Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Pre-Season Training

Roy Keane and Richard Wagner – two names I doubted I'd ever be writing in the same sentence, but then again who would have thought that the following combo of words would have ever graced your eyeballs – "Katie Price, best-selling author of… "

But back to Keano and Wagno. In his biography the current manager of Ipswich Town came up with one of those motivational sport phrases that normally include the words burn / pain / sacrifice – but in this instance involved nothing that suggested you were about to eat one of my culinary experiments. Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail were the words of wisdom that Keano bestowed upon our unworthy heads. I'm not suggesting that anyone going to see DMvN (to Calvin Klein the coming shebang) needs to undertake a month long boot camp into the world of Wagner's eighth published opera to enjoy it, but a little knowledge can make the experience that bit more pleasurable. Or at least it does for me. Before anyone utters the words anorak / geek / obsessive let me tell you a brief story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin…

Once upon a time there was a prince, with the most wondrous head of hair, who liked to go to the opera. He liked it so much that when he went on his travels to foreign lands he would visit opera houses there as well. Thinking that he was possessed of immaculate linguistic skills the prince, with the silkiest golden locks the world has ever seen, decided that he didn't need to listen to Handel's Xerxes before a trip to Budapest and on a balmy May evening up went the curtain and so began several hours of enjoyable music making, exquisite singing and fantastically kitsch sets that were enjoyed by all. Except the dunderhead from Wales who hadn't thought of the recitatives being spoken in Hungarian and that his Italian, while okay for asking how much a pair of flip-flops cost, was restricted to goldfish memory sized chunks of usefulness – amore…mio…amore…mio…amore……mio.

I know that there'll be surtitles in English, Welsh and thankfully not Hungarian at the Armadillo but there's no mistaking the added enjoyment you can get if you're familiar with the characters and plot in advance. Also what would happen if a squirrel gnawed through the electric wiring running to the surtitles screen eh? Huh. Hadn't thought of that had you?

With this in mind I'm beginning my Keano Anti Failure Preparation Tasks ™ with the first hurdle – DVD or CD? Which is the best for that first close encounter? The benefits of DVD are obvious – the opera played out on your telly with usually excellent casts. You sit back and enjoy with wine, chocolates or fish fingers. CD gives you the opera for your ears with top-notch casts, and the words if you're lucky. You become glued to the libretto, wondering why Eva has suddenly developed into an unusually deep soprano, tip your wine and burn your fish fingers. Is one better than the other? It depends on what you want. If you're after the opera without the drudgery of hard work go for DVD. If you want to know what's being sung from the first, hundredth and final lines go for CD. This highlighted run of words will give you an idea of what's on offer at Amazon – including a very reasonably priced Met production on DVD.

Which did I choose? Call me geek. I went for CD. Unknowingly without the libretto, which meant that while I'm appreciative of Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues video, I decided to fork out for this libretto instead of producing yet another breeze blocked sized lump of A4 pages. This was the CD I ended up choosing for a few reasons. Reason #1 Among the cast were Gwyneth Jones and Kurt Moll, both were judges at last year's Cardiff Singer of the World and being the sentimental haircut that I am now and then I fell for it. Reason #35b As I'm as likely to get a ticket to the Bayreuth Festival as I am to swim the river Ogmore with a hydrophobic penguin strapped to my back I thought I'd listen to something with a touch of authenticity to it. Reason #96 was the most persuasive of all – it was ridiculously cheap when I bought it. You can call me Scrooge, I won't mind.

There now follows a critical appreciation of the first act…

Don't worry, I won't go down that road – Budapest is still fresh in my mind.

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