16 Jul 2012

A curtain raiser to the greatest show on earth

I am not an opera buff, but as of last night, I have been captured! But before I take you to that moment, here’s an account of getting there on Olympic travel arrangements Day One.

I had determined during the Olympic and Paralympic period not to drive in London at all, not that I do much anyway. Yesterday, I set off from a remote village in the Berkshire Downs at 4.10pm by local cab to catch the 4.31pm from Newbury to Paddington.

At the station, my heart sank when I saw the indicator board state that it was coming from Penzance. But I need not have worried. It arrived smack on time. It was on time again at London’s Paddington itself. At the station there were hostesses, signs, and special colourful pink fabric routings to guide Olympians, their officials, and media to the right routes. There were more on the tube system. The Bakerloo and the Piccadilly lines were running flawlessly. We arrived at the Royal Opera House spot on our intended 5.45pm – a mere one hour and 35 minutes after leaving West Berkshire. I could not have done it faster by car.



So to the opera. Somebody had generously given us two exceptional seats for Verdi’s Otello. I repeat I am not an opera man. I have been perhaps four or five times in my life. I’m an eclectic music lover – my classical taste is dominated by choral music – it is an inheritance from my boyhood as a chorister in Winchester Cathedral. The crossover from Verdi’s Requiem, which I sang, to his operas is perhaps an easier journey than some. But nothing prepared me for last night.

Antonio Papano’s exuberant conducting of an equally exuberant chorus and orchestra laid the groundwork for the soloists.  The Latvian, Aleksandrs Antonenko (Otello) and the German Anja Harteros (Desdemona) stole the show despite the best efforts of the reptilian Iago (Lucio Gallo).

From the very outset the crashing power of the opening bars announced something portentous – almost as if inaugurating the Olympics themselves. The cast of more than 60 and a 100 piece orchestra under Papano’s dynamic baton conjured massive scenes of Venetian maritime power. From it all emerged the sumptuously passionate love between Otello and Desdimona.

Intense love

The ups and downs, the jealousy, despair, adoration, and all- consuming passion described more intensely than any silver screen the reality of the lives of lovers.


I had regarded opera as too often banal, absurd and unbelievable. But last night the acting and the music created a vortex of captivating spirit. I have never cried in an opera. Last night I confess, I did.

I emerged feeling I had in some way experienced an Olympian moment. I had been spirited to and from a venue of superlative strength and achievement in which all mediocrity, cracked concrete, immigration queues, and private security failures, had somehow disappeared down Venetian drains.

Anyone who has seen the Olympic/Paralympic site in the flesh will know that, like the incredible tableau laid out last night in the Royal Opera House, it is a superlative, breath-taking, three dimensional achievement in which the human spirit – the train driver, the baritone, the guard on the tube, the soprano, the hostesses on the Olympic route – is now centre stage.

Last night I was privileged to partake in a serendipitous curtain raiser to one of the greatest events of our lives.

Tweets by @jonsnowC4

13 reader comments

  1. Robert Taggart says:

    Good for you Johnny.
    But, methinks the hack in you will find ‘a bone to pick’, ‘a hair to split’ not to mention ‘ a cud to chew’ before too long !

    Suppose you have already started – G4S ?!

  2. Nasir Malik says:

    ‘A curtain raiser to Greatest Show on Earth’. I read the book by Daryl Goodrich published recently that lead me to raise yet another curtain on the Greatest Show on Earth; that is :

    ” ‘Spielberg, Besson and a bloke from Bradford’ is an interesting discourse about winning the London 2012. I am rather intrigued why the ‘Bloke from Bradford’ is hardly mentioned in the current euphoric upsurge of the biggest event of all times about to happen here in the UK. We only see the Johnson, Cameron, Coe and their likes in the associated limelight (none seen in the presentation movies: Inspiration, and Sport at Heart by the Director Daryl Goodrich) but no mention either of Red Kens’ declaration ‘The film Inspiration won us the Olympics’. Lord Coe (Seb Coe) may have won a Gold and was rewarded with Chair of LOCOG, but where is ‘The Bloke’ who gave us the Show?

    I am touched by the filmmaker’s own David and Goliath journey. Put it this way : The Bloke from Bradford = David, LOCOG = Goliath.”

  3. Sue Monk says:

    Would love to go Jon, but way out of my budget! Glad you had a fab time anyway.

  4. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    Serendipity…..I have been thinking back to 1989 when I was tutored by Philosopher Peter Caldwell, a marvellous man whose warmth and emotional genorosity impacted on me and still effects me. I googled his name and was sad to learn of his death in 2010 of pancreatic cancer. He was an opera lover particularly Wagner , but he also loved Verdi.Jon Lord dies of pancreatic cancer and Jon Snow attends opera.All these thoughts and actual correlations happened within 24 hours. There is nothing spooky at all about this and similar phenomena , comics have commented on this as ‘loony links’ BUT emotion is a powerful linking energy to the physical and metaphysical.How can we use this emotion ? certainly not for anger and destruction, as otello dictates , but for something greater without jealousy , which is equal in beauty and passion. Best wishes for Pete Caldwells’ family and friends.. Peter would know what I meant

    I like opera and love some pieces , but am also a lover of ecletic and early music , but there again there is not much music which i dislike.

    1. margaret brandreth-jones says:

      of course it affects me , not effects and he was a genorous man.. spelling and grammar careless mistakes . Thats the people switch and mix again coming off the top of my head.
      I will take responsibility for not checking before submitting,

  5. Antony Lias says:

    It was indeed a phenomenal performance. Perhaps unlike most art forms, opera needs a whole combination of elements to coincide to produce something far above an audiences expectations. It’s the rare meeting of incredible singers, a stunning opera (which Otello undoubtedly is), a good production which does not distract from the drama and an orchestra and chorus firing on all cylinders. It doesn’t happen that often sadly, but the Otello at the ROH is one of them. Read this review at Opera Britannia for a like-minded review:


    1. margaret brandreth-jones says:

      I remember the kissing scene from Otello was one of the most intensely passionates scenes; the three crescendos of the voiceless minute captured the protective theme, innocence and love untainted elevated the bond to the pure. Alas! the ‘devil’ spoils the pure and what follows , i don’t want to know.
      Beautiful voices yes!.. a lot of work given to a god given gift. A story line depicting mans’ inability to see through destruction and cruel manipulation. A creation by man.
      There is something extremely powerful about music which praises the good and denies the bad .(however we interpret these concepts) and allows me to live in a bubble of sublimity momentarily to escape cruelty.. for example fiction as on the box last night where a youth was trying to cut off another mans finger. This cruelty makes me ill and I cried bitterly at the acceptability of textual inclusion and heaved at the vileness of the actions ..I simply don’t want cruel fiction as well as all the inherent real cruelty in life.

  6. Philip Edwards says:


    London’s “Greatest Show On Earth”?

    Do us all a favour and tell us which of these constitute that “show”:

    Riots and burning buildings.
    Corrupt “business men.”
    Corrupt bankers.
    Corrupt policemen.
    Corrupt politicians.
    A moron of a mayor.
    Corrupt journalists and media.
    Corrupt civil servants.
    Corrupt security firms who couldn’t secure a jam jar.
    Corrupt residents ripping off tourists.
    A corrupt system that stole tax payers money from the rest of the country to help finance a corrupt cheating drugs fest and deluded spectacle.

    And that’s a short list.

    1. Robert Taggart says:

      A moron of a Mayor ?
      BoJo ?
      An improvement upon a corrupt Mayor (KeLi?)
      Surely ?!

    2. nMalik says:

      Politicians > no further contracts > smells corruption.

  7. regjay says:

    Only Jon Snow can ask this question of government?
    Is someone going to ask Mr Cameron about his Trade Minister and why he should be still in his job and WHY should he be in the Cabinet banking committee which is charged with coming up with ideas for reforming the industry? After all, was not the Trade Minister HSBC Chairman when HSBC laundered billions of dollars on behalf of the Mexican drug gangs?
    Ask Mr Cameron, Jon.
    You have the knack of squeezing an answer.

  8. Meg Howarth says:

    Your absolute delight in the Otello is infectious and uplifting. Thank you.

    But enthusiasm appears to have trumped critical faculties when it comes to your penultimate para: ‘Anyone who has seen the Olympic/Paralympic site in the flesh will know that … it is a superlative, breath-taking, three dimensional achievement in which the human spirit – the train driver, the baritone, the guard on the tube, the soprano, the hostesses on the Olympic route – is now centre stage’.

    Haven’t seen the site – am steering well clear of Olympimania and its trappings (found out today the Islington torch run is two mins from my home, where it will conveniently pass the side of Islington Council’s municipal building!) but will accept your word that it’s a magnificent structure. But for what end? Two weeks of a corporate crony tax-haven circus:the IOC demands tax-exemption for the multinational profiteering sponsors as a condition of awarding the ‘bid’. (Interesting that McDonalds has announced it won’t be claiming its tax-exempt status, doubtless due to public protest. Regeneration is always the justification for the Olympics. Apart it seems from Barcelona, that’s a myth long-exploded.

  9. Nasir Malik says:


    On 16th July I exposed what lies behind the curtain drawn over the Greatest Show on Earth, “Spielberg, Besson and a Bloke from Bradford”. Two days later Philip Edward short-listed a few of the attributes linking the corruption engulfing the show. In contrast I remembered the short film ‘INSPIRATION’ directed by Daryl Goodrich that won us the Show how ordinary people in the country were and are being inspired watching the Olympic Torch as it travels through the land. We will be inspired further when we see Andy Murray carry the Torch as it arrives in Wimbledon, and Sir Chris Hoy will make us proud when he will lead our team carrying the Union Jack. We will then see through out the show clapping cheering public and the happy and cheerful faces adorned with medals for their success and achievements. We will also hear before during and after the games of Danny Boyle’s success launching the Games. What we may never see is or hear of is this Bloke from Bradford, Darryl Goodrich, who inspired us all through his marvelous achievement left only to be viewed on YouTube. It smells lack of admiration and acknowledgement through Corruption.

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