Monday, 22 October 2012

Anti-Austerity March, London, 20 October 2012

On Saturday 20 October, thousands of  people (it is estimated at about 100,000) took to the streets of London (and Glasgow and Belfast) to protest against the policies of the ConDem government, which attack the most vulnerable in society, while doing nothing to restrain the greed of the bankers and the rich.

 Here are some images from the march. This is my favourite, for wit, design and charm.

Here are some images of Green Left, the group I am proud to belong to. (I'm the one in the red beret! 2nd photo)

Promoting our new journal! On-line edition here - The Ecosocialist

This is the banner of the  William Morris Society  - had I not been helping on the Green Party stall, I would have loved to march with my friends from the Society!!

     Activists from  Disabled People Against Cuts  blocked the road in Park Lane for about an hour.

And some more images from the march, showing the participation of Coalition Of Resistance , UnisonUSDAWFriends of the Earth, and - wonderfully for me - The William Morris Society (see above!)

Monday, 8 October 2012

DIE WALKEURE at Royal Opera House, 4 Oct 2012

Richard Wagner: DIE WALKUERE

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 4 October 2012


SIEGMUND                                                     Simon O'Neill
SIEGLINDE                                                     Eva-Maria Westbroek
HUNDING                                                        John Tomlinson

WOTAN                                                           Bryn Terfel
FRICKA                                                            Sarah Connolly      
BRUNNHILDE                                                 Susan Bullock                  


GERHILDE                                                       Alwyn Mellor
ORTLINDE                                                       Katherine Broderick
WALTRAUTE                                                   Karen Cargill
SCHWERTLEITE                                             Anna Burford
HELMWIGE                                                     Elisabeth Meister
SIEGRUNE                                                       Sarah Castle
GRIMGERDE                                                    Clare Shearer
ROSSWEISE                                                     Madeleine Shaw

Orchestra of the Royal Opera
Conductor:                                                              Sir Antonio Pappano

The beautiful, chamber-music like leitmotifs characterising  the Volsung twins can scarcely every have been performed better than by the ROH orchestra under Sir Antonio Pappano last night - such a subtle, nuanced performance, telling the story in the orchestra as it unfolds in Siegmund's narratiion. Simon O'Neill as Siegmund was a bit feeble - seemed to be struggling throughout, unfortunately, but the Sieglinde - Eva-Maria Westbroek brought intensity and clarity to the role.

John Tomlinson was a suitable dark-toned, threatening Hunding - I loved the way that, on his first entrance, he kissed Sieglinde roughly, but not omitting to pull her hair! (Emphasising the point that 'Dies Haus und dies Weib sind Hundings eigen).

I am not enthusiastic about the actual production, but there is a marvellous moment during 'Winterstuerme' when a shower of rose petals fall round Sieglinde as she is standing on the platform. (Can't find an image of this, unfortunately).

The Brunnhilde is Susan Bullock, who made a good start with her bright Ho-jo-to-ho. She has a bright, shining soprano voice, without a hint of shrillness, and expressing great tenderness as she urges Wotan to confide in her.

Fricka is sung by Sarah Connolly - one of the best Frickas I have ever seen!! Regal and authoritative in appearance, (beautiful dress, BTW!) and the lovely mezzo voice and intelligent characterisation enabling us to sympathise with Fricka's argument - we realise that an eternity of being married to Wotan cannot have been easy!

The confrontation with Wotan is very well staged and acted, they still touch and embrace, but when Wotan kisses her hand after he growls at her 'Nimm den Eid', it is more a gesture of irony than submission.

Bryn Terfel as Wotan attempts to regain his authority after the confrontation with Fricka, during his Narration, ostensibly to Brunnhilde, but really thinking aloud, trying to reach a conclusion - but ends up, of course, just shouting contradictory orders at Brunnhilde.  The Todesverkuendigung was as heartbreaking as ever, rising to a pitch of almost unbearable tension as Siegmund asks 'Begleitet den Bruder die braeutliche Schwester? Umfaengt Siegmund Sieglinde dort?' - and then the tension is broken by Brunnhilde's calm reply - no, Sieglinde has to stay on earth. 

The Ride of the Valkyries was performed with great gusto, but in fact I prefer the quieter, more reflective orchestral sounds of Act 1, as I already indicated. I do not like the staging - what is the POINT of the horses' skulls - please!!

 Here are three of the Valkyries without the horses' skulls;

The scene between Sieglinde and Brunnhilde was very well done, culminating in Sieglinde's soaring, ecstatic 'O hehrstes Wunder!'

And then - and then - ah, Wotan's Farewell brought tears to my eyes, as he plumbs the depths of misery and despair. My only problem is that, midway through this, he bestows a rather unpaternal kiss upon her - I think their relationship is complicated enough without that, but - since he knows he is NEVER going to see her again, perhaps it is understandable??? (Doubtful!)

The production has a LOT of room for improvement, but cannot fault the performance - Antonio Pappano has assembled a wonderful team. It is also good to see how well and naturally they interact on stage.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

DAS RHEINGOLD at Royal Opera House, 2 Oct 2012

Richard Wagner; DAS RHEINGOLD

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 2 October 2012



WOGLINDE                                                           Nadine Livingston
WELLGUNDE                                                       Kai Rúútel
FLOSSHILDE                                                        Harriet Williams

ALBERICH                                                             Wolfgang Koch

WOTAN                                                                  Bryn Terfel
FRICKA                                                                 Sarah Connolly

FREIA                                                                     Ann Petersen
FROH                                                                     Andrew Rees
DONNER                                                               Peter Coleman-Wright 
LOGE                                                                     Stig Andersen    

MIME                                                                      Gerhard Siegel

ERDA                                                                      Maria Radner

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House


Director:                                  KEITH WARNER
Associate Director:              WALTER SUTCLIFFE
First Assistant Directors:    JUSTIN WAY and MICHAEL CSAR

A very good start to the second Ring Cycle. The house lights dimmed, and the E flat chord sounded from the darkness - I love the fact the opera starts as it were 'from nothing', without the conductor coming on to the poduim - Pappano waits for the applause till the end - and fully deserved the enthusiastic applause that greeted him! He led a wonderful team, the orchestra at the peak of its form, Pappano always managed to 'get under the skin' of Wagner's music and reach into the nuances of the score - I especially loved the transitions from the mysterious depths of the Rhine to the ethearal heights of Valhalla, the music really shimmered! (Valhalla didn't LOOK very ethereal, but I'll get to that!!)
The Wotan of Bryn Terfel was well matched with Wolfganf Koch's Alberich, the two arch-rivals ALMOST equal in stature, although Wotan seems to have won - for the moment.....but an interesting note was added at the end, when he decides NOT to lead the others into Valhalla, but instead.....descends into the bowels of the Earth to consult Erda. (Not sure who on the production team made this decision - it's perhaps a bit premature? ) Here are Wotan and Alberich literally head-to-head!!

At the beginning, before Alberich steals the gold, he seems almost tentative, but grows in power and malevolence in the Nibelheim scene; Mime (Gerhard Siegel) is almost his match in malevolence, but lacks the tragic grandeur that makes Alberich a distant cousin of Milton's Satan.

Stig Andersen as Loge sang well but perhaps didn't quite embody Loge's tricksy, ironic wit as much as one could have wished - he wasn't bad, but there seemed to be something lacking- perhaps he just needs. I found Sarah Connolly a wonderful Fricka - beautiful mezzo sound, and also intelligent characterisation; in Rheingold, she and Wotan are still not completely at odds, although obviously all is not well, ut she still hopes at this stage that she hasn't completely lost him. She and Freia are wearing very elegant Edwardian tea-gowns.

I will say a few words about the staging, starting with Fricka's costume! It lends itself to an interesting piece of stage business - Fasolt at one point goes to sit in a chair - and Fricka realises, with horror, that she has LEFT HER OVERDRESS ON IT - and the dirty PLEB is GOING TO SIT ON IT!!! She retrieves it as hastily as possible....the giants are characterised differently, with Fasolt (Iain Paterson) as the worker, in a cloth cap and working clothes, and Fafner (Eric Halvarson) as the Victorian capitalist in a top hat - when he removes the top hat, we see that his head is huge, building up almost to a point at the top.
Not all the production/staging is wonderful - the theft of the gold in particular seemed a bit perfunctory - indeed, since it is all well-expressed in the music, perhaps this didn't matter so much, but then in that case......why not do a concert performance?!!!

One piece of stagecraft which I absolutely loved was the transformation from the Rhine to Valhalla - as I said, musically this was very well done, and also deftly accomplished on the stage - the projections of a green 'net' that represents the Rhine are transformed into a spinning globe with Mercator projections, and you can see the continents and oceans being formed out of Pangaea - spectacular!!

The Tarnhelm is a giant Rubik's Cub - leads to some quite good visual gags in DAS RHEINGOLD, but leads to a spectacular failure in GOETTERDAMMERUNG - but I won't anticipate!

Musically a triumph - visually it had its good moments, but the overall impression was that the production could have been better!

And now for DIE WALKUERE!!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Europe Against Austerity - March and Conference

Europe Against Austerity Action Conference | October 21

By Coalition of Resistance

Come to London:
Join the TUC demonstration on 

Saturday 20 October and the

 Europe Against Austerity Action Conference on

 Sunday 21 October

On Saturday October 20th the British Trades Union Congress is holding a
 march against austerity ‘For a future that works’. Hundreds of thousands of
 peoplewill take to the streets of London to oppose the cuts being forced upon
The Coalition of Resistance will be at the heart of this demonstration with its
message of ‘No Cuts’. The participation of delegations from across Europe will
 hugely strengthen the significance of what will be a massive mobilisation.
In 2011 our organisation initiated the Europe Against Austerity conference
 which issued a call for joint action against austerity throughout Europe.
 More than 600 people attended the conference in October 2011,
 with 150 coming from other parts of Europe. Since that conference
 we have seen big struggles in Greece where there have been many
days of general strike action and in Spain where the Asturian miners
have inspired the support of millions throughout Europe.
The nature of the onslaught on the peoples of Europe means
 that such actions will continue and escalate.
 Further solidarity work and coordination is now urgently needed.
We appeal for anti-austerity organisations throughout Europe to come to
 London on 20th and 21st October to participate both in the London
demonstration  and to meet the following day to discuss common action to
turn back the tide of austerity. We must build co-ordinated action to enable
victories against a common enemy.
We are already receiving pledges of support for these events,
 from OLME and Syriza in Greece, from trade unions and anti-austerity groups in
France, Belgium and Spain, and from the European Left Party Executive.
Please help us build on this by joining us in London in October –
 to show that the strength of the European working class movement is in its
 unity and solidarity.
Let’s make October 20/21 the next step in our common struggle
 against austerity.
The TUC demonstration will assemble outside the Embankment
 Underground station on Saturday 20 October.
The Europe Against Austerity conference will take place from 
11am till 4:30pm on Sunday 21st October in the head office of the 
UNITE trade-union, 
128 Theobald’s Road, London WC1X 8TN, near Holborn underground station.

The proposed agenda is as follows:
11am – 12pm: Breakfast
12 – 1pm: Eurocrisis – Into the abyss?
1.15pm – 2.45pm: The shape of the resistance
3-4:30pm: Actions, co-operation and the timeline to the

 Athens 2013 Alter-Summit.
A more detailed agenda with the list of speakers will be circulated.
Please let us know if you require accommodation and if you will be attending one or both events.

Andrew Burgin
International Officer, Coalition of Resistance