No respectable visit to London can be complete without attendance at that hallowed hall of increasingly superlative excellence to the arts of opera and the ballet, the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. One should get there early so as to enjoy the street artist shows and the shops in the ex fruit and veg market (I can still remember the traders and porters in the days when going to hear the Pink Floyd at Middle Earth and Gandalf’s garden.
Covent Garden is perhaps London’s only authentic Italian-style piazza. The colonnade is not complete (although further tracts of it were built as a result of the opera redevelopment a few years ago) but it does give a very clear picture of what the original architect Inigo Jones envisaged when he designed it in the seventeenth century.
We really enjoy opera at the Garden but principally we go there for the ballet which is entering into yet another golden phase. As part of Shakespeare’s four hundredth death anniversary there was a production of The Winter’s Tales with choreography by Christopher Wheeldon and music by Joby Talbot.
To say I was gripped through the long three acter would be an understatement. The performance was a triumph and leading dancers Sarah Lamb as Perdita and Joe Parker Mamillius received an Italianate-style scream of approval from the audience at the end.
Wheeldon, who is barely forty years old, is the true successor of Kenneth MacMillan. His spectacular success with ‘Alice in wonderland’ was the first new full length ballet produced there for over twenty years, and the Winter’s Tale, immaculately true to Shakespeare’s supreme example of his late romance writing style, worked equally well.
For me the music fitted the action to a T. Talbot is a highly versatile composer for the concert hall, the cinema, the television (League of Gentlemen) and now, more than ever, the ballet. His music is complex but easily listenable, highly atmospheric and, although talking its cue from the more creative aspects of minimalism, weaves obsessive themes into a well integrated whole with inspiring melodies and some ravishing orchestral effects. The on-stage band where prince Florizel meets and fall in love with Perdita, the rustically brought up but aristocratic daughter of the jealously punished Leontes, was a true coup de musique. This band consisting of bansuri (Indian flute) dulcimer, accordion and percussion accompanied some truly Balkan-inspired choreography to exciting effect.
The ROH happens in many respects to be one of the best value of top-class theatres in London. With mediocerly placed tickets at £50 pounds for routine shows it’s a bargain to pay £25 for a full-view amphitheatre seat for a spectacle which few world theatres would be able to equal. Ballet at Covent Garden is truly on a high and that golden partnership between Wheeldon and Talbot is a miracle.
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