Friday 31 December 2010
That's Johan Botha, whose Tannhauser we finally saw and heard for ourselves at the Royal Opera last night (production photos for the RO by Clive Barda). He is, as my controversial colleague Igor put it in a hyperbolic but mostly spot-on Arts Desk review, 'the size of a small Eastern European country', which wouldn't matter if, like Jane Eaglen in her brief golden era around the early 1990s, he acted with the voice. But he doesn't, really: one thrilling moment when he pauses before doing his no-absolution-Pope impersonation apart, the valve to his soul is indeed sealed shut. Laser-like, the heldentenor voice is infallibly secure and useful, but I'd rather hear a half-golden singer-actor able to put across the fathomless anguish of Tannhauser's state in Act 3.
The native German speakers were the ones who best expressed what meaning is still to be found in Wagner's hopelessly dated tale (Rome, shmome): sensual indulgence bad, pure Marian love good. I've admired Michaela Schuster since we saw what must have been an early performance as Kundry in Graz. The voice isn't sensuous, but it is rich and clear. Unfortunately Venus's clunky entreaties, mostly 1840s stuff, come on the heels of Wagner's most radical music, the 1860 Paris ballet, which ultimately was the most thrilling thing in the show as choreographer Jasmin Vardomon got her dancers to roll across a big table at furious speed. No mean achievement to sustain given that the curtain rose a third of the way through the overture and wave upon wave of orgiastic sound had to be varied.
Everyone said that the top-quality Gesamtkunstwerk package of the evening was baritone Christian Gerhaher, and everyone was right. How refreshing not to hear a manufactured dark sound, every colour in place and a fullness to match Botha's when necessary. He even got around the problem of the recit to 'O du mein holder Abendstern', low-lying enough to justify a bass-baritone like Terfel (who sings it gloriously on a Wagner solos disc conducted by Abbado). So Gerhaher slips in at the last minute as one of my singers of the year, along with Terfel as Sachs and the lustrous double act of Anna Samuil and William Burden as the best Donna Anna and Don Ottavio I've heard in the much-better-than-anticipated Glyndebourne Don Giovanni. Here's Gerhaher with Eva-Maria Westbroek's slightly spread Elisabeth at the end of her tether.
Everyone also said that Bychkov's conducting was a revelation. I part company a bit here: the balances were exemplary, details and colours superb. But he lacks the forward-moving sense of phrase which would paper over the longueurs in the score, and which did when Welser-Most, not a conductor of whom I'm hugely fond and due to conduct the New Year's Day concert tomorrow, brought Zurich forces to London for a concert performance. I still think that Tannhauser is the Wagner opera which gains least by being staged, and though I liked Albery's idea of Venusberg, the shelled Balkan Wartburg didn't communicate much to me. And had I spent a fortune on my seat, I'd have wanted a bit more design for my money. So, a good and at times classy evening, not a great one. And roll on six or seven weeks on the opera back at the City Lit.
Heck, I got more frisson out of Salad Days at the Riverside two evenings earlier, but that was probably partly because, as I wrote in my Arts Desk review, I was reliving a teenage am-dram production. Anyway, it really is all the more charming for not sending Julian Slade's froth up too much. And the piano playing with its intricate improvisatory counterpoint is a joy. Here are young Katie Moore and Sam Harrison as Jane and Timothy leaning on Minnie the magic piano (photo for Tete a Tete by Roy Tan).
Following the novel pattern of last year's break with travel and instead spending the hols at home or with friends was again the right thing to do. We watched selective TV between earthshattering bouts of reading and eating, and enjoyed most of what we saw. I was utterly smitten with the Birmingham Royal Ballet Cinderella shown on the 25th and still available on the BBC iPlayer for two more days - not just with the predictable beauty of that genius John Macfarlane's designs, but also with aspects of David Bintley's graceful storytelling and the captivating mug of Elisha Willis in downtrodden mode. The two production photos by Bill Cooper also feature Iain McKay's personable prince.
Above all, I was amazed by the suppleness and nuance of Koen Kessel's Prokofiev conducting (have you any idea how hard it is to find his name among various credits?). Another ballet master to watch, like Paris's Vello Pahn. Lucky Brum not to get the piped, overamplified music which accompanied Matthew Bourne's New Adventures version. Which still has its own special claim in making narrative sense of the Act 3 divertissement cut by Ashton, Bintley and Page.
Wasn't to be honest expecting great things of 'the Rattle Nutcracker', on the evidence of recent Berlin Phil disappointments. I'd got it into my head that Rattle, like Bychkov, does the sound but not the longer vision. But this doesn't always apply - there are revelations in his latest Mahler Resurrection, shame about Kozena, and here the Berlin team as well as their sound team are so obviously in love with Tchaikovsky's layered score (who wouldn't be?) Sometimes the finessing is a little over-finicky, but the spirit seems right.
There's a terrific crescendo in the Christmas Tree transformation, wonderful spotlighting for celesta and harp, a joyous Mother Gigogne and a swooningly beautiful Pas de deux. I wonder where this would stand if it had come out in time for my Building a Library. Whizz-bang Gergiev was then tops, but it's not only Rattle who's appeared in lights since: Lanchbery's light and fizzy Philharmonia version has been reissued, complete with specially orchestrated English jig (I saw this, and Mother Gigogne, danced when I went as an eight-year old to the London Festival Ballet production). God, how I adore this ballet - its bright lights are such a tonic after the slightly subdued parade of carols.
Choice of the year? Timely you asked, since Igor has just put up all our bests of classical and opera on The Arts Desk. No competition for the operatic prize, Bryn as Sachs in Richard Jones's Welsh National Opera Meistersinger, alongside my Best Concert of All Time, Abbado's Lucerne Festival Mahler Nine. Rumours abound that ENO may be encouraged to take on Jones's fabulous Wagner production - but could it ever work without Terfel? Here's one shot we didn't get to use of his Proms performance, where he got a little more tired towards the end, but that's understandable, given the cameras, the heat and the emotional demands of the occasion. The snapper is musical photographer of the year Chris Christodoulou (just look at his Proms gallery of conductors and tell me anyone catches the mood better).
Which leads me finally to Ideal Opera Production of The Future (for it can't be thrown together in the next few seasons). That would have to feature Bryn as Jupiter and Anne Schwanewilms as his beloved mortal in Strauss's Die Liebe der Danae. Those two are essential; to stage it, take your pick between Jones, Robert Carsen or David McVicar on top form; to conduct it, Fabio Luisi or Antonio Pappano. Some hope, but I can dream, can't I? Happy New Year!
Wednesday 29 December 2010
I must have cast my eyes over those opening words at least a dozen times (opening of the 'Telemachus' chapter as illustrated by Robert Berry courtesy of the excellent ulyssesseen website. Or rather, courtesy assumed, as they adopted one of my pix in their blog section, so I'm assuming mutual fair use). But only this year did I get to the end with, if not exactly full understanding, an awed appreciation of what Joyce was trying to do, the breadth and humour of his references, the ephiphanic attitude to the everyday.
Much of what I felt was neatly summed up in Declan Kiberd's Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Living (Faber), which adopts the Bryan Magee approach of explaining the complicated in simple, direct language. Kibberd's basic premise is that Ulysses follows the great traditions of the Odyssey, the New Testament, Dante's Divine Comedy and Hamlet, as 'wisdom literature' - the wisdom reposing mostly in the everyday living of Leopold Bloom rather than the thickety consciousness of Stephen Dedalus. Of course it doesn't make us feel better to know that the third episode, getting inside young Stephen's head, is precisely the one at which most readers give up because it's so knotty, and is supposed to be.
Kiberd sometimes seems to lose his way, and his style: why does 'Singing', on the Sirens instalment, read so badly? But I like his opposition to the navel-gazing academic approach, which is why I gave up fairly soon on Richard Ellman's Ulysses on the Liffey.
Anyway, life's too short to read piles of secondary literature. And I don't think I've ever had a more rewarding year in terms of discoveries. It began with Hilary Mantel - J's reading Wolf Hall was the lynchpin, but I started with Beyond Black in January and only worked my way through to the historical novels much later. Very much on a par with them is the Norfolk/Africa family saga A Change of Climate. I've only got Eight Months on Ghazzah Street still to go, but I've been steeling myself to feeling robust when I read it.
Which is a bit rich bearing in mind that I've been steeped in misery lit for the past six weeks. Yet never was there a better saying than the epigraph to Dostoyevsky's From the House of the Dead, 'in every human being a spark of God'. Clearly not every, as Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin so hideously demonstrated*. But it only needs some to make it worth going on living.
No-one puts that better than the steely-brilliant Hannah Arendt in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. She's been holding to account the testimony of a German army physician on the killing of Jews in Sevastopol. He points out that totalitarianism's skill in 'disappearing' people makes a visible protest useless. She counters:
It is true that totalitarian domination tried to establish holes of oblivion into which all deeds, good and evil, would disappear, but just as the Nazis' feverish attempt, from June, 1942, on, to erase all traces of massacres - through cremation, through burning in open pits, through the use of explosives and flame-throwers and bone-crushing machinery - were doomed to failure, so all efforts to let their opponents 'disappear in silent anonymity' were in vain. The holes of oblivion do not exist. Nothing human is perfect, and there are simply too many people in the world to make oblivion posssible. One man will always be left alive to tell the story. Hence, nothing can ever be 'practically useless', at least, not in the long run. It would be of great practical usefulness for Germany today [Arendt's account was first published in 1963], not merely for her prestige abroad but for her sadly confused inner condition, if there were more such stories to be told. For the lesson of such stories is simple and within everybody's grasp. Politically speaking, it is that under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that 'it could happen' in most places but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.
I ought to quit while Arendt is so splendidly ahead, but I haven't finished with the peak of the year's reading. Margaret Atwood constantly points out in her futuristic nightmares the lesson that 'some people will not', but what makes Oryx and Crake a great book are the flights of stylistic fantasy, especially in the warped games played by the dystopic adolescents. Who else writes like this? Mantel, Martin Amis - name me others, please, whose manner doesn't seem flat after reading these supreme manipulators of the English language, and I'll be happy to read them. But if high stylishness isn't your metier as a novelist, then simplicity is always best. Which is why Tove Jansson's books for adults seem to translate so well, and why of all this year's novels, The Summer Book remains for me absolutely of the essence.
I'm now a third of the way through another Fallada masterpiece, Wolf among Wolves, a panorama of German life in the big inflation of 1923, and I'm looking forward to more thrillers and detective stories from Robert Littell and Ian Rankin, but I know it's La Jansson to whom I'll return for rooting.
*BTW, if anyone's still interested in the upshot of that A&E story, I went back to the Harrow hospital for the verdict on whether I needed an op or not and - the nice but clearly embarrassed specialist told me the CT scan hadn't been sent to him as promised, nor could it be obtained over the net on the spot. A waste of both our times. But he thinks a) it's pretty sure the damage is merely cosmetic and b) they need to do a much more detailed CT scan to make sure. And so it rolls on in to late January.
Sunday 26 December 2010
Some people say I dress too gay,
But ev’ry day, I feel so gay;
And when I’m gay, I dress that way,
Is something wrong with that?
You've got to love a woman who sings that, and in perhaps the most outrageous Hollywood production number ever (see below). I feel a little, just a little guilty about twinning the great Carmen Miranda with hats of a slightly more sacral variety. These come courtesy of our beloved and equally fearless drottning-diva Sophie Sarin, whose Djenne Djenno blog - as I've written many times before - was the inspiration for this far less exotic specimen.
Anyway, it takes me back to the witnessing of a real festival this time three years ago, when our Christmas and New Year visit to Mali coincided with the big tabaski festival. So all of male Djenne was out in its finest boubous, with rivers of blood from sacrificed sheep and goat running through the streets. All less authentic ritual thereafter, not least the horribly packages maskdancingfordollars of the Cotswoldised Dogon Country, was a disappointment.
So what I wouldn't have given to see an even more elusive rite, by virtue of the fact that it's only usually decided a day or so in advance, thus evading all but the luckiest and well-placed of tourists: the Fulani tribal shepherds crossing their cattle from the pasturelands across the Niger to Diafarabe, where they're greeted with prizes for the best-kept herd - the least impressive gets a peanut - and the demure arms of the local girls. Whose headgear is, in its way, just as impressive as Carmen's, with real amber and gold.
Sophie was thrilled to see hunters gracing the ceremony this year, and so of course was I.
Two more she didn't put on the blog, but sent me anyway, of the rite itself.
I seem to remember from our two day journey down the Niger from Timbuktu that the bodies of the less unfortunate cattle were still floating in the river in late December. Most, I assume, make it.
Anyway, yes, they have some bananas in the Hotel Djenne Djenno garden. But none as big as the ones waggled by the chorenes in this. The musical arrangement is positively Milhaudesque. Enjoy.
Friday 24 December 2010
The gods and goddesses of his French rivers lay frozen and snowladen around the iced-over pools of the Parterre d'Eau's Grande Commande, just the start of the back-garden wonders Andre Le Notre wrought for Louis XIV at Versailles. I couldn't believe my luck at seeing them in this almost Narnian state. The last time we beheld Versailles was in an August heatwave, when only gentle cycling round the Grand Bassin relieved the general oppressiveness of a Parisian summer.
This, on the other hand, was the bleak winter morning after our treat at the Opera Royal, seeing Lully's Bellerophon in the theatre actually opened in 1770 during the Sun King's great-grandson's* reign - but even then, to celebrate the Dauphin's marriage to Marie Antoinette, Lully was still on the menu.
We checked into the cosy and wonderfully situated if over-decorated Hotel de France on a sunny Friday afternoon - the flight delays just beginning over at Heathrow - and walked over to the Hotel du Trianon on the edge of the park along icy streets.
A gourmet lunch, an over-long tour of the Theatre followed by an all too quick but much better one (on a certain person's insistence) of the Royal Apartments and the Galerie des Glaces needed recovering from, especially as we'd been up at 4.30 in the morning. So that meant skipping, hmmm, lectures, napping at the hotel and arriving fresh for the Rousset experience. Which you can read about on The Arts Desk. Here's the chapel and the entrance to the wing which leads to the theatre.
and here I am wondering what I've done to deserve being in a rather exceptional royal box - bang in the middle, unlike our own, and with voices and orchestra pinging to the back in exceptional wooden acoustics.
A professional shot of the theatre, lavishly restored to original specifications in the 1950s
and cut to the next day, roaming at large in the snow. Bronze urns on the South Parterre
looking down on the Parterre du midi
and west to the central avenue, Gaspard and Balthasar Marsy's Fountain of Latona in the foreground.
If that winter wonderland isn't seasonal enough for you, let's end with French music for the day. We were lucky to get prime seats under the dome of St Paul's on the afternoon of this grey Eve, courtesy of succentor friend Fr Andrew Hammond. Above us the organ thundered Dupre's naughty carol variations, and from the distant chancel the choir projected beautifully. A marvellous sequence, kindling Banstead memories of 'Gaudete', Mathias and Ord as well as introducing to me a couple of gems by Cecilia McDowall and Warlock. The tears flowed, though, for Poulenc's 'O magnum mysterium'. Partly it's because I only have to think of the Carmelites' 'Salve regina' when I hear any of Poulenc's religious music, but this is a piece of the very essence. Here it is sung by the Westminster Cathedral Choir. Joyeux Noel a tous!
*correct genealogy courtesy of Sir D Damant below.
Thursday 23 December 2010
Snowflakes the size of which I've never seen, not even in Moscow or Petersburg, fell on Paris during the afternoon of the 18th, spelling trouble ahead for our journey home. And it wasn't much fun trying to follow the map as we scuttled through the backstreets from Place Clichy to the Musee de la Vie Romantique, where the first of three superb exhibitions we saw celebrating the nearly-concluded Russia-France year was to be found.
Bad tempers and bickerings duly soothed by discovering it at last, we made our way up the charming little cobbled alley to the rusticated 1830 house where Ary Scheffer (possibly known to most English art-lovers solely for that overwrought Francesca and Paolo in the Wallace Collection; there are much worse canvases to be seen here) lived and George Sand visited.
The reception from the incredibly rude staff (well, it's a long time since I've been called 'jeune homme', so I suppose that was something) left much to be desired, but once inside the first of the two studios where the exhibition was held, all was calm. The French, of course, never do these things by half, and the Tretyakov Gallery had obliged with, if not all its best known paintings, certainly some real connoisseurs' pieces to flesh out our understanding of Russian art around the 1830s, many of which I hadn't seen in Moscow. My enthusiasm usually begins with Kramskoi, so I was very pleased to admire the consummate portraiture and the eastern scenes of Bryullov. Indeed, the exhibition constantly reminded you that the Russian empire always embraced the supposed 'exotic', as did Delacroix and his French colleagues.
In the first room, a sketch for Bryullov's famous but not too lovable Last Days of Pompeii is complemented by several large scale canvases including Anton Ivanov's Gogol crossing the Dnieper
and some splendid portraits, including Fyodor Moller's famous one of the same, hardly romantic author.
I've been hard pressed to find anything on the web about Nikolay Gerene, whose wry depiction of a bespectacled, effete orientalist aristocrat's 'cabinet' is the highlight among a neat group of interiors. Nor is there much about Fyodor Tolstoy apart from his bas reliefs (only connect - this one marks 1812).
Yet Tolstoy-not-Lev-nor-Alexey's watercolours of flowers and fruits are exquisite, if upstaged by the Bryullovs on the nearby wall. One final main studio room shows off grander portraits to great effect, with one more intimate specimen by the master, of Nicholas I's cultured daughter Maria Nikolayevna.
As for the house itself, the Scheffers on the upper floor make poor comparison with the Russian masterpieces. Downstairs, though, the room of George Sand memorabilia donated by her granddaughter has some charming choses, including a pretty swallow brooch among the jewellery she valued merely for its personal associations. And here's Chopin's tiny hand between his lover's lock of hair and her swan-like arm:
The museum itself is free, with admission to the exhibition well worth the price. And I gather that in spring and summer, dainty teas are to be had in the conservatory, which must add to the Violetta-Alfredo/Marguerite-Armand bourgeois idyll of it all.
By now the snow had gathered momentum. We dived into a patisserie, shared a coffee and a cake with a figure looking like my idea of Balzac's Vautrin and headed up to Pigalle. Without flash, the downpour looks like this.
The only thing to do was to plunge into the Metro and take Line 2 to Termes, as close as we could get to the Salle Pleyel. And it was no hardship to while away an hour or so there before the Russian National Orchestra concert which our friends had so thoughtfully booked for us (frankly, I'd have been up for Lady Gaga at the Palais de Bercy, but I hear she cancelled, driving her French fans to despair).
The foyer has recently been beautifully restored to its original 1930 Art Deco state
with typical attention to detail that extends to the lift
and the plaques commemorating Ginette Neveu and Chaliapin, among others.
For the extraordinary circumstances of a concert blighted by the glacial hand of, hmm, Mikhail Pletnev, flick over to my Arts Desk Buzz piece. Tomorrow I'll go back to where it all began last Friday, the Opera Royale at Versailles, just in time for Christmas, as there are more snow-laden statue shots in store.
Wednesday 22 December 2010
A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse, like the one above on Louis XIV's Invalides roof but with wings, which might have helped to get us back from the continent. In fact our travel saga could have been a lot worse, given the current meltdown. We had the comfort of our lovely friend Laurence's flat in Paris's 15th district and the company of her and husband Bertrand on several fun expeditions and at table. Sure, we had one Air France flight cancelled with no more information than 'thank you for your understanding', no-one to be spoken with over the phone; and so we trudged on the day after the cancellation to AF's reasonably plush terminus near Les Invalides, waited two hours, got rebooked on another flight, had that cancelled on us too a couple of hours later, decided to cut our losses since Heathrow was in no end of chaos and booked a coach from Gallieni to Victoria.
It took us over ten hours rather than the (hardly expected) six, including personnel-less hold up at the Eurotunnel, where only signs told us of a delay and promised (and failed to provide) further information. All this impersonality, plus two long sessions at two different passport huts, made me a bit uneasy as I was deep in Hannah Arendt's devastatingly brilliant Eichmann in Jerusalem.
Yet the mostly good-humoured company on the coach, everyone with his or her travel horror story, made it almost worthwhile. The stars were three delightful Sri Lankan/English girls travelling with their amma back to Harrow from an uncle's funeral outside Paris. How inquisitive they were, and how bright, and I suppose I could have analysed 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star' as one of them suggested when I told them I wrote about music and they tried to grasp that peculiar concept. Wagner, of course, meant the big man who couldn't sing on X Factor; but the two older girls were on Grades 2 and 4 piano respectively, and one of them enthused about the Song of Erin she was playing, which she thought was about a bird until her teacher told her all about Ireland. They were fascinated by our Versailles theatre experience so I managed to give them a postcard of the Galerie des Glaces. More about that another day.
On Monday morning, J nobly stuck it out in not too much discomfort at the Air France terminal while I walked through the snowy plains on the Rive Gauche down to Les Invalides, one of the few sights of Paris I've never previously been anywhere near.
I guess all I'd really been curious about was Napoleon's tomb in the Eglise du Dome, available to see only on a ticket which also included admission to the huge collections of the Musee de l'armee; but the whole experience was, as it turned out, a neat complement to Versailles.
This is merely the largest of fifteen courtyards, and Laurence told us it had sad associations for her as it's always the place where officials assemble for the funerals of French soldiers killed in action abroad.
On a comparable if somewhat more dour scale to Versailles, the Hopital des Invalides was founded in 1671 as a home for Louis XIV's wounded soldiers and designed by Liberal Bruant, with help from his pupil Jules Hardouin Mansart on the chapel of Saint-Louis des Invalides. Shortly after its completion, Louis commissioned Mansart to construct a separate royal chapel, the Église du Dôme so spectacularly modelled on St Peter's Rome. Finished in 1708, it's now home to Napoleon's tomb, erected here in 1861 with wacky, hideously toadying bas-reliefs in the crypt arcades surrounding it.
Maybe the one above is the least debateable in its sycophancy, since the Code Napoleon was probably his best legacy.
Napoleon's ashes were actually returned from St Helena in 1840, and they may not be his: did the British poison him? Conspiracy theories abound.
All this, via the Tolstoy/Prokofiev War and Peace was tying in neatly with the two previous exhibitions we'd seen, on Russian romantic painting (at the Musee de la vie romantique, with distinguished loans from the Tretyakov) and on Lenin, Stalin and Russian music at the Centre de la musique. They're part of Paris's year long Russian spectacular, nearly at an end now.
More on both anon, I hope, but I'd like to sing a little hymn of praise to the smaller exhibition at Les Invalides on the Russian imperial guard, 'Au service des Tsars'. Like the rest of the exhibitions in the Musee de l'armee, the memory is selective, and 1812 was pretty much glossed over (the name 'Kutuzov' didn't even appear). But here, too, there were treasures, all from the Hermitage. I'd never seen the tunic of the Preobrazhensky regiment worn by Peter the Great at the Battle of Poltava
and I was delighted to see the portrait of Catherine on horseback by Vigilius Eriksen (detail only).
As the army fell into its flatulent decadence, it was good to see just one touch of irony in a grand canvas by Boris Kustodiev. He lived on until 1927, celebrating the sometimes fruitful turbulence of the post-revolutionary period, as we were able to see in the pictures for the Lenin/Stalin exhibition, but like Repin he also caught some of the pomposity of Nicholas II's men. This is a detail from Kustodiev's picture of the Finlandsky regiment's procession in front of Tsar Nicholas on 12 December 1905.
And that was all I had time for before I went back to collect my long-suffering queuer. We returned to Les Invalides after a deservedly splendid lunch in a restaurant just below the terminus which turned out to be a favoured haunt of politicians, Chez Francoise, hugely recommended and not by any means exorbitant. For the afternoon tranche of the enormous Invalides exhibits, I left J to discover Napoleon's tomb for himself and to spend more time than I did in the First and Second World War wing, and went to look at the renaissance armoury. It boasts superb royal armour from Francois I onward, as well as elaborately grotesque helmets featuring chimeras - only connect with our previous viewing of Lully's Bellorophon at Versailles - and other monsters. I rather sped through the Louis XIV-Napoleon III galleries, but I could hardly deny that they were, like so much else in Paris, a marvel of stylish exhibiting. Sadly the Ingres portrait of Napoleon enthroned was out on loan, but I rather liked the anti-heroic, post-factum Delaroche picture of the defeated, sallow, baggy-eyed emperor resigning at Fontainebleau (this image courtesy of Wikimedia).
That took us up to closing time on an extra day we hadn't expected in Paris. Of course I never got to Finland to see Korngold's Die Tote Stadt as planned - needless to say, Helsinki Airport was functioning as well as it always does with an infinitely greater amount of snow - but I was glad not to have to face the greater problems of getting back from there.