Music: In the bleak midwinter: Stephen Johnson spent Christmas chilling out in front of the television
Thursday 30 December 1993
For Christmas Day evening there was New York Metropolitan Opera's all-star, made-for- television version of Puccini's La Fanciulla del West, leading name Placido Domingo, and before that, the truly horrendous Christmas with Luciano Pavarotti. Filmed, as far as I could tell, through a heavy brown filter, this mish-mash of souped-up carols and weepy yuletide classics did not bring out the best in the great man. He looked uncomfortable, frequently glancing down at his music as though in need of moral support, and the performances seemed to bear this out - not a great deal of warmth, and the odd hint of strain.
The direction was startlingly unimaginative - Notre Dame, Montreal, doesn't look like a terrifically exciting building, but the camera could at least have tried to make something of it. Still worse was the recording: microphone positioning apparently based on the 'distance lends enchantment' principle. It didn't. Even the most easily pleased Pavarotti fans must have felt a tad disappointed.
Technical standards in the great BBC Radio offering - the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (broadcast this year on Radios 3, 4 and 5) - were better in every respect. The recording approach was again respectfully distant, but the choir itself and the King's College Chapel atmosphere were well-caught. This year the programme was wide-ranging: Sarum chant and Palestrina to Diana Burrell and Judith Weir, with enough of the familiar favourites in between. And the King's College Choir itself remains a Rolls-Royce among modern choral groups. But I wonder how many people actually sat and listened to it, as opposed to using it as background to turkey-eating, present-opening and the ritual drive to the relatives?
Those few who did may have felt, as I did, that even in an overheated living room it is a distinctly chilly experience. The froideur of the lesson-readers is, of course, traditional and entirely expected. But the singing was rarely more than coldly beautiful. Whether it was medieval high church or Polish folk, the austere eloquence of a Bach chorale or the intimate tenderness of Herbert Howells' A Spotless Rose the style was the same: clean, shapely and expressively uptight. Our Anglican choral tradition is a treasure that needs to be defended against the rising horrors of evangelical happy-clappydom, but it could lose a degree or two of frost.
Refreshment came elsewhere - two BBC 2 offerings in fact. The unlikely teaming of the Spitting Image team, Theatre de Complicite and Claudio Abbado produced a very likeable version of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf (26 December), the story told by the voice of Sting and his rubber alter ego. It was perhaps a little over-stuffed with ideas, but the scenery and the puppets were wonderful - especially the be- robed ballerina-superstar Cat and the stunningly malevolent Wolf. The other items - scenarios based around Prokofiev's Overture on Hebrew Themes and Classical Symphony - felt a little like filling after this, though again there were vivid ideas, and enough matching of sounds to instruments to keep educationally inclined parents happy.
The 10-minute opera Cinderella or the Vindication of Sloth (also 26 December), by the late Stephen Oliver, was delightfully filmed and wittily composed, and there was a neat sting in the tail: it is Cinderella's sloth which saves her from conflagration at the ball, and which, as she points out, prevents her from falling for other, worse temptations - a possible vindication of the modern Christmas?
Geoffrey Macnab reviews American Hustle, also starring Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
newsFormer soldier taped 33 of the animals to the floor and then stamped on them one by one
Michelle Nijhuis' daughter insists (s)he is, and she learnt a valuable lesson on gender in books
news Opponents claim it would stop performers such as Beyonce and Madonna appearing on TV
It takes a platoon of chefs, litres of brandy and rum, and almost 100kg of dried fruit
newsThat most ancient of crimes is on the rise, threatening farmers' livelihoods, community trust – and human health
food + drink
sportIf you thought the London Olympics and Wiggins' Tour glory made last year best, don't forget Murray's Wimbledon win and Farah's double
Arts & Ents blogs
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
- 1 America's 'virgin births'? One in 200 mothers 'became pregnant without having sex'
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- 4 Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
- 5 Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile
- < Previous
- Next >