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?

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