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Posts Tagged 'The Magic Flute at ENO'

Nice ways to spend Valentine’s Day or, things I’ll probably only ever be able to pull off once, part V

magic-flute-ticket1Word to the wise: programs are £4 apiece at ENO, and cash only.

Thus it was that all I had for Emily to sign at the end of the evening was my considerably-large ticket stub.

Thus it was, too, that I kept thinking to myself throughout the production, “Man, I wonder who that Sarastro is? It sounds a lot like Robert Lloyd,” and had to ask Emily afterward, “Who was Sarastro?”

“Robert Lloyd,” she answered.

“Oh. Well, that explains everything.”

Flute was, well, Flute. I’ve seen it probably more than any other opera, and as a piece of theatre, it just doesn’t wear terribly well for me. The dramatic impetus is silly, the reversal in terms of who the bad guys are is extraordinarily abstract, and the more people try to explain how deep it actually is the more it sounds like Wolfie and Manny just pouring a bunch of pretentious nonsense onto the page. I’ve never seen a great staging of it; because it is so ridiculous, there’s not really staging so much as there is performers moving around whatever the director’s concept is. This concept involved Tamino fighting off a bear attack with the flute.

Let me say that again: there was a bear attack, which Tamino fought off with the flute.

As Frank put it, “I was not prepared for the bear attack.”

That said, as a piece of music, it is incontrovertibly wonderful. When it’s well-sung, you don’t worry too much about the ridiculousness, and luckily, this production was well-sung. It was a reasonably young cast, save for Lloyd, and everybody brought a lot of energy and musicality to the table. Emily held her own very well and sounded like a million bucks; she has always been a perfectionist in the five years I’ve known her, so I expected no less. Her overall approach struck me as being very similar to that of Kurt Streit‘s; there’s a very similar slender, shimmery, laser-pointer-accurate approach that blossoms when she’s darn good and ready for it to blossom. Like Streit, it’s a bit early music-y in that regard, and it allows a lot of musical artistry to be displayed that might otherwise get lost in the blast of a vocal firehose.

Following the show, Megan, I, Frank, Emily, and Ayla, an old schoolfriend of hers, and her boyfriend went to a bar called The Marquis for a drink. (“I’d like a Booker’s Manhattan and some nachos.” “I’m sorry sir, but we aren’t serving cocktails or food any longer this evening.” “So what can I order?” “Beer.”) Just about the entire cast and the conductor were there, too. You know, in high school, we went to Denny’s after shows for coffee and cheesesticks. In Seattle, a place called McMenamin’s provided the post-performance libation and nourishment. It’s nice to know that, even amongst seasoned professionals at a very high professional level in a different country, the initial impulse after a performance is to go out and drink something bad for you.

Afterward, it was becoming imperative that we Feed the Megan, so there was a Parting of the Couples. Frank and Emily had an early morning trip to Scotland for an audition and also needed to eat something; we hugged goodbye, affirmed that we hoped it wouldn’t be three and a half years before we saw them again, and that was that. Thanks for making time to see us, guys — it was awesome.

We had a light dinner at a restaurant called Browns. Good pasta, good wine, decent service, not obnoxiously expensive. At the request of Megan’s father and mother-in-law, we toasted them in absentia; I managed to get the cuff of my brand new white shirt in the marinara sauce.

It was Valentine’s Day, we were together, we were in England, we had seen friends, we had seen one of those friends in an opera, and Megan had given me daisies.

Doesn’t get much better than that.

Then it was off to bed; we had to get up early to make it up to Oxford in the morning.

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Nice ways to spend Valentine’s Day or, things I’ll probably only ever be able to pull off once, part I

So, late last summer, my friend Emily Hindrichs told me she would be singing the Queen of the Night in English National Opera‘s winter production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. I checked airfares to London; they were prohibitive, to say the least.

Around the same time, I got bumped on a flight back from Seattle (to first class on a direct flight which got back to Indianapolis earlier — really tough break), and got a Northwest Airlines travel voucher in return.

In October, I became aware of the Royal Academy of Arts’ Byzantium exhibit. This plus Flute prompted me to check airfares again. They had come down quite a bit, and with the voucher, it was going to be significantly more doable. Valentine’s Day in London looked like a really nice plan. Better yet, I decided to make it a surprise. With all the unpleasantness surrounding the health of Megan’s father, it seemed like it would be fitting to do something big and crazy.

I booked the plane tickets and got opera tickets for Valentine’s Day. The snag was lodging; my friend with whom I had stayed before and who had extended a more-or-less open invitation wasn’t able to commit to being in town that weekend, and made it clear it would be better for me to make other arrangements. Inexpensive hotels in London were nowhere I particularly wanted to be and all sounded disgusting. Still, when I accepted that it was going to be more expensive than I had hoped, it got a lot easier. I found a hotel just off Trafalgar Square that wasn’t cheap, to say the least, but with a particular discount to which I had access, it was only an arm and some toes rather than the full-on leg. Next time we go, hopefully Egeria Orthodox Home Exchange will be up and running, but the Grand was within walking distance of ENO’s theatre and a Tube station, so I can’t complain too much.

Then it was just waiting to spring everything.

Last Wednesday (one week ago today, as it happens), Megan got a dozen roses delivered with a card that said, “You and Richard pack a carry-on suitcase each and be ready to leave at 9am Thursday morning. You’ll want:  – Walking clothes/shoes – Smth. nice to wear – Smth. for church – Reading material & laptop – iPod – Toiletries.  Be ready.” (I deliberately left off “passport” so as to give her as little information as possible.) My original plan had been to pack her suitcase suitcase myself and tell her maybe fifteen minutes before we were being picked up, but I decided at the last minute that I wasn’t brave enough to try to pack for five days for a woman. This was probably a very wise decision on my part.

Maintaining the subterfuge once the cards had been delivered was obviously highly superficial on my part, but it was very entertaining nonetheless. It was a lot of fun to watch my wife flit and fret about the house nervously saying, “Now, whoever sent those flowers didn’t say whether I’d need a parka or a bikini. Can you help at all there?” I could only smile and say, “Sorry, I’m just as in the dark as you are.” She would then groan and flit and fret some more; I quietly slipped both of our passports and UK power adapters into my shoulder bag.

At 8am the next morning, she asked, “So, what do you suppose we’re looking for at 9 o’clock, anyway?” I professed ignorance. “I really don’t know,” I said. “Could be a limousine, could be a helicopter, could be a flock of lambs.”

As it worked out, it was none of these, and our friend Laura Willms arrived at 8:50am. She helpfully said that “Guido” had told her she couldn’t tell us anything, that we just needed to get in the car. She dropped us off at the Indy airport an hour later, and told us that Guido said we were to check in at the Northwest ticket counter.

When the ticket kiosk showed “London/Heathrow” as our destination, I said, “Oh. Well, I guess it’s a good thing that I brought these,” and pulled out our passports. The look on her face was priceless.

More to come.


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