Monday, 10 October 2016

Some Cultural Pursuits

Did you know that? Do any of you live in or near one of the Stratfords mentioned here?
Do these Stratfords have theatres similar to the Royal Shakespeare Company in the original Stratford-upon-Avon in the UK?

I had no idea of any of it until we went to see King Lear the other day. Isn’t that a splendid Bottom?
Titania isn’t half as grand.

Every time I see King Lear I hope that this time he isn’t going to fall for his conniving, dishonest, fawning daughters’ flattery and that he sees them for the grasping, treacherous witches they are. No, Lear remains blind to reality and favours appearances over truth. Cordelia is silent and he throws her out. Goneril and Regan are free to pursue their evil machinations. Lear goes mad, Gloucester has his eyes gouged out and lots of people die.  That’s the trouble with Shakespeare tragedies, once they’re written they stay written, no matter how many centuries pass.

Tristan and Isolde with the Potion (1916) by John William Waterhouse, oil on canvas

As for Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, the whole disaster hinges on a love potion. If Isolde’s handmaid Brangane hadn’t swapped a poisonous tincture for a love potion the whole five hour music drama would have been over in less than one. As it was (again, once written, a thing stays written), misunderstandings, secret trysts, honour and skullduggery abound and are thoroughly demonstrated by thunderous music and dramatic voices. Practically everybody dies here too. If Brangane had at least come clean a bit sooner rather than at the end when death was but a foregone conclusion, Tristan und Isolde might have lived happily every after.

Okay folks, seriously. Both King Lear with Antony Sher in the title role, one of the greatest parts written by Shakespeare, at the RSC in Stratford, and the transmission of Tristan und Isolde from the Met in NYC were experiences I wouldn’t have wanted to miss. Beloved didn’t come to Stratford, he’s seen King Lear many times; he finds the journey tiring now and will only undertake it “if it’s worth it” for him. Although it was sad that he stayed at home it was also a bit of a relief for me. For once I could enjoy a theatre visit without having to have half an eye on his wellbeing.

Wagner was a different matter. The transmission came to the screen at a small local theatre, which takes less than twenty minutes’ drive. He sat through the five hours’ performance without a murmur.  Actually, that’s not quite true, he once snorted a loud ‘Nonsense’ and another time he complained that the interviewer made it look as if the English horn solo in Act III was to be played by a cor anglais. But he had nothing to complain of in the orchestra or even the singers. Not many can do these roles justice but the Met ensemble did their very best. Although he detected a slight wobble in Isolde’s voice he praised her accuracy. That’s the trouble with musicians who have spent their life playing at the big houses, for world famous conductors and have had the privilege to hear the greatest voices for over forty years. They do tend to have an opinion!

Luckily the audience was small, seating was ‘cabaret style’, that is small tables for individual parties, wine, cake and hot drinks were served during the two intervals and, in spite of some minor niggles, the music was simply overwhelming. We are lucky, almost the entire Met season is to be transmitted; Wagner was only the season’s opening.


  1. I don't live near any of the Stratfords. I love that Bottom. King Lear is my favorite Shakespeare (to read--I've never seen it onstage). I remember writing in a college essay that Cordelia isn't a "sycophant." I was quite proud of using that word. I'm glad you've gotten to witness such glorious performances.


  2. We have the Met transmissions in San Jose...not, unfortunately, in cabaret style - but |i have not caught up with this season's offerings as Leo is ill. Should he pick up we will go as the performances are stunning.

  3. Friko, you have now seen a Met performance sent right across the Atlantic, while I was too lazy or unaware to take a ten-minute walk down Broadway to Lincoln Center. Bravo!

    King Lear is a play with a plot that relies on the audience's wishes not being fulfilled. It's a much more skilled version of what occurs in horror films' plots.

    I observed John Lennon's birthday today by taking another walk down Broadway...almost to Lincoln Center, to the Apple store to buy an iPhone. I will let you know what happens as this purchase changes my life.

    Meanwhile, The Debate is about 90 minutes away. I took an afternoon nap to be able to stay alert to the joust. xo

  4. I feel more cultured for having read this, Friko!

  5. What a treat you had. And gave us.
    Love that Bottom.

  6. Friko, I've been to theatre at Stratford-on-Avon while visiting England and loved it. I went to high school at Stratford in New Zealand. It's in a beautiful location beside the mountain, Mount Taranaki, and I've been back there a few times in recent years. It would be fun to see what our Stratford is up to.

  7. I think I'd love sitting through a concert or opera along with your Beloved, and hear his expert comments - provided we were in our own booth as to not disturb the other spectators!
    But it would not have to be Wagner, as I heartily dislike the man as a person (what I know of him) and can not completely seperate in my mind the man from the music (which is undoubtedly great).
    No Statfords in my area, as you know :-)

  8. Hi Friko - those willow creations are amazing aren't they - and yes I'd picked up on the various Stratfords around the world, similar to mining towns on other continents - starting in South Africa.

    But your get together with garden displays .. how lovely. Wagner has never been a favourite and King Lear is fairly gruesome .. but I'd love (love) to see the Anthony Sher performance ... he's an amazing South African actor.

    Our film society is putting on the Japanese 1985 film 'Ran' based on Lear ... it's been updated and I gather is a superb film ...

    I'm so glad you're getting a chance to go to Stratford, while Beloved can join you for the local performances via the big/small screen in a venue nearby ... but it must be so rewarding having Beloved with his knowledge of his craft around ...

    Enjoy the showings ... and a great read here - cheers Hilary

  9. Friko, I am so glad to hear you got out to enjoy yourself. I have enjoyed many of the Bard's plays, but have not seen King Lear. No, we don't have a Stratford around here. What we do have are small theater groups that put on marvelous Shakespeare plays in the summer on open grass fields with minimal props. We used to travel up to New York State (4 hours away) to see very grand productions of his plays, but now, that seems too much. We are satisfied and happy with our town's effort as the talent is excellent and the wine is cheap. However, I have always wanted to go to Stratford, perhaps some day I will get to visit the one in Connecticut.

  10. What a wonderful, interesting post, Friko. I remember that Jeanie often goes to plays at the Canadian Stratford -- at least, I think so. We've had some come to the theater, but I hven't partaken. From what you write, I clearly should make more of an effort to avail myself of the opportunity.

    I'm Traveling now, and feeling blest that the Great Wifi in the Sky allowed me access to the web this morning. Last night wasn't good, and I still can't get in to all of my Wordpress pages -- including the new blog post I'd be happy to put up, if only I could. Ah, well. Today's projects now include sorting it all out. I'm just glad I was able to read this, and be inspired!

  11. You two are so cultured. I have never seen Shakespeare live--only on TV or a movie. Sounds like some great performances, though. :)

  12. No idea about Shakespeare and all dat, friend Friko ... after I came to Canada I decided to do my matric in English all over again, including English 30 (including Shakespeare) ... and passed all ... never looked back since then though ... got my nursing licence and that's all what counts to this day ... hope and your beloved are doing well ... always thinking about you,hmmm ... Love, cat.

  13. Bravo !
    I'm so glad that , unlike me , not everyone has given up any attempt to go to a concert or to the theatre . We've all been made lazy with television and CDs but , of course , nothing replaces the real thing .

  14. Well, I am very happy to say I live about four hours from the Stratford Festival in Stratford on Avon, Ontario, Canada! Equally pleased to say that I try to get there every year. This year it was the two musicals, though I would have loved to have seen their well-reviewed Macbeth and All My Sons. That had been on my schedule till the tour got canceled. C'est la vie.

    They have four theatres -- a festival style thrust stage, a proscenium (the Avon), a smaller theatre, the Patterson and a studio/black box type. If you link to this post on the Gypsy -- -- you can see a couple of views of the stages for the Festival and the Avon (taken before the show began when it was allowed, never fear!)

    Lucky you, seeing Antony Sher. It's a beautiful theatre, isn't it? My only visit to your Stratford was in 1973 when my mom and I saw Richard II with Ian Richardson. Who knew years later he'd be in what I consider the best (and original) House of Cards?! I'd love to see a play there with you, Friko -- and I would be low maintenance, I promise!

  15. When I lived in Ontario I went to the marvellous Stratford there so many times. Memorable was Christopher Plummer as Lear.,_Ontario

    I am missing seeing the nameless play this year where a dear friend is blowing everyone away with her performance as the Lady in said play.


  16. Oh, I so would have loved this and have been to the Stratford in the UK, which was when I became enchanted as a girl with plays...You're right, favorite authors are many and varied but Shakespeare still tops the list! Best to you!

  17. I love your descriptions of the various plays, and yes that Bottom is wonderful. I went to live outdoor Shakespeare plays when I lived in Boulder, Colorado, which put on a different one each summer for many years. It was memorable. I don't live anywhere near a Stratford, though, and now I know what I'm missing. :-)

  18. We saw King Lear some years ago in London - I am so ashamed to say, that because of making the mistake of hiking around the city all day long, without taking an afternoon rest at the hotel, and going straight to the performance, we were fighting with tiredness so much as to almost falling asleep several times. We will be in London again and next time we will do better, much better! :-)
    Love your post, as always!

  19. We hardly eve go to a Theater...too many people and germs:)

  20. Now I can connect to the internet I am able to read blogs again. I love your last about Autumn and this one and must thank you for reminding me about live streaming. with mobility problems for months I had forgotten how much I love the live streamings, and I hope to be able to get to some. I shall instantly go and look up the programme. so pleased to see you still here and blogging despite difficult and very sad personal circumstances.

  21. I had no idea there were more Stratfords than the one on-Avon and in Ontario, Canada. We hear a lot about the Stratford Festival there, but alas, we live thousands of miles away.
    There is a Shakespeare Company in Vancouver, though, and we take a busload of high school students every year. I've gone the last two years - A Comedy of Errors was well done and enjoyable, but this year's Romeo and Juliet was painful to watch. No voice modulation, just yelling, and little emotion. A travesty.
    Glad you enjoyed your outings, and Beloved his Wagner.

  22. I'm glad to hear you are getting out with and without Beloved.

  23. I did know of the Stratfords in the US and Canada; and thinking about it, it seems "natural" that there are Stratfords in Australia and New Zealand as well.
    My mother loved Wagner's music and she was lucky enough to see performances in Bayreuth which she cherished. My parents sat through the entire Der Ring des Nibelungen several times, spending their Sundays at the opera.

  24. That sounds like a lovely evening out.

  25. Stratford, CT is not so very far from where we live, though we've never visited. I was laughing a good bit at your plot synopses of both works . . . particularly the hope for a different ending, but alas, once written it stays written. I hope the RSC of King Lear comes to our local movie house. We just recently saw the Globe's Richard II, and it was splendid. My season opening for the Met was, yes indeed, the very Tristan und Isolde you saw, and how magnificent it was! I wasn't keen on the production, though it had its moments, but it mattered little. The music, the singing, the orchestra, carried me off from beginning to end. I was particularly moved by Rene Pape's King Marke, but everyone was (to my definitely untrained ear) absolutely top notch. I will look forward to your reports on upcoming Met performances.

  26. I have been going to Stratford Ontario every year since 1982; it feels like a second home to me.
    they do a lovely job.

  27. Ursula yes We are a two hour drive from the Stradford annd we have been to see King John and King Lear recently. Buddy even joins us. Our opera season started with Norma and was followed by Ariandante a week later. We enjoy our time out together especially in the fall time. Symphony nights are also back and we enjoyed a debut lady conductor as she guided us through a Beethoven and Tschaikovsky programme that left us very content. We are happy to go there as a threesome as well now. And we have switched from driving into downtown Toronto to using the underground which has direct access to both performence halls.
    I look forward to reading more about your upcoming events.


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