Poetry Corner

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Opera is always full of such drama, sometimes as much off stage as on stage. Mary will attempt to capture some of this in her poetry, as well communicate her passion for the genre and the artists who often make it so thrilling an experience.

Mary   RobertsonBiography: Mary Robertson is an Emeritus Professor in Neuropsychiatry at University College London and visiting Professor at St George’s Hospital Medical School, London. Aside from being an opera devotee, Mary is a published poet and photographer.




VerdiRigoletto, Covent Garden July 2007

In Verdi’s great op’ra Rigoletto,
The father-daughter love was so complex,
The hunchback-jester-father scared she’ll go
From purity to sin and sordid sex,
Which was sewn in the House of Mantua,
Without love, but lust and exploitation,
With the handsome Duke, the prime wrong-doer.
Vice, vendetta, vengeance and vexation
Led to a grim curse and great tragedy,
Innocence lost, and the wrong person killed,
Revenge went wrong. All sung so brilliantly,
To rapturous music, leaving me thrilled,
Despite my tears, the tragedy and woe,
In Verdi’s great op’ra Rigoletto.

Umberto GiordanoOpera Disasters Part 1

Remember teary Tosca’s trampoline,
Which bounded her back into the opra’s sky,
So what are the “funniest” I’ve ever seen?
Here is how to my dream I said “Goodbye”.

‘Twas Andrea Chenier with Domingo,
His voice froze: “Is there a doctor in the house?”
Moi! In the upper slips – with vertigo,
Despite being a shrink – I could use my nouse.

But clearly he needed an ENT
Specialist to treat those great vocal cords,
But – not a psychiatrist – sadly – not me,
So, no quick entrée to Ladies and Lords.

The man in the black tie came out again,
“The doctor’s been, Placido’s going to sing
Full of gusto, and free of all his pain!”
He flew through the op’ra on a blest wing.

Nought wrong with his voice: wish I’d had the “balls”,
As the “star’s doc”: imagine the “house calls”

Italy: A Three Day Mini Opera Tour. 24th-26th March 2009

Alcina meets Ruggiero Genoa exceeded our every expectation
The opera house and hotel were both simply gorgeous
But Milan just underwhelmed our anticipation
With hotel and late-comers making us quite nauseous

The refulgent, resplendent Nucci was fantastic
I Due Foscari – by far the opera highlight
The doomed doge, Nucci, was simply climactic,
He lost all to the Patricians’ vengeful might.

We all loved “Ah Ruggiero crudel” in Alcina,
And “La Mamma morta” in Andrea Chenier,
In Foscari the ensembles adorned La Scala
Poetry, not Alcina’s nudes, is my metier.

The scenery was a bit unhinged at La Scala,
Latecomers allowed in – half an hour late,
The bothersome glitches in Foscari and Alcina
I’ll not be going there on my next date.

Giordano’s evening was full of wonderful “can belto”
With Renato Bruson causing a great commotion,
Verdi’s, great Lucrezia echoing bel canto
In her first aria, so full of emotion.

Would I do it again? Yes, by my being “hard core”
But next time abroad I’d chose opera not star
One day, it will be “The Grand Opera Tour”:
But right now, to opera abroad a sweet: “au revoir”.

Photographs Taken at the Stage Door*

(With apologies to Ivor Gurney)

Their smiles, the triumph and laughter on show,http://img263.imageshack.us/img263/5886/damejoansutherlandcoven.jpg
I missed that photo – he suddenly moved,
As in a memory only we know,
The caught smile or sigh of one beloved.

The joy of music – one of Earth’s most sacred things,
Making eyes twinkle and bright with pure joy.
The singers soar mile-high, their hearts mounts higher,
Some are grand and famous, others still coy.

Some stars are tired – no make up, often pain,
A personal rift, or opera tragedy.
Others miffed at stage door’s swinging,
But only three turned from camera and me.

I have taken super pics of Renee Fleming,
Sutherland, Carreras and Domingo.
Some were all luck, others – good timing:
Volle, Nadja Michael, DiDonato.

One of my favourites is great Bergonzihttp://img405.imageshack.us/img405/3771/p1090181d.jpg
(Aragall too, but let’s not make a list),
I’ ve been there for ages – a thrill and a duty,
And yet there are many I’m sure I have missed.

I’ve albums – some framed and some on my wall.
The photos are smiling, with their bold autographs,
I muse on the delight the singers bring us all,
The goose bumps, the tales and a few fine laughs.

(* This poem is the first in a series titled "The Ring in Poetry")


Photographs Taken at the Stage Door - 2*

Matilde di Shabran

(Royal Opera House Covent Garden, 2008)

So few make a good limerick, images/stories/juan diego florez by mary robertson 1.jpg
No one killed and no lunatic,
No suicide here – a good atmosphere –
An opera where none were sick.

It’s been called Beauty and the Beast;
With highest notes, it is a feast.
Women loved ‘Iron Heart’ – he played out his part,
And the ‘would be’s’ have long deceased!

Kurzack sang the greatest high E
In the loud Rondo Finale.
Florez really shone, a high echelon –
Was the set by Mr Dali?

Strong Florez sang Corradino,images/stories/aleksandra   kurzak by mary robertson.jpg
Alfonso A – Isidoro,
Kursazk – Matilde: he nearly killed her,
Under the baton of ‘Carlo’.

All’s well that ends well – so they say,
Is she in love – or won, I pray?
With Mathilde’s beau – tamed Corrodino:
Mathilde is ruling the day.

(* Part of "The Ring in Poetry")

Photographs Taken at the Stage Door 3*

The Diva’s Sonnet

In early days her voice: sweet soprano,
Elizabeth , Queen in Mary Stuart.images/stories/rosalind plowright.jpg
And then a mellowed tone, golden mezzo,
As Mila’s mother, ran mad in Osud.
I heard her first in 1982:
Don Carlos – she a woman of Valois
(A Verdi lady, between me and you),
Elena in Sicillian Vespers.
She sang Desdemona, in Otello
(Atlantov loved her, but then murdered her)
She sang Trovatore with Domingo,
(Brave Leonora died for her lover).
The OBE – a voice now strong with might –
Now there’s a real star: Rosalind Plowright.

(*Part of "The Ring in Poetry")


Verdi's Requiem

Medici Choir, Sussex Gardens, London, 27 November 2004

Alessandro Manzoni fell one day,images/stories/ricordi verdi   requiem.jpg
His death, a catalyst for the long score.
Verdi’s masterpiece – his best, I’d say –
We sat in the front row, simply in awe.

The Ingemisco is always haunting,
The beautiful church was both full and warm.
The voices so soft, and then swelled to booming,
With such moving music, the magic was born.

The singing sent shivers right down my spine,
‘The wondrous sound of the trumpet rings through.
Now grant them their rest, let Heaven’s light shine,
For Libera Me, I was in tears, too,

My diagnosis was two years ago,
The cancer now gone – I love God and life so.

Photographs Taken at the Stage Door - 4*

Rest in Peace images/stories/lucia popp.jpg

I’ve autographs of some stars, now long gone:
Pavarotti, Kraus, and Geraint Evans,
(As we grow older, our end is foregone),
Dame Eva, van Allen – all in heavens.

Lucia Popp was far too young to die,
The “Big C” stole her from the opera world,
Arabella and Eva – said goodbye:
As sadly her great sails were left unfurled.

The saddest for me was Jerry Hadley,
A gorgeous young man with a beaming smile,
Life was too tough – so he took his own,images/stories/jerry hadley.jpg
Once “Fenton” in Falstaff, then volatile.


In my prayers I have a slot for those dead,
Their songs are now heard in the heav’ns instead.

(*Part of "The Ring in Poetry")





Photographs Taken at the Stage Door - 5

Il Barbiere di Siviglia – with a Difference

The night had a star-studded casthttp://img155.imageshack.us/img155/6715/p1090270o.jpg
Rosina, poor soul, in a cast,
With long golden hair, she graced her wheelchair,
But was so far from breathing her last.     

One night bright with stars and the moon,
Rosina put Count in a swoon,
Florez did rejoice, as he wooed dear Joyce,
While Bartolo was a buffoon.

Now there was much joy and much peace,
Though Figaro’s antics won’t cease,
The maid kept sneezing, the opera was pleasing,
The show was a true masterpiece.

She warned: ‘The Futile Precaution’!
His fear blown out of proportion?
Rosina was sad – was Bartolo mad?
His power was like an extortion.                       

His “song” was from Cinderella:              
The Count excelled in bravura,              
Great Almaviva, sang to his Diva,
Despite a broken fibula.

I’ve heard the great DiDonato
With lilts as well as vibrato.
She made a great sound, with joy all around,
Was there a touch of... soprano?

A tyrant, a soldier, a sot,
A notary – it had the lot,
The Count wished for life with ‘Ro’ as his wife,
Bartolo may sulk: let him rot!

Photographs Taken at the Stage Door - 6

My Three Tenors

Once in the Eighties I heard a voice,             http://img155.imageshack.us/img155/2360/p1100131r.jpg
That flowed like a dream, a Verdi tenor.        
‘Twas Carlo Bergonzi – my number one choice –
A heroic man, like a father figure.

And then great Domingo entered my life,
A similar age – so I fell in love:
Had it not been for dear Marta, his wife,
Millions of women would flock round like doves.

Then came a man, youthful as a son,
A powerful voice, good looks, great acting.
Let me add praise for proud Jonas Kauffman,
The Infante he was re-enacting.

At the stage door, their smiles were fabulous,
My photographs: stunning, miraculous!

Photographs Taken at the Stage Door - 7

Turandot at the ENO 2009

I saw a fine Turandot in Verona,
And many Covent Garden productions
Where icy Turandot lives as a loner.
The one [from] The Met needs no introduction.

In all, ancient China’s tradition was the constant –
The Emperor’s bold iconography.
With dynastic memories, mythology extant,
A colourful weave of sinology.

Then I saw Goold’s production at the ENO –
Contemporary, set in a restaurant.
The reviewers slated it – it was “gung ho”,
I thought that it gave an interesting slant.

The chorus included three Elvis tributes,
Mrs Thatcher, Buddhist monks, and more than one nun.
Pensioners, Jews and waiters to boot,
And Marilyn Manson watching badminton!

The singing saved the show outright, with Liu
By Amanda Echalaz, an up-and-coming star.
She’s Tosca next year – I’ve bought seats for that, too.
Now here’s a young singer who is going far.

As for this production, what else can I say?
At least it was not a Chinese take-away!


Dreaming about the Voice of Carlo Bergonzi

I’ve heard him sing at many an opera,http://img231.imageshack.us/img231/3637/bergonziradames.jpg
I have him on vinyl and on CD.
As Alfredo in La traviata
His tenor tones are enchanting to me.        
I heard his last night at Covent Garden
How great are the Forces of Destiny.
If I sound in love, I beg your pardon.
I’ve memories of him, it’s plain to see.
When visiting colleagues in Milan,
With such operatic magic all round,
It lifted our hearts as our Verdi can.
There I met his friend, and what joy I found                              
(I had heard him sing – a style of his own)
When he spoke to me on his telephone.


Photographs Taken at the Stage Door - 8

Duke Bluebeard's Castle (ENO 2009)

Bluebeard asks: “Where is the stage; outside or within?” http://img155.imageshack.us/img155/3229/200pxbarbebleue.jpg
In my mind or yours, or the outside world?
A tug-of-war between love and power, in
Marriage and relationships as yet unfurled.

Dark death, cold blood, lost souls.

Bartok and Balazs made Judith a seeker,
The castle a metaphor for erotic fantasy.
She enters this glorious, ripe adventure
With the Duke an enigmatic anomaly.

Dark death, cold blood, lost souls.

Was the castle a castle, and Bluebeard
Himself really that knight Gilles de Rais?
An evil repented (and what had he feared?),
Avoiding the fires of Hell his last days.

Dark death, cold blood, lost souls.

Could this be the story of Gilles de Rais,
Forever a grim, and a ghastly tale –
Like Fritzl,  Alvares, Garrido – whose ways
(Like Bluebeard) were awful – a most evil male?

Dark death, cold blood, lost souls.

Were the seven doors seven deadly sins –
The piece a metaphor for going to hell?
Or is hell in the mind, where admission begins
Of guilt – or is it a tale Kramer had to tell?

Dark death, cold blood, lost souls.

Kramer hit the audience at the ENO.
It recoiled with words like “awful” and “shocking”
“Revolting”, “repulsive”, “couldn’t look at the show”.
But despite the horror, it was compelling.

Dark death, cold blood, lost souls.

The opera was rich in its symbolism.
Martens as Judith was quite convincing.
For me it felt doomed, with no optimism,
And the children on the stage was most worrying.

Dark death, cold blood, lost souls.

“Enjoy” would not sum up, but I’m glad I went.
Was the show of any real consequence?
Was it an intellectual or musical event,
Or was it just gratuitous violence?

Photographs Taken at the Stage Door -10

The Three Waiters

I’m usually at Covent Garden,http://img405.imageshack.us/img405/5267/threewaiters.jpg
ENO, Royal Albert and Festival Hall.
But then I heard opera – I beg your pardon –
Again - when I went to the Mayoral Ball.

You may love Placido Domingo,
José Carreras and Pavarotti.
Now for Kauffman, I’d call out, “Oh bravo!”
Arlango or Villazon, I’d shout for with glee.

First “La Donna I Mobile” from Rigoletto,
Escammillo’s “Toreador” with all his might.
Calaf’s World Cup “Nessun Dorma” stole the show
Then great “O sole mio”, “That’s Amore”, “Tonight”.

I’ve criticised operas in this very year:
Bluebeard’s violence, Turandot’s crazy production.
But The Three Waiters brought everyone cheer –
I’m happy indeed with great “singing seduction”.

Photographs Taken at the Stage Door - 11

A Few Knights at the Opera* 1984 - 2009

I’ve spent a few nights at the opera nowhttp://img263.imageshack.us/img263/6374/0166p1070021.jpg
Sir Thomas Allen is known for his looks,
He was once 'Mister' – now I have to bow
As I want to stay within his good books.

Sir John Tomlinson – now there’s quite a man -
With his silver hair in a ponytail.
Of this singer I’ll remain a fan
His powerful bass rocks the Richter Scale.

Sir Willard White leaves everyone behind.
A touch of an accent leaves one guessing,
His voice and manners a gentleman's - refined.
To opera and concert – he’s been a blessing.

I’ve taken all their photos, then and now,
We’re all growing old together, somehow.

(Apologies to Sir Rudolf Bing)



(Die Meistersinger Dress Rehearsal) http://a.imageshack.us/img37/7484/dscn2224q.jpg
Welsh National Opera, Cardiff, 16th June 2010

I’ve not had the usual “peer review”
As this is just between me and  you
I was anxious at the opera yesterday
Serves me right – you are sure to say
I was “press at the WNO”
All excited and then – Oh No!
I sat in the same row as Clive Barda
A friend of Zoe Dominic – and many other
I was the “new boy on the block”
I just hope you don’t say – “stick to being a doc”!



Royal Opera House, Covent Garden 13th & 15th July 2010 http://a.imageshack.us/img404/3341/59082.jpg

Poor Furlanetto’s voice faded with a sore throat
So, Sir John Tom sang so well “in the wings”
Then Paata B kept everything afloat
As Placebo Domingo cures anyone who sings!



Last Updated ( Thursday, 09 September 2010 20:04 )  


Metropolitan Opera Finances

A few years ago, a friend at a party who worked for one of our largest investment banks asked me, "Richard, do you know how to end up with a small fortune at Lazard Frères? Give us a large fortune." Such memories came to mind, inevitably, in reviewing the tax returns and accounting statements of the Metropolitan Opera for the year ending July 31, 2009, which have just been released. One has to emphasize that all these numbers constitute nothing more than a snapshot of the moment, which don’t take into account more recent developments, and are, even as presented, in summary form. But the statements show a decline of almost 20% on investments (down to $246 million), and an almost equal decline in the total asset picture (down to about $423 million) at the same time as liabilities have increased, including continuing (and not uncommon) obligations to the pension fund.  Read More>>


Editorial Update: 20/01/10

Over the next few days you may notice a few peculiar things happening with the website as we undertake some necessary changes. Some of the reviews are likely to be missing their photographs on a temporary basis, as we re-organise the layout of the website. The biggest change will be to the Opera review page, where we will not only separate opera and oratorio reviews, but each opera company/venue will have their own unique review page. This will make it much easier for you to find reviews by company, rather than having to trawl through a very long list of operas which were previously sorted only by chronological date. Read More>>

Editorial Update 15/01/10

I am delighted to announce that Opera Britannia is now back online and more importantly, securely. For those readers who did not come across our Twitter and Facebook updates, we have since Christmas Eve been the target of a group of hackers determined to bring the website offline. We haven't as yet got to the bottom of the reason, aside from the fact that "political causes" were stated as the official cause! Naturally it has taken a considerable amount of work on the part of everyone involved with the website to make it as secure as possible. Read More>>

Domingo Cancellation

Placido Domingo has withdrawn from Tamerlano at The Royal Opera, following news that he needs to undergo "medically recommended preventative surgery". It is believed that he has been suffering from abdominal pains whilst performing in Tokyo and has been advised that an operation is required, with a rest period of approximately six weeks to follow. This has no doubt produced quite a headache for The Royal Opera who have heavily advertised Domingo's presence in this years schedule of operas. He is still due to perform in Simon Boccanegra in June, but one suspects that both The Royal Opera and the paying public will be on tenterhooks as to the likelihood of his participation.

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Aida Cast Change

Luciana D'Intino has withdrawn from the role of Amneris in the new David McVicar production of Verdi's Aida at The Royal Opera, on grounds of ill-health.  No further information is available at present, but the role of Amneris is now being taken over by Marianne Cornetti, who was last seen at The Royal Opera in September 2009 as Eboli in Verdi's Don Carlo

Satyagraha Remix at the ENO

Audience participation is taken a step further with the ENO’s Satyagraha Remix, inspired by the opera of the same name by Philip Glass. Members of the public are http://img90.imageshack.us/img90/4269/remixs.jpginvited to join composer Anna Meredith, sound designer Sam Godin and the classically trained Indian singer Falu, in an evening where they can record Satyagraha-inspired loops that will form part of the “Remix”. Read More>>


ENO Wins Southbank Show Award.

For the third year in a row, the English National Opera have won the Southbank Show Award in the opera category. This time the award was made for David Alden's critically acclaimed sell-out production of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes. The previous two wins were for their joint production of Lost Highyway and Punch & Judy with The Young Vic, and also for David McVicar's controversial, but well received production of Britten's The Turn of the Screw. Read More>>

Elisabeth Söderström dies aged 82images/stories/elisabeth soderstrm.jpg

News has just broken that the great Swedish soprano Elisabeth Söderström, died on Friday morning due to a stroke. Her professional debut was as Bastienne in Mozart's rarely performed Bastien et Bastienne at the Drottningholm Court Theatre in 1947. Although closely associated with the Royal Swedish Opera, she performed at all the major opera houses around the world. Her UK debut was at Glyndebourne in 1957, where she would return to sing numerous Strauss and Mozart roles, with which she was to become so closely identifable, including Octavian, the Composer, the Countess in Capriccio and Susanna. She was also famous for her interpretation of some of Janacek's female heroines, not least Kat'a and Jenufa, where in both cases she made distinguished recordings with Sir Charles Mackerras that have remained unsurpassable in the recording catalogue. Her first appearance at Covent Garden was with the Royal Swedish Opera as Daisy Dodd in Blomdahl’s Aniara in 1960. Söderström was an astonishingly versatile artist, who brought great commitment and beauty of voice to everything she did.

Poetry Corner

Biography: Mary Robertson is an Emeritus Professor in Neuropsychiatry at University College London and visiting Professor at St George’s Hospital Medical School, London. Aside from being an opera devotee, Mary is a published poet and photographer.

(New poems added: 04/08/2010)

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Around the Houses

November 2010

Contributions to "Around the Houses" for November, include news about Erwin Schrott, Rolando Villazon, Eva-Maria Westbroek and Anja Harteros. Read More>>

"Around the Houses" concentrates on providing the latest news on future plans for opera companies around the globe, artists schedules, cancellations and interesting snippets of information. We will try and avoid unsubstantiated gossip wherever possible, but all of our sources will remain completely confidential.  If you would like to advise us about potential news for this section, then please feel free to email us at info@opera-britannia.com.

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