Thursday 30 June 2011

Two stodgy boys

I'm certainly not referring to their creators pictured above in the first of Richard Hubert Smith's ENO production shots: knowing treble Joseph Beesley and more-than-promising tenor Nicky Spence, unrecognisable in the transition from feckless twentysomething Baron Lummer in the Scottish Opera Intermezzo to tortured teenager. Both were part of an excellent team at ENO, all of whom handled their not ungrateful vocal lines - that's something, for a start - with aplomb. And I hate to pour cold water over the bubbling score of the orchestrally adept Nico Muhly, who knows how to orchestrate and provides more shifts in instrumental colour and texture as well as harmony than I was expecting from Glassian premises.

Yet the whole thing is so turgid and lumpy as music-drama that half way through the first act I wanted to run screaming from the theatre. That's a response, I guess, though it's not even the purer loathing I had for Glass's Satyagraha. At least Glass had the courage of his back-to-basics convictions - an anti-theatrical four chords in forty-five minutes which serve as something of a trademark (that he simply hasn't evolved like Adams or Reich is another matter). Muhly, though, always sounds like someone else - mostly Adams in early, Nixon in China mode, without that score's flying dynamism.

And how did Muhly botch that most operatic of opportunities - the chance to haunt us all with a choral, overlapping representation of the internet's humming 'netherworld of cheerless cheer'? When so-so librettist Craig Lucas says that 'opera isn't about beautiful music, it's about dramatic tension', he sounds Two Boys' knell - though he seems to believe that his composer can do the nodal-point stuff. Really? Only consider the stabbing and its aftermath, which despite being set up by some fine growly tuba-and-basses writing go for nothing (is that the point?) The overall result is portentous, very far from the humanity Lucas half-etches and as moralistic as the Royal Opera's Anna Nicole without the fun, the musical invention or the staging of genius.

I liked two things in the score: the shifting support for the first solo of Sue Bickley's Detective Inspector Anne Strawson on curtain-rise, and the way her vocal line takes up the orchestral line at the start of the second. Yet ultimately even Bickley doesn't have a chance to engage as she should.

There's still a chance that the real Nico Muhly will stand up, but I have a feeling he may carry on being the Korngold to John Adams's Richard Strauss (which is hardly a huge insult if you revere Erich Wolfgang more than I do, and besides, Korngold even at his most precocious had a better sense of where to press the dramatic buttons than Muhly does). Let's also remember that by the age of 30 Shostakovich had written both The Nose and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Prokofiev The Gambler and The Love for Three Oranges. All I can see at the moment, though, is that in terms of sharpness, subcutaneous horror and sheer fecundity of ideas, ENO's latest show is left standing by its Midsummer Night's Dream - and that goes for Bartlett Sher's fidgety production, too, with its now-generic video projection.

Well, not everyone agrees: for an alternative view, see my colleague Igor's review on The Arts Desk. Do go and make up your own mind(s): just because a new work fizzles, that doesn't mean enterprising companies like ENO shouldn't keep on trying to find the operas of our time, the ones that really engage our hearts and minds.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Three Macbeths

O speak not his name, if theatrical lore sayeth sooth, but there's no getting round it: I could have used 'Macbetto' for two of the three in question, Verdi's radically different operas of 1847 and 1865 which have been the subject of my last seven opera appreciation classes at the City Lit, but the Shakespeare is what it is (and we saw quite a bit of that, too, in the very curate's eggy Orson Welles movie, and the unmissable McKellen/Dench partnership of Trevor Nunn's intimately filmed production).

Actually I must just record that a funny thing happened during our City Lit screening of the banquet scene in the play. McKellen stares fixedly at Banquo's empty place in front of him - there's nothing there - and our DVD chose precisely that moment to freeze, only to leap to a ghostly image of one of the three witches. You can imagine that freaked me out a bit and I didn't want to go back and see if it would work properly a second time.

Amazement still sits on me at how much perfect music-theatre Verdi managed in the midst of his early operas (especially when you think of Attila, which I'd rather not, and I Masnadieri, graced at least by some excellent moments of darkness, either side of it). As apt, albeit in a less sophisticated way, as anything in Otello and Falstaff, are his genius, free-form telescoping of the 'Is this a dagger' speech as well as the duet which follows, recast a little for Paris (how Fuseli matches Verdi here)

and the concentrated mix of eeriness with unexpected pathos in the Gran Scena di Sonnambulismo.

Still, the greatest fascination rests with three of the four numbers Verdi completely replaced in 1864-5. First, he removed what he called 'an awful aria of the Prima Donna'. 'Trionfai!', Lady Macbeth's response to the short Act 2 exchange, isn't so very bad; though generic, it continues to characterise her vaunting ambition - but that's superfluous, since we've already had it twice in 'Vieni! T'affretta!' closely followed by 'Or tutti sorgete'. See what you think in the best performance I could find on YouTube (we used Rita Hunter in the BBC radio recording of the original version, not on great form either). Do I put myself beyond the pale with voice queens if I say I'd never heard of Olivia Stapp?

Performance regardless, there's no doubt that the replacement, 'La luce langue', is not only an improvement but one of the glories of the score in the orchestral colour which accompanies the paraphrase on Macbeth's 'Light thickens...Good things of Day begin to droop and drowse' and the, once again free, cabaletta section, with its pre-echoes of Eboli's determination and the mezzo's music in the Requiem. I thought Cossotto, on the extraordinary Muti set, carries out all the detailed injunctions in the score even better than Callas.

Passing over the Paris ballet for the supernatural hokum in Act 3 - which I love, especially as choreographed in Richard Jones's werewolfs-gimps-and-cooker version - the tweaks to Macbeth's scene with the seven kings and the duet which replaces his 'Vada in fiamme', perhaps even more extraordinary is what happens at the start of Act Four: the replacement of one rousing chorus for an oppressed country, which would have had extraordinary significance in 1847, with another still more profound yet written by the time Italy was a free nation. The original has those unisons blossoming into harmony which we recognise from Nabucco's famous Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, but with Macbeth's all-important minor seconds jabbing desolation into the music. We heard a wonderful performance from the Welsh National Opera Orchestra and Chorus, but this pale imitation is the best I could find on YouTube.

The major-key resolution is just too easy. Note how in the formally more complex, orchestrally richer replacement of 1865, Verdi postpones a possibly ray of light until the very final bars. Yes, this is great, deep music, a fine prophecy of the 'Lacrimosa' in the Requiem but standing with head held high in its own right.

That's probably enough for now, and extracting the complications of the rewrites to the final scene is beyond me here. But it's probably right that Macbeth's original death scene, 'Mal per me', should be stitched back into the revised, quicker resolution as it was at Covent Garden. There, incidentally, it provided Simon Keenlyside's one moment of glory, though recent news suggests we should never be too quick to judge when a singer's off form: the generous baritone has cancelled tonight's Wigmore recital owing to the death of a family member. So a tinge of guilt at a harsh judgment and my thoughts to him.

Anyway, I rather like the crude one-note trumpetings of the original battle, but the fugue as followed by the stirring final chorus is, as one of my students said, perhaps the most exciting curtain to any Verdi opera. The composer was as amused as anyone at possible responses to the news that he had used an academic form: 'A Fugue?...I, who detest everything that smells of school, and it has been nearly 30 years since I wrote one!!!'. And of course he wrote another right at the end of his musical life, in a contrasting spirit of huge good humour.

Well, I for one am sorry to leave Macbeth, even though I ran over on it by two weeks - which means there's less time for Massenet's Cendrillon, but that's probably as it should be. And it's not goodbye to the Scottish play yet as I have a DVD review copy of Rupert Goold's production with Patrick Stewart to watch for the Arts Desk*, and we're all gathering together for a free extra City Lit class so we can watch the film of Tcherniakov's Paris Opera production. And next year's six operas will be Weinberg's The Passenger, Puccini's Tosca, Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer, Dvorak's Rusalka, Gershwin's Porgy and Bess and Britten's Billy Budd. Today is probably the last for getting in, as booking has just opened and we always fill the 32 spaces in double quick time. At least I hope that's the case for 2011-12 too. Download a course guide from the City Lit's website here.

*Now I have - the review is here - and it's imaginative but all over the place. No guarantee that a good theatre director will make the transition to cinema. Clodhoppers like Brook's Lear - would-be Russian style - and Lloyd's Mamma Mia prove the point, and I hear similar reports about Sam Mendes. Shame, because Goold's Turandot was a triumph in my books, and this is full of striking ideas.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Legal in New York

Hard to believe it happened here before it happened there, but same-sex marriage has finally been voted for in New York State by the senate in Albany: the stuck 31-31 turned to 33 for, 29 against, owing to two Republican 'defections of conscience'. Hence the tinted view of Brooklyn Bridge as I last saw it with one of Olafur Eliasson's waterfall constructions (not quite as pink as I'd like it, and a rainbow would have been even better, but you get the gist).

I'm still a little confused, or perhaps a little dense, about whether we should be putting 'marriage' in inverted commas. We still talk of civil partnerships here, and I'm happy to use that terminology - ie we have rights; that's good enough for me (it's also quite useful for telling strangers where you stand if they ask if you're married. 'No, I'm civilly partnered' is a quick answer which they can then follow up or not as they wish). 'Husband' (or 'wife' for that matter) and 'married' surely hark back to a more proprietorial idea of conjugal necessity, but I wouldn't deny folk the right to use such terms if it makes them feel more free and happy. Cheers!

Meanwhile, the Anglican church hums and haws, making me wonder why anyone would wish to be yoked to it. So it's going to be OK for bishops to be openly gay, but they must be celibate. Even this, apparently, isn't enough for the evangelical wing. But in any case why deny people the only love they can say they will ever know for certain, and the right to express it fully? Craven-hearted indeed.

Unlike Rev. John Unni of St Cecilia's Boston, who got a standing ovation from his congregation for the speech/sermon in his 'All Are Welcome' service. He declared that parishioners 'are welcome here, gay or straight, rich or poor, young or old, black or white. Here, you all can say, "I can worship the God who made me as I am".' As I wrote to Will, who posted this on his Designer Blog, it only takes one good, charismatic man or woman to reverse a deal of harm.

Friday 24 June 2011

Dame Eva by her pupil Linda

Our beloved friend Linda Esther Gray has taken up her poetic pen again: having chronicled with painful truth the saga of her own meteoric career as the greatest Isolde of her time - hurry up, someone, and post her Liebestod with Goodall on YouTube, as it's the best I know - and what went wrong, she's now devoted the best part of two years to doing her teacher Dame Eva Turner sympathetic justice.

The biography's subtitle, 'A Life on the High Cs', comes from a priceless anecdote. A sailor saw green Eva hanging over the rails on one of her many Atlantic voyages and commented 'I see you are not used to life on the high seas, ma'am'. To which, quick as a flash despite her indisposition, she replied: 'On the contrary, my man, I make my living by them'. Si non e vero, e ben trovato.

Anyway, this will be the essential sourcebook for just about everything Dame Eva did and said in public - about the private life less will be known, though Linda speculates that the long-term relationship with Anne Ridyard was more than professional: 'seeing them together, they were never less than the sum of the parts and were in many senses - one. They just felt like an old married couple by the time I knew them with all the history that might suggest'. So, something to celebrate: rock-solid Eva could never claim, as an obituary reported Dame Flora Robson as having said, that she never knew happiness in love.

But it's the greatest Turandot of all time that the book is really there to celebrate, and it's an extraordinary thing that when you listen to the recordings of 'In questa reggia' you can tell how the voice must have pinged to the back of the theatre - an impression you don't always get when hearing CDs of Gwyneth Jones or Christine Brewer. I love all the stuff about how Eva made it big in Italy at a time when foreign artists were usually a one-month sensation, and indeed about the state of opera in the UK up to that time.

It's also surprising to discover what an eloquent and wide-ranging mind she was from her own words: the advice on singing is sterling, the choice of Desert Island Discs on two different occasions very eclectic. This wasn't just a diva who lived for her vocal art, though that was quite some art, and not entirely about size and volume. We think that the best recording to show her style is the 1928 'D'amor sull'ali rosee' from Verdi's Il trovatore, with Beecham the supportive conductor. It's there on the CD that comes with Linda's book but it's also on YouTube. Order your copy of the biography here.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Meknes medina: streets, gates, fountains

It's become a point of honour on this blog, whether anyone's interested or not, that I try to do justice to any town or city I've visited and adored. So I felt that my April and May entries on Morocco's most genial civic treasure needed completing by a tour around the area in which we spent most time, unhassled and often pleasantly lost - the medina or walled old town of Meknes.

Of course it's not on the scale of glorious, once-wealthy Tunis or Fes, but it has enough authenticity and charm to make it a place to return to again and again. We took three or four trails in different directions, with an excellent French guidebook on loan from Mona and Simon at the Riah Lahboul, so forgive if the details here are relatively hazy. Mona especially recommended the rather run-down but fascinating area of the Mellah Qdim, once the old Jewish quarter - the new Mellah has a modest synagogue frequented by a small community - via Berrima, where her family still lives. You sense the change in building styles once through the arch that separates the Mellah from the Medina proper. Here there are more balconies and handsome old houses, most in a state of disrepair

and the striking scallop fountain which, like all the others, is still very much in use.

It's worth exiting the Mellah by the old Jewish cemetery (closed whenever we happened to be in the vicinity) to go out and look at the Bab el Khemis

built by the Almohades but substantially elaborated by our tyrannical Moulay Ismail - who did have one thing in his favour: religious tolerance. The inscription reads: 'I am the gate of the fifth day, open to all races whether from the east or the west'.

Back on the Sekkakine, another old arch leads to the tailors' quarter

and there are also iron and metal workers along the main street

as well as several old musical instrument shops, several inside the Bab Djedid.

Turn right here and you're in the quietest and - to me - most suggestive part of the medina, with quite a few white minarets including that of the Berrima Mosque

a fascinating glimpse of 'sky' in a ruined building

old alleys with twisting vines

and another old fountain by the Serraria Mosque. The lady washing her clothes is helpfully colour-co-ordinated.

Eventually you'll meet up with one of the main streets of tailors' shops via an alley with my favourite coloured walls

where you can either turn left and head for the Bab Berdaine, designed by Moulay Ismail as the main entrance to the Medina and almost as grand as the Bab Mansour which dominates the main square

or if you were to go right along the narrow main drag with its high booths you'd reach a pretty open area dominated by a welcome shady tree beneath which the traditional furniture-painters work.

Much silk weaving goes on around here. The threads adorn the shop booths

and the clatter of machines can be investigated, if you wander into one of the old foundouqs. Worth watching this little film for the evocative sound.

Now we're back in the heart of things, with more tourists to boot, around the Great Mosque

with its splendid doorways

and the Medersa Bou Inania nearby.

We didn't visit, but we did go inside the old vizier's palace that now houses the Dar Jamai Museum.

The courtyard is better kept than the museum. Visitors' comments in the book were way over the top - 'this is the best museum I've visited in Morocco' etc - or perhaps there's nothing in better nick, but good as the collection is, with some fabulous garments and the cedarwood painting in the old harem rooms,

it's badly in need of renovation. But it seems that, thanks to the interest of the now-beleaguered king, quite a bit of the medina has been tarted up - which, perversely, I also didn't feel quite comfortable with. But there's no pleasing a tourist randy for antique, and at least this is very much a working old town, with the relaxed attitude to furriners that comes with that.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Everyone's a winner... the final of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. Well, let's say four out of five: there was one who had me leaving the room. And perhaps I don't even have the right to judge, because apart from a stunning clip of Russian mezzo Olesya Petrova posted on Jessica Duchen's blog, I hadn't seen any of the competitors until tonight, when it was a definite telly fixture. My fellow blogger Jon Dryden Taylor has kept us all entertained reporting with his usual eloquence 'as live'.

Credit where it's due first: Moldovan soprano Valentina Naforniţă's win was as much of a surprise to me as it was to those loveable diva commentators Joyce DiDonato, who'd been knocked out at an early stage the year of an unworthy winner, and Nicole Cabell, 2005 'Singer of the World' and a much classier soprano than detractors seem to think. But who could begrudge Naforniţă the two trophies, from audience and judges respectively, as depicted in Bryan Tarr's photo for the BBC above?* After all, this is as much about promise as it is about realisation, and though she ended up trying Lucia, Rusalka and Gounod's Juliette for size in turn, and seemed to improve as she progressed, the main thing is that the only-just-24-year-old, to use that inevitable cliche, lives the music.

As, in a slightly stagier way, did Birmingham-based Meeta Raval, who travelled in the opposite direction from a stunningly artistic and well-phrased Trovatore Leonora to a not-quite-desperate Manon Lescaut and a Strauss "Beim schlafengehen" which was more impressive for breath control than tone quality. And, boy, is tone quality the optimum with Petrova. Hers is no doubt the most beautiful instrument, and as Borodina wanes a little, Petrova's is the right voice to step into her silver shoes, if she can sort out the top. Still prefer the clip from Vienna which Jessica posted, so here it is again.

As for baritone Andrei Bondarenko, he was the hot favourite with everyone I'd spoken to, and I guess I was just a tad disappointed that the legato doesn't quite enjoy the cello-like timbre of the great Hvorostovsky; the pronounced vibrato gets a bit too much in the way. But he's utterly believable, comfortable in his own skin, and changes character with a minimum of fuss. His choices in the earlier round were probably better, and he did say that he felt tonight he was only at 70 per cent, so here's that strand.

Korngold was in Naforniţă's previous performance, too, and though the voice isn't settled, you watch her with delight.

As with Shcherbachenko two years ago, cheekbones and glowing musicality have it, though she's not as rounded a singer yet (no wonder; she's a good deal younger). And what a top-quality competition this is in every way: distinguished judges, nice Welsh people making humble and sincere speeches, fluent and non-irritant presentation (the only thing I wonder is whether Petroc should have spoken of Bondarenko singing 'in his native Russian' when he's Ukrainian, but we all know what he means). The best thing of all is that there is, or should be, no rancour at who wins, since we're not talking about teenage girls choosing a pretty, bland crooner over an obvious star, Adam Lambert in American Idol. But that never harmed his career, and all of these finalists will be getting good work, so does it matter?

On which note, I feel I have to sound the trumpet again for the two superlative singers I heard in Christ Church Spitalfields last night - mezzo Stephanie Marshall in a new van der Aa piece, and - a total revelation to me - young South African born Sarah-Jane Brandon, winner of the 2009 Kathleen Ferrier Awards, as the voice of childlike heaven in Mahler's Fourth, albeit the exquisite chamber version arranged by Erwin Stein.

I meant it when I said I've never heard it sung better in concert, and that's saying something.

And finally, since there were no can-belto gentlemen in tonight's finale, let's celebrate a yes-he-can egging on of a closet singer with star potential in what's undoubtedly been the most fun experience of the week. I went expecting to grimace through the musicalisation of Lend Me a Tenor at the Gielgud Theatre; yet though the musical itself isn't quite top notch, the way it's done is irreproachably brilliant and zesty. More raving on the Arts Desk. Here, in a production photo by Roy Tan, is Damian Humbley's shy Max Garber learning to unlock his inner Caruso with a little help from Michael Matus's equally charming Tito Merelli.

*and why the suspicion, which I've since seen voiced, about winning over judges and audience with revealed emotion? It's different from emoting, which the operagoing public at least senses and doesn't like, and it has to be the most important factor. You can have huge personality and not the world's greatest voice, and you'll do deservedly well - viz Danielle de Niese - but if your sound is the greatest and you don't communicate, forget it. I should add, by the way, that Petrova's lovely soul shone through, too.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Dalek days

Kuda, kuda vy udalilis...Where, oh where, have you gone, golden days of my youth, when I used to cower behind the sofa at the sound of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's Doctor Who theme and still more at daleks and cybermen (Jon Pertwee era, if you must know)? And here I am, ahem, several decades on, celebrating my birthday at Grange Park, where in among the watery fantasy of Dvorak's Rusalka were to be found reminders of that timeless and long-running telly masterpiece.

I know they incorporated the above tardis in last year's suitably wacky production of Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges, but did the Doctor Who team film here? The elusive Wasfi Kani was not to be tracked down to ask, but I'm thinking it would be a creepy location for one of the weirder journeys into the past. William Wilkins completed the job in 1809 for the then Lord Ashburton, whose descendent still strolls on in front of the prosecenium arch and tells jokes with huge charm (some compensation this year for the absent black labrador Ellie, whose retirement from the stage was marked with a real shaggy-dog story).

As Pevsner/Lloyd puts it, 'Wilkins added to his encased [17th century] house a Parthenon portico of tremendous pathos: six Greek Doric columns wide and two deep, facing E and overlooking the lake. This was one of the first determined credos in the coming Grecian mode, highly exacting and far from domestic'.

Much as I find Grange Park the most otherworldly of the summer opera locations, - yes, the braying is always a minus at all of them - and second in quality only to Glyndebourne, it's still frustrating to be so contained within the limited grounds of this semi-ruin, and not able to walk down to the lake

since Rusalka's watery realm seemed to demand it. Actually this wasn't the most magical of stagings, much as I love Anthony McDonald as a designer. Read why not on The Arts Desk. I think, too, I must have got the more world-class of Tristans running this month, though all credit to Grange Park for attempting it. But after so long, you have to ask yourself the question - do you really want to see the operatic masterpieces done with a perfectly good second-cast team?

Anyway, below is Alastair Muir's Rusalka photo of Clive Bayley, in good voice as the Merman (cf Vodnik) with the three tree nymphs augmented intelligently by three dancers - though I missed the breast-waggling wildness of Melly Still's feral creatures at Glyndebourne, and in fact can't wait to see that show again when I go to give a second pre-performance talk on 14 August.

As for 'how old D Nice?', same reply as for the famous Cary Grant telegram: 'old D Nice fine: how you?'. Let's just say I am not of quite as venerable an age as the two Americans I most admire, with birthdays either side of mine - Aaron Sorkin, whose West Wing continues to astound us every time we have an evening in, and (only a few days older than the diplo-mate) Barack Obama. It is, of course the big 5-0 for all three this year. And we had a lovely day, thank you, poking around Winchester in the afternoon mizzle - more anon - and dining on the Grange's as usual excellent fare in crumbling splendour (lobster and prawns for me, a la Rusalka), served by an especially attentive waiter ('I'm Rory, and if there's anything you need, just let me know').

Friday 17 June 2011

Göttingen: churches and facades

In a couple of weeks I'll be exploring for the first time one of Göttingen's twin towns, Cheltenham, which as a johnny-come-lately spa visited by Handel - only connect - shortly after its development by one Captain Skillicorn presumably doesn't have the medieval legacy of Germany's great university town. Not that Göttingen's old churches haven't been majorly restored compared to many of ours - and this, I'm told, not due to bombing (only two per cent of the town was affected in WW2, allegedly as a pact between enemies: spare Oxford and Cambridge, we won't touch Göttingen and Heidelberg). Anyway, you have to be charmed by the attempt to revive the candy columns of the 1480s in the Jacobikirche, Lutheran St James, still evangelising its good works. The gaudiness extends to the west porch.

Alas, the tower was under scaffolding, so that famous view of four churches from the marketplace was incomplete, and there was no climbing to the top. But the essential treasure is the Wandelaltar. Its outer panels show the legend of St James, the 'Sunday side' the life of Christ. When I visited the 'Festtagsseite' was on display, with statues of the prophets. Not of the sharpest, this image, but I wasn't going to use flash in the church.

The church also has the water-regurgitator from the tower, which stood outside the museum for some years and seems pleasurably pagan in this context.

A little way up Weender Strasse, past the drug addicts and down-and-outs who gather for Jacobikirche charity, is No. 62, built by cloth merchant Jürgen Hovet in 1549, abounding in mermaids and green men as well as biblical figures.

Most of the neighbouring buildings date from the 1860s.

Raphael Hahn's family at No. 60 showed its pride not only with two dates but also with stars of David. Weh mir, why do the teeth in the windows remind me of Olivier's sadistic dentist in Marathon Man?

It's worth remembering at this point that in the 1930s, along with the synagogue, the university's great tradition of science and mathematics was systematically destroyed by the Nazis. 'Jewish physics', symbolized by Einstein, had to go. In 1933 Göttingen lost most of its greatest academics. I found them duly listed, so the names must be recalled: Max Born, Victor Goldschmidt, James Franck, Eugene Wigner, Leó Szilárd, Edward Teller, Emmy Noether, Richard Courant...

Still, the university flourishes up to a point, and it has the usual necessary core of radicalism (young Germans do really make me very optimistic for the future). Up the Rote Strasse, a medieval home for a casino - which at least shows that Göttingen isn't pickled in tourist aspic -

gives way to what looks like a jolly student squat.

This is the east quarter, with the most ancient of the churches, Albanikirche, founded before 1012, a reminder of the old town.

Also in this quarter is the neoclassical Aula of the University in Wilhelmsplatz, overlooked by their and our William IV, his plinth healthily defaced

and the Junkernschränke in the splendidly named 'Bare Foot Street' once trodden by shoeless Franciscans. Built in 1446 but substantially remodelled a century later, it boasts a jutting oriel - though nothing, of course, to compare with fabulous Schaffhausen - and its brightly-repainted figures, like those of No. 62 Weender Strasse, are the German fantastical equivalent of our roof-bosses (think Norwich Cathedral especially) and misericords.

Gosh, I'm going on here in my attempt to cover all the poles, but better take a glimpse south to the much-restored St Michael's with its neobaroque tower, with the Schwarzes Bär serving up black beer (pun intended, of course) in the foreground

before moving on to the Johanniskirche as taken from Paulinerstrasse. Its unequal towers were used for different purposes - the south as the belfry, the north for the watchman to sound the fire alarm.

It was here that we heard the great blaze of Handel's coronation anthems - duly reported in my Arts Desk 'letter from...' - alongside rather less individual Lalande, expertly done by the nice young choristers and Musica Alta Ripa ensemble seen in a festival publicity shot.

I could have continued with photoreportage of the late-night venue, the Marienkirche, which is perhaps the most suggestivo of all, but you may be relieved to hear I'd stopped snapping by then and was just enjoying the mellow near-midnight vibes.