Back in late November, just before the budget, I decided I was sick of it all. Sick of the negativity, sick of the viciousness, the so-called "river of bile", which I think is real, of a spew of hatred online, offline, in the papers, on the TV, the media in general. The pathetic, fawning pseudo-left decrying the misfortunes of the poor while they refuse to pay their household charge and acknowledge all of the nice things they've basically been granted by the very system which they purport to fight. No wonder, this weekend, we found that the good old Irish have rediscovered their love for the traitors who created all of the mess in the first place, Fianna Fail.
Anyway, I digress, because this last 3 months has ended up being hugely enriching.
I stuck reading the business and technical media - HBR, Wired, the New Yorker, the Gramophone. And being back "home" (well round the corner from home, in my own rented apartment), I'm near enough to the border to pick up a clear BBC FM signal and enjoy a few minutes of BBC Radio 3 at the beginning and end of my work commute. Otherwise, its mixed up CDs or Lyric FM.
I've unfollowed all of the negativos on Twitter. Even a few who were old friends or colleagues. I've bitten my tongue and persisted with one or two I like despite disagreeing profusely. I still read twitter of course, am as, well, unleashed as ever, and flamboyant on Facebook. I even, cheekily, befriended a few strangers I knew of, which has turned out to be a little interesting. Random strangers have befriended my on FB for years, and you know what, they have all turned out to be great people. So I thought it might be my turn to have a shot. One has turned out to be lovely, warm, kind - somebody who I met in person a few years back in my early MRSC days and have huge admiration for. The other, I've never met, and probably never will, but who has turned out to be a fragile, but gentle soul, and surprisingly sweet and funny.
As most of you who know me know, I've never abandoned classical music entirely. I still sing in the odd choir, play the odd accompaniment, even occasionally come out of "retirement" for the odd paid job. I miss it, sometimes, the sense of "closure" which you never really get in IT. But I like emergence as a concept, so I can live with it. I've enough happy memories and proud moments to be able to move on. Anyway, in last few years, I've been to the odd opera here and abroad, and living 5 minutes walk from Movies@, have got to a few Met, ROH and Paris broadcasts as well as others. The Met's Orfeo disappointed me, but I nearly bounced in my seat at a rivetting Lucia. A bizarre Salzburg Zauberflöte left me puzzled, and I wept with the rest of the audience at a La Boheme broadcast. I got to a live Fidelio in Budapest (where the kindest staff in the world insisted on ushering my mum who was on a stick at the time and myself through the backstage area to take advantage of the lifts to get to the cheap seats!!) And not long after I returned to Dublin in '10, I saw Orla Boylan's fine Tosca in Opera Ireland's last, sad, production.
Then I was driving home one day and heard Jennifer Larmore would be in town. I'd never have heard this had I still been listening to regular talk radio. I'd just got so fed up and pissed off, I switched over to Lyric FM instead. Well, what a good thing to do, in the end.
If there is one thing I'm fond of, its what the late Dr Joe Groocock used to call the "low ladies." When I was 17 I watched a lady dressed as a guy sing while slitting her vein open in a Handel opera. It took years to figure out what I had seen, but I finally, recently, identified the singer as the late Lorraine Hunt (pre Lieberson days) as Sesto in Handel's Guilio Cesare in Eggito, in a Peter Sellars production filmed on studio. Its funny how these things always have a tie to something else, but 14 years later I was to re-discover Hunt-Lieberson in my cheap flat in Cork, while listening to the radio while my then girlfriend was out at work. It was her recording of the aria from Theodora, "As with rosy steps the morn", something that tore open the barely (and necessarily) supressed feelings from June 2002 when I abandoned my previous girlfriend in London, out of concern for my own safety and sanity, and came back to Ireland to fix my ruined life. A few months previously, before I'd been introduced to my then girlfriend, I was working on a London site, on a data centre job. The previous week I'd been listening to the afternoon programme on 3 and had heard a very enjoyable interview with American mezzo Jennifer Larmore. I'd enjoyed it so much that when I was in London the following week I'd dropped by the opera shop at ENO and bought a few CDs of Larmore - the one I liked best of course was her Barber of Seville.
Anyway, I was very, very upset when Hunt Lieberson passed away from cancer in 2006, all too soon. Around 2007 or so I was reading the Gramophone one day when this apparition caught my eye. And it would yours too no doubt. The lovely apparition on the right is the smouldering Elina Garanca, rightful heir to the throne of Vaselina Kasarova, who I also discovered at some point but can't for the life of me remember exactly why. (All I know is I've had some of her late 90s recordings for like, years). I think it might have been around the obligatory von Otter phase in the late 90s.
So anyway, a chance to hear a singer I'd liked a lot for years was very appealing. As it happened, I also won a pair of tickets to the Ireland/Argentina match in Lansdowne Rd. So I turned up in the NCH on what was a patrons night of old dears dressed in their very best, with me in scruffy jeans and an Ireland jersey. Well I didn't care, I was there for the music, not to be seen. It was good, very enjoyable, though the NCH isn't a great acoustic for the voice, unless its gigantic or a screamer. But that was it, I was back to my old habits. Once more. Scour the net for voices I hadn't heard, now with this new fangled stuff of streaming and youtube. Well, what a treat.
But it was only then, that I started to realise what I'd missed along the way. Sarah Connolly. Angela Kirkschlager. Joyce DiDonato. Kate Lindsay. Alice Coote. No wait. Alice Coote? HOW, I asked myself, did I manage to miss such an exciting, thrilling voice? So much so, I decided to dump my notion of St Patrick's day in Roma at the 6 Nations clash against Italy, and go hear Coote sing the role of Leonora in La Favorite in Paris this past weekend. I was not disappointed. Coote has, aside from a wonderful, distinct voice, and a lovely, almost melancholic interpretative style; really strong acting skills. You believe in her characters, you feel for them and with them, you find yourself drawn in to their world, however awful their suffering might be. You're grabbed by both shoulders and made feel their ecstasy, their agony, their despair. No wonder she seems to be fleadhed after a performance, its very complete. Will certainly have to go again and be wrenched into a fantasy world for a bit.
So next, I've a bunch of tickets (already) for a broadcast of Eugene Onegin at Covent Garden (I thought of going, but at that stage remaining tickets were £100 up and figured, well I've already forked out about 400 euro plus travel on various operas). I've seen about 2 broadcasts so far this year (La Boheme from ROH, and a boozy evening at Maria Stuarda from the Met, which I greatly enjoyed). Next up I might go see "Dancing Dani" at the NCH (I have to say I liked her Cleo from Glyndebourne a few years back, though Susan Larson is my favourite Cleo, with her cheeky gold lame bikini and dreadlocks), then there is a Moscow State Opera Carmen at the BGE Theatre, a venue I've yet to visit. I'm finishing a contract end of March, and will kill a week in New York, where I'll get a rake of good artists in Guilio Cesare at the Met, but I also have a ticket for Joseph Cajella at the NCH, courtesy of the arseholes in ERC rugby who stuck Munster in the Sunday slot for the Heineken Cup quarters, making me delay my outbound trip to the last possible weekend flight. So thats a helluva lot of opera. I caught the OTC Cosi fan Tutte at the Sam Beckett in TCD - great little fun production, and sung in English, so very accessible.
Its all your fault, by the way, Simon Trezise, for teaching a very enjoyable course to us Music majors on 19th century opera back in the early 90s that led to a passion for Wagner, great singing, and fine stagecraft.
So, when I see stuff like the slightly farcical case of the dreadful Clare Daly being stopped for drinking and driving in a newspaper front down at the shops, or Ming the idiot being accused of taking LSD (mind you, I'm not comfortable with the idea of punishing people for taking drugs in the past: its not something you can undo), when I hear the laughable hyprocrisy of Shane Ross being revealed at having plámásed the former Anglo Irish Bank in newspaper article conveniently now behind a paywall while he bleats the "burn the bondholder" drum alongside other misery milkers, I seriously wonder do I really want to hear any more reality. I do read the Monocle for a bit of business and positive international news. I like their online radio station also, as well as the wonderful SomaFM, and a few classical stations I found in Italy 2 years ago.
I will say that the one exception I can tolerate is George Hook. Maybe its the rugby connection, I dunno, but I find Hookie doesn't pretend to be unbiased, I like the way he is upfront about his beliefs, so at least you know where his standpoint is. I hate these Fionntan O Wheeze merchants who pretend to be on everybodies side, but really, its hard to say what they really represent. And the Irish Times has become utterly unbearable since Madame Editor's retirement, back are the fawning property porn pages and glowing reviews of bog hotels in the middle of nowhere charging 300 a night for a poncy spa and copycat dinner. Even Marc Coleman is more endurable than many of the broadcasters at the moment.
So I'm shticking to my Radio 3 thankyouverymuch.