Saturday, February 16, 2008

English Concert Tour of the UAE

Al Ain, 31st January 2008

Sheikh Khalifa Auditorium, in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Tawam Medical Campus was packed on Thursday night – the English Concert were in town, ending their tour of the country.

In his welcoming opening remarks, HE Sheikh Mohammed Khalaf al-Mazroui, the Director General of Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, said he hoped the English Concert had saved the best until last – they duly obliged with an excellent evening’s music.

The concert began with the work of an ‘adopted Englishman’, George Frederick Handel – his Concerto Grosso in A op.6 no.11, which, the copious programme notes informed us, was actually the last of a set of 12 to be written by a then ailing Handel.

J.S. Bach’s Cantata ‘Weichet nur, betrubte schatten’ – the ‘Wedding Cantata’ came next and was delightfully suggestive of a special occasion in Springtime. The Soprano, Lucy Crowe gave us a hint of her great range.

In the time honoured tradition of concerts in London, New York or Berlin, the conductor, Harry Bickert, treated the audience to an amusing anecdote; this one from Handel’s life. During the hectic rehearsal of one of his difficult operas, Handel, infuriated by the antics of his petulant prima donna, the Italian singer, Cuzzoni, actually threatened to throw her out of one of the upper windows of his Brook Street home.

Harry Bickert got things underway after the brief interval, with three arias for Cleopatra from the opera, ‘Giulio Cesare in Egitto’. It was in this fine music that we were truly entertained by Lucy Crowe’s amazing vocal range, poise and verbal dexterity, I know not what to call it.

Finishing with Geminiani’s Concerto in D Minor ‘La Folio’, before leaving to great applause from a very appreciative audience in which only a very few took pictures on their mobile phones in mid-concert, Harry Bickert gesticulated to his players that an encore was appropriate.

The treat was a great one; Handel’s ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ – epitomizing his vast output, composed at his famous home of 36 years, 25 Brook Street, where he lived until his death in 1759, and which now houses The Handel Museum.

The evening was courtesy of HH Sheikh Tahnoun bin Mohammed Al Nahyan, the Ruler’s Representative in the Eastern District of the Abu Dhabi Emirate, and the British Embassy, represented on this lovely evening by Edward Oakden, the British Ambassador to the UAE.

Sweeney Todd – the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

(116 minutes) – directed by Tim Burton

Instead of financiers in the city of London turning the handle of an ‘immense pecuniary mangle’, as Dickens once described the goings on there, Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) and his pale-faced accomplice, Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) turn the handle of a far more gruesome contraption in this odd musical version of the cautionary tale of the legendary 19th century serial killer.

Set in a London Dickens would have been at home in, full of rats, some two-legged ones, and all sorts and grades of filth, Benjamin Barker, later using the alias of Todd, returns from years of exile, fitted up for a crime he didn’t commit, and vows to avenge the great wrong done to him by Judge Turpin (Alan Wickman).

In his absence, wife and daughter left in dire penury, are taken in by Turpin, and later, the Judge decides the time has come to wed the daughter, now his ward, Johanna (Jane Wisener).

Meanwhile, Anthony Hope (Jamie Campbell Bower), a sailor who alighted with Todd, falls for the Lady of Shallot-like Joanna and treats the audience to one of the best songs in the whole production whilst trying to extricate her from an asylum.

The rest, as they say, is history; Sweeney develops what almost amounts to a production line of ingredients for pies devoured by customers of a newly prospering pie shop. Throats are slit, blood squirts a yard as a line of horrified men meet a grizzly end in Todd’s barber’s chair.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but you should see it, for the acting, the singing, the appallingly dark sets, the great performances and the music.

Two things I may never do ever again after seeing this film: eat a meat pie, or be shaved by a barber who uses a cut-throat razor.
Robert L. Fielding