naturally met with objection from the world of the arts. The language used by the government in…

Journalists: keep it simple!

An open letter to Eva Wiseman
Dear Eva
I read your recent piece on the Guardian website ("Is there anything worse than a man who cries") with mounting horror. I also noted the nearly 3,000 outraged comments below it and, I have to say, you brought it all upon yourself. I have no sympathy, but I am happy to help you by explaining where you went wrong.
The most important thing to note - and Eva, this will stand you in good stead hitherto should you hold it in mind - this is 2015. Why is that relevant? Well, this isn't 1928, for example, when a book like "A Handbook on Hanging" by Charles Duff could be published and people "get it". And you're no Henry Root, love, let me tell you. And can you imagine what the world would say now if Clive James's line about that Chinese president "whose name sounds like a ricochet in a canyon" was published on Twitter? There would be bedlam.
You can't possibly hope to get away with writing a piece that…

My name is Jose Mourinho, and I'm not Special (at the moment)

.....The words that Jose Mourinho needs to utter to himself, the reality he has to face in order to change himself and the fortunes of his team. Such a recalibration of self-image won't be easy for a man who frequently embroiders his press conferences with 'I' and 'My' and references to his past achievements. He is a winner, not a loser and as such won't take easily to his new role, one that has to feature a cold-eyed acceptance that his magic, such as it is, has been diluted. 
Mourinho is an egomaniac - not unlike many successful people - but he has an edge of narcissism that makes it difficult for him to see the success of his teams through any prism but his own greatness. When his club wins, "I" win. So when things are not as they should be, Jose takes it personally, as an affront to him, an insult, he is embarrassed. He'll take it out on players, make grand gestures by dropping his best, and he'll search for outside influences - excuses - …

Brian Sewell - "A lone wolf, prone to bite."

I am very sad indeed to hear of Brian Sewell's passing today.

During a conversation several weeks ago, Brian had told me - quite matter of factly - that his condition had become terminal. Whilst I struggled to say the correct thing (correctly) Brian said, "oh well, mustn't grumble." It was this stoicism that I found most remarkable about him in recent years, a period when he had a seemingly endless number of health conditions that took so much out of him but, more tragically for him, kept him from writing reviews and visiting exhibitions.

I first encountered Brian almost twenty five years ago when I asked him to review an exhibition at Leighton House. Brian wrote back (he never, ever took to email or even computers) and said "I am a lone wolf, prone to bite", which was his way of saying "be careful what you wish for". It was an invaluable lesson in PR; don't believe your own bullshit and never expect everybody to feel the same way about someth…

Stuck in the middle with you...

In my book Noisy at the wrong times I wrote that 'to this day, I feel Italian.' Ever since, people have asked me what I meant, but to be perfectly honest, I am not entirely sure I have a ready or easy explanation.
How I perceive myself has always been framed by my family and childhood experiences, by the culture and language around me, the places that I spent time and the dramas and angst that seem so uniquely Mediterranean. This perception of myself seemed never to be just incidental or a mere oddity, it was more than that and was something I believed set me apart - I still think it does. 
I identify with Italy, and although I have never made it my home, at home is where I feel whenever I visit there. The determination of others to criticise and upbraid me for feeling this way appears to be endless: "You were born in England and so you are English,' they say.
Really?  If a dog is born in a stable, does it moo?
Well, does it? ***
"Ciucciarella inzuccherata quant'รจ lu…

From the ether to the theatre...

This is an edited version of an address I gave earlier this summer to a conference on digital marketing in the arts. It took place at Hatfield Business School

For a couple of years, and despite my moderately active life on social media, I have had something of a bee in my bonnet about the use of the digital world to promote and represent our art form.  I work in a live art form, one that is absolutely at its best - unequalled, in fact - when confronting the audience head on, in the flesh. So my perspective on the use of digital and social media to engage with our audiences is very much dictated by this concept. 
I know that in the world of the arts, social media is sometimes, and in the right hands, an immensely powerful tool, but it is particularly so when you can consume and/or acquire that art form at the click of a button, or when it is enhanced by the digital world, delivered by it, or indeed, conceived in it or by it. I know, for example that a huge twitter following is enormously…

Sort it out Greece

When you have spent the first two days of your holiday on the telephone and iPad looking for an alternative hotel, and then when you find one, discover it is worse than the one you left it for, you could be forgiven for thinking that almost any half decent hostelry will be a haven. Our first hotel on this holiday was sweet, but our room was hideous and several other aspects were simply unacceptable. So, using my experience and knowing I will never tolerate or get used to it, I decided to move.

The place we have eventually settled at - the third within 48hrs - is the haven I mention and after two days of uncertainty that began to turn into desperation, I believe I would have been beguiled by little more than a clean bed. But St George's Bay Hotel is significantly more than that (for a price) and would appear to be a rarity; a Greek hotel that actually cares about its guests; such an accusation seems harsh in light of the country's troubles, but the British travel industry has …

Our right to outrage

I am not going to say a word about the William Tell production itself; there, you can relax.
I do worry, though, about the world of opera and its direction of travel, or perhaps it is the direction it is being forced to travel? I am not sure yet, although we have given it the odd nudge for sure.
Audiences have always - I mean, forever, since Pontius was a Pilate - had opinions, been outraged by art and felt inclined to express that outrage verbally. But now they can express it on Twitter and better still, gather about them a consensus. What we saw in the ROH performance of Tell was Twitter mob mentality in the flesh. We have become used to joining in with choruses of disapproval and we are so much more comfortable with it nowadays. The social media mob mentality emboldens people to try out their outrage where before they might have kept it to themselves for fear that they stood apart. Now they know they can find those of like mind easily by casting a few bon mots into the ether and seei…

The first week.....

It was eventful at OHP on Tuesday; the dire warnings of hurricanes and a deluge didn't materialise although if we had a windmill we would likely have generated a couple of kilowatts of energy. Nobody moaned and so fruity Italian expletives remained unslung. There was a demonstration outside too, but in making their point, the participants were dignified and deserve respect and thanks. You will understand that we can't remark upon their cause, but on behalf of the artists, patrons and staff of OHP, their exemplary behaviour on the evening ought to be recognised by us.

The reviews on Wednesday morning gave us all a real lift and The Telegraph led the way with a thundering five-star review. It then quickly became all about opening "Flight" on Saturday: something of a very different flavour to Il trittico but still a remarkable achievement by its composer, Jonathan Dove. It is both funny and moving in equal measure, something opera rarely manages to pull off that well …

Opening night

Tempestuous operas (and there are three of those tonight, in one way or another) don't demand a similar climate in which they are to be performed, so I am pleased that the breeze will have dropped by the time Puccini's gloriously evocative prelude to Il tabarro begins tonight. The annual narrative of quips, weather analogies and tales of stoicism has begun among our friendly critics; I think they do it to annoy me. Twenty six years of casting an eye to the sky, and designing a theatre to try to withstand the British summer, has done little to dampen (boom boom) my irascibility on grey opening nights, and I will be there all day barking and groaning at all and sundry to ensure everything is ship shape and bristol fashion for tonight; our operations manager considers this his worst day of the year. But the theatre WILL again look beautiful and the magic WILL arrive. Just wear a bloody coat.

All the preparation has the effect of deferring my excitement for the artistic endeavou…

Mind your Grammar

Between Lefkas Island and the Greek mainland is a lagoon that embraces an archipelago of small green jewels, including, among others, Skorpios, the legendary idyll of Aristotle Onassis. Cruising those waters two summers ago, my geology student son and I were less concerned with the yachts of the super-rich than we were with the rock formations of the coastline. As he began his treatise on the bands of geological history gliding past our boat, I interrupted him to correct his assessment: "no, that is marine sediment," I said, "not volcanic. This is a discordant coastline". Stunned, he just looked at me, annoyed too, no doubt.

This may not strike you as terribly astounding, that I should know a bit about geology, but I work in opera and I left school with two just 'O''levels. My son knows all this, hence his surprise, and I haven't studied geography for thirty-four years, yet I could tell you all about screes, coastal erosion and urban conurbations …

Lawks a mercy! Cheaper prices!

A while ago, I wrote about the need for a recalibration of expectations when it comes to pricing of tickets. I said that we would be doing our bit by trying to bring forward prices that might help that process.

Take a look at the link below, which takes you to our seat and price plan for 2015

Price plan 2015

Many of you will notice, before anything else, I suspect, that our Inspire seats have increased by £2. I also expect this might make some of you cross. But you should go on to notice that we have reduced all of our other prices, except for Aida which remains the same as prices in 2014. Some have reduced by up to 28%.  Before anybody points out that rarities and "harder sells" benefit most, I would remind them that when we last produced L'amore dei tre Re in the same capacity theatre, we were very close to adding an extra performance.

As many of our patrons come to more than one show, in groups, these reductions represent quite a significant collective saving.

The pie…