“Dead Cultured”

A review of live streamed performances from ROH, Glyndebourne and National Theatre


Lockdown has made me dead cultured like. So many theatres are offering ‘live at home’ performances, I now attend two to three plays, operas or ballets a week… and there’s no interval-ice-cream, or post-event-tube-crush involved. To be fair, sometimes there just isn’t any ice cream.

Both Glyndeborne and ROH offer weekly programmes complete with English subtitles (kind of essential for me), stunning voices and sets.

Opera has always been a difficult one for me. As a novelist I struggle with opera plot holes, or if not ‘holes’ exactly whole events that seem crucial to the plot just never appearing on the scene, leaving you wondering, “how did that person end up over there?’ (La Boheme being a key culprit!) You also have to prep yourself up for a good deal of cringeable misogyny, especially if it was Mozart’s choice of libretto. How do the singers manage to throw out those anti-women lines without the tiniest eye roll? (My need for subtitles could be working against me here.) Then, on the arrival of a stunning aria in the middle of a scene, all is (temporarily) forgiven. The Queen of the Night’s aria in the Magic Flute for example, could only have been improved by youtube overcoming its recurrent lip sync issue on the live stream.. and actually not by my husband’s google discovery (after sparkling wine) of a marmot singing said aria. I won’t stop you from googling this. But I would point out, you will never listen to it with the same ears again if you do.

Not all opera is sexist by the way. I found Rusulka at the Glyndebourne festival last year, genuinely empathetic. (Okay. I cried. ALL THE WAY THRU. And only stopped for the picnic in the intermission).

Glyndebourne Cosi Fan Tutte (very sexist)

And as for dance, of which the ROH has provided much, I had no idea. I mean, I Had No Idea. Being quite bookish, I’ve always assumed that dance would be more understood by the grown up version of the girls at primary school who were always skipping classes to wear sparkly outfits and be picked up by coaches when they could have been learning about full stops and exclamation marks. And don’t start me on “The Sleeping Beauty” where the whole plot line gets sorted in the first 5 minutes and we’ll all have a jolly good dance about it for the next hour or so nonsense (or were Tchaikovsky’s dancing cats prescient of the social media age..?). But the Winter’s Tale and Metamorphoses have been genuinely mesmerising. This approach also overcomes ROH’s major flaw, its contempt for most of its audience, as supposedly ”affordable” seats actually mean ’painful to watch’ seats, or ‘we’re going to design a set where you could otherwise have seen the action, but now can’t’ seats (presumably to justify a high premium on the stalls).

I’m relieved that the national theatre offerings have grown up a little since the beginning of lockdown when it was all treasure island and tiny tots. Small Island (one of my favourite books of all time) was a great adaption.


Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Book Cover for Helen and the Grandbees

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