In Which Wagner Plays Wembley and the Fat Lady Sings

Post 28

Someone once said Fat is a Four Letter Word. Not sure why, when or where but it probably wasn’t en route to the spelling bee. It may have been on the way back, suitably humiliated. Prat, Twat, Knob. These are words that utterly revel in the finest traditions of four letters and quite aptly describe any proponent of the aforementioned hypothesis.

Anyway, when Don ponders where any of this may be going, he may consider the common (as muck) usage of a Fat Lady Singing, as being the hi-jacking of a dubious operatic cliché; to mean something is drawing to a close. And my friends, when it comes to West Ham’s inaugural season at the Olympic/London/Mahindra/Vodafone/YourNameHere Stadium, the end can’t come soon enough.

FatLadySings-1.gif[credit and apologies to copyright owner]

Lets face it, it’s been a right royal fuck up of a season. From our Uefa Cup exit back when we were still nursing sunburn, through glorious four or five goal home defeats at the hands of clubs too numerous to mention, including Watford. Yes I said Watford for Pete’s sake. To a squad more depleted than a Corbyn shadow cabinet and above all, fondly remembered for a complete and utter absence of anyone capable of sticking the ball in the back of the fecking net. Don had to miss the Palace game which means for an entire season of home league games he never saw us win by anything other than 1-0. Just let the paucity of that statement sink in but not for too long or you may lose the will to live.

Talking of losing the will to live, Don has recently paid two visits to the opera house at Covent Garden. Don’t think we’re finished with West Ham, not by a long chalk but Don is all over the shop today; that’s the way he rolls.  Earlier this week a pretty creditable performance of Don Carlo; suitably dramatic and lovely music, though (and I may be a little biased) I swear there is more decent music in a single Act of Die Meistersinger than the whole of Don Carlo. That whole Verdi/Wagner thing. Lets not go there.

But it wasn’t life threatening. No, that was the week before at the performance of The Exterminating Angel. Based on the iconic Spanish film from the early 1960’s, the premise is intriguing. Dinner party guests at the end of the evening, find they can’t go home. No-one is obviously compelling them to stay but as much as they want to go, they somehow just don’t. Evening turns into night and then the following morning. Still there they are; and increasingly anxious about the situation, to boot. What is happening? We don’t know, they don’t know. Do we care? Well yes, I actually did.

It’s a new opera and conducted by the composer Thomas Adès. That’s exciting! When it becomes the next Tosca we were there when the composer conducted. Alas not. Don likes to think he is open to new, even strange ideas. He’s even grappled with Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica but he found this too much. Naturally when the material is a surrealist psychological drama which makes no sense, the music is not going to be all Mimi and Rodolfo but the dissonance and no doubt clever technical appreciation required, was way, way too much for Don as well as various ladies of certain sensibility. The notes just came at you like random daggers. Several weaker souls flung themselves off of the Sir Donald Gordon Grand Tier onto unsuspecting but grateful guests in the stalls below.

exterminating-angel.jpg[copyright Evening Standard – would be lovely if George could find it in his heart not to be offended]

They may have been stuck in a dinner party on stage but off-stage, Don ran for his life at the first interval. It’s a truly terrible thing to trample on another’s creativity and Don isn’t proud. And he would have liked to have known what happened. Nevertheless there it is. The night was younger than expected, there was time for a pint, a good length of Subway’s finest and be home in time for Mrs Don’s repeat viewing of Housewives of Downtown Benghazi or somewhere so actually, whilst Don was curious as to the Spanish dinner party, the night turned out pretty well.

Back to the Hammers. If we must. Well it’s a West Ham blog; admittedly not one read by anybody but still; standards. How do we know that tree fell in the woods? Well look, there’s a bloody tree on the floor.

One more game; Burnley away. A dead rubber if ever there was one. We are literally playing for money and nothing else. Corinthians it ain’t. Turns out there’s several squillion pounds per place in the Premier League and the difference between our finishing 16th or twelfth may mean we buy that young unproven Spanish forward as opposed to the 35-year-old British has-been. So a lot riding on it. Most of the first team squad is in hospital having operations whether they are needed or not. Apparently its a sponsor requirement. The Club feel on balance the season has gone pretty well; ticket sales for the Player of the Year event (£350 each) went ok and now if they can have a final push on those season ticket renewals that meeting with the bank should be a doddle. Come on You Irons.

As to lesser on the field events, that Liverpool game was a joy. Capitulation on a scale not seen since the Battle of Little Big Horn (ok I saw the film – I’m not actually 150 years old – and actually that might have been the opposite of capitulation but hey.). Some wally had the nerve to tweet about fickle fans leaving before the end. He (for I make that sexist assumption), needs to learn some respect. Don was there in ’69 for the 0-4 home defeat to Man City; he saw live and in cold blood, all 9 goals against us v same opponents in the Cup semi-final 3 or 4 years ago. He even forced his kid to watch all nine;

“No, Daddy no! Don’t make me!”

“Its character forming son. One day, when life seems really tough, the spectre of a rain drenched Roger Johnson will appear, and your petty problems wont seem so bad.”

Little Don still resents. 

Not to mention bearing witness to most horrific defeats in between and since. So re Liverpool the other day, if Don wants to leave at 0-4 with 15 to go, he bloody well will!

Right. Well! That cleared the air.

Wagner playing Wembley eh? Who would have thought?  It’s a hot ticket so be ready to pay over the odds. Its live and will be a debut performance. Tristan? Götterdämmerung? Which will it be? Will Barenboim conduct? Stemme? Meier?   Ok Ok, its David Wagner manager of Don’s new favourite team, Huddersfield Town AFC. If you want fickle my twittering friend, I’ll give you fickle. I’m changing to Huddersfield fucking Town AFC. They’re managed by a Wagner so that’s good enough for Don. Come on you Terriers!

It’s all gone a bit low brow this month. Way too much swearing, barely a breath of Parsifal et al. Not sure Wagner News will be tapping the resource, this week. This is what The Exterminating Angel and that Liverpool game can do to you. If it wasn’t for Housewives of Downtown Benghazi, the week would have been a right cultural right off.

Could it be election fever has got to Don? Lets keep politics out of this and just say, after careful analysis of the various leaked manifestos (manifesti ?) (just what is the etiquette for several manifestos?), Don has decided the only dignified move is the spoilt ballot. It falls a little way short of pithy, tries to sound clever and is ultimately utterly pointless. So in the fine tradition of this blog.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! (and/or you Terriers depending if you get promotion – conditions apply and weather permitting)

© 2017

In Which Don is Back, is at the Ring Cycle and is a Tad Disappointed

Post 14

Season’s finished, dust settled, bits of Boleyn going to highest bidder before the gates are finally locked. The removal men have packed up the old house and to continue the metaphor, we (all 60,000 of us), are waiting in the van outside the new place as its not ready for us to move in. From the outside looks lovely but can we make it home?

Enough West Ham. Don left pensive mood back in London, for he was in a state of near febrile excitement. Here was sun drenched Nottingham ready for Opera North’s production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Don had seen it at the Proms in 2013 but that was an Albert Hall token version of events, albeit with a stellar line -up; Stemme, Terfel, Barenboim, O’Neil, Meier among many, not to mention the Staatskapelle Berlin.

But this was different; this was the real thing…or so Don thought. Last night was Das Rhinegold and today we really get going with Die Valkure, followed in Bayreuth rhythm, by Siegfried on Thursday and Gotterdammerung on Saturday.

Its Don’s own fault really. Whilst it seems years ago that tickets were booked and it was not then billed as semi-staged, his pre-event research left a lot to be desired. Naive too. It was being held in a concert hall and the price for the four operas would have bought one half decent seat at Covent Garden, so the signs were there. But only reading the pre-event programme, did Don realise they were making a virtue of “visually showcasing the orchestra-the central “character” of the Ring.”

So there it was – a concert with singing. But who can beat a week off work in Nottingham so lets make the best of it and get into the detail.

The Opera North Orchestra looked resplendent and sounded great under the guiding hand of the superb Richard Farnes. Seasoned readers will know, that unlike 95% of last night’s audience, Don is in no position to technically judge the music. To his untrained ear it sounded big and exciting from the first (and most important) pre-historic stirrings of the Rhine, to the tumultuous finale. No complaints there.

But Wagner takes a lot of orchestra and if it is on stage, it leaves a depth about the length of Wotan’s (absent) spear for the cast to do their stuff. They can either make the best of that or stand there like dummies and I’m afraid last night, in the main, I think we got the latter.

Lets start with the Rheinmaidens. They are supposed to be naively promiscuous. Teasingly slutty. This is essential to the plot; when they playfully encourage Alberich with sexual innuendo and then each in turn, reject him, it puts him in a position to renounce love which is one of the vital pillars of the whole Cycle. That tone is set in the first 10 minutes of the 18 hours. Last night they barely looked at him; instead stood there and and sang the song.

How would he know they were delightfully slippery? They didn’t come within ten feet of him, barely gave him a glance. Yes the smiles turned to concern when he nicked the gold but come on girls, you’ve been guarding this stuff since before time. It was your only job. The bottom has just fallen out of your world. You need to be wailing in anguish not perfectly maintaining poise and tone.

Then there’s Wotan, the main guy. Michael Druiett, who from not too far back in the stalls, looked oddly like a well fed Richard Wagner. The budget didn’t extend to an eye patch and a hat? And give him an effing spear! You can’t do Wotan without a spear, I don’t care how small the space. The spear represents the rule of law, it gets thudded when we need reminding how important the rule of law is to Wotan and the Cycle. If that point is not conveyed to the audience, there really is no point in the performance. Are we going to get Siegmund and Siegfried with no sword? But he didn’t help himself. He may have been a lovely singer but he was wooden and expressionless. Its hard to convey in one line the importance of his preference to go to Neibelung via the sulphurous pit rather than along the Rhine but he made no effort. Then there is the “unspoken” announcement of his big idea in the last scene; a pivotal point in the tetralogy. Of course the announcement is made and well made by the orchestra but Wotan could have let on that at least he knew (after all it was his idea!), even if the other gods were clueless.

Which brings me to the orchestra. Richard Farnes is right to refer to it as Wagner’s central character. It is for Wagner, the chorus in Greek tragedy, conversing with the audience, subtly playing tricks above and beyond the comprehension of some or even all players on stage. Really good it was too. But the Maestro would have recoiled at seeing it on stage. It stands for everything he railed against. Gesamtkunstwerk it is not and that means for Wagner, it doesn’t work. At Bayreuth, we don’t need reminding, the orchestra is hidden from view altogether.

As for the other Gods, I’m afraid generally the same applies, with the possible exception of Freia who at least had the good grace to run on in panic and actually make physical contact with another member of the cast.

All in all however, Opera North deserves the plaudits it will no doubt receive. I realise now it must be impossible to put on a fully staged festival anywhere beyond Bayreuth. The choice is a poorer version or a different version. Opera North have gone different. I was at a concert not an opera, let alone musik-drama.

So most of the disappointment is with myself for not realising what it would have to be. However, I think my criticism of the woodenness of the cast is fair. You maybe can get away with it in the Prologue which is a lot of narrative. Emotion takes centre stage from tonight onward and I want to see it etched on their faces, starting notoriously, with the first line.


© 2016




In which Don just doesn’t think he understands

Post 8

So my whole life I supported this ok but fairly crappy team (note to self – mention brilliant quote about Spurs from In Bruges). Some good times, some amazing times but there were months, years, even decades in between.

Chelsea could say the same but they can point to a clear obvious factor that changed their fortune. We can’t.

Lets imagine for one perverted moment that we go on to become a mega club. Envious people in five years time, will say its because we got the Olympic Stadium for next to nothing. But in the here and now we know the new stadium is not a meaningful factor in our transition from relegation form in the last half of last season to pushing for Champions League, this. We have transformed into a great team, a great squad, a settled and seemingly united board and out of nowhere, more fans than you can shake a stick at.

What has happened? How have we come good so quickly? Will it last or are we simply being teased? I don’t know but hazard some guesses.

First and obvious; the owners. Looking back, in these (and those) days of mega rich foreign owners, I was very pleased proper local people bought the club for what seemed the right reasons. Of course they saw the potential opportunity of the Olympic Stadium from the outset and whilst that was a fair bet it was also replete with risk and a potential black hole for their not inexhaustible fortunes.

I felt they dispensed with Zola too quickly and questioned their judgement with the appointment of Uncle Avram. But since the appointment of Sam they have not put a foot wrong (give or take the odd errant tweet). If Sullivan really was responsible for Sakho and one or two others, that is remarkable and @dg has via twitter engaged with fans in a brave move that has endeared him to many.

They have also had some luck. Top of the list is the appointment of the manager. Clearly not first choice, Bilic has been a perfect fit and in him we may well have struck gold. He is tactically aware and seems equally comfortable handling squad and media. Open and friendly it is also clear who is in charge. His knowledge and reputation secured Payet and Lanzini while other richer suitors missed their chance.

The announcement of the increased stadium  capacity to an amazing 60,000 is a testament to the hitherto untapped power of the club. We are going places and uncharacteristically, it is not via the relegation trap door.

A note of caution; we are West Ham and maintain a noble tradition of teasing defeat from the jaws of victory.  I don’t discount that this could be a life size version of 3-0 up against Wimbledon 1998. But for now, we are a happy ship and the outlook is clear, calm and sunny.

Looking forward to the Mark Noble testimonial tomorrow. Richly deserved and a full house means he can make a meaningful difference to his chosen charities. Will be so good to see some old favourites. Trevor, Billy, Paolo, Rio etc. Mrs Don will be making a rare and final appearance at The Boleyn. We have gone for Bobby Moore Lower to experience all parts of the ground in this final year. I don’t think I’ve “sat” there more that once or twice since the north bank. Then its on to three home games that will define our season. Can’t wait and more anticipation of that next week.

Regular viewers will know I am not over familiar with either Lohengrin or Tannhäuser. The David Alden 1995 Tannhäuser blue-ray was available at a pretty good price so I gave it a go. The reviews weren’t great, the general theme being that Rene Kollo’s voice had all but gone. I’m not so technically aware and hoped that wouldn’t detract too much. I had heard a little of Alden’s political edginess and was looking forward to that.

For a production over 20 years old, the opening scene certainly packs a punch and one can only imagine the impact on opening night. Tannhäuser is in Venusberg in an endless orgy but to prove one can have too much of a good thing, somehow yearns for simple rural bliss where the birds and bees are just birds and bees.  He pleads with Venus to let him escape and eventually she relents. Will life on the outside match up? Can Christianity cut the mustard now he’s dabbled with Pagan fun? That’s for Acts 2 and 3. For now, the erotically charged power of Waltraud Meier’s Venus was overwhelming; her singing powerful and evocative. Throw in the post apocalypse set, the Freudian imagery and the Pilgrim’s Chorus and one has an opening couple of scenes that must be up there with the best in all opera. Don recommends it to those new to Wagner and of a liberal disposition.

Finally to the Spurs quote from one of Don’s favourite films, In Bruges  (this is going to look a little silly if those swine go on to win the league. Come on Leicester!)

Ken: Yeah. And what’s the other place?

Ray: Purgatory.

Ken: Purgatory… what’s that?

Ray: Purgatory’s kind of like the in-betweeny one. You weren’t really shit, but you weren’t all that great either. Like Tottenham.


© 2016