Sunday, Sept 4th–London

Late start; reading the libretto for tonight's performance; Samsung; looking for waist coats; afternoon BBC Proms Concert with Venezuela's Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra performing Paul Desenne, Villa-Lobos & Ravel; an ice cream between performances; BBC Proms Concert with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Rossini's "Semiramide"; dinner from Tesco

Best Western Cromwell



I didn't make it to the Victoria & Albert today but hope to go tomorrow instead.

I got off to a later start this morning because once again my body decided it needed more sleep than I had planned on. After I had showered and had one of my Slimfasts for breakfast I decided it would be a good idea to find out exactly what BBC Proms performances I was going to today and I learned that this evening's performance was a concert staging of Rossini's opera "Semiramide", sung in Italian, so I thought I'd better find a synopsis and libretto online so I could read them before the performance. More on both performances a bit later.

To save some time I took a cab on over to the Samsung store instead of taking the Tube. It's along Oxford Street, one of London's main shopping areas and close to the Jessops where I bought the camera last year, the one that died shortly before I left on this trip. At first I thought the setup at the Samsung store would be like at the Apple store back home, where you pretty much have to make an appointment in advance to get someone to help you but I didn't have to wait long.

It turns out that the woman at the Carphone Warehouse who sold me the phone yesterday didn't quite know what she was talking about. The way the guy at the store who helped me today phrased it made a lot more sense–the phone is already left unlocked by the manufacturer, but it needs to be activated by inserting a UK SIM card and making a call to another UK number that lasts at least five minutes, which we did. This activation is designed to cut down on smuggling UK phones to other markets. So anyway I should have no problem with inserting a French SIM when I get to Paris later this week.

I did find Topman, the clothing store I was looking for, but due to the tendency in that area to not actually display street numbers on the stores I went a couple of blocks the wrong way before I thought I'd better check on Google Maps. Although this branch did have quite a few waistcoats they don't stock any that would fit me, so I think I'll just have to try stores that sell clothes for big & tall men when I get back home. Again to save time I took a cab back here.

I had two emails I wanted to send before leaving for this afternoon's concert. I've been hoping to get together with my London podcaster friend Alan, who does the Copperplate podcast, whom I met when I was here in London last year, but he's been out of town on a trip and is due back tomorrow but apparently hasn't had reliable Internet connections so I wanted to leave a note for him on Facebook.

I also wanted to make sure that the Grand Hotel Malher, where I stayed when we went to Paris to disperse some of Mom's ashes two Christmases ago and where I'll also be staying on this trip, had been able to arrange for their usual shuttle driver to pick me up at the Gare du Nord when the Eurostar arrives this Thursday afternoon and to take me to Charles de Gaulle airport early in the morning to catch my flight home on the 26th.

After I had done so, I discovered I really hadn't left quite enough time to walk on over to the Royal Albert Hall for the 3:45 PM concert so I took a cab instead.

I hadn't done a very good job selecting the seat for this performance. It was in one of the seats with the worst leg room, right behind the partition above the entrance to the level. I survived OK, though.

The performance was excellent. The ensemble was Venezuela's Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, possibly the best young adult symphony orchestra in the world even if I can't find their web page, under the direction of the man known throughout at least the English-speaking classical music world as "the Dude", Gustavo Dudamel).

The first piece was the UK premiere of "Hipnosis mariposa" by the Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne which I quite liked and for which the composer got a long round of applause when he appeared on stage with the Dude and the orchestra after it. The second piece was the 2nd of Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas Brasileiras", which was also very good. Both pieces after the intermission were by Maurice Ravel, starting with his Suite No 2 from "Daphnis and Chloe" followed by "La valse" to close out the show.

By the time the concert ended it was after 5 PM, and the house would open at 6:15 for the 7 PM performance. After I got outside I reached into my back pocket where I had put the small booklet with my ticket for the evening show and somehow I had lost it. (That's not the first time I've lost something from my pants' back pocket–yesterday, probably when getting into or out of one of the cabs I took, I lost the only pair of sunglasses I brought with me.) I asked the RAH ushers at the door if the box office could print another copy for me and they said "Of course" and sent me down the hallway in the right direction.

I knew I wouldn't be able to find somewhere to have dinner in the short time I had before the performance so I had an ice cream from the truck parked on the Kensington High Street side of the Hall.

My seat for the evening performance was only slightly better than for the previous show. Unfortunately my knees were bothering me so much due to having already been to another show that at one point the guy sitting on the aisle to my right complained that my right leg was touching his seat. I decided that at the intermission I'd apologize, tell him I had knee problems, and request that we switch seats so I could flex my right leg when I needed to without bothering him so much and he agreed.

I actually have no idea why I thought I wanted to hear a staged version of an opera I was unfamiliar with when I bought the tickets when they became available a couple of months ago. I certainly don't remember seeing how long it was then either. Despite all that I rather enjoyed the evening.

The opera has a plot that reads like a reverse Oedipus with a twist on Hamlet, and the romantic male lead is sung by a female soprano, otherwise known as a "trousers or breehces role". I bought the 5 GBP program because it had an English translation of the libretto, and keeping up with the lyrics and plot kept me absorbed enough that when I finally looked at my watch while leaving the men's room after the performance I was rather surprised that it was already after 11 PM.

There are five main roles, the female title role, the soprano singing the male hero, and three guys. There's an additional minor female role and an even smaller additional male role.

I'd never heard of any of the singers before, or the chorus (Opera Rara, who apparently specialize in rarely performed works), but I have heard of and heard the orchestra on the classical music stations I've listened to over the years, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

All of the music was beautifully performed and sung. There were also a couple of nicely done musical effects as well. There's one place where the ghost of the murdered king sings, and they used the sound of cymbals played on speakers up above the upper balcony. And in a later bit when two of the characters are supposedly down in the crypt and hear music from above them, there were actually musicians playing from up on the second balcony.

Tonight's performance was about 2/3rds full. As the second act went on, more and more people kept disappearing after the end of each subsequent scene. I made it through to the end.

I had my sweatshirt on all day. It never got above 70 F and was around 65 when I left the RAH to walk back here. I was very glad the Tesco Express was still open when I got back here so I could grab a sandwich and some fruit salad. I would have gone to the KFC or Burger King there if I had needed to but I like the sandwiches from the TE better.

It's now almost 1:30 AM and I want to get to bed soon, after I send this off to Michael, Tim, Renee and Kelly.

I have no plans in the evening tomorrow. I plan on first going to the Victoria & Albert, going back to the Museum of London, then the Guildhall Art Gallery, and stopping by the Monument to the Great Fire on the way to the Tower of London.

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