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.

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