The Merry Widow

This was delightful and thoroughly enjoyable. I knew little about it before I went (apart from hats) but guessed there would be echoes of Dad’s LPs of Richard Tauber. And, yes, there were.

It wasn’t quite as frothy as I had expected: there was real sadness in some of the music. But is there anything more fun than “Cherchez la femme”? I have no idea how much the libretto follows the original, but this English version (Kit Hesketh-Harvey) was very witty.

  • Hanna – Katie Bird
  • Danilo – Quirijn de Lang
  • Baron Zeta – Geoffrey Dolton
  • Valencienne – Gillene Butterfield
  • Director – Giles Havergal
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A day in Manchester

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Chetham’s Library, founded 1653 and housed in a fifteenth-century building 

An interesting guided tour of Chetham’s Library, which made me revise my view of Manchester as a Victorian city. Books – then costly objects – were originally chained to their shelves; you sat at the table to read them.

In the reading room is a square alcove where Marx and Engels used to sit and study in 1845. There was a list of the books they consulted: they were reading books published 50 or even 150 years earlier for historical background, with only “The Literature of Political Economy” by John Ramsay McCulloch a contemporary work.

Then a look at Manchester art gallery and coffee at the Whitworth. I find to hard to care for its exhibitions, but I don’t really try. Racist wallpaper . . . really? But, yes, when you look at what had been produced I could see the point and I did experience a slight mental realignment.

But I really went for the wonderful café (the coffee wasn’t much).

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Tosca

To the Lowry for the Opera North production. It was brilliant all round. What more can I say?

It was interesting to compare the staging with the only other version I’ve seen – in Hannover, where it was set in a Nazi/Stasi/Mussolini-type police state, and the final two acts were run together in an elaborate two-storey office/dungeon set. The Opera North version was also in modern dress but – as a touring production – more modestly staged, with the Pantheon-style dome and oculus turning on their side for the final act. The action was performed under the painting of Madonna that Cavaradossi was working in – initially eyeless, but later complete, giving a particular poignancy to Tosca’s Vissi d’arte (which is pretty Beckettian anyway when you analyse it). The production emphasised support given to Scarpia and the regime he represented by church and families.

  • Tosca – Giselle Allen
  • Cavaradossi – Rafael Rojas
  • Scarpia – Robert Hayward

(The Merry Widow tonight –  that’s bound to be a bit different!)

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From the sixteenth floor

69B7B8E8-A29C-4B66-9E91-50C67D1DBA21From the sixteenth floor, the football match below resembles Subbuteo.

The view also demonstrates how Manchester is turning into a mess of tall towers; they spring up randomly so don’t create an impressive silhouette like Frankfurt.  Each time I come in by train I notice more blocks; I feel like turning to my neighbour and saying in a quavering voice, “I remember when all this was factories”.

While I’m moaning, I may as well regret that my train no longer stops at Oxford Road, so I have to alight at Piccadilly. If there’s is a more depressing walk between railway station and city centre, I’ve yet to find it. (Yes, I know. There but for the grace of God . . .”)

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Plastics

An interesting article in The Guardian yesterday about plastics – how they are made, the history of their production and use, and the current “backlash” (drinking straws! Can’t we be a bit more ambitious than that?) against their ubiquity.

Little of it was new to me, except for two interesting bits: firstly, in 1970 President Nixon lamented their increasing use for packaging (Nixon, for heaven’s sake; we really have fallen when he appears as the voice of sanity), and the plastics industry bit back with fierce lobbying; and, secondly, this from economist Victor Lebow in 1955:

Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life. . . . We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing pace.

This has been the background to my whole life and I am part of it. It’s not just the industry lobbyists and the marketing people who should be held to account; it’s also the little people like me.

(I did ask for no drinking straws in my orange juice in Greece last month. #Making a difference . . . not.)

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Leighton Moss again

A beautiful morning, so I went to Leighton Moss early in the hope of seeing bearded tits. I think this is the first time I have had a purpose in visiting Leighton Moss (beyond the usual one of having a vegetarian sausage bun and seeing if they have any of that nice marble cake, I mean). I was lucky (about the bearded tits, not the marble cake): I saw two of them on the grit trays. As I walked away I realised that I had spent an hour and a quarter waiting to see them!

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I was also lucky enough to get a good view of an otter and a pair of marsh harriers. It doesn’t really matter to me what I see: just walking around the reserve and looking at the shapes of the trees and the colour of the leaves and mosses is pleasure enough.

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But seeing an otter as well is really nice.

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Leighton Moss today

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It’s been a proper November day – chilly and damp, but still with enough leaves on the trees to give an orange blush to the gloom.

It’s been so long since I last visited that I had difficulty remembering the names of some of the birds. “White breast . . . shell-something . . . shelduck! . . . no, shoveller. . . where’s its bill?” And I was completely flummoxed by the decoy terns: “Are they . . . aren’t they . . ?”

I eventually recognised teal, gadwall, pintails, little egret, marsh harrier, cormorants . . . the usual. And, as usual, I spent quite a lot of time trying to spot the singing or moving object in a tree or amongst the reeds only to discover that it was a robin or a dunnock. Robins and dunnocks I can find at home.

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However, one thing I’ve never seen before: a stationary marsh harrier:

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Back home, the beech hedge was alive with chattering sparrows.

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