Stuff vs experience is always hotly debated.
I am the first person to connect stuff with happiness. (OK, maybe the second). But there is evidence to suggest that buying activities rather than objects – and ideally choosing pastimes which involve sharing and being with others – is the route to happiness. Being out of full-time work for a while made me reassess some of my spending priorities, and I’ve started to think less of a treat as something to be carried home wrapped in tissue paper than as time spent with people you love. If that person is yourself, that’s no less wonderful. One of the nicest things I did last year was to treat myself to breakfast for one at The Wolseley on the way home from a particularly brutal set of night shifts. I may have been less well kempt than my fellow breakfasters, but that haggis with fried duck egg was glorious.
Reading Duchesse’s recent post about the cost of culture Stateside, and Pierre Foglia’s point about the replacement of art with armchair columnists and consumerism, hit home. It also made me realise was how lucky we are to be living in London, with its wealth of possibilities on our doorstep. Knowing I was about to embark on a job working normal hours, able to make plans in advance (and actually stick to them! Amazing) I resolved to get myself to the theatre toot sweet.
So obviously, when I received a text from Will inviting me to the opera, my first thought was ‘Why is he texting me in the third person?’
… quickly followed by ‘A box! Crumbs.’
Will is a muscian. He thinks sitting so close to the stage gives you the best balance between the singers and the orchestra. Marginally restricted viewing means that the tickets are cheaper, too. This box between four of us worked out at £46 each.
This was Die Frau ohne Schatten, The Woman without a Shadow. I’d never seen a Strauss opera before. I first discovered Strauss watching The Hours (Meryl Streep in her New York kitchen cooking lobster with Jessye Norman singing Four Last Songs turned up loud. I fell for the kitchen and the music in one fell swoop), but his operas aren’t put on very often. This one, staged at the Royal Opera House to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss’s birth, is long and the story didn’t sound promising. Turn it into a nightmare, with lots of people wearing animal heads, and it looked odder still.
It was wonderful, though. The animals, doubles of their spirit/human counterparts and omens, were beautiful to watch.
As was the orchestra. The only downside of being able to see so much was getting swept away and forgetting to read the subtitles. (My German extends to ‘Guten tag’ and ‘Zum wohl’).
The Royal Opera House is of course beautiful.
Looking out of the Paul Hamlyn bar
The ROH house white is pretty nice, too. Reserve yours in advance for the interval and avoid the ravening crowds.
People more organised than us who had booked supper for the interval
The best thing about Die Frau ohne Schatten (and the orchestra and singing were wonderful, and the set design was pretty snazzy so it’s a tough contest) was the conductor, Semyon Bychkov. I am not a music critic, so have searched for someone who summed up better than I can what I felt. In the words of Stephen Pollard, ‘you will never hear a finer performance of a Strauss opera than the blazing, incandescent, tender and opulent reading of the glorious score that Semyon Bychkov secures from the Royal Opera House orchestra … we have the Vienna and Berlin philharmonics rolled into one in the Covent Garden pit.’ I would travel far to listen to Bychkov conduct again. Apparently he’s a Strauss specialist.
I can’t recommend it to you because that was the last night. But if you get a chance to see Bychkov conducting Strauss, grab it with both hands.
The best £46 I’ve spent in ages. Absolutely no question.