Friday, 27 January 2017

Written On Skin at the Royal Opera

This was the first revival of George Benjamin's Written On Skin. As with contemporary operas, familiarity goes a long way in appreciating the work. In this revival, I found Christopher Purves's The Protector powerful and moving. Barbara Hannigan, who sang Agnès, was superb. The pure and slightly eerie tone of Iestyn Davies as The Boy completed the perfect cast.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Experience Hong Kong in 2 days

You are on business or stopping over on your way to Australia / New Zealand / Mainland China / Europe. You have one or two days in Hong Kong. What to do? Here is a short itinerary for those who want to get a feel for this exciting city.

Day 1:

Morning - Take the Peak Tram on Garden Road to Victoria Peak where you will find high rise apartment blocks along Mid-Level on your way up. Enjoy the view of the Victoria Harbour and the picturesque south side of Hong Kong Island (take the well sign-posted circular walk if you have the time). To get back to the city centre, take the Peak Tram back to Garden Road, or if you are particularly energetic, walk down Old Peak Road (shoes with good grip advised), past Canossa Hospital,  onto Albany Road, then turn right onto Upper Albert Road where you will see Government House (where British Governors lived), then onto Garden Road via St John's Cathedral and eventually Queen's Road Central.

Lunch - Have a dim-sum lunch at City Hall Maxim's Palace in City Hall, Central (one of the many places where you will find office workers in Central get their hot lunch but do get there before 12:00 or after 14:00 otherwise the queue could be very off putting).

Afternoon - Take a taxi to Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road - it's quite a small but characterful temple (10 minutes will do) - then walk along Hollywood Road to look at the myriad of antique and knit-knack shops - and eventually you will reach the top of Lan Kwai Fong (some not-so-hip haunts for ex-pats and party-goers). Alternatively take a taxi to Hong Kong Park.

Dusk/Evening - A must-do is to cross the harbour on Star Ferry (service between Central Piers and Tsim Sha Tsui) - if you time your crossing around sunset, it could be a magical experience with shimmering building lights reflected from the water. If you don't have vertigo, go to Ozone for a sunset cocktail (taxi or MTR to Kowloon Station, head to the Ritz Carlton Hotel through the shopping mall, get to the hotel lobby on 102th floor, then change lift to Ozone at 118th floor) with a truly spectacular view of the harbour. DO check sunset times!!!

Day 2:

Sunny weather

Hit the beach - hop into a taxi and get to Repulse Bay, walk along the promenade and grab a bite to eat along The Pulse. For a more secluded experience, go to South Bay (beyond Middle Bay and Repulse Bay) where you will find an idyllic little beach away from the noise and crowd of the city. There is one small cafe, changing room and lifeguard. Very safe but you might have to walk a bit to find a taxi back to town.

Visit one of the islands. Try Lamma Island (by ferry from the terminal in front of the International Finance Centre)  for a bit of local village cum seafood fest, or Lantau Island to see: Giant Outdoor Buddha at Po Lin Temple, Ngong Ping 360 (new attraction  re-creating Hong Kong's past), and one of many beautiful beaches such as Silver Mine Beach (popular with locals) or Cheung Sha (quieter, but taxis required).

Rainy weather or toxic smog
Go shopping (even if you don't like it) at one of the gleaming shopping complexes - such as International Finance Centre in Central or Time Square in Causeway Bay. A nice and comfortable way to observe the locals (and tourists). Also, the posh shops in Central are all interconnected by air conditioned foot-bridges.

Have afternoon tea at one of the following establishments: Peninsula Hotel Lobby (frequented by Japanese and Chinese tourists), Clipper Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental (a de rigeur for the local lunching ladies), or Verandah at Repulse Bay Hotel (fewer tourists, laid back decor means you can actually enjoy the tea and read a good book). All have dress code.

Additional activities:
  • For weather reports, see Hong Kong Observatory
  • For a bit of colonial history, visit: Murray House (Stanley), Tea Museum in Hong Kong Park and Western Market.
  • For a bit of nature, visit: Wetland Park (booking essential) or one of the many walking trails, Botanical Garden, Zoological Garden, Aviary in Hong Kong Park.
  • Of course, you may actually want to take a guided tour if you are really pressed for time. Check out the Hong Kong Tourism Board website where you will find recommendations.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

La traviata at the Royal Opera

This classic production by Richard Eyre has aged well, considering I first saw it when the young Angela Gheorghiu was under the baton of Sir Georg Solti.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Der Rosenkavalier at the Royal Opera

I was super excited to see Der Rosenkavalier at Royal Opera with Renée Fleming in one of her finest roles as Marschallin. And it didn't disappoint. The super energetic Andris Nelsons plough into the opening bars with such intense energy so to make the post coital scene at the opening so tender. Alice Coote's interpretation of Octavian had that adolescent quality that somehow worked (though at times it bordered on tomboy-ish). Matthew Rose was a gigantic Ochs on stage - his less sophisticated Viennese German (as intended by von Hofmannsthal) sometimes got lost as the tempo quickened. Sophie Bevan, as Sophie (!) was on fine form and sang with a beautiful innocent sheen.

Andris Nelsons lured the entire audience into the climax of the opera - you could hear a pin drop - when Fleming started ‘Hab mir’s gelobt’ - the pacing, the effortlessness, the meaning and the beauty of her voice. The others joined in with intense intertwining and soaring lines - oh my it was to die for!

The production and set design worked most of the time. The farce in the last act was sufficiently farcical, except the very end with the return of those arm dealers (von Faninal was a arms dealing family in the opera).

There was a very good rapport between Andris Nelsons and the orchestra. While there were the occasional slips in the strings section, it was more a case of the players taking risks and going with the Nelsons' tempi so to deliver a super performance.