Monday, 28 June 2010
Travel in a time of football
I haven't seen a good match in years, which is not to say that I wouldn't be drawn in if I were at the house of a friend who wanted to watch the World Cup. But I don't think I'll easily forget where I happened to be when key games took place. How many years ago was it when England played the Cameroons in the quarter-final and I was sitting in the since-defunct Lumiere Cinema with six other people watching Eric Rohmer's A Tale of Springtime?
This year I've been on the move or in a theatre while the action was being played out. On Wednesday I had to give a talk in Leicester - station depicted above - before one of Temirkanov's three major Prokofiev/Tchaikovsky concerts with the Philharmonia (I caught the first programme in London and wrote it up for The Arts Desk; and all I'll say about it here is that the man is surely the greatest Tchaikovsky conductor still living).
So at about 3pm I strolled up to Barons Court tube - too hot to cycle to St Pancras - and caught diverse roars through open windows and outside The Curtains Up pub (never sure how they mean that to be punctuated). But from Barons Court to Kings Cross on a surprisingly packed underground and from St Pancras to Leicester on a fairly busy train, not one whimper of news about the match's progress. As I strode up the hill towards De Montfort Hall, it was impossible to tell who'd won. A couple of twats in tall England hats lurched around noisily, but gave no hint of victory or defeat. It wasn't until I was in the hall that I found out.
Anyway, Leicester is worth a quick digression, though I still haven't had time to see the Curve (was still in the middle of the Coppelia script on Wednesday, and had to rush back to meet Ruth and friends after her Cork Street opening, more of which anon). The concerts have a loyal if ageing following, and while I spoke they were unveiling a new memorial sculpture in memory of a Philharmonia friend:
The walk to the hall through the back streets is leafy and pleasant, the odd rolling drunk or drug addict excepted. I love the railings of the bizarrely if aptly named Oval Square.
And so back to London that evening in an atmosphere of calm, and a nearly full moon above St James's (the clock time, like the one in the photo further down of Trieste's Caffe San Marco, is of course way out).
There was, though, a midsummer madness in the air around Piccadilly owing to the Cork Street bacchanalia. Doziness reigned the next morning as I pedalled to the BBC to record the Building a Library programme. A white van man nearly knocked me off my bike as he turned without indication across the cycle lane and into Earl's Court. Sundry specimens of erratic driving compounded the feeling that the Englanders were hung over after celebrating the match.
Finally - thank God, they're out now - there was the question of negotiating London before and after the England v Germany match. Our only chance to catch the ENO Tosca, and it started at the memorable hour of 3pm. Must have been more exciting than England's trashing - in fact I was almost delirious after Act One, mostly with the sheer pelt and skill of Puccini's theatricality as projected by Amanda Echalaz and Julian Gavin - unquestionably the most convincing lovers I've ever seen in this opera - and by Ed Gardner's sensuous-pacy work in the pit (what beauty in the orchestral postlude to the love duet).
Act 2, in ex-diva Catherine Malfitano's period setting, went through most of the usual motions but had a few ideas of its own, and Michaels Moore was almost convincing as an elegant, sex obsessed sadist (the basic dark-baritone timbre hasn't weakened over decades, though the detached low notes don't come out well). Loved the way Echalaz's poor girl broke down after the murder and got frightened by the roll of drums anticipating the execution. The line in her 'vissi d'arte' ('love and music' as ever was in Edmund Tracey's well-wearing translation) was a little disrupted by the vibrato which could quickly become a problem, but she soars thrillingly and she's such an intelligent singer. The final touch, an artistic death, was superb and banished memories of Jane Eaglen looking like Robbie Coltrane in drag lumbering up the ramp to flop off (though that was her heyday, and how superbly she acted with the voice then). Both production photos of the current ENO production here by Robert Workman.
Echalaz's was easily the best Tosca I've witnessed since Nelly Miricioiu's in the early 1980s, and I'd love to see her as Salome. Ma guarda, cara, guarda.
By the opera's half way mark, it was impossible to tell whether Julian Gavin's ringing 'vittoria!' ('victorious' in the translation) was being echoed in the streets.
At the second interval it was all a bit quiet to start with. Then police vans started shooting up Charing Cross Road, sirens blaring. The nice man in Pret a Manger told me the bad (good?) news - 4 to Germany, 1 to England. Then we saw a pack of angry youths with feral, scrunched up faces looking for trouble.
Yet I have to say that over in Trafalgar Square after the show, despite the heavy police presence,
if you hadn't known of England's defeat, you'd have thought the fans were celebrating.
Note Yinka Shonibare's splendid newcomer on the Fourth Plinth.
Once through Admiralty Arch, it was the usual summer-in-the-city Sunday scene of brass bands and tourists ambling along the cycle lanes. The hot but glorious weather might just have taken the edge off the disappointment. Well, come on, Ghana.