Tosca at the ENO

Last Tuesday I took another step in my education into the world of Opera when I went for my seasonal outing to the theatre to see the English National Opera’s current production of Tosca.

It seems that I have so far been drawn towards seeing productions of strong women, having seen Carmen and La Traviata so of course Tosca was a natural next stop I suppose.

I wanted to see if the experience was enhanced or changed in any way, if lyrics had been translated and sung in English and to my delight I found it made no difference at all, indeed I think I prefer the operas in French or Italian. However I also have a fondness for French and Italian contemporary pop music so have a fondness for European languages sung.

I was lucky enough to get one of the cheap seats for £24 and I will be frank it was most definitely worth the cost and I would be happy to pay more to see future productions.

I had never been to the Coliseum before. The staff were helpful and upon arrival I was directed up to the balcony bar upon arrival I liked the fact you could buy a programme with your drink. I liked that if you wanted to bring your drink into the theatre something ROH will not allow. I like that there was water available to help yourself to in the bars. However I would recommend bringing your own snack, they are over priced and small portions.

I was sat in the Balcony and although not necessarily scared of heights its not for the fait hearted especially when wearing stiletto heels. I was pleased to see a variety of ages at the production in fact to my right there were three women in their mid twenties. it was also great to see that the majority of the audience were smartly dressed this might have been as it was mid week and may of the audience may have come directly from work. The seats were en par with the Wanamaker theatre cushioned but don’t be fooled they were not particularly comfortable.

For those of you not familiar with the story of Tosca it was set in three acts and this is brief summary of the story. Castle St Angelo in Rome, The palazzo Farnasse in Roma and then the roof top of the Castle St Angelo. Between the acts there were intervals of 20 minutes and they changed the stage setting. Tosca and her lover Mario meet and, Mario helps an escaped prisoner leave the fortress.  The police come looking for prisoner and accuse Mario of helping the prisoner out of Castle St Angelo n his absence. They trick Tosca knowing that she will worn her lover he i s in peril and follower her.

Act 2 Mario is brought to Chief of police, Scarpia home, in he palazzo Farnasse to be interrogated and Sacrpia who is in lust with Tosca uses her to aid his interrogation of Mario. in order to save her lovers life Tosca agrees reluctantly to allow the slimy Scarpia to sleep with her to save her Mario. she gets him to agree to write a passport so that the two lovers could leave rome and resettle. After Scarpia had written the passport Tosca while in the grips of his clutches learns that Mario is to face a “fake” execution and then they can leave. she reaches for a dagger and stabs Scarpia to prevent him from sleeping with her.

Act three see Mario being lead to the pace of execution. he want to get a message to Tosca to tell her he loves her. Tosca comes to him and tells him that he is to face a fake execution and the soldiers will fire blanks at him and he must be brave and they dream of their lives after they escape. she tells him that she killed Scarpia and that they will have to leave quickly after he had faked his death.

But it is not to be like Romeo and Juliet they were not too have their happy ending. The firing squad fired real shots. As Tosca discovers that Scarpia had lied to her and that her Mario is dead, the hue and cry goes up, upon the discovery of the chief of polices murder being discovered. The police come towards Tosca but she wont be taken and the final scene is Tosca falling backward off Castle St Angelo walls to her death.

The costuming and casting were amazing. The three main characters were outstanding, Keri Alkema as the diva Tosca, dashing and handsome Mario was performed by Gwynn Hughes Jones and the slimy and cunning Police inspector Scarpia was depicted by Craig Colclough.

My only niggle was that I found Act 2, that the lighting was a bit too dark for me to see clearly from the balcony. I know it is set at night but more lighting would have help but this may have be personal preference to myself.

I appreciated that although the opera was sung in English rather than Italian, they still supplied a small screen above the stage with the words. I am however a firm believer that the music and power of the voice can convey the feeling and meaning of the story without the meaning of the words being needed.

I highly recommend anyone to go to the ENO to see one of their productions, they are en par with ROH. Tosca is on until 3rd December.


Image not my own 

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a day in the life of Samuel Pepys, 16th November 1666

Sorry about the delay between posts! New Job. New Home. New responsibilities. Book to write – deadline looming 27K still left to write – please send Gin and chocolate this way!


Samuel Pepys as depicted by the wonderful Horrible History fols – Image not my own!

One of my new favourite reads and primary sources for my Monmouth manuscript is the 17th Century scandal loving, court gossip and diarist, Samuel Pepys.  So I found an extract of his diary from 16th November 1666:

Up again betimes to attend the examination of Mr Gawden’s accounts, where we all met, but I did little but fit myself for the drawing my great letter to the Duke of York of the state of the navy for the want of money. At noon to the ‘Change, and thence back to the new tavern come by us; The Three Tuns, where D. Gawden did feast us all with a chine of beef and other good things, and an infinite dish of foul, but all spoiled in the dressing. This noon I met with Mr Hooke, and he tells me the dog which was filled with another dogs blood at the college the other day is very well and like to be so as ever, and doubts  not it being found of great use to Men; and so do Dr Whistler, who dined with us at the tavern. Thence home in the evening, and I to my Preparing my letter, and did go a pretty way in it, staying late upon it, and then home to supper and to bed, the weather being on a sudden set to be very cold.

I find it mind blowing that in the 17th century there was a blood transfusion in a dog. How English is Pepys taking about the weather, complaining about food and dining in pubs.  I promise to attempt to be a better blogger ……

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19 years since the death of Princess Diana

Image not mine

Today is the 19th anniversary of the death of the late Princess Diana, in Paris.
How time flies I remember where I was when I found out, it as a weekend morning, a Sunday I think and both my parents had been up late watching the news unfold, I was 15 and about to enter my last year of secondary school.
For my parents there where were you moment within their living history was when JFK was shot, for me the 2 events that will be emblazed in my mind will be when princess Diana died and 9/11.

I remember the aftermath it was one of the first times I had remembered news coverage changing the TV scheduling, 24hr news was still relatively new. I remember the out pouring of national grief, the flowers left in the royal parks, and Elton John’s candle in the wind rework.

In the run up to the funeral I remember that people queued patiently and respectfully to see her coffin lying in state in Westminster hall. I also remember watching the funeral televised on BBC1 (in fact I think it was on both BBC and ITV) I suppose the next time we will see a funeral like that is when the Queen or Prince Philip die.

This was a turbulent time for the Queen, she was in a new situation, her former daughter in law had died, she was no longer part of the fold, but she was the mother to the future heir to the throne, and the nation loved her for her charitable actions and her style. Eventually the Queen realised that she had to do more than care for her grieving grandsons she also had to show empathy for her grieving nation.

This was a unique time in royal and 20th century history.  


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My Nine Hour Jaunt to Gay Paris 

Apologies about my lack of posts. Life just got a bit real again, a few chapters closed, new beginnings have started, routines have changed. I drafted this on a crowded commuter train at 19:25 on Tuesday only to finish it on Wednesday’s on my journey home.

Last week I was on gardening leave, between ending one job and starting another. The first part of the week was devoted to Monmouth, but Wednesdsy I took a day trip to Paris. 
I travelled to Gard du Notd on the first train out of St Pancras. I was on one of the swish new trains. Seats were more than comfortable in Standard class with new on board Wifi that was a nice bonus. Apparently there is onboard entertain-ment however I did not access this – I prefer the time to be used reading writing or listening music, things that ordinarily I don’t get enough time to do. 
I would prefer if there were child free carriages badly behaved children at 7am is grating in a confined space. I was lucky to get a double to myself (actually on both legs) however I would have liked to be able to book solo seats as I have on previous trips.

Arriving on time at 10.15 by 10.20 I was on a metro heading west (I pre brought a day metro ticket at St. Pancras for £10. My destination was St Denis Basilica – the burial place of the French monarchy. 
The signage from the metro is not particularly clear for direction to the basilica – especially as the station is called St Denis basilica – but its less than 5 minutes. 

Picture by L Brennan

The first part of the cathedral that is clearly still used for services is free to the general public. After the horrific events in Normandy recently, bag search is carried out (as well as in big shops) something I have no issue with; it keeps me safe.
Even in August, late morning there wasn’t a huge number of people visiting the cathedral so it was a very pleasant experience. I would imaging that weekends may well be a lot busier. 
To visit the effigies of the French royals and the crypt you need to pay an entrance fee – options for Audio guides are available – I did rent one but actually didn’t think the signs for audio were very clear and the descriptions long winded. I abandoned it very quickly.

Death in style picture by L Brennan

The various effigies were grouped in to dynastic families from what I could gather. Some monarch were even given additional status with marble tents over their effigies some were additionally decorated with full size marble recreations of the gospel writers, saints and cherubs.  
The crypt was beneath the alter and offered a wide variety of different memorials to the former rulers of France. At the heart of the crypt there were black marble slabs one of which was to remember Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. 

There was also an old part of the crypt with rough stone escophicus what to my very limited knowledge, may have been very early christian in date and style – this section is sectioned off but can be seen relatively clearly 

Louis XVI & Marie Antoniette Picture by L Brennan

The primary reason why I ventured north of the city to visit this basillica was to see the effigies of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  The pair are just off in a small side chapel and depicted kneeling wearing regal and state attire. Its rather moving. They are also in very close proximity to the high alter of the cathedral.
Walking around looking at the memorials around the alter, the saddest ones for me were of royal children; their small depictions lying on the adult size stone plinths brings home that even privileged royalty were not immune to high infant morality through the ages. 

dragons at the Feet of Marie Du Brienne L Brennan

Picture by L Brennan

More dogs Picture by L Brennan

I found that I feel in love with the feet ends of the effigies, where under the feet of the monarch or member of the royal family there were carved dogs for loyalty or lions to signify their royal status. However amongst the effies, on the left hand side of the high alter, there was a curious black marble figure nestling amongest the white marble memorials of the rest of her family and at her feet were 2 small dragons. This arresting woman was Marie du Brienne, the dragons represent good over evil, after to played a role in defeating the Byzantines. She was for me very games of thrones. 

Another woman I went to visit was Queen Catherine de Medici, battleaxe, she wolf and mother in law from hell to Mary Queen of Scots. She may have been an Italians bankers daughter but she left her mark on history.
The gothic cathedral of St Denis (who is also the patron saint of Paris) had amazing stained glass that could rival both Notre Dame and Chapelle Royal, if not in quantity but certainly quality. 
There was a small very small gift shop with votive candles and postcards on sale but not on the scale of the above mentioned churches. 
After my cultured morning I headed to Opera and went to Sephora for make up supplies, C&A for basic clothes and enjoyed Salmon and mashed potatoe, perrier, Creme Brûlée and espresso in the brasserie in La gallerie La fayette before window shopping and a cocktail before returning to Gard du Nord. 

I never realised how big Gard du nord is and defy anyone who says its not as grand as St. Pancas, around by the other platforms there is a gallery of various shops to be explored. It might not be as new but there are shops to be found. 

All in all my jaunt to Paris was without question a lovely treat, it did feel strange not heading to Montparnasse and my usual haunts in the south. These areas are safe familiar and feel like home, however Paris is a big place and she deserves to be explored. 

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The Execution of James Scott Duke of Monmouth

Image not mine

On the 15th July 1685 a 36 year old man was lead to the scaffold on Tower Hill. He would lose his head that day by the hand of the incompetent and notorious executioner Jack Ketch; it took 9 strokes of the axe and a knife to remove his head and codemn his spirit to the heavens. That man was James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, the eldest illegitimate son of the late King, Charles II.
In the months since his father’s death, the Duke and a group of extremists plotted to over throw his Uncle the new catholic King James II from his exile in the Dutch Republic.
The 17th Century was a time when politics and religion intertwined and were a hang over from the English Reformation under Henry VIII. This was reinforced in more recent history and those fears were heightened by the Civil Wars that plagued Britain in the early part of the 17th Century under Monmouth’s grandfather Charles I and later under Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth republic.
Monmouth and his supporters were not the only people who feared life under the rule of Catholic James; in fact his reign lasted just under 4 years and he would ending his days in exile in France after the Glorious Revolution. This bloodless revolt when brought William of Orange to take the British throne with James own, daughter, Mary Stuart.

Monmouth- Image not mine

During the last years of Charles reign attempts had been made legally through parliament to avoid James (then the Duke of York) from inheriting the throne from his brother. However Charles quashed all legal attempts by dissolving Parliament for the last time in 1683.
Monmouth’s rebellion was a knee jerk reaction to his uncle taking the throne, it was not as well planned or funded as the main protagionist thought and relied on more support than they actually had in Britain. I feel had they waited and planned and funded the operation better they may have succeeded in removing James, however would Monmouth have become king? I am not so sure. Monmouth may have inherited his father’s Stuart looks, but he was still illegitimate, its my opinion that he may have still had to concede the throne to his protestant cousins William of Orange and princess Mary as they were legitamate.

Monmouth NPG – Image not mine

Monmouth was charming, spoilt, dashing, manipulated by others for their political gain, an able Military leader and hero, a lover, a bad husband, an absentee father and a complex and man who gambled and ultimately lost the biggest hand of fate he played and lost his life.
I am currently writing a biography on James Scott, Duke of Monmouth due to be published by Pen and Sword in Autumn 2017.

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Sicily in Bloomsbury

In the Court at Britsh Museum

One of the current exhibitions on at the British museum at the moment is “Sicily Culture and Conquest”. 
The southern Italian island has been on my must visit list for a while, especially as my interest has been heightened by Georgio Loccatelli and Andrew Graham Dixon’s food and art odessy and via Montalbano novels and series. 
What most people think of when you mention this small island is the gangster culture of Mafia (sadly still active today). But due to her location in the Med she was highly sort by the various empires of the past including Romans (whos legacy is stunning) arabs who left their mark on the food of the island, and the Normans. 

Roman battering ram from a ship – Image not mine

It is these visitors and how they have left their mark on Sicily that this exhibition focuses on. 
The exhibition is well laid out in space above what was the old reading room. It offers detailed information and is well labeled. 
This is not how ever a large exhibition. I was lucky to see this show as the guest of a member – as an art fund member I would have got in half price. I am not sure I would have been happy if I had paid full price. 

my favourite exhibit Image not mine

There are some beautiful pieces in the exhibition the ceiling near the end of the exhibition that recreated the basilicas ceiling was fabulous, as was the small temple that was a grave marker, the jewerelly was stunning and it fascinates me how earlier civilisations managed to produce such items with very primitive tools. My favourite exhibit was a red and gold ceremonial cape it was arresting and beautiful. 
The exit gift shop was well stocked and if I hadn’t banned myself from buying more cloth bags I probably would have owned another. 
All in all the exhibition is small but what is on show is well curated and exhibited, I maybe just spoilt as we have access to so much in London gratis so when we do need to pay I expect ore bang for my buck. 
The exhibition is on until 16th August 2016 – tickets available to book online and at box office.

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Me and Europe; My Thoughts and Reflections

When you look at the history of Britain pretty quickly you realise that Britain is one of the most European countries with in the European continent. Let me explain:

A long time ago before there was England there were only tribes gradually over time these tribes formed alliances and lands by agreement and mini wars. Eventually these tribes formed kingdoms England, Wales and Scotland.

Before that was successful, we were invaded by Italians in the form of Romans, many of whom were not in fact Italian but French (Gauls) Spanish, North African etc.

We have also been invaded by Scandinavians in the form of Vikings. Who left their mark in our gene pool and within celtic art and culture.

Also we have been visited by Germans in the form of Angles and Saxons. To be called Anglo Saxon is to be thought very English.

In 1066 were were invaded again by the French in the form of Normans who would rule us and their language was incorporated into our court and law documents of the time.

Our Royal family has been Viking, Norman, Welsh, (yes welsh that most English of royal Dynasties The Tudors – Welsh) Scottish, Dutch, German and married Spanish Portuguese, French and German and Greek spouses. (Yes the Duke of Edinburgh – Greek) There have been Royal cousins in Tsar Russia, Kaiser Germany, and the Doomed French Royal families through marriage.

British DNA is a Mongrel mix made up of a variety of different nations. This mix of DNA would later be enriched through the British Empire with Asian, African, Caribbean and Irish territories under the the pink on the map.

Our Language is made up of words left by many of these visitors, from place names, surnames to very day words, from animals to colours and everything in between.

I myself come from migrant Irish mother and a first generation Anglo Irish father. I had a Spanish step Grandmother on my fathers side.

But one of the most alarming things to come from the last few days is that people were not even aware why they were voting – this was not a vote to stop European migration, this was not a vote about bendy bananas (which by the way was actually abolished you can have bendy Bananas and cumbers now) this was about Brussels lead policy.

The media coverage was sensational, polarised and leading headlines with popular personalities both political or non, trading dirty by manipulating on peoples fears. Neither side had viable arguments of plans set out for post referendum regardless of the outcome. I wonder how many people were struggling for a decision moments before they marked X on the ballot paper? I say this because I hope that the country I live has not got a population closet racists or xenophobic minded people, sure they existed within the voting electrate the UKIP and BNP followers and they are sadly growing but I hope this is not the case.

Should this surprise me Yes does it surprise me sadly No. We live in a nation that more people vote for TV shows than local and general elections. We have political parties that have become more harmonised in similar politics that it is hard to tell a liberal Labour MP from a liberal Tory MP. We have had weak and poor leadership from both sides and a good reflection of how politics has gone down hill can be seen during PMQ on Wednesdays when ministers and MPs get personal and snide rather than talk politics and issues.

This last few weeks have also broken our domestic politics with rifts within political parties (in other jobs this would be seen as highly unprofessional) we have seen the murder of an MP who was doing her job and was a daughter sister wife and mother as well as an MP trying to help the people within her constituency.

Issues effecting the working people of Britain and the less fortunate people in society have been marginalised disregarded as laziness and scroungers and punished rather than helped over the last 2 parliaments.

Trust me as some who has had to use the system the job centre and staff they hold no prisoners. Regulations on what you can and can not have access too are tested and then you are interviewed again to check that you were not lying; scrounging is not an option if that is what you wanted to do. Not to mention £70 odd per week when you have food and bills is not enough.

Treating down trodden people like that means they feel angry and look for blame and its easy to blame others who a different for their situations. Over the last decade people wanting a political voice from these margins have formed their own angry voices and wrongly blamed the Other be it Migrants or Brussels, because wealthy white men (mostly but not exclusively) who don’t know how much basics to keep a family cost are in power and making decisions that make the poor poorer and the rich richer.

Now I am not saying Europe and Brussels is perfect. But this is the thing, Democracy in nature means that you can negotiate, compromise and find agreement. By leaving the table before negotiations start was a wrong decision and in my humble opinion should not have been put to the vote like a talent act on ITV. In a world full of terror and surely we should be looking after each especially after Paris and Brussels.

Democracy is also about having freedom of speech and an opinion. I am not saying this should stop far from it but MPs and the media have a responsibility to deliver the facts on issues like this rather than manipulate fears. Opinions on Brexit as a policy and if it is right or wrong for the UK and what the consequences of things would be for people lives, jobs would have been better so that they could make an informed decision rather than a simple in Europe or out of Europe.

This reflection of Nationalistic politics that we have seen here this week is sadly is not exclusive to Britain, look to France and Germany they too have similar issues as well as parts of Baltic European nations. It feels like we are on the cusp of something everyone suspicious of each other tarring all groups or stereotypes with the same suspicion rather than establish that extremist minorities of political groups or “faiths” are the problem. We are in fact playing straight into their hands dividing ourselves and breaking all thats good within western culture and life.

So for me who has for years said time and time again I do not feel English or British but European, yesterday was a sad day, personally, politically and nationally. The next few days, weeks and months will be be scary. Personally, I am coming to an end of an employment contract and need my next work role, I am reliant on the NHS for treatment for a chronic illness, I am a frequent traveller, A single woman, all these parts of my life have been threaten due to this referendum outcome. But regardless of what anyone thinks I am European first and always will be.

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