As you know I am a pushover for the divas so it was with high excitement that I heard Bette Midler had broken Broadway’s advance box office records for her Hello Dolly at the Schubert theatre co-starring the dishy David Hyde Pearce. The show is still in preview but already there are tales of a queen fainting in the aisles during the first act, being advised to go to hospital only to reply ‘and miss the second act?’
i rather sympathise. Seeing Bette at the O2 a couple of years ago was one of the best nights of my life. I should think Old Compton Street and the synagogues of London were a ghost town that night. Actually, it was Lee who insisted I got the ticket. Well, since I’ve been stepping out with H I’ve had the privilege to see rather a lot of divas.
Handel’s Partenope at the English National Opera was one of the best stagings I’ve ever seen: a 1920s Parisian Surreal dream inspired in no small part by Man Ray and the Left Bank intellectual and sexual demi monde of Cocteau, Gertrude Stein and Nancy Cunard. Christopher Alden’s production design for Partenope’s palace was a minimal Le Corbusier Art Deco apartment that both H and I rather fantasised about owning.
Handel’s music works like a tranquilliser on my mind and I was hypnotised from the first scene when Sarah Tynan’s Partenope slowly stacked both arms with ebony bracelets a la Cunard. The Twenties Parisian theme worked perfectly for the ladies in trouser roles Patricia Bardon (Alsace) and Stephanie Windsor Lewis (Rosmira) and I learned to love the sound of a counter tenor.
But Jon Morrell’s costumes for Partenope quite stunned with their beauty: bias cut silk lounging pyjamas, beaded Lanvin gowns and a marvellous Marlene homage of white tie, top hat and tails that actually owed more to Madonna’s Dietrich than the Blue Venus herself. I do hope there will be another revival of the production before too long. Next up is Alfie Boe and Katherine Jenkins in Carousel which I’m rather looking forward to.
Now ordinarily when someone suggests five hours of Wagner at the Royal Opera House with a standing ticket I would suggest they do something anatomically impossible. But this being H, I tagged along for the last act. We’re getting terribly good at spotting empty seats and on the night of Die Meistersinger ended up in a box in the Grand Tier: the level that Americans nicknamed the diamond horseshoe because of the blaze of jewellery worn at the turn of the 20th century when white tie was still the form.
Though there was an awful lot of recitative at the beginning of the act, there was an exquisite quintet that brought a tear to the eye that rather distracted from the aching bum having sat through two hours of Hitler’s favourite opera. But on balance I’m game for an encore of Wagner even if I won’t be making the pilgrimage to Bayreuth any time soon.
Wagnerians can be bores can’t they? There was a scene where someone intentionally played a harpsichord badly and sang flat which had them rolling in the aisles in the Opera House … presumably to prove to the neighbouring box that they got the joke. How we all laughed! I only laugh inappropriately in the Royal Opera House. La Farmer and I were in fits watching the mermaid ballet Ondline. I leaned over and whispered, all we need is Dolores Delago, Bette Midler’s mermaid in a wheelchair…
Do you know what has given me most pleasure this week apart from the nights when H comes for a sleepover? The BBC adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. I’ve had rather a crush on Jack Whitehall for quite a while now and he has proved to be a cracking little actor as well as a comedian. His wide-eyed, nervous niceness as Paul Pennyfeather is spot on.
Writers who read Decline and Fall tend to wonder where to go to surrender. Waugh was twenty-four when he published his debut novel. Waugh is the master of black comedy and he was writing at a time in world history that gave him great material: the rise of Fascism, the triumph of Communism, the decline of the British aristocracy and the shifting of the moral tectonic plates.
But back to the Beeb. The story of aspiring Oxbridge cleric Paul sent down because the Bullingdon Club riot boys stripped him naked in the quad sets up a corrupt and morally bankrupt England. Paul is farmed-out to a tinpot public school in Wales presided over by the egregious, snobbish Dr Fagan played with relish by David Suchet who, incidentally, gave a marvellous Lady Bracknell on the West End stage.
It was inspired to cast neat, petite Eva Longoria as Margot Beste Chetwynde the doll-like mother of a pupil with eyes like knives. I won’t spoil it for you but Margot (pronounced Beast Cheating) significantly contributes to poor Paul’s downfall. I so look forward to the concluding two episodes.
I will be in New York at the end of April but don’t hold out much hope for getting tickets to see Miss M in Hello Dolly. Then again, someone always leaves their handbag at home don’t they? Until next time…