Friday, February 28, 2014

The body in the ballroom

To the Opera House for a new production of Eugene Onegin. The success of the evening is really built on the splendid Tatyana of Nicole Car, who was little short – if at all short – of splendid; a rich totally assured soprano at its best, and a fine dramatic actress not only accomplished but offering much for the future. She was  not really matched by the rest of the cast, which was competent rather than really exciting. Dalibor Jenis is a baritone of very considerable experience, who never falters as Onegin, but lacks both musical and physical excitement, and if an Onegin isn’t emotionally exciting in both those fields he can’t really succeed completely in the part – especially in the last act, never easy to bring off. James Eggleston’s Lensky is rich in decibels but not in sensitivity: he delivered the great aria of farewell to life as though it was a military call to arms, and the sheen of sweet, nostalgic melancholy essential to it was nowhere to be heard. Sian Pendry is a sweetly pretty and charming Olga about whom a tenor might well lose his head. Kanen Breen’s Triquet is properly silly without being decrepit, which is fine. One hoped for much of the Russian bass Konstantin Gorny, but Gremin’s great hymn to marriage, though perfectly adequate, brought no real thrill of richness from his voice. All this probably sounds more denigratory than one means to be: the evening is never less than satisfactory, and sometimes – as in Ms Car’s thrilling letter scene – a great deal more. Apart from . . . on yes, now we come to the production. Kasper Holten’s idea of two Tatyanas and Onegins – of the mature Tatyana looking back at the great romantic event of her youth, with dancers portraying the young lovers, is original and exciting and works extremely well during the first half of the evening. Alas, after the interval – as with so many Big Ideas – everything falls apart and becomes farcical. Lensky, killed in the duel with Onegin, has to remain dead on-stage for forty minutes, with the entire audience’s attention focussed on him – is he really breathing? will he sneeze? did we see him clink? – while Prince Gremin is faced with the problem of giving a really good party with a dead body and a sizable piece of tree in the middle of his ballroom floor. The set is a great mistake, with a line of French windows bisecting the stage, so that both dance scenes become impossible to mount – not so bad in the domestic ball, with its coarse menace (who quite why it should be menacing is another question) but hopeless in the second, with the aristocratic couples actually unable to dance, and forced to shuffle about uneasily trying to avoid the ladies’ dresses getting snagged up in the silly piece of tree (and not always succeeding).
So, in the famous remark of the curate at tea, the egg is good in parts. But hey, who expects perfection. It’s a good evening, Tchaikowsky's score is simply wonderful, and there’s an excellent excuse to have another grumble at directors who don’t really think about the consequences of their Big Ideas. Who could want more?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cheers for Marks and Spencers!

Hi Julia here - yes definitely cheers all round for M&S!   No longer will I have to dive into  the Worthing branch when visiting my Brother and Sister-in-law -( the lovely Pat and Paul Lethbridge)   Great! I won't have to lug back to Sydney numerous packs of five pairs of their superb knickers which I know all us British gals rely on (sorry Bonds!)  . .  Another new shopping Mall is under construction in George Street (due to open in October) and it will house our very own Marks and Sparks...   We know that Myers and D.J are getting itchy feet and they'll sure need to scratch them!  But even  more than stunning would be if  M&S  put one of their marvelous  food halls in their Sydney Emporium.   This, once and for all,would  sort out all the b****y,boring nonsense that has been going on between Coles and Woolies, who will sure get far more than a mere slap on their wrists.   Let's keep our eyes and ears open - it's going to be fun!   Cheers for now - Julia

The Little Otleys

Having enjoyed reading and writing about Dashiell Hammett I've gone to the opposite extreme and have very much enjoyed reading Ada Leverson's The Little Otleys - and look forward to more Leverson. What a really lovely writer! - great friend of Oscar Wilde - befriended him in his great crisis, lodged him during the trials and met him when he came out of prison; apart from which a great wit with wonderful insight into the relationship between the sexes. Plus, extremely enjoyable to read. Indeed, a lot of these now ignored women lovelists of the late Victorian and early Edwardian period are really worth reading. Bruce and Edith, the little Otleys, are a marvellously drawn couple, both comic and rather melancholy. Great stuff.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mr Lilly on PISCES

Qualities of the Signe Pisces   Is of the watery Triplicity, Northern, cold Signe, moyst, Flegmatick, feminine, nocturnal, the house of Jupiter. and exaltation of Venus, a Bycorporeal, common or double-bodies Signe, an idle, effeminate, sickly Signe, or representing a party of no action.
Sicknesse   All Diseases in the Feet, as the Gout, and all Lamenesse and Aches incident to those members, and so generally salt Flegms, Scabs, Itch, Botches, Breakings out, Boyles and Ulcers proceeding from Blood putrifacted, Colds and moyst diseases.
Places   It presents Grounds full of water, or where many Springs and much Fowle are, also Fish-ponds or Rivers full of Fish, places where Hermitages are, also Fish-ponds or Rivers full of Fish, places where Hermitages have been, Mats about Houses, Water-Mills in houses neer the water, as to some Well or Pump, or where water stands.
Corporature   A short stature, ill composed, not very decent, a good large Face, palish Complexion, the Body fleshy or swelling, not very straight, but incurvating somewhat with the Head.
Kingdomes, Countries, Cities   Calabria in Sicilia, Portugall, Normany, North of Egypt, Alexandria, Themes, Wormes, Ratisbone, Compostella.

-          William Lilly, Christian Astrology (1647)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Tickling the ivories

Is David Jones in Sydney the only store to engage a pianist? Certainly I think the only one in Australia - maybe there's one somewhere in America? Don't know of one in the UK. Anyway, Michael Hope has been tickling the ivories at David Jones' for a considerable number of years, now - always happy to chat and play requests, though he stops short of Liszt's arrangement of Beethoven's Ninth. Long may he

Julia's latest Pilates news!

Hi gals and guys!     As usual I had my great Pilates Session with Brad Leeon yesterday (Monday) afternoon, and as ever he challenged me with new positions and interesting specialised breathing techniques.   He often helps me regain my balance,  because a few years ago I badly tripped over wearing simple flat sandals, and  knocked my head (Derek says he'll never forget the sound of my hitting the pavement right by Hyde Park Gate). So blood stained and seven stitches later, with the the reassuring news that my skull wasn't cracked as the doctor had seen it -  I staggered home at 3.30am.  However, yesterday, after practicing walking on a steeply curved surface - not doing too badly -  Brad asked me to walk backwards.   His face was a study.   'You walk backwards far better than forward!'   I even got the impression that this was something new even to him!  I was surprised that the fall hadn't seriously disrupted my backward movements;  'but no', my extremely wise teacher replied ' It's disrupted your forward walking because up to the moment of the fall you were, in fact, walking forward and it's that that's making you so apprehensive!   I said that I was so used to walking backwards because of so much time I've spent with the Queen! (joke!)  'Bye for now -  keep breathing and exercising!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

No more news(papers)?

The Sydney Morning Herald publishes its last broadsheet edition today. As someone who felt that taking advertisements off the front page of The Times was a sufficient shock for one lifetime I don’t really approve of the way all the papers have gone tabloid – somehow it seems to diminish their dependability - though I dare say this is illusion; somehow the Guardian simply being the same shape and size as the Mirror is unsettling. But I guess newspapers are on the way out anyway, or statistic suggest it (a new weekly is nevertheless about to be published in Australia). I take the SMH from Friday to Monday, and find this quite enough reading to do outside ‘normal’ reading pattern – and it’s surprising how many articles I drop after the first two or three paragraphs. A lot of the writing doesn’t, frankly, seem very good – and good news services on TV (here, notably, the BBC World News and the ABC news) seem to fill the bill as far as actual news is concerned, while a good many on-screen commentators are excellent. The only thing one will really miss about newspapers, sadly - being hard-nosed about it - are the commentaries and critics (not nearly enough time given to the arts on TV nets and current affairs programmes).

Friday, February 21, 2014

All those cluttered files!

Hello Gals and Guys   Yesterday I came to my senses and got down to sorting  a load of chaotic files.   I am coming to the end of a long  family saga which I have been writing over a period of about five years, when time permits between regular and commissioned work.    It is based on members of my Mother's family who were builders in Plymouth UK and in1882 arrived in Sydney to, very successfully, do that here!    It's meant a lot of interesting research and I plan it to end it  ten years later.   It  is vast. (Move over 'War and Peace'!)   My files were cluttered up with ideas for plot  development - some I've used some I haven't -  a lot of factual  stuff about  the City and indeed Melbourne, where a considerable amount of the action takes place,  fashions of the period, cemeteries, long closed department stores - you name it -  it  was all there; and especially scores of emails from a wonderful chap who researched every member of my family - The Tapsons  - these I still treasure.   All my sorting and clearing out took hours, and when I'd finished I didn't think I'd thrown out very much; but when I replaced my files in their usual little drawers I realised how well I'd done - there is actually space!  And I don't go mad when papers crush up as I attempt open them. . .     Mind you, on Thursday I  spent a few lovely hours in the nearby Stanton Library  which has a vast Historic Section covering North Sydney. . . and now I have some new trails that I'll be using in the next few days - so here we go again!   Nevertheless, I feel pleased, smug and and satisfied with my efforts.

Thin ice

Melancholy news on all sides. News of the death, some time ago, of Maurizio Masetti, a friend in Florence who was much concerned with the story of the Brownings and the case of Pompilia, the heroine of his poem The Ring and the Book - we originally met through the publication of my book on the subject, and Maurizio was a dear, mild, intelligent man we spent some time with on our last visit to Florence. He died suddenly in Bristol, on a visit to the UK, within forty-right hours of a rare chest infection. Then we hear that our old friend David Hight, who we met man, many years ago when he was working in publishing, put his car in reverse instead of first (don't know the details, but basically I think that was what happened) and damaged his leg so badly it was thought at one time it would have to be  amputated. Now recovering, though at the moment back in hospital because it's got itself infected. I guess one's immediate reaction to this kind of news, after pangs of sorrow and sympathy, is almost inevitably, 'Well, it wasn't me' - coupled with 'how easily it could have been me'. The ice on which we walks is damnably thin.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Now for Nelly

Now that I've got the book about the Roman murder case on-line I'm turning my attention to my biography of Nell Gwyn, there not being a really good one - it seems to me - available on-line. What an extraordinary Court Charles II ran, with  all those ladies vying for attention - Barbara Villiers, Lucy Walter, and of course Nell herself - none of them better than they should be, but all of them clearly extremely skilful in the one thing in which Charles was most interested. No doubt it wouldn't have done Lely good not to have flattered them, but all the same they were clearly all three extremely beautiful, and my favourite picture of Nell . . . well, I leave it to you.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Here comes Pompilia

Just got my book about a fascinating murder case on the Nte for downloading from Amazon: just to quote the publicity -

'Should a man be free to kill his adulterous wife? This is the crime of the eighteenth century. Count Guido Franceschini is accused of murdering his beautiful young wife Pompilia,  said to have eloped with a handsome young priest. But did they actually commit adultery? Half of Rome believes she did; the other half claims she is innocent. In this book the trial is reconstructed from contemporary court reports, and the gossip of the time. Pompilia: guilty or innocent? Count Guido: released or executed? This is the story Robert Browning re-told in his best-selling The Ring and the Book. From start to finish, it tells the story of one of the most fascinating trials of all time.  ‘A fine, powerful and persuasive book’ – Daily Telegraph   ‘Derek Parker is an exceptional and probing storyteller’ – History   ‘All the page-turning grip of a good thriller’ – Michael Dibdin.'
So, if anyone feels ready for a treat at $6.99 . . .


Oh those continuous performances!

Hi Julia here!   If you are really old you will remember the delights of continuous performances at the cinema.   One could go in at any time  - and if the movie was really popular one sometimes had to wait in a queue until someone came out or if the performance actually finished.   Of course, this was a good excuse to go in in the dark and to blazes with the movie, hope for back row seats and enjoy a good snog.    Some cinemas obliged with actual double seats - presumably for that very purpose - but if our boy friend had enough money to treat us to an ice cream we soon learned not to choose a choc-ice since all too easily, chocolate  paw marks on the openings of our blouses did not go down well with our mothers.  More generally, we would see what remained of the movie that was going on when we went in, and then eventually, much later, it would be 'Oh this is where we came in' and we'd leave.   But the real bonus of continuous performances were we could stay there and see any really special movie round for the second time - without paying any more.   This was sheer heaven if it was some lovely romantic thing or what have you.   My friends and I were either dancers or we all belonged  to the local  Shakespeare Society  So when Laurence Olivier's Hamlet was showing we would stay swooning and seeing it through  twice. - and on more than one occasion.   Of course, we dancers were more than just inspired by the wonderful  Moira Shearer in  The Red Shoes where even now, with my digital DVD, I can recite the script. Once when were in the South of France I suddenly ask Derek to stop the car.   "That's where Moira Shearer in her stunning Jaques Fath peacock green evening gown, went up the steps to learn that she was getting the ballerina role in The Red Shoes".   Oh yes! my generation made sure we had a lot of fun too -  in  all sorts of ways!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Oh! Poor Rhian's wellies!

Julia's got a sad story for you today!     Well yes, and of course we are all very concerned about the worse than dreadful UK floods, and my friend Rhian who lives in South Wales told me that she treated herself to a rather special, cheering pair of lovely purple wellies!   The other morning she looked out and actually saw a bit of blue sky.   If it was big enough to make a pair of knickers then it would stay fine.   Obviously it wasn't, because all too soon came another weather horror - a hurricane -which  blew her lovely wellies completely away. She tells me she hopes that they traveled together on the wind because then at least anyone finding them would have a pair.   Well Wales bloggers or maybe Cornish,,German or Aussie bloggers for that matter - have they come your way???

Christmas in Albert Square

We’ve been catching up with the Christmas UK editions of EastEnders, as usual almost totally disastrous for everyone! But Christmas in Albert Square has always been relentlessly downbeat – peace and goodwill to men? – hooey. We’ve watched this extraordinary show since it’s very first episode, when we were all children, and it has never failed – well, only very rarely – to be entertainment at the highest level of its sort (rather like the twopenny serials of Victorian times); and of course a marvellous training-ground for young actors now there are no repertory companies (recording an episode while rehearsing another and learning a third).  Neighbours has produced more really fine actors (Russell Crowe et al), but the standard of acting in Albert Square is remarkable considering the rate at which the episodes are churned out, and there have been several characters really etched into one’s memory. I suppose some people watch other soaps; but there is no doubt always an appetite for the second-rate (ha!).