The Proms Opening Weekend, Royal Albert Hall, London


Big is beautiful as the Proms set sail on a wave of grandeur from Mahler, Wagner and Verdi

Some time during the second interval of Wagner's Meistersingers Proms marathon on Saturday evening – around the four-hour mark, let's say – Roger Wright, the festival's director, joked: "I feel as if we're about half-way through the season already."

In terms of the sheer number of performers who had already graced the stage, and the monumental nature of the works being presented over the first three days of a 58-day season, the joke was far from absurd. The previous night, hundreds of singers and instrumentalists had descended upon the Royal Albert Hall to perform Mahler's gargantuan Symphony of a Thousand; now the entire orchestra and company of Welsh National Opera, as well as 17 soloists including Bryn Terfel, had re-assembled to recreate the triumphant Cardiff and Birmingham production of Meistersingers in concert. Still to come was the small matter of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, fresh from Covent Garden, starring some upstart new baritone called Plácido Domingo. All before the weekend was out.

This kind of extravagant, ambitious, life-affirming programming is unprecedented in Proms history or, I suspect, any music festival's history. Three of the single greatest works of music ever written, performed by some of the world's most famous artists, in a legendary hall packed to the rafters – 1,400 seats of which had been been filled by people who had paid a fiver to be there.

In keeping with traditional Proms spirit, there was not the slightest hint of the stuffy concert hall or the exclusive opera house; Prommers (displaying superhuman stamina) donned their usual garb of shorts, sandals and T-shirts, and even in the Royal Box, HRH Duke of Kent didn't bother with a suit as he hunkered down for six hours of Wagner with a blissful expression on his face.

If Friday's Mahler had kicked off the season with a breathtaking investigation into the process of human creativity and the attainment of spiritual grace, the Meistersingers, with its central question "is art all that matters here?" continued the contemplation in spectacular fashion.

It is difficult to think of two more fitting works given that the Proms were founded by Henry Wood 115 years ago with a promise to use music to provoke thought and educate, as well as entertain. That these principles chime so neatly with those of the BBC is something to consider at a moment when the corporation seems in real jeopardy; perhaps if Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt had been Promming this weekend he would be reconsidering his off-hand comments about cutting the licence fee.

Bryn Terfel was outstanding as cobbler-poet Hans Sachs, his acting chops on dazzling display even in an all-black, un-costumed concert performance. The rest of the cast were also superb, particularly Christopher Purves as the Marker Beckmesser, and Amanda Roocroft as Eva, the beautiful bride of the Mastersinger.

But there were no disappointments in the cast, and the Act Three quintet "Selig, wie die Sonne" – which saw Terfel, Purves and Roocroft joined by the engaging Andrew Tortise as David and Raymond Very as Walther – was sublime. If the orchestra of WNO, under conductor Lothar Koenigs, felt a little underwhelming at times, this was a minor gripe in what was, overall, a thrilling event.

Those six hours passed by in a flash; when Doctor Who and the gang hit town next weekend (for two Proms that sold out quicker than almost any in the festival's history) it seems the Doctor will not be the first to bend time in SW7 this season.

With his career now into its fifth decade, Plácido Domingo leapt on to the stage during the prologue of Simon Boccanegra in a full, dark wig that made the audience do a double-take; as the pre-Doge, pirate Simon, a quarter-century before the main action of Verdi's opera takes place, it was hard to believe this energetic baritone was the 69-year-old legend. But the voice was the voice: still there in all its richness, emotion, intelligence and power. Supported by a stellar cast this performance was even more alive than the Wagner, and those of us fortunate enough to be in the Royal Albert Hall for this magical evening will never forget it.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own