Thursday, 23 December 2010

In Praise of Sherry

From the Mince Pie Club, yes, the Mince Pie Club.

Ah well, it’s that time of the year when I break out the good shampoo and conditioner in readiness for a season of being merry. I’ve been scratching my head in ponderation of what to bring you by ways of Christmas greetings and, after battling over the merits of numerous composers, singers, and productions, I decided to play it safe by insulting Wagnerians, Verdarians, Puccinarians and Mozarians everywhere by going with something completely different. But if you are looking for a seasonal bit of unpublicised opera related broadcast fare (a sentence as thick as my mince pies) – then S4C are showing Nadolig Bryn Terfel (Bryn Terfel’s Christmas) on Christmas Eve at 9.00pm, with a repeat showing on Boxing Day at 10.35pm.

Trying not to don a schmaltzy tone of scribbling I’ll move on to my gift, from me, to you, dear readers. I believe that music is a universal language, one that can unite people from different backgrounds, cultures, religious beliefs, or no beliefs like no other thing on this planet. As I sit in my armchair, the open fire basking me in its warm warmth, I take a sip of sherry and wonder what it is I want to say next. After a few seconds I remember, then wonder where my sense of tense has gone. Maybe it’s the rereading of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler that is playing tricks with me, or more likely it’s the afternoon I spent preparing sherry trifles with a bottle of sherry and no trifles. But I digress.

He may never win the Leeds International Piano Competition, and chances are that he’ll have failed to make it past the audition stages for BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011, but Bruce Springsteen gives you, and I, the generous gift of music with Thunder Road.

Pass the schmaltz jar, I’ve got a few quid to add.

Wherever you are reading this, be it West, East, North, South or Mid Earth I wish you all a Nadolig Llawen – Merry Christmas – Happy Holidays – Happy Holidays to Come in the Next Few Months!

Monday, 20 December 2010

It’s Ungreased Lightning!


Before you decide to make an inspired commentary on the decay of technology by letting the grass grow over your unwanted vehicles (i.e. do a Paul Calf with your bangers and carras and leave them to rust in a neighbour's garden) you may like to take up WNO’s offer of taking them permanently off your hands.

The company are looking for a caravan, pick up truck, estate car and a hatchback all dating from the late 80s or early 90s to use in one of their new productions. A word of warning – if you are Paul Calf thinking that you could make a few quid by borrowing a neighbour’s car without permission you’ll be put off by the fact that WNO are looking towards the kindness of strangers for free vehicular donations.

Engines, MOTs and fluffy dice aren’t required. For further information say Ford Capri and click on me.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

ACW Increases WNO's Funding


News has finally reached the salon of WNO’s funding from the Arts Council of Wales (ACW). Bucking the recent trend of gloomy financial news WNO have seen their funding increased by £250,000 to the tune of £4.7 million for the period 2011 - 2012. However, in real terms the increase from ACW only claws back half of the £500,000 drop in funding from Arts Council England (ACE) for the same period, but in the current environment beggars can’t be choosers. In reality there was little doubt ACW would pull the rug from under its marquee Revenue Funded Organisation (RFO), but all the same, it’s very welcome news for the company.

Of course, with WNO’s increased funding comes the realisation that many arts groups who are as important to people around Wales as WNO is to this head of hair have suffered cuts and, in numerous cases, have had their funding withdrawn. It goes without saying that my hair finds this very upsetting but it wants to point out that WNO haven’t been the sole beneficiaries of ACW’s enforced approach to funding, with many organisations seeing significant increases in their budgets.

Attention now switches to ACE and their funding decisions for the years covering 2012-2015 in spring of next year. In the words of Alex Ferguson, that will be the true squeaky bum time. ACE is WNO’s biggest backer due to the company’s significant presence within various English regions, stretching from the south coast of England to the North West, taking in seven towns and cities, more than double the amount that WNO tours to in Wales.

Read more at Wales Online, BBC and Wales Online (again).

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

WNO's Digital Advent Calendar

Sketch by Jane Webster, taken from WNO

The countdown for the big day has already begun*, and WNO are joining in the festive fun with their own digital advent calendar. Despite lacking in chocolate goodness the gifts have been varied and enjoyable. Apart from downloading the Meistersingertastic Jane Webster desktop / iPhone wallpaper sketch you can also...make a paper WNO snowman to hang on your tree, try your hand out at being a quizmaster or simply watch an interview with Die Fledermaus costume designer Deirdre Clancy. An up to date list of the digital gifts can be found here, and with regular offerings who knows what will appear next? Now if only they could have an in-depth interview with their resident hair stylist...

*Despite the quite excusable words leaving your lips the big day I refer to is, in fact, Christmas Day, not my appearance as Principal Speaker at The Healthy Hair Conference 2011 taking place in Paris in January (tickets are still available from all good ticket outlets).

Friday, 10 December 2010

Chorus blimey guv!


I was introduced to Handel’s Messiah many years ago by my primary school teacher who took pleasure in scaring the living daylights out of his pupils by playing the Hallelujah! chorus without warning like a Ninja DJ. Apart from imparting catlike reflexes into my evolving DNA my teacher also left me with a distinct antipathy towards the piece. I think you would too if you had stapled your finger out of fright. But I’m not one to hold grudges (often) and so this Sunday evening I’m passing up my usual Serie A match and travelling to meet the old foe when it's performed by the Orchestra and Chorus of WNO, conducted by Lothar Koenigs (with soloists Laura Mitchell, Patricia Bardon, Robin Tritschler and Darren Jeffrey) at St David’s Hall.

Of course, there are those who have had a less complicated, metallic relationship with the piece, and it’s to them I now address this second paragraph. If you’ve always fancied having a crack at a chorus from The Music That Caused Fright there’s an opportunity for you to do just that on the afternoon of the concert. From 3pm to 5pm WNO are running a Messiah choral workshop for singers of all abilities – from the tuneless to the tuneful. The crescendo of the afternoon’s labours will be a performance at 6.45pm. All they ask is that you possess a ticket for that evening’s concert, have music in your heart and that you call 029 2063 5030 to sign up. But as I’ve posted this so late on a Friday afternoon I’m not sure if anyone will be around to answer the phone. If there is no-one about I’d think the lads and lasses at St David’s Hall might be able to sort something out for you if you got in touch with them.

And in case you're wondering, there are tickets left.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Met Broadcasts at Cineworld Cardiff - As Long As You Use Them

Anna Netrebko spots my golden locks

Taking a brief break from WNO news I thought people in the Cardiff area would be interested to know that the Met Live in HD Broadcast screenings are once again up and running at Cineworld Cardiff. Anyone who has experienced the screenings will know that they are worth the (admittedly hefty) fee of £15 for adults and £12 for seniors, children and students.

Of course, Cineworld Cardiff will only continue to show the Met broadcasts as long as there are people willing to see them, and unlike other Cineworld Venues that have the whole season available for booking, Cineworld Cardiff appears to be broadcasting on a week-by-week basis. So if you can, grab a bag of popcorn and pop along to keep the broadcasts running – it would be pretty embarrassing if the home city of WNO couldn’t keep hold of their Met broadcasts.

This week’s live broadcast from The Metropolitan Opera House in New York (always wanted to say that) is Verdi’s Don Carlo. Playing in the Italian version I can vouch for Nicholas Hytner’s production being worth the trip out having seen it at the ROH. The cast is remarkably similar to the ROH one with star turns from Marina Poplavskaya (Elisabetta), Ferruccio Furlanetto (Philip II) and WNO’s recent Rigoletto Simon Keenlyside playing Rodrigo. Changes from the ROH cast include Roberto Alagna as Don Carlo, Anna Smirnova (Eboli) and Eric Halvarson (Il Grande Inquisitorrrrrrr). Doors open at 5.00pm.

A taster of what's to come. In Estonian.

Future highlights (for my hair) include the broadcasts of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor with Natalie Dessay and Joseph Calleja (19th of March 2011), Rossini’s Le Comte Ory with Diana Damrau, Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez (9th of April 2011), and a season ending spectacular Wagner’s Die Walküre with Bryn Terfel, Deborah Voigt, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Stephanie Blythe, Hans-Peter König and Jonas Kaufmann (14th of May).

You can find the remainder of the Met Live in HD Broadcast schedule here.

A list of all UK cinemas showing the broadcasts here.

And Met Broadcasts in WNO touring regions below.

(To be on the safe side I suggest you check times and availability with your local cinema)

Milford Haven

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Cheese on Toast Donates Money to WNO

Cheese on toast, the green stuff.

Fundraising can be tricky at the best of times, at the not so best of times it becomes tricky to the power of 5,098,456. Plus infinity. I could offer a Dodgeballesque car washing service all winter long (depending on the state of my knees and frostbite) but I doubt I would raise little more than £2.89 for WNO after deducting tax and the cost of hiring a bucket and sponge, and kitchen foil. Fortunately for WNO they have people who know how to raise some coin, cash, dosh, moolah in ways that avoid rabies shots or developing a case of housemaid’s knee, wicketkeeper’s knee, superglued to the floor by your knees knee...

So what are these ideas? And are they painless to your wallet and knees?

First up there’s By following the preceding link and this mention of cheese on toast you will be taken to that gathers the results of Yahoo! Bing and searches that will, well, I’ll let them tell you what happens:

“Use easysearch every time you search the Web and we'll give 50% of the fees paid by our advertising sponsors to Welsh National Opera.

Use easysearch instead of Google or any other search engine and you can make a real difference to Welsh National Opera. By making just 10 searches a day with easysearch, you can raise around £20 a year.”

£20 may not sound like much, but depending on the numbers that use it you never know. Anyway, it’s now Hairman’s Preferred Search Engine. To use it all you have to do is either set it up as your homepage or bookmark it.

The second way for you to donate money without actually donating money is by shopping online through Again cheese on toast will take you to a website where, after registering, you will find that your purchases will include a kickback from the sale towards WNO. Again I’ll let the professionals explain:

There’s a comprehensive list of retailers on the site (including Amazon, HMV, iTunes, LOVEFilm), but I’d like to point your way towards Crotchet Classical (I can't hyperlink to pages without signing in I'm afraid), an independent classical retailer, who offer a whopping 5% donation.

As with this will only work if people act together – so why not mention it to your family, friends or even complete strangers who like cheese on toast. But you have to remember that for your purchases to count towards WNO you need to log in every time and follow the links to the retailers on otherwise your purchases will not count towards WNO.

Happy surfing and shopping!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

We're checking our lists...

Erm, forgot where I nabbed the photo from...

If George Clooney ever gave up his day job selling coffee his next move would undoubtedly be into retailing opera companies, and where else would he be more at home than with WNO? I can see him in the twinkle of my eye walking through the doors of the WMC to the tune of La donna è mobile*, suited and booted, dancing a smile as he elegantly climbs the stairs, fending off throngs of worshippers.

But until George follows his destiny and glides along to The Armadillo on the Bay it falls to me, a man with hair, to try and fill his mighty shoes. Unlike George, I haven’t got John Malkovich to back me up, but you never know – he was once spotted on the streets of Cardiff drumming up custom for his hotel. True story. But until George, and John, both show up it falls to me, a man with yada-yada-yada...

So what am I selling today? Technically speaking I am not selling products. My role, as George would undoubtedly agree with me, is as more of a pointing man. I point towards places. This is trickier than you may think, and only after I attended a rigorous Tuesday afternoon pointing seminar was I allowed to go forth and pointify.

The pointing, of course, is mainly with a WNO finger, and in the spirit of the coming season I’ll be Ebeneezering it a little. Now rattle the change in your pocket, we’re going back to the past, which was the future at some time so feel free to hum a bit of Huey Lewis and the News.

Still with me? Good. Switch off the flux capacitor; it tends to overheat even in the coldest weather. We should have landed in the early nineties close to the time of WNO’s Pelléas et Mélisande. This beguiling bit of Debussy will be hitting the Barbican next year with Simon Keenlyside and Natalie Dessay, and if you’ve bought a ticket you might like to refresh your memory of the work with WNO’s hugely successful production that had my Gallic frères and sœurs in egalite ecstasy. Helming the musicals was Pierre Boulez and taking charge of the visuals was Peter Stein. Luckily someone had the idea to film it so you can take a gander at the production that had baguettes wilting in adoration when the production was toured to France. I shall now apologise for lame stereotyping. If it’s any consolation I like leek soup. I often sing for no reason, and one of my grandfathers was a miner.

Sadly 2010 saw too many WNO departures from our blue marvel of a planet, including chorus mezzo Anne Morgan, whom I assume would have sung under the direction of another profound loss, Sir Charles Mackerras, the former Music Director of WNO. He made many recordings with the company, among them Jenufa for the Chandos label. I know it’s not sung in the original language, but sometimes I hang my foibles on the salon coat hanger and take in a different view of the world once in a while.

The holy grail of any opera company is surely the next generation. Yet neither Monty Python, nor Star Trek, ever succeeded in going where no man, woman or flying livestock has gone before - getting kids / young adults interested in opera. Now I can’t guarantee that Operavox (starring WNO and a raft of animators) will spark a lifelong love of opera in anyone who thinks nineteen is old, twenty-one getting on in years, thirty ancient, and forty and above truly historic, but it might be a better way of introducing them to opera than tying them to a chair on Christmas Day and acting out Wagner’s Das Rheingold dressed in a rented He-Man costume and wielding a rusty hoe. The DVD is made of six thirty-minute abridged versions of well known operas including Carmen, The Magic Flute and, of course, Das Rheingold. By the power of animation!

Oi! Leave Tiny Tim’s cake alone, next we have a date with James MacMillan’s The Sacrifice. It’s not often I can say I was at the World Premiere of anything, let alone an opera, but I was there in 2007 when the curtain went up and down for the very first time on the WNO commissioned opera. Hand on heart I have to say I wasn’t taken with the piece first time around, despite some sterling performances from Christopher Purves and Lisa Milne on the night. In the intervening years my opera going has grown at the same rate as my hair and having coughed up the dough I returned for some more sir, despite my reservations, and I’m glad that I did. It’s still a challenging piece, and you won’t be humming merrily along (I still cringe at the electric guitar bit) but if you like your plots turbulent, and your music atmospheric, then you’ll feel at home with this.

Next up is Bryn Terfel with his new CD, Carols & Christmas Songs. His backing band are the Orchestra of WNO, hence the inclusion on this list. An interesting side note is that the CD – a bilingual affair with English and Welsh versions of some of the same songs – was recorded at BBC Hoddinott Hall in the days following the end of the Meistersinger run. Not sure about the cover though – is it Brie or Gorgonzola?

The penultimate goody on offer is a book celebrating WNO’s 60th anniversary, which came out a few years ago. Full of production photos and reminiscences from WNO staff it’s the kind of book you delve into and go, Ooh – I hope they do that again soon. On an informative tangent those of you who listened to the recent BBC Radio 3 Ariadne broadcast and were trying to imagine the end of the production you can glimpse it on the front cover of the book. Prices vary, and if you’re strapped for cash I suggest heading towards Amazon’s independent sellers, who have taken a significant chunk off the rrp.

And what’s the final object of my pointing? Well, it’s not exactly WNO, but they’ll be appearing during the event next year. It’s the 20th anniversary DVD celebration of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World. Although it was released close to ten years ago, and misses a few of the recent winners, it’s an interesting testament not only to the competition, but also to fashion – ever wondered what Elaine Padmore was wearing in 1983? You get to see the winning performances of each competition, in addition to the Lieder prize winners, strutting their stuffs. In addition to the performances there’s a finely crafted documentary with contributions from the likes of Karita Mattila, Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Bryn Terfel that should get you excited for next year’s event.

And there you are. A small selection of WNO orientated Christmas gifts you may like to buy for a loved one, yourself or for someone you don’t like in the hope that they throw the present back at you. Better use bubble wrap if you’re going for the third option in case you’re near a pavement, a clogged roadside drain or if you have the reactions of an inebriated turtle.

If WNO isn’t your thing perhaps you’d like to invest in a gift starring your local opera company – I’m sure they’d appreciate your attention, and in turn you can appreciate their hard work. And in the same spirit of spreading the love if Amazon are getting too big for your liking Hairman’s Favoured Sellers are Presto Classical, MDT and Europadisc. Adding a bit more mistletoe to this post I thought you’d like to check out the last posting dates involving the wee chappies and chappesses of Royal Mail.

* We all know Gorgeous George is far nicer than Il Duca, and he’ll have better hair as well, so maybe I should have chosen something more fitting for his character. Any ideas?