Royal Opera House

Madama Butterfly at the Royal Opera House

The Floral Hall in the Royal Opera HouseYesterday evening we went to see Madama Butterfly at the Royal Opera House in London. For those unfamiliar with the story, a travelling American (Ben Franklin Pinkerton) is visiting Japan, and marries a young girl of 15, a Geisha. This is Madama Butterfly. She dotes on him, changing religion and as a result is disowned by her family. He leaves Japan to travel, and she lives on waiting for his return. She has his child in the meantime.

Pinkerton returns with a new wife (according to the script, a wife disowned is a wife divorced), and wants to take the child away to give him a better life.

Butterfly is distressed, gives up the child and commits suicide.

The staging seemed a little shoddy to me, especially for the Royal Opera house. For example, there were problems with the scenery (a sliding door got stuck). Also when people were at the rear of the stage, behind the Japanese house, the set would block the view for those of us in the Ampitheatre (i.e. not quite the cheap seats, but definitely not the posh seats).

The set was simple, a single room with paper walls which could slide open, and at times these appeared to be moved in quite haphazard ways, which could distract from what was going on.

The plot, like most Opera and Ballet, was simple, so much so that sometimes I found myself thinking 'get on with it!' - and they really do like to milk the curtain calls.

The singing was good, though could sometimes be on the quiet side, overwhelmed by the orchestra. We found 'Butterfly' to be rather slow, though we had previously seen 'Carmen', so maybe that explains it (Carmen was a great production).

The surtitles were perhaps unnecessary for the basic plot, though they did provide amusement as some of the lyrics are banal in the extreme, for example, the opening is all about the wonders of Japanese interior decorating (paper walls).

Overall, the thing was enjoyable, but we didn't find it to be fantastic.

For the walk back to the train station (Waterloo) we had to endure the gauntlet of the Lyceum theatre at chucking out time, the 'Lion King' always seems to finish just as we return from Covent Garden!

The London Eye and ParliamentWe did get some really nice views over the Thames as we walked back.

The London Eye is lit up with red at the moment, and to the east we had good views toward St. Paul's and the City. The National theatre was also looking particularly purple.

Carmen

Last night we went to see 'Carmen' at the Royal Opera House. It's a great little opera (sung in French), starting with the music to that Weird Al Yankovic track, 'The Beer Song':

Oh... what is the malt and liquor?
What gets you drunken quicker?
What comes in bottles or in cans? (Beer)

(What.... that was a cover? Really?)

It was really great, sumptuous music, the woman playing Carmen really had that classical stereotypical spanish wenchy type of swing to her, the toreadors were fun too.

At the interval we went out on the balcony, for a view over Covent Garden. It was about 8:40pm, but it was still surprisingly empty for the last friday before the 25th December.

Carousel in Covent Garden

However, as we left at the end of the evening with both the Royal Opera House and the theatre where the Lion King is playing disgorging their audiences it soon felt busy!

The plot of Carmen is rather basic, and perhaps a little disjointed at times - though it's easy enough to follow (surtitles were provided). It was amusing in the first act to have a great big long piece singing the praises of the tobacco workers and cigarettes in general!

Dans l'air nous suivons des yeux,
La fumée,
La fumée,
Qui vers les cieux,
Monte, monte parfumé
Cela mongentiment, A la tête, à la tête.
Tout doucement, Cela vous met l'â me'en fête!
Le doux parler, le doux parler des amants, c'est fumée!

'Toreador' was a good section, and had us tapping out feet along with the music.

Toréador en garde! Toréador! Toréador!
Et songe bien, oui, songe en combatant, Un oeil noir te regar---de!
Et que l'amour t'attend, Toréador!
L'amour, l'amour t'attend.

I wasn't able to follow all of the French (heck, if it had been sung in English I wouldn't have followed it all - I tend to find sung lyrics really hard to follow, thankfully most songs have lots of redundancy) - but I had a good stab at it. I glanced at the surtitles as we went through to be sure I wasn't getting lost - the surtitles were done pretty sympathetically, I thought. Not updating on every line (especially where lines were repeated, and the meaning was already clear).

A nice evening out.... and as always the Royal Opera House itself was a stunning piece of architecture.

Madama Butterfly

I'm turning into a culture vulture, not only have I seen the Bolshoi this summer, and am booked to see Carmen later in the year - but I've just booked tickets to see Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Unfortunately it doesn't look like I'm going to be able to go and see the complete Wagnerian ring cycle next november (2007), at least one performance of every cycle is inconvenient from a work point of view. It can be simultaneously depressing and liberating that it's possible for me to plan with reasonable confidence that far ahead!

Bolshoi

Today was a first, we went into Covent Garden to the Royal Opera House in order to see the ballet. Now, this wasn't something that I got dragged to, it was my idea. I made a decision to try new things, even if I was a bit unsure. After all, how do we know if we like it otherwise? Some time back I was out in the Surrey countryside on a work related event, and whilst I waited I was browsing a newspaper. I saw the Bolshoi Ballet was in town, the 50th anniversary of their first visit. I thought 'Why not try the ballet'.

Then I thought 'If you're going to try the ballet, you may as well see the best'. I suggested this to Monica, and she said she'd like to go.

We had a choice of 'The Pharaoh's Daughter', 'Swan Lake', 'Cinderella', 'Go for Broke / Pique Dame / Symphony in C' or 'Don Quixote'.

For various reasons, such as Monica having seen 'Swan Lake', and plain old scheduling, it came to a choice between 'The Pharaoh's Daughter' and 'Don Quixote'. I had a slight preference for 'Don Quixote', but Monica was keen on 'The Pharaoh's Daughter', so that was the choice.

Performances are pretty pricey, but it's the Bolshoi for goodness sake! It should be world class! Our seats were up high, up in the ampitheatre, seats K70 and 71. This helped to keep the price down. On the Royal Opera House website, there is a good seating plan which allows the user to see photos from selected seats, one of those seats is adjacent to where we sat.

The principle ballerina was Svetlana Lunkina. Contrary to what it says in the programme, the conductor was Igor Dronov

The Royal Opera House itself is splendid, it has a sumptuous feel to it, and the views from the ampitheatre are good. We had a little look around after, and it was only in the slips approaching the stage that the performance would have really suffered.

The number of people involved in the performance was incredible, the sheer number of dancers on stage, the orchestra, plus the people behind the scenes. The sets were very well done, and exquisite in detail. At one point they had a horse on stage. A real one.

The plot is necessarily pretty simple, but a few times I found myself wondering what was going on. At one point a monkey appeared for no apparent reason (not a real one), and the sidekick would run across stage for reasons I couldn't fathom, but for the most part it was easy to follow. A couple of times there were a few people in the corps de ballet who didn't quite seem to be in the right place at the right time. Nothing serious, but surprising for the Bolshoi.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it, which was a pleasant surprise (as I'd booked tickets with the 'try it once' viewpoint). Those are some really stretchy women! It takes a special kind of athleticism to be able to stand on the points of ones toes, with the other leg sticking out horizontally, wrapping round so the foot is behind the back, and spinning at the same time.

In fact, I think I'd like to go again. Gosh. Who'd have thought?

I'm now considering the Opera. We bought tickets for Carmen in December, but I've a yen to really leaping into the deep end with Der Ring des Nibelungen in 2007 - we'd need to think about booking before having seen Carmen.

Rather annoyingly, the three Wagnerian cycles all have operas at 4pm or 5pm on a weekday, this simply isn't practical for me - the one possibility is cycle 2, this has only one difficulty, Die Walküre is at 5pm on the 19th October 2007, a friday before a break at work.

I know now that I'll be free for the 4pm performance the following week. It's possible that I may be able to get permission to leave on Friday 19th in the early afternoon from the head honcho, I'd need to be sure I had that permission before I booked.

It's rather inconsiderate of the Royal Opera House not to organise at least one cycle to be exclusively evening performances - I couldn't even mix and match them without seeing them out of order!