Akhnaten at the English National Opera

March 9th, 2016

Last week I went to the opera, a first for me, as it’s not entirely my thing. I went to see Akhnaten, by Philip Glass, which I rather like for reasons I can’t properly explain. And that’s how he chooses to spell it (rather than the more traditional Akhenaten) – it’s not my typo!

And spoilers follow, so if you don’t want to know the fate of an Egyptian King from 1350BC, or how the opera is staged in London, look away now!

Visually it started very obscurely, with symbols projected onto the curtain. Probably hieroglyphs, but not very meaningful to the non-specialist! The curtain then opened on the death rites of Amenhotep, with the dead king being prepared for his funeral. A surprising amount of juggling! The 3 tier stage had the gods watching from above, juggling what I assumed were the souls of the departed. Nice touch. Also very true to the imagery of the period, where paintings show the gods lined up to watch the ceremony from above. There’s lots more very authentic imagery later on too, where they recreate pictures from the Amarna period – I was impressed by that. 

The first act climaxes with the heart of the King weighing the same as a feather, which is good news for him and allows him to proceed to the afterlife, and coronation of Akhnaten who then unexpectedly renounces the faith of his fathers, and declares his allegiance to a new god, the Aten instead. 

Very stylistic performances, with slow motion movements spreading the action out across the music. The first act also had some gratuitous nudity, as the new king is stripped and reclothed as King – only to be expected from the Arts ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m fairly familiar with the music, having listened to it lots of times. But hearing it live was different – I especially appreciated the tuba, whose power as an instrument was very striking. 

In the second act we finally hear Akhnaten sing, and his counter-tenor voice is strikingly odd, especially in duets with women, where it blends in a most unusual way. We also get amazing stylised fighting, where the jugglers throw clubs across the stage at each other, and each weapon becomes part of their own juggling pattern. They got a big round of applause for that!

Act 2 also includes a massive sun (the Aten)  which dominates the stage, looking at times a bit like the Death Star, and at other times like a production of James and the Giant Peach depending on the lighting. 

Thus ends act 2. 

Act 3 is the tragic ending, the fall of the King as his people revolt (very slowly) against their remote and detached ruler. After the flawless mass juggling throughout, the point where all the balls drop to the floor has a real emotional impact – this is it, it’s broken, it’s all over. And the final contrast between the students throwing rolled up notes at each other contrasts beautifully with the skill of all the previous juggling (it’s a professional juggling outfit by the way, who don’t sing). 

I am still ambivalent about some of the music, but I really like other parts. I have to admit, I wished I could have seen more of the orchestra from my seat. But it was a genuine spectacle, and as someone who likes the music, it was a very good night. For the record, the Guardian reviewer liked it, and the Times reviewer didn’t!

On Immigration, after a stressful day

August 30th, 2015

We’ve all by now seen the shocking pictures and stories of what is happening to people trying to get into Europe, or trying to get into the UK. I’m finding it hard to ignore. Today, I was reminded that I am the child of immigrants. My parents were born in Donegal, traditionally a poor county, in a poor country. For generations, peopleย have left Donegal to seek a better life in other places, including many of my own family. Often the Irish have been welcomed in other places, but we shouldn’t forget the legendary “no dogs, no blacks, no Irish” signs. Few Irish fled persecution or danger in recent times – they were what are now called “economic migrants”. They were mostly lucky that legal options were available to them.

Those people desperate to get into Europe or the UK aren’t lucky. When we see what they are leaving, we can understand their reasons for wanting something better. But they aren’t just a mass of foreigners. They could so easily be my mum and dad, my aunts and uncles, my cousins. It could so easily be us out there. Having tried lots of other things, maybe it’s time we tried compassion.

The last day

May 21st, 2014

Today was my last day in Tokyo ๐Ÿ™
But it was awesome! Got my case packed (at least 3 times. I think everything is accounted for now), and bought a few last things in my favourite shops.
Then I went off to LinuxCon Tokyo, and heard Linus Torvalds speak. If you don’t know, he’s a geek rock star, who has changed the face of computing thanks to his work. I was impressed!
Then had really delicious eel for tea in a traditional restaurant which has a Michelin star. And then finished the day with Karaoke, where I sing until I could sing no more. Well, sung until I couldn’t sing well anymore. Curse those high notes!

Monkeys!!

May 19th, 2014

Yesterday, we drove up into the mountains. This was our destination, and it was really beautiful:

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But was is not immediately obvious in that picture are the monkeys!
The monkeys live in the mountains, but used to come down to bathe in the hot springs in the winter. This was a problem for the people using the hot springs, so they built a bath for the monkeys to use themselves.
So unlike a zoo, these are wild monkeys who choose to be here, and there are no bars or fences.
They are Snow Monkeys, or Japanese Macaques and they look gorgeously soft and fleecy!

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And there lots of mothers with little young monkeys!

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Needless to say we spent ages going “Awww” and took hundreds of pictures.
A great day out!!

Shopping

May 17th, 2014

Tokyo is a great place to shop, from the electronics shops of Akihabara to the fantastic stationery shops all over the city.
But today we went to a flea market, and I made an unexpectedly brilliant purchase.

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It’s from 1959, well prior to the actual moon landings obviously, and written in very simple language for young children. I think it’s cool!
I’ll post more when I can get decent pics of the inside pages.

Here’s Fuji!

May 17th, 2014

Mount Fuji often likes to hide in the clouds, or just in the haze, as it’s pretty far away. So it was cool to see it clearly this morning from the balcony.

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The best shop in the world

May 14th, 2014

Today, I went to the big Tokyu Hands shop in Shibuya. It is, I suspect, the best shop in the world. I spent ages in it. I spent ages in just the vast stationery section! It would seem to be about 24 floors in size, since it starts at the basement and goes up to 7 and there’s an A, B, and C sub-level to each floor. Anyway, let’s not focus on that – it’s big. And it goes from chemistry equipment on the top floor, to bikes on the bottom floor with a lot of cool things in between. I highly recommend it!
(And I only bought 2 pens and a couple of lights for my bike – I’m very well behaved in shops. Unless I get birds of course…)

Tokyo day four

May 12th, 2014

Day four was a Sunday. I walked a long way on Saturday, so I took a day off walking. Fortunately, entertainment came to me, as we had guests for dinner. They included a very cute 2 year old, so I had my usual Sunday afternoon activity of winding up a wee kid. I had a lot of fun ๐Ÿ™‚ Like all kids, he was endlessly amused by simple things like the curtains being blown open by the wind repeatedly. Like all kids that age, his parents had to clarify what he was saying, but in his case it was because he said some things in Japanese which I stood no chance of understanding!
I also ate way too much of Karen’s delicious home-baked cakes, fresh crusty bread, chips and dips. Not in that order. Oh well. I am on holiday!

Tokyo day two and three

May 11th, 2014

The good news is that I haven’t had to wear a face mask since the first day. It was noted that Japanese people don’t have noses like mine, so apparently it didn’t suit me well!
Didn’t do a lot on Thursday – went for a walk in the morning, got a bit tired in the afternoon with jet lag and sat around, then had great meal in Akihabara in the evening. But that’s okay – that’s jet lag and sniffles for you.

Yesterday I had a long walk along the river that runs by my friends house. I walked about 9 miles, mostly along the river but with diversions where there were no riverside paths, and distractions in the odd shop. Didn’t walk any dogs – I did see plenty walking by the river, but was too shy to take any pictures of them. The river has a great view of the Tokyo Sky Tree, which as I always say looks like a massive space weapon. And therefore I think it’s great. I’ll be going up that at some stage this week or next ๐Ÿ™‚

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We had Chinese for tea, and I loved the Japanese interpretation of sweet and sour chicken – Karen tells me they use a dark vinegar which is more like balsamic, which makes a wonderful dark sauce that looks nothing like the bright orange sauce we get at home.
Quiet night in with a DVD, and fortunately my legs still work!

Tokyo Day One

May 8th, 2014

After my adventures in Tokyo last time, some people are surprised that I wanted to come back again. But I always planned to come back – it’s still a cool place, and I still have friends here.
The biggest problem with Japan remains the fact that it’s an awfully long way away. My nose has been playing up a bit at home, but 12 hours on a Virgin Atlantic plane gave it a complete meltdown. Worse still is the cultural sensitivity about blowing one’s nose in Japan, which made me even more paranoid about having to wipe it every 30 seconds. So once I arrived at my friend’s house, I did the appropriately Japanese thing and got myself a face mask. That way I keep my big red hooter to myself, and drips are contained. Sorry that’s so disgusting, but that’s how it works!

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I also realised yesterday that I have been doing pretty well at going to the cinema, as I had seen most of the big movies available on the plane. All the ones that interested me anyway. So I watched some TV instead.
They only had one episode of Miranda, but it was hilarious. As always when I watch it, I think it’s brilliant, and reckon I should watch more of it. It’s very silly ๐Ÿ™‚
Watched the pilot episode of True Detective, which people in work have been raving about, and I can see it has the potential to be interesting.
But most of all I enjoyed 20 Feet From Stardom, a documentary about backing singers, the unsung heroes of the music industry, who contribute so much but remain virtually unrecognised. It was very interesting, and quite thought-provoking as they struggle with the choices of being very successful in the background, or aiming for the limelight and failing.
Oh yes, I watched Frozen too. That’s a very odd movie! But I fell asleep and missed the end of it.