As the dear Reverend Richard Coles said on Twitter…
Here’s a bit of a back story. Earlier this year (around early February) I started entering competitions using a website called The Prize Finder. It has around approximately 3500 competitions you can enter each month, in the UK, from a variety of sources (both genuine companies and some rather dubious ones I tend to avoid – one piece of advice I’d give to any budding pro-comper would be ALWAYS READ THE Ts & Cs!). I have won a few things in that time. A couple of books, quite a bit of chocolate, some computer hardware and a pair of tickets to the Royal Festival Hall in London for a Wagner 200 concert.
The concert was last Wednesday, May 22nd and it was the first professional classical concert I have been to. I had won the tickets through the Foyles online bookstore – a competition found on Prize Finder. I was a little nervous but excited. I hadn’t been to London for nearly two years and I’m getting less and less agile in my old age.
The journey to London didn’t get off to the most fluid of starts. Feeling very pressed for time (I had wanted to be leaving the house before 3pm to catch the local bus into the town centre to get on a coach to London), it had just passed 3pm by the time I was ready. We called for a mini cab to take us to town. Then on the coach to London, Em was told off for DARING to use the coach’s free wi-fi with her mobile phone, the driver sternly showing her a “PLEASE DO NOT USE MOBILE PHONES” sign that was so low down in the coach windscreen that only the passengers in the first row of seats would have had the possible opportunity to see it! What is the point of providing free wi-fi to passengers if you can’t use it?! That didn’t do anything to quell the nerves of two quite skittish travellers, I can tell you!
Once arrived in London we felt we had little time to rest on our laurels. Time felt of the essence. We alighted at Victoria coach station and went into the nearby little shopping mall that has a small food court upstairs. Queue my escalator phobia to kick in as we had to travel one to get to the food court upstairs. No lift. No fixed stairs. Escalators ONLY. Once I had managed to get to the food court, I was then highly panicked as to how I was going to get back down again. The phobia stems from the pace of the escalator, the size, and the position of it. If it is fast, tall and has open sides (ie: is in the middle of a shopping mall, with no walls surrounding it, and there is glass or perspex either side – FORGET IT!) Thankfully the Victoria Place escalators were, although quite quick and open-sided, a mercifully short set of escalators. I was still nonetheless VERY scared of the journey back down them that I knew I HAD to take. There was no other way out!
The food court has seen better days with few choices for food. We were left with little choice (we felt at the time – feeling time-pressed and still very skittish) but to have McDonald’s. I can’t even remember the last time I had it. YEARS ago, that’s for sure. I had a sloppy old burger with a patty that was larger than the bun it was housed in, and Em had the only thing she can on the Maccas menu, a Fillet-o-Fish. We shared a drink and a rather anemic serve of fries. All that for £7.88! Absolutely OUTRAGEOUS! We cursed ourselves for not just getting straight back on the escalator and going down to the quicky supermarket and getting sandwiches and snacks. We rushed our food. We felt so time-pressed. By the time we had eaten, it was 6pm and we had to get back to the coach station and get a bus to the Festival Hall – which was projected to be a 35 minute journey – not to mention it was rush hour. Back to the escalator. I aborted my first attempt. Too fast! There were two ladies behind us wanting to get on and one of them said to me “are you like me? Do they scare you?” “Yes!”, I said “I have a terrible phobia of them!” She then said to me “I am SO bad with them sometimes I have to sit on them.” Poor lady. I found a escalator-phobic sister! She made it down safely, and gave me a thumbs up when I finally managed to get myself on. It was quite uplifting knowing I had the support of a fellow phobic 🙂
We arrived at the station coach and needn’t have panicked in the end. It was just a short walk and there was a bus already waiting for us. The journey to the Festival Hall was only 15 minutes so we were there by 6.45pm. PLENTY of time. Phew!
The concert itself:
OMG! The seats were TINY for my huge butt. It was hurting my sides! Ouch! And they were hurting Em’s back. We were in a great position though. The seats retailed at £36.00 each – I think the second most expensive seats to buy (minus the boxes, of course). We had great views. And from our seats we could see the Radio 3 presenter seated in his box, ready to give commentary on proceedings.
The first part of the concert was quite formal, mostly with just the orchestra performing. It was nice to witness all the nuances of orchestra performance that you wouldn’t see if just listening to recordings or viewing on television/film. I liked that I could hone in on individual players and what they were or weren’t doing at any given time. Unfamiliar with the absolute strict layout of an orchestra, I found myself keeping an eye on one man who didn’t play an instrument for quite a way in, to then see him after a while playing a piccolo. The timpani man was fun to watch too.
I was enjoying the first half. The music became almost incidental. But I would expect that as someone who has not been (by choice for many a year) exposed to much classical music, especially within a live concert setting. Obviously the music was making its way to me but perhaps the setting, or the acoustics just wasn’t making the aural impact I was hoping for. Yet.
The first piece (Overture, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg) played for about 10 minutes before the conductor Andrew Davis gave a little welcome speech and introduction to the full Wagner 200 series. As he spoke and mentioned Wagner’s birthday, someone from the audience let out a “Whoop!”. It took Mr Davis off his stride a little. He then responded with a “quite” – which then in turn made the rest of the audience laugh. It helped to makes things feel a little less formal 🙂
Afterwards we heard the Prelude and Liebstod of Tristan und Isolde in which Susan Bullock performed as Isolde. She sat on the stage for several minutes before her she was due her queue and it was fascinating watching her sitting facing the audience absorbing in the music, eyes closed. Even when not actually performing, she is giving it full emotive welly!
There was a German couple behind us and I am sure the man was crying during the Tristan und Isolde piece. It was obviously very moving for him. And I felt a pang of jealousy and regret that a) I never did end up learning German and had to rely on the DayGlo red subtitles above the staging, and b) That he/they knew exactly what was being said and that the experience was very emotional for him. The words in English were very beautiful but we know things don’t always translate from languages verbatim.
The second part of the concert was wonderful though. Not to say the first part wasn’t. But it just felt a lead up to the main affair, Act III, Die Walküre. Semi-staged. It started with Valkyries coming onto the stage carrying high beam torches which they shone round the hall. Just by luck (and I assume as part of the immanent celebrations to come) BBC Four had a programme about the Ring Cycle, explaining the story behind all for acts of the opera, so we were at least armed with enough knowledge to appreciate the piece being reenacted on stage was. Again, all very emotive. The dialogue between Wotan and Brunnhilde was wonderfully played out by James Rutherford and Susan Bullock (Wotan and Brunnhilde, respectively). And when Brunnhilde was left on the rock, surrounded by the ring of fire, Ms Bullock exuded a very steadfast and resigned Brunnhilde sitting upright but still (as if in sleep, which Brunnhilde is in), in her full regalia.
There was a slightly scary moment. When Wotan is banishing Brunnhilde to the rock, he thrusts his spear to the ground as a warning to those who dare approach Brunnhilde as she rests. As Mr Rutherford gestured with his spear, one of the percussionists clanged an anvil which sent several patrons off their seats in fright! I must admit to not having readied myself for the sound, but managed to stay in my seat, at least!
For it being semi-staged, it was wonderfully played out and gave some feeling as to what experiencing the full Ring of the Nibelung must be like. I can’t imagine ever being able to experience it all live myself, but it must be a truly epic spectacle and one any serious opera buff must always want to do.
I would definitely go to a concert like that again. Especially if I won free tickets again! It was worth all the travel drama!
The concert was aired live on BBC Radio 3. It can be listened to on iPlayer. Follow the link here if you are interested in listening to it.