David Lister: The Week in Arts

Take note: these programmes are useless
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The Independent Online

Ah, that's the wish of the artists and their agents, I am always told when I complain. But aren't institutions as powerful as the Royal Opera House able to overrule agents? As for reaching out to these much desired new audiences, the information about the artists in the programmes is so relentlessly cliquey that any newcomers will feel excluded.

One singer, I learn in the programme, "studied with Paul Farrington". What? THE Paul Farrington? Who is he? Sorry, I don't know. The opera newcomer certainly won't know. But at least the Royal Opera House press officer will know. Nope, he doesn't know either. So what is the point of that little nugget?

What, too, is the point of lists of roles? Most sopranos at this level have sung Mimi in La Bohème. Do we really need lists and lists of roles? Could we not have one little interesting fact? A hobby? An eccentricity? A bit of a life story? And, heaven forbid, we should ever be told an age. The Independent's own interview with Lisa Gasteen, who plays Brünnhilde in Siegfried, said she started singing on horseback when she rode as a child in Australia. Why not have a sentence like that instead of another boring list of roles and recordings?

It is also, I would suggest, a blinding statement of the obvious that any singer taking a lead role at the Royal Opera House would have sung in opera houses all over the world. Lisa Gasteen "has appeared in many of the world's leading opera houses". Peter Sidhom, meanwhile, "has appeared in many of the world's leading opera houses". For John Treleaven there is a frisson of a variation. He has "a busy international career with leading opera companies". Oh, give us a fondness for cats somewhere, please.

The entry for concert master Vasko Vassiliev, though, does have an intriguing line. He, we are told, is artistic director of the Super-Girls Orchestra. Now, what is that when it's at home? Is it a group of talented Sloanes, or simply female musicians with muscles? I'd like to know more about this one, but no, it might prove too interesting.

So what about theatre? The programme for another big opening of the week, Richard II at the Old Vic, was also a bit curious. It was exemplary in telling us plenty about the Old Vic administrators: Sally Greene "is known for rescuing and restoring the Old Vic, Criterion and Richmond theatres"; David Liddiment "was responsible for Who Want to Be a Millionaire?". But it is more coy about the people on stage.

If I thought it was bad with opera, this is worse. With theatre programmes, the lists for every performer are just of plays the actor has performed in, not the actual roles. So, for Julian Glover, "theatre includes Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet".

What earthly use is that? Did he play Hamlet in Hamlet or the gravedigger? Surely it makes a difference. Surely new and old audiences would like to know.

On their toes at Sadler's Wells

When the new head of Sadler's Wells, Alistair Spalding, unilaterally declared his building Britain's national dance house, I immediately followed suit and renamed my home in Pinner the national house for arts journalism. But to judge by this week at the new national dance house, Mr Spalding's rather cheeky initiative is bearing fruit.

The performance by Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant in Push was magical, but of note, too, was Mr Spalding's decision to reintroduce £5 Proms-style standing at the front. The atmosphere was terrific. And, because Mr Spalding has now turned Sadler's Wells into a producing house, rather than just a receiving house, the show was devised and worked on in the building; and he has persuaded the mesmerising Guillem to return next year to work on another new show.

Sadler's Wells looks appears to be both a worthy and exciting national dance house. Things are progressing rather more slowly at the national house for arts journalism. And Sylvie has refused all invitations to take tea there. But it's early days.

* It was refreshing to see Paul Smith, the singer with the rock band Maximo Park, quoted this week in The Independent rejecting the all too limiting labels of the music world. "We see ourselves as a pop group," he said. "Indie doesn't enter my vocabulary when I'm describing us, because although we're on an independent label, 'indie' has come to mean a lifestyle choice and a haircut more than anything."

Does this mean the word "pop" is coming back into fashion among groups who for years have run a mile from it? And, talking of fashion, what exactly is the indie haircut? Can one ask for it at a salon? And how does the music fan differentiate it from the pop haircut, the rock haircut, the jazz haircut and, of course, the world music haircut? Perhaps readers can help by emailing me the answers to d.lister@independent.co.uk. The music aficionado needs to know these things to have a true appreciation of the art form.