Friday, 20 December 2013

Leonard Cohen, open air opera, and other delights

In the past fortnight we have attended two contrasting musical performances. One was L’Oca del Cairo, this year’s offering of the Opera in a Days Bay Garden, which we attended on Sunday 8 December. The other was last night’s concert by Leonard Cohen.

I know neither of these have anything to do with cycling, but they were both so enjoyable, in their different ways, that I wanted to share the experience. I hope you enjoy reading about these events. Of course John took photos on both occasions (though only at the end of the performances), and I've posted the best of these.

While on the whole, John and I like the same kinds of music, these two very different genres show where we differ. I like opera, and John came along to the opera to humour me. John likes Leonard Cohen, and I bought the concert tickets for John for his recent birthday. I was not at all sure I would enjoy the concert, but I must admit, I was blown away – it was brilliant!

The two evenings contrasted on all levels: Opera outside, but it was disturbed by rain showers; Leonard inside, and a beautiful clear moonlit night, which we enjoyed while walking back to our car. Opera with a picnic dinner; Leonard preceded by a very good dinner at Pravda Restaurant. Opera on an intimate scale, with an maximum of 200 in the audience; Leonard in the TSB Arena packed to capacity, with an audience of something like 4,000.

Outdoor opera

Opera in a Days Bay Garden is an annual event, organised and produced by Rhona Fraser, a singer herself. She owns a beautiful house in Days Bay, with a wonderful garden which lends itself admirably to small outdoor opera productions. The “stage” was the partly covered terrace in front of the house, the orchestra sat in the living room, with the sliding doors open, and the audience, which was limited to 200, sat on chairs on the flat area in front of the terrace. There was time during the intermission, for people to have a picnic dinner on the lawn in the lovely garden.

The “stage”. The white construction is supposed to be a tower from which the two women had to be “rescued” (photo by John)

The “auditorium” is slowly filling up (photo by John)

The opera, L’Oca del Cairo, was a two-act opera by Mozart, sung in English. In a way, it was a NZ première, as Michael Vinten, orchestra conductor and librettist, took two incomplete Mozart operas, and combined them into a single opera.

As in most comic operas, the story is one of thwarted love, foolish men and devious women, cheeky servants and unlikely disguises, before a happy dénouement, where the fools get fooled, and everyone eventually gets what they want. Mozart’s music, as always, is delightful and easy on the ear. The orchestra was excellent, the singers in good voice and their acting was well done and very funny.

It was disappointing – for the artists particularly, more so than for the audience – that proceedings were interrupted by some showers. At the first sign of rain, the orchestra, which had been sitting on the terrace, had to scurry inside (of course they could not allow their instruments to get wet). Some of the audience headed for cover, but we stayed put, just pulling on our hats or hoods.

The rain didn’t bother us – too much … (photo by John)

Luckily the rain was light and of short duration. Once the orchestra was installed in the living room, and the rain had stopped, “the show had to go on”. By the end of the first act, it was dry enough to enjoy our picnics during the intermission.

Settling down to our picnic, with my sister Aimée (standing), and brother-in-law Neil (photo by John)

During the second act, a couple of light showers returned, and the wind got up, but the cast bravely carried on. I felt sorry for them in their light costumes; they were probably cold, but they still sang very well. It was fully dark by the time the opera finished, the cast had their “curtain calls”, and the satisfied audience collected their picnic things and headed home.

The full cast, receiving the audience’s applause
Despite the rain, it had been a most entertaining evening, a new experience, and even John and Neil had enjoyed the opera.

Leonard Cohen

For most people, the Canadian singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen needs no introduction. I must admit that I have only become aware of him in the last few years. John is a fan, and one day when he played all of his CDs in a row, I found it got rather too much. So I wasn’t too sure whether I would enjoy all of this concert, especially when I read it would go on for three-and-a-half hours.

But I take it all back! It was a fantastic concert. Leonard’s deep, deep voice is marvellous. Maybe that’s why he often sinks to his knees while he’s singing – his voice is so deep, he has to pick it up from the floor! He’s really agile too, for a man of 79! He has the stage carpeted for the purpose (Persian carpets, no less, I read somewhere!).

Leonard Cohen on his knees (photo by John)

The songs are wonderful, and his backing musicians are brilliant artists in their own right. It was great to see that Leonard showed off their talents by giving them solos. The violinist was sublime, and the man who played the 12-stringed bandurria and other string instruments was astounding. The voices of the three female backing vocalists blended perfectly in beautiful harmonies.

Leonard Cohen surrounded by his backing musicians (photo by John)

The organisation of the concert was impeccable too. Large screens on each side of the stage showed close-ups of Leonard and his musicians. The sound, the lighting and the big screen images were perfect, and stage crew brought out instruments and removed them quite unobtrusively.

Halleluja” - the great man himself on the big screen (photo by John)

The violinist, Alexandru Bublitchi, was sublime (photo by John)

According to the reviews, Leonard sang a total of 27 songs, eight of them encores. He kept surprising the audience by coming back three times to do encores. Of course he got a standing ovation from the packed auditorium each time.

A standing ovation from the capacity audience

When the applause had died away, and the audience was making its slow way to the exits, the Leonard Cohen road crew was already on stage to pack everything up. When we got outside and around the end of the building, we saw at least four huge trucks waiting to be loaded with all the gear, and ready to transport it all to Auckland for the next concert.

Removal crews waiting for all the gear to come from the stage, ready to be loaded into trucks (photo by John)


Late night walk along the waterfront

It was 11:30pm when we came out of the TSB Arena after the concert. It was a beautifully clear night, with a full moon. We had to walk along the waterfront to get back to our car, which was parked near Te Papa. A perfect opportunity for John to take some night-time photos.

Full moon over Wellington Harbour (photo by John)

Lighting bollards and the footbridge over the Frank Kitts lagoon (photo by John)

“Solace in the Wind” by Max Patté (photo by John)

Lamp posts outside Te Papa (photo by John)

Sharks galore! The wall of a parking building at the end of Cable Street (photo by John)

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