David Lister: You need a PhD for a night at the opera

Share
Related Topics

They're expensive and often of little use, yet they are the one part of the cultural experience that rarely provokes comment. Why can't the programmes on sale at concerts, theatres and operas be better?

At rock concerts they are a complete joke. Usually about £12, they are little more than a set of pictures. Avoid at all costs. Classical concerts are little better. When one tries to find out information about a soloist, all one gets is a list of albums he or she has made. Perish the thought we should be able to read some background information, age, maybe, or even nationality. To be fair, though, when I last made this comment a few years ago about programmes at the Barbican Centre in London, the head of arts there, Graham Sheffield, promised change, and the Barbican's programmes now do give plenty of information. It can be done.

Theatres, too, often tell you virtually nothing about the performers you are watching. Even the National Theatre lists a series of plays next to an actor's name without saying which part the actor played in that particular play. The one word "Hamlet" means little, as there is quite a big difference between playing Hamlet and playing the second gravedigger. But the most ridiculous are the programmes at the Royal Opera House. This is the place, you will remember, which has been trumpeting its efforts to get first-time opera-goers into the building. It has given special deals for Sun readers; it has specially sponsored evenings with cheap seats. Yet, to read and understand the £7 programmes you need not just a degree in musicology, but a post-graduate degree.

I have just attended a performance of Tristan and Isolde by the Royal Opera. The programme helpfully had two essays, one on Tristan, one on Isolde. Here is how the one on Tristan begins:

"Love is an act of radical transgression that suspends all sociosymbolic links and, as such, has to culminate in the ecstatic self-obliteration of death. The corollary to this axiom is that love and marriage are incompatible; within the universe of sociosymbolic obligations, true love can occur only in the guise of adultery."

Try that after a glass of the ROH's best champagne. It's a tough gig after a tomato juice. And it doesn't get much easier in the essay on Isolde, which begins: "Isolde like the classic femme fatale beguiles a daring hero and induces him to follow her on a journey through a noir world of forbidden desire. At the end of it lies a fatal sentence. Both belong to the most persistent figurations our cultural image repertory has to offer of what Lacan designates as feminine jouissance. For Lacan, jouissance is first of all that libidinal psychic urge that must be contained by cultural commands and codes, in other words, that impulse that the subject must give up in order to acquire a position within the symbolic order governed by paternal authority."

There's five more pages of that. And, by the way, not everyone has heard of Lacan. Many a Sun reader being wooed by the Royal Opera House must wonder who he plays for.

It's an absurdity for the Royal Opera House to be crowing about its success in bringing in new audiences to the art form and then alienating them before the show has even started. As Lacan might have said.

Amis 0, Jordan 1

Martin Amis took it upon himself this week to give his views on the model Jordan, now possibly better known as the best-selling novelist Katie Price. Amis is no fan of celebrity novelists, and even less of a fan of their enormous sales. Indeed, he has a character in his new novella State of England called Threnody. He won't say that she is based on Jordan, but will say that readers should "bear in mind" the model when they read the book. Speaking of Jordan in his talk at the Hay Festival at Kings Place in London, Amis said: "She has no waist, no arse ... an interesting face ... but all we are really worshipping is two bags of silicone."

It sounds like something out of Austin Powers. Amis is refreshingly unafraid to challenge prevailing orthodoxies. But he can also be a real fool. In turning his critique of celebrity publishing into a personal attack on a woman's physical attributes in language that would have seemed chauvinist 40 years ago, let alone now, he has shown his true colours, won Jordan sympathy and lost the argument on celebrity novels. Nice one, Martin.

A transatlantic trade?

Two voracious art collectors have taken up residence in Britain. They are the American ambassador Louis B Susman and his wife, Margie. The ambassador is on the board of the Art Institute of Chicago, while Mrs Susman is a mover and shaker in the American art world.

I went to a small gathering at the ambassador's splendid residence, Wingfield House, in Regent's Park. The walls are already full of art, with an imposing Gainsborough in the main reception room. But the Susmans have changes in mind. They told me they would be bringing over some of their personal collection, including Rothko and Jasper Johns. They also added, intriguingly, that they wanted to show their art. Does this mean that the glorious house and gardens will be opened to the public? Probably not. But our art galleries, ever hungry for new work, should note that President Obama has sent us two patrons of the arts.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

 

Naturism criminalised: Why not being able to bare all is a bummer

Simon Usborne
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried