Although, like many others, I have suffered greatly from the cancellation of events due to the Covid-19 virus, cultural establishments around the world have been incredibly generous in trying to fill the gap by streaming productions both live and from their archives. With the virus currently showing little sign of disappearing it is possible that these streams will be our only way of watching opera, concerts and exhibitions for some time. Clearly in the longer term to sustain such programmes a charge would need to be made to viewers but given the absence of alternatives I am sure that most would be happy to pay. However, since March amazing content has been available free of charge from many establishments around the world and I have been lucky enough to experience many of them.
Metropolitan Opera in New York has been showing nightly streams of high-quality opera from their ‘Live in HD’ series. My personal favourite was a superb staging of Francis Poulenc’s ‘Dialogues des Carmélites’, with Isabel Leonard as Blanche de la Force and the incomparable Karita Mattila as Madame de Crissy.
Francis Poulenc ‘Dialogues des Carmélites’ from Metropolitan Opera, New York
London’s Royal Opera House similarly provided their ‘Stay at Home’ programme, which included Mozart’s ‘Cosi fan tutte’ and ‘The Magic Flute’, Britten’s ‘Gloriana’ and a particularly enjoyable ‘Il trittico’ by Puccini.
Both the Glyndebourne and Garsington companies were also very much in evidence with some wonderful productions. Garsington Opera’s offerings included Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ and Britten’s ‘Turn of the Screw’, whilst from Glyndebourne I particularly enjoyed Rossini’s ‘Barber of Seville’ and Verdi’s ‘Falstaff’. And they have still more to come in the next few weeks, including Purcell’s ‘Fairy Queen’, Brett Dean’s ‘Hamlet’ and Stravinsky’s ‘The Rake’s Progress’, with amazing designs by David Hockney.
David Hockney’s designs for Stravinsky’s ‘The Rake’s Progress’ from Glyndebourne
Operavison, as always, streamed productions from all over Europe, including Wagner’s ‘The Flying Dutchman’ from Finnish National Opera and an excellent ‘Tristan and Isolde’ from La Monnaie/De Munt in Brussels, Britten’s ‘Death in Venice’ from ENO and his ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ from Montpellier, Prokofiev’s ‘War and Peace’ from Moscow and Shostakovich’s ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’ from Dutch National Opera. In August they will also stream two Puccini favourites: ‘Turandot’ from Zagreb and ‘La Bohème’ from Monte-Carlo.
Concerts were frequently streamed already, although during this period when festivals were cancelled, festivals organisers provided some compensation by streaming from their archives. Of particular note was a Mahler Festival from Colorado presented by artistic director Kenneth Woods. Extremely enjoyable was an exploration of each of Beethoven’s symphonies by John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, as was a series of concerts under the ‘Always Playing’ banner by the London Symphony Orchestra. I was also particularly impressed by performances by the excellent mezzosoprano Magdalena Kožená of Mahler’s ‘Rückert-Lieder’ and Luciano Berio’s ‘Folk Songs’ – she really does have a stunning voice.
Magdalena Kožená and husband Sir Simon Rattle
Theatres have also been generous in showing recent productions online. There has been lots of Shakespeare, especially from London’s Globe Theatre, including ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’, ‘Hamlet’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Macbeth’. Also from London, the National Theatre streamed a range of plays including ‘Amadeus’, ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘Small Island’, ‘Frankenstein’, ‘A Streetcar named Desire’ and ‘Coriolanus’.
Tom Hiddleston in the title role in Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’
Exhibitions may be a little bit more difficult to stream but nevertheless there have been some excellent attempts. Having missed the van Eyck exhibition in Ghent because of the virus I was very happy to see the extremely knowledgeable Till-Holger Borchert guiding us around the show.
Till-Holger Borchert as guide to the van Eyck exhibition in Ghent
The BBC also broadcast exhibitions that I would have otherwise been unable to see, including the wonderful ‘Young Rembrandt’ from Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, introduced by Simon Schama.
So the Covid lockdown hasn’t been all doom and gloom, although watching on screen is nothing like actually being there. No-one knows how long this situation will last, hopefully it will soon be over and 2021 will bring all kinds of fascinating things to visit and see, but if not, as these institutions have demonstrated, all is not necessarily lost.