WHAT'S ON THE INTERNET THIS WEEK
Ever since I began writing this weekly newsletter I’ve made an arbitrary rule that all the events I pick have to be free. My reasoning has been that so many of us who work in the entertainment industry are out of work that we shouldn’t be expected to pay extra to watch our own laptops. After twelve weeks in the wilderness I’m beginning to rethink this principle because I’m increasingly aware that the supply is finite. In other words, theatres and other institutions are going to run out of free material to stream. Then, if the audience which wants to see their plays or opera or concerts won’t or can’t pay inevitably they will disappear from the internet and so will the audience. Gingerly, therefore, I’m beginning to include performances and/or events which are charging a ticket price which seems to me to be fair. Most of these events are indeed free and there is nothing to stop those who can afford it from contributing to individual companies or artists. I hope they do. I do. Because the arts aren’t free. They are often very good value but they’re not free. Making any one of these programmes, even the simplest, takes the work of dozens, if not hundreds, of professionals and we shouldn’t forget that when we are counting our ever-shrinking disposable pennies.
Aspen Music Festival Virtual Gala
Some regular readers may know that for more than 30 years I have spent my summers high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado at the Aspen Music Festival. Obviously, not this year. Every year, except this one, more than 600 music students converge on a tiny mountain town to study with some of the world’s greatest musicians. It is a magic place of art and effort (and fun) where lines between those who teach and those who learn are blurred. The current Music Director, Robert Spano, would be celebrating his 10th year of leading the dizzying events of concerts, recitals, seminars, and classes that fill every day but the Festival is cancelled this year. However, nobody wanted the anniversary to pass without notice so, on Sunday, July 5th, at 3 in the afternoon, Mountain Time, which is 10pm in the UK, there will be a celebration of his ten years’ tenure with performances and musical tributes from a cavalcade of superstar artists including pianist Yefim Bronfman, soprano Renée Fleming with Patrick Summers on piano, violinist Robert McDuffie, mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, bassoonist Nancy Goeres, mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, and clarinetist Michael Rusinek. I want to be there, cheering them on. But….
I Got Rhythm
This clip dates from 1982, the year Gene Kelly received his Kennedy Center Honor. Chosen to honour him was the greatest tap dancer of his generation, Gregory Hines. I was blessed to know and work with Greg when I was a young television producer and he was just starting out as a solo dancer. He was a good friend and he died much too young but here’s a great way to remember him. If you want to see more, look out the movie White Nights for the greatest dance double act in history – and I even include Nureyev and Fonteyn – with Hines and Baryshnikov. But, to get you started, here’s I Got Rhythm. Greg had the gift of intimacy – on a huge stage, in a crowded Kennedy Center, on a gala night, in front of Gene Kelly and the President of the United States, he made it look as though he was dancing just for you. And he was.
Musicians of the Met
It all seems personal this week. I live for much of the year in New York which I can’t currently visit until the muddle over airlines and quarantine is lifted. So I watch this clip with mixed pleasure and sadness. The musicians performing are members of the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, unable to ply their trade until lockdown is lifted which, for all they know, may not be until next year. But here they are, playing anyway, beautifully and with all their hearts, outside their usual place of work, Lincoln Center. For me it is particularly poignant because, just beyond Lincoln Center you can spy a big white apartment building. That’s my home. In normal times.
Woolf Works – Royal Ballet
Wayne McGregor's ballet triptych Woolf Works was inspired by the writings of Virginia Woolf and has an original score by Max Richter. It was created for The Royal Ballet in 2015 and met with outstanding critical acclaim. This work was made on the legendary Alessandra Ferri when she was 52 years old and it deservedly won the Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production. It is slightly shocking to see the first closeup of the ballerina and to realise that she is no longer young. The shock quickly passes because what you then see is what a great dancer she still is. This is the 2017 revival with the original cast including Federico Bonelli and Natalia Osipova. Subsequently, McGregor has created two other ballets for the fantastic Ferri, the latest in 2018 for American Ballet Theater.
Lost in the Stars – Al Hirschfeld
Al Hirschfeld’s drawings were categorised as cartoons but they were much more than that. Hirschfeld had the knack, in just a few strokes, of getting to the heart of his subject, of opening them up to examination, of really seeing the person and not just the celebrity or the role. To see what I mean, take a look at this digital exhibition of his drawings of African American stars and performers mounted by the Al Hirschfeld Foundation to celebrate what would have been his 117th birthday. Just scroll through the cartoons, clicking on the ones you want to see more closely and you’ll be amazed at his insight. For more than 70 years he drew weekly cartoons of theatre and music people, usually those who were opening on Broadway that week. Many of them are here.
On July 1st, the anniversary of the terrible Battle of the Somme, Sebasian Faulks’ bestselling World War One novel will be streamed in a special lockdown reconception. This may be the most ambitious online production so far, utilising music, narration from Faulks himself, sound design, live performance and video technology, with a cast that includes Max Bowden, Stephen Boxer, Madeleine Knight, Tim Treloar and Tom Kay, it sounds as though it will be worth its ticket price of £12.50. It starts at 7pm BST (2pm EST) on July 1st and will then be available for 72 hours.
La Boheme – Royal Opera
Nigel Slater's Toast from 1 - 31 July
Another event that you’ll have to pay for is the online version of the successful West End play based on food writer Nigel Slater’s bestseller. Toast vividly recreates Nigel Slater’s childhood through the tastes and smells he shares with his mother, culminating in the young Nigel’s escape to London. From making the perfect sherry trifle, through the playground politics of sweets, the rigid rules of restaurant dining, and a domestic war over cakes, this is a moving and evocative tale of love, loss and…toast. The Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield is charging a steep £16 for a ticket to this but, it has to be said, for that you get not only the play but also a programme, a Nigel Salter recipe card, and two walnut whips in the post, three days before (UK only).
An Evening at Joe’s
I have spent more of my life than I care to admit in Joe Allen’s, the theatre hangout in Covent Garden. This is where everybody comes after the show. It’s open late, everyone knows everyone, the food (which is not the point at all) is better than adequate, and the theatre gossip (which is entirely the point) is always up to date and sparkling. Cathy, who has a fancy title but who has been running the joint for as long as any of us can remember, is determined that, closed or not, none of us will forget Joe’s during the long drought. So she’s mounting a cabaret night on Saturday July 4th at 8pm and subsequently on YouTube with performances from such regulars as Patricia Hodge, Sir Derek Jacobi, Gary Wilmot and other West End stars past and present, lending their voices as they belt out famous melodies from the most popular musicals from Company to Guys and Dolls. It’s all in favour of Acting for Others, so is a very good cause.
And, to finish, 45 seconds of some cute Japanese school children, just having fun.
Ruth Leon is a writer and critic specialising in music and theatre.