ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
TWO WEEKS tomorrow, in Washington DC, the Rolling Stones will set out on the first leg of a world tour. The heart sinks just thinking about it.

This is not because the Stones are old - if you're good enough, you're young enough. It's not because they are not the force they used to be - their recent albums all have their moments, and the new one, Voodoo Lounge, has had more good reviews than bad. It's because this tour is going to be just like the last one, and the one before that.

It will last a year. It will be seen by a million people. Half of them will be the band's age, and half will be young enough to be their wives. It will gross more than pounds 50m, and break box-office records; more importantly, it will break merchandising records. It will take place entirely at sports grounds. The programme credits will mention lawyers, accountants and insurance people. The show will be put together with some care, and plenty of pyrotechnics. The sound quality will be good, when there is no wind. The set-list will be the same every night. People will like it, but it won't be rock'n'roll: it will be trade and industry.

I saw the Stones at Wembley in 1982, Philadelphia in 1989, and Wembley in 1990. The first time was fitfully exciting. The second time was good fun: American stadia are better suited to rock than ours, with smaller fields and higher sides. The last time was a bore. I won't see the Stones again until they overcome their greed and play a decent venue. It should be indoors, and not vast; a place where the intimacy and spontaneity that are central to rock'n'roll are not a practical impossibility.

IT ALL seems a long time ago now, but back in June the media marked the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Every night for a week, BBC Television followed the Nine O'Clock News with News 44, a little programme fronted by Sue Lawley, which gave the news of the same day in 1944. It was done well, with a skilful mixture of modern presentation and old footage. Now it emerges that News 44 attracted an average audience of 7.3m, and was the most popular of all the BBC's D-Day programmes.

The idea may not sound exciting: many newspapers have a column along these lines, and people like me - youngish, passably well-informed, but uncomfortably ignorant of history - skip them. But television brings the idea to life, because as well as seeing through the eyes of contemporary reporters, we see through our own. It is the incidental things that are gripping. We see how tidy people were in 1944, and how fast they walked, as if it made them less likely to be hit by a bomb. The BBC has no plans to do this again. It ought to do it all year round.

AT GLYNDEBOURNE last weekend the new Don Giovanni, directed by Deborah Warner, was booed. Odd business, booing. I've never booed anyone, except slow- scoring batsmen, who may conceivably be embarrassed into getting a move on. When an opera singer hears boos, what is she supposed to do? Sing faster? Walk off? Retire? And if the boos are directed at the director, that makes them even more pointless.

Picture the scene. You are the sort of person who goes to a first night - a Friend of Glyndebourne, perhaps, or one of its corporate sponsors. You compile your picnic, slip into your tuxedo or ballgown, and trek to deepest Sussex. We'll assume that you are not an idiot, and have looked in Glyndebourne's lavish brochure to see what you may be getting. It tells you that Deborah Warner is a theatre person, directing only her second opera, and that she is young. As an arts-lover, you have an inkling of her reputation: brainy, feisty, independent. And still, when you see what she has done to the dear old Don, you boo. I don't get it. If any booers are reading this, please will they let me know what made them do it, either by post, to Arts Desk, 40 City Rd, London EC1Y 2DB, or by fax, to 071-956 1469.

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