La Cenerentola – Scottish Opera – Review

This review first appeared at Opera Britannia.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

A couple of top-notch singers rescue Scottish Opera’s new production of La Cenerentola from the doldrums but sadly it is a production that lacks a sense of direction and purpose from the word go. Uncertainty in the pit and a very mixed bag of voices contribute to an evening that is neither a complete success nor a complete disaster.

Things got off to a very uncertain start with a very scrappy overture that suggested that the orchestra were under rehearsed and underprepared. Though tempi were rollicking along, there were no riches in the orchestral sound at all. Dynamically there wasn’t much on offer – the only real variation being between fairly loud and too loud.

Meanwhile, there were some interesting though curious things happening on the stage. Firstly we had snow falling at the back of the stage. Little scraps of paper were falling in the darkness and very dramatically lit. Then a series of wooden cabinets could be seen moving about the stage, which were to remain in view for the whole evening. Finally, La Cenerentola herself could be seen sleeping central stage. A curtain revealed a number of cast members who then crept about the stage amongst the cabinets. It turned out that most of them were the chorus, dressed in dark grey jumpsuits with large ruffs around their necks. Oh, and the ruffs were illuminated from within.

What was happening on stage was certainly striking but what did it mean and where were we? Having had the whole of the evening to think about this, I have to confess that I’m none the wiser. The best guess that I can make is that the opera was set in the mind of someone reading about postmodernity in the early 1980s. A bit of modern dress here and a medieval ruff around the neck there; a few visual references to carriages all over the place and beautifully lit fluttering snowflakes which were not referred to again. Sometimes the ruffs were lit up and sometimes they were not. It was all quite clever but it was no way to tell a story.

The large wooden cabinets were to remain on stage throughout the whole evening, from time to time, doing their little ballet. Most of the entrances and exits were through the cabinets, leading members of the cast to be seen bounding from the wings into the cabinets in order to appear. Again, one simply doesn’t know why.

However, this was an opera not a cabinet ballet, so we had better consider the singing. First up it is probably best to deal with the high points. This is simple – this opera is worth seeing in order to hear Victoria Yarovaya in the title role as Angelina and Richard Burkhard as Dandini. They are each in their way superb.

Ms Yarovaya had a lovely rich voice – that was clear from the outset but of course, Rossini makes his audience wait for the fireworks. Though she sang well all evening, this Cinderella saved the real sparks for the coloratura of the final aria “Non più mesta”. This was an astonishing virtuoso performance delivered full face to the audience with no pesky stage action to distract from what was going on.

Ms Yarovaya’s triumph came just after Rossini’s set piece sextet “Questo è un nodo avviluppato”. This itself was was also stunning – the singers managing to roll their Italian consonants in a completely grrripping fashion. Taken altogether, the finale was considerably more exciting than the rest of the evening, which, one supposes, is how it should always be.

Richard Burkhard’s Dandini, the valet, exuded confidence and it often felt as though he was taking command of the stage. His sexy swagger and knowing ways with the women were exciting in themselves but oh, his voice was a dream. Always cutting right through the chatter of the other voices and soaring above the over-eager orchestra, Burkhard could not only be heard but one wanted to hear him too. This was an outstandingly rich, would-you-like-cream-on-top-of-that-hot-chocolate of a voice. Like Ms Yarovaya, it is worth going to see this production just to hear him and to have the two of them in one show feels as though one has come up trumps twice.

The unfortunate consequence of these two great voices is that the ensemble was thrown a little out of kilter as the others were no match for them.

John Molloy as Alidoro was the best of the rest. His long tall frame and rather creepy presence brought something malevolent to the stage. Vocally he was self-assured and confident. Nico Darmanin as the prince, Don Ramiro had the confidence and the vocal dexterity he needed but not the power to reach over the top of the orchestra. The two frightful step-sisters Rebecca Bottone and Máire Flavin had a reasonable line in comedy pouts and faints but sometimes could not be heard. Ms Flavin had the clear edge here but the pair of them were drowned out too often. The same fate befell Umberto Chiummo who was a last minute substitute singing Don Magnifico. His voice was great when singing with the forte-piano continuo but I couldn’t really pass any judgement on his singing with the orchestra – too often I couldn’t really hear him.

When the chorus were not bearing their strange cold light on the stage they were being given silly things to do by choreographer Pascaline Verrier who for some reason thought it would be a good idea to get the men to do camp little dances behind the other action for a cheap laugh. The men of the prince’s palace had glitter in their hair. No, I don’t know why either. Perhaps they had been having a girls’ night in, to prepare for the ball.

Particular mention must be made of Angelina’s outfits. The dress which she wore to the ball was by some distance the most unfortunate outfit I’ve seen on stage for a long time, looking as though a swan was auditioning for the role as the ugliest of ugly ducklings. She looked far more pretty back at home in her Cinders outfit.

And thereby hangs the central problem with this production. A lot of attention had been paid to details that didn’t matter whilst the basic story was ignored. Add to that a mismatched cast and you have a fairly patchy evening.

There were good bits, certainly, but this didn’t really hang together as a whole. Director Sandrine Anglade was making her Scottish Opera debut with this piece. Though she had thrown a lot of creativity to the exercise things simply didn’t hold together at all. At the end, we had the snow effect again that we had seen at the beginning. It was quite beautiful. However it had nothing whatsoever to do with the story at all.

See it to hear some cracking singing from a couple of great voices. During the silliest of the action, close your eyes.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

 

A Kestrel for a Knave – an Owl for a Provost

Black cloak and owl

Sermon preached on 12 October 2014

20141012 kelvin holdsworth – gnashing of teeth.movie from Kelvin Holdsworth on Vimeo.

‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Here in St Mary’s we end our Gospel reading with the response – Give thanks to the Lord for his Glorious Gospel, Praise to Christ our Lord.

In many churches, they end readings with the response “This is the Word of the Lord – Thanks be to God”.

I think that is one of those readings from scripture that would tempt me greatly, if that was the response that we were used to, to say, “Is this the word of the Lord?”

There’s no denying at all that it is a tricky gospel reading for many people who will be sitting here this morning.

Maybe you don’t think so and find it an obvious way of reinforcing what you believe – that anyone who doesn’t conform with what God wants will be thrown out of the feast unto the outer darkness.

Well, if that’s you, then good luck living your life with it. I know it isn’t for me.

Conformity to anything is a challenge to me and I find myself immediately troubled by the poor victim of Jesus’s tale who gets thrown out of all that is good and nourishing simply for breaking a dress code. What’s that all about?

Well, perhaps the best I can do this morning is to tell a few more stories. Let us see whether we can start to unravel this parable by telling some more parables.

Here’s one about dress codes to soften you up and we’ll come back to the gospel story in a minute.

Once upon a time (about four weeks ago) in a land far away (the West End of Glasgow) there was a Provost. And the Provost would strut around his cathedral the Lord of all he surveyed. He was young (or at least he still thought he was still young) and witty (or so they told him at the end of the service in about half an hour’s time) and he was handsome and fair…..and thanks be to God, he was modest and humble too. [Read more...]

Same-sex Marriage Date for Scotland – 31 December 2014

SONY DSC

Exciting news this morning – we have a date for the first same-sex marriages in Scotland. The date is within this year – just. The first day on which most couples will be able to get married will be 31 December 2014, the day known in Scotland as Hogmanay. There’s going to be some parties north of the border that night, I can tell you.

The law will actually change in mid-December, as expected but the Scottish Government has delayed its proposal to increase the notice period to 28 days. Thus, same-sex marriage becomes legal on 16 December 2014. If a couple have been married in another jurisdiction (eg England) then they will be regarded in Scotland as being in a Civil Partnership until midnight on 15 December and regarded as a married couple on 16 December. Couples can give notice to marry on that day and a couple of weeks later can get married on 31 December 2014.

From 16 December 2014 a couple in extenuating circumstances will be able to apply to be able to get married more quickly – this usually applies if one partner is near to death. It is entirely possible that such a couple may be the first to be married but the big celebrations will come right at the turn of the year.

From 16 December, trans people can get gender recognition without having to be divorced.

Couples who have entered a Civil Partnership will be able to apply to a Registrar to convert that to a marriage from 16 December 2014 and it will be free to do so for the first year. (You pay for the marriage certificate just like anyone else but there is no processing fee). Alternatively, couples may pay the usual fees for a marriage ceremony. Couples will be able to be married in a Register Office or by religious or humanist celebrants in certain circumstances.

Couples will be able to be married in the Scottish Episcopal Church with the permission of the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity meeting in General Synod.

Any couple who has entered into a Civil Partnership who converts it to a marriage is welcome if they wish to bring the certificate to St Mary’s where it can be laid on the altar at a Eucharist in thanksgiving for the partnership and for this change in the law.

Civil Partnerships will continue to be available to same-sex couples (but not to straight couples) and I am more than willing to go on blessing such couples.

I’m also willing to bless all couples who have married by a Registrar, using the Service of Benediction that I drew people’s attention to earlier.

Here’s the prayer I will be using to bless couples in church:
God the Father,
God the Son,
God the Holy Spirit,
bless, preserve and keep you;
the Lord look upon you with favour and mercy
and so fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace,
that you may so live together in this life
that in the world to come you may have life everlasting.
Amen

Straight couples marrying who wish to express solidarity with gay couples who wish to get married in Scottish Episcopal Churches should get married in a Register Office and come to church for the Benediction of their marriage just like anyone else wanting to get married.

I’ve yet to decide whether or not to continue to perform legal marriages for straight couples in church after 31 December 2014.

Congratulations are in order not only to those who will be getting married soon but also to all those campaigners who worked to change the law, to parliamentarians who voted for it and civil servants who have been working on it. The brilliant campaigning of the Equality Network has been a powerful force in bringing about change. And inevitably, my mind turns in awe to the members of St Mary’s Cathedral, particularly those belonging to the LGBT group who went out collecting signatures to bring in petition to the Scottish Parliament long before the big campaigns got going.

We changed the world.

 

 

Picture Credit – Peter Kolkman Copyright – Creative Commons Some Rights Reserved

Come out and carry on

Today has been designated as National Coming Out Day.

There’s been so much going on recently in the media and social media about gay bishops in the Church of England.

This seems to me to say it in a more elegant way than all the letters to the press, editorials, blog posts and twitter posts by the score.

come out and carry on

How twitter and facebook can save your blog rather than kill it

One of the things that anyone keeping a blog must be aware of at the moment is that things are not the same as they were. At one time you simply had to put up something even vaguely interesting and people all over the world would read and comment. Blogging was like the Wild West – for the attention seeker there was gold to be mined her.

I remember Mother Ruth saying to me before she started blogging, “All you have to do is ask ‘Who teaches cats yoga?’ and you’ve an audience”. If you could supply an entertaining picture of the cat in question, you were immediately set to dominate the blogging world.

Nowadays, things are more difficult. One-liners like that have long since moved over to social media. Facebook and twitter are a more appropriate place for compact wit and if you are initially trying to reach friends and friends of friends then the social media platforms are the way to go. It is, to a large extent, what they are for.

I made a prediction in one of my new year posts that the number of active bloggers would decrease but the influence of those who remain blogging would continue to increase. I still think that is true and I can see when I look through my blog feeds in a morning that there really are far fewer people making the effort. The fad has past but there are some who continue. Those who continue tend to be those who have learned to harness social media and quite often those who have  given up have simply moved to social media instead. Perhaps blogging gave them connections with people that they are happy to retain in a different way.

For some people, starting a blog is about keeping up with those whom you know. For others it is like taking a few tentative steps into the limelight and tottering onto a very public stage. It is the latter type of bloggers who are persisting and they have even greater potential now to become global voices. The blogosphere is becoming free of some of the clutter. Now the cat pictures have moved to facebook and twitter, maybe posts with more substantial thinking matter more.

It is very obvious that quick witty thoughts are going on social media whereas blogs are now being used for more substantial thinking. Successful blogs these days quite often seem to have fewer posts than they once would have done but the posts themselves are more substantial.

Who would have guessed that blogging would have reinvigorated the essay as a writing style?

Anyway, it seems to me that you can write as much as you like these days, if you are not engaging on social media then you are unlikely to see many readers.

Here’s how to make social media work for you and keep the readers flowing in.

  • Post links to your latest blog entry on twitter and facebook (it isn’t rocket science, that’s where your readers are).
  • Note the plural! – Post a link in the morning to get the morning audience, one in the afternoon (for when America is waking up, if you are in Europe) and another one later in the day.
  • Don’t be ashamed to work for your audience.
  • Remember that email is a form of social media and offer people the chance to sign up to receive your posts. This way of reading blogs is growing.
  • Remember to provide an RSS feed for those who receive blogs that way. (For readers, I recommend Feedly now that Google Reader is long gone).
  • A witty link on twitter that gets retweeted is the gold you are chasing
  • A photo of a cat doing yoga is never wrong.

 

4951372883_299d70bc2b_z

  • Oh and one last thing. Why do you think it is important to ask questions on a blog?

 

Picture credit – Mel on Flickr  Copyright (CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

Dinner at the Trades House

cufflinks

 

Out last night to a lovely dinner with the Trades House of Glasgow.

Glasgow is one of those cities where the Medieval Guilds of the city still exist. The various trades in the city formed themselves in to Incorportated Crafts which were ways of regulating (and monopolising) trade as the city grew.

Nowadays they give away a lot of money (over £600 000 a year) and maintain various traditions centred around the Trades House in Glassford Street.

Last night’s dinner was the choosing dinner for the Deacon Convener of the House. This is the highest honour for those involved and the person takes on a civic role in Glasgow for their year of office.

This year’s Deacon Convener is the Rt Rev Idris Jones, formerly the Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway and so it was good to be there to cheer him on as he took up his new role.

It was a great night out and fascinating to see an institution which dates back to the middle ages still functioning and still doing its bit to offer relief to those in need and training to the young.

The dress code was “Official, Evening (White Tie) or Highland Dress. Insignia and Decorations” so we were all very spruced up.

The best I could manage for Insignia and Decorations was the cufflinks pictured above.

I made them on Monday.

 

The Special Synod on Family Life

pope and romeo and juliet

Something significant is going on in the Vatican this week. A series of conversations has started about how the Roman Catholic Church deals with issues that arise in family life. It is hugely significant because such conversations simply don’t happen very often. Another interesting thing is that it started off with a questionnaire that was sent out to Roman Catholics allowing them the chance to respond to a set of questions with the idea that their responses would inform the bishops who have gone to Rome to have the conversation.

There will always be people who say, “How can it be that a bunch of supposedly celibate men make decisions about family life?” and there’s no escaping from that question in this day and age. However, the idea of consulting the whole church through a questionnaire was revolutionary.

The questionnaire itself was something of a mixed bag. It felt as though various tectonic plates within the Roman Catholic church were grinding together throughout its production. On the one hand it was an attempt to allow lay catholics to comment on their own situation but on the other, the dominant theme was that church teaching doesn’t change, so how can we present it in a better way to the world. It has been clear in the last week that there are enormous forces at work within the Roman Catholic church which are not all moving in the same direction. Some very highly placed leaders in the church have been disagreeing publicly about the way forward, particularly over whether divorced people should be able to receive communion in church.

With these forces at work, what we don’t know is whether there will be an earthquake or not.

This all has huge significance for non-Roman Catholics too. The reason for this is that the RC Church is such an incredible size in the world and the way it describes personal morality is very often a benchmark and indeed something which people presume all the churches sign up to.

I see a lot of Roman Catholics in St Mary’s. Sometimes they are simply visiting out of interest, for example during Open Church times or Doors Open Day. This week, we had a large funeral and lots of Roman Catholics were present both when the coffin was brought into church and at the funeral itself. During these kinds of times lots of conversations open up about some of the areas which the synod in Rome may tackle.

The reason that the Synod on the Family affects all Christians, not merely Roman Catholics is that we are related – marriages, baptisms, deaths all bring me into contact with Roman Catholics on a regular basis. We are in a sense, all family when it comes to the issues under discussion.

A typical conversation goes like this:

RC Visitor – “…but this looks just like a chapel.”

Self – “Yes, and if you came on Sunday you would recognise the service immediately”.

RC Visitor – “Yes, I know, I went to a requiem recently and it was just the same. It was exactly the same – well apart from the music which was much better. It was the same though and I couldn’t believe it.”

Self – “Yes, I know.”

RC Visitor – “So what are the differences then if there’s no difference in the worship?”

Self – “Well there’s a few differences in how we teach people about social issues”

RC Visitor – “Well what do you tell people about how they are to behave”.

Self – “Well, I don’t think we do that. We give people the chance to make their own minds up about things.”

RC Visitor – “Well do you give communion to people who are divorced?”

Self – “Yes, of course we do.”

RC Visitor – “Well that’s what took my sister away from the church, when the priest told her he would like to give her communion but he wasn’t allowed”

Self – “Yes it is a hard discipline.”

RC Visitor – “Can divorced people get married here?”

Self – “Yes, so long as I get the permission of the Bishop. ”

RC Visitor – “Oh, right. Can I give your number to my sister?

Self – “Yes, here’s my card”.

RC Visitor “And do you say abortion is OK too?”

Self – “No, I don’t say abortion is OK but I do think that sometimes it can be the only option and I think women are best placed to make that decision for themselves”

RC Visitor – “And I suppose you can have gays as priests too?”

Self – “I am a gay priest”.

RC Visitor – “We have gay priests too but they can’t say. It isn’t nice for them”.

Self – “And we have priests who are women too.”

RC Visitor “Oh we don’t have them, just nuns. You don’t have nuns.”

Self – “We have nuns”.

And so it goes.

That isn’t particularly an exaggeration – it is common to discuss all those issues within the space of 10 minutes and I know from other clergy that when they get the chance to talk to Roman Catholic folk, these are some of the very first topics that come up in conversation and some of them at least are the topics coming up in Rome this week.

Our prayers should be with the Roman Catholic bishops in Rome as they attend this special Synod on Family Life. The rules of their church cause some ordinary people great misery and heartache, notwithstanding the very best of intentions.

The picture, by the way, is one I took the other week in Verona. I rather like the Pope looking down in benediction on Romeo and Juliet. Not a bad picture to prompt our prayers this week.

 

Why outing [some] bishops must remain an option

Last weekend, an extraordinary letter was published in the Sunday Telegraph. It came from 300 Christians, mostly Anglicans who were offering support to their bishops should any of them decide to come out.

It was described by some as a love letter to gay bishops.

I had the chance to sign the letter and, though I have a great deal of sympathy with its aim, found that I didn’t feel that I could do so because the letter itself contained a line that I disagreed with. It said that those signing the letter were against involuntarily outing bishops. Though I don’t believe anyone should be outed for being gay, there are some circumstances where I think outing is justified and for that reason, I declined to sign.

I’ve since been accused on twitter by an someone of advocating a campaign of intimidation that is “pure hatred”.

This is nonsense, of course, and came from someone who hides behind an anonymous twitter account.

But it is worth looking at the issues again.

This is what the letter said:

We are lay and ordained Anglicans in the Church of England and other Provinces, who publicly affirm the episcopal ministry in its purpose and diversity.

We recognize that there is a cost to those who respond to the call to be a bishop. This is especially true for those who are not heterosexual and have kept their sexual orientation private. There is growing pressure on gay bishops to come out publicly. The signatories to this letter do not advocate the involuntary outing of bishops.

We write to assure those bishops who may choose openly to acknowledge their sexual orientation as gay or bisexual that you will receive our support, prayer, and encouragement.

Sadly, we live at a time when those who are honest about being LGBTI and Christian are treated with hostility by a vocal minority within and outside the Church.

We have no doubt that the vast majority of Anglicans will welcome and embrace those of you who are gay or bisexual for your courage and conviction if you come out: weeping with you for past hurts and rejoicing in God’s call as witnesses to Christ’s transforming love and compassion.

If you stand out we will stand beside you.

Yours in Christ

My problem came with the line “The signatories to this letter do not advocate the involuntary outing of bishops.”

You see, the trouble is, I think that must remain an option. I don’t like the idea of outing bishops and certainly have no plans to do so. But it must remain an option.

The reason I’ve come to that view is the Keith O’Brien affair here in Scotland. In short, Cardinal Keith O’Brien was conducting a vitriolic campaign against the rights of gay folk whilst himself apparently having secret gay relationships.

It was a devastating affair not only for his own church but for all Christians in Scotland. It was not merely Roman Catholics who were ashamed of what was revealed and it is not merely Roman Catholics who are troubled by the suggestion at the time that Keith O’Brien may have made appointments that were influenced by his private life, a claim which has never really been put to rest. My friends who are Roman Catholics still speak of their distress at what has happened. Some complain about the lack of any open investigation and many have questions about the involvement of the Roman Catholic Church’s Media Office in promoting what they see as an anti-gay message in Scotland.

Before this took place, I probably would have signed a letter like the one that appeared in the Sunday Telegraph. However, now, having seen what has happened here amongst my friends, I can’t sign it. Sometimes, as a last resort, outing is necessary. If someone who is gay uses a position of power to attack other gay people and who is living a life inconsistent with the message being preached then I’m afraid that it may be the best thing for them to be exposed and removed from office.

When I weighed up whether to sign the letter or not, I simply asked myself whether it would have been better for Keith O Brien to still be in post, still campaigning against gay people, still bringing Christianity into disrepute by his message, whilst some people privately knew what was going on. (Incidentally, I was one of those who did know stories about Keith O’Brien before this broke). My conclusion was that the greater good would not be served by him still being in post. I don’t think he as an individual would be best served by his remaining in post.

So, my reluctant conclusion is that outing people in power must remain an option.

It also must remain an option to out straight leaders who claim in public to be supportive of gay folk but who privately act against them.

You are at no risk of being outed if you simply happen to be gay and happen to be in power.

Should you act against other gay folk, campaign against them and work to limit their human rights, then it seems not unreasonable for your own life to be exposed to public scrutiny.

I have great sympathies with what those signing the Telegraph letter were doing. Should any bishop decide to come out I’d be first in line to offer support, encouragement and advice on what it means to be gay and have a very public role in the church.

However, that one sentence meant that I couldn’t actually sign on the dotted line.

And though it may make other people, like my anonymous twitter troll, very cross, I’ve no regrets about that at all.

Can you backdate a marriage?

Marriage Register

How interesting to learn about the new rules that will govern couples in England and Wales who have been in a Civil Partnership who wish to change (upgrade?) their relationship status to a marriage.

It seems that they are going to be able to do so easily and will receive a “backdated” marriage certificate which will state that their marriage began when they entered into their Civil Partnership.

I’ve some reservations about this but I know it will be warmly welcomed by many and it would be churlish to oppose it.

It is interesting though and there will be pressure now in Scotland for the Scottish Government to do the same.

Here are some obvious issues.

  • It is quite odd to think that some might find themselves to have been married without their, at the time they entered into their marriage, believing that they wanted to be married.
  • People who have been blessing Civil Partnerships are going to find that they’ve been blessing marriages all along.
  • People will be able, I think, to find themselves married who never went through any ceremony at all – they may simply have signed the papers. (This is a new thing).
  • There’s no doubt going to be some grumpiness from those who trusted the politicians who said that Civil Partnerships were definately not marriages and that it had been invented in order to do something different to marriage.
  • In a sense, it is rewriting history. People are going to have marriage certificates that date from a time when they were not in fact married at all.
  • The Bishops of the Church of England in the House of Lords might feel that the Government has pulled the rug out from under them.
  • I think, that people can end up married whose proposal to marry has never been published either by banns on in a registrar’s office. I’ll be interested to see whether the registrars publish the names of those converting their status. My guess is that they won’t and thus people will end up married in law who have never had their intent to enter marriage advertised to anyone.
  • It is quite odd to think that a status like marriage can be backdated. Is there any comparable status that can be changed like that?

Personally, I would have preferred the solution to be that people would get new full marriage certificates when they requested to change their relationship status into a marriage. I think this because I think that marriage ought to require a clear statement of consent at the time it is entered into. (Indeed, many of the rules surrounding marriage are about getting unambiguous consent from both parties, freely given).

Interesting times. Uncomfortable times for the churches, particularly the Church of England.

Photo Credit – Dale Gillard Copyright: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)