THOROUGHLY MODERN MISSY: London Firebird Orchestra presents: A Viennese Whirl

The London Firebird Orchestra‘s 2014/15 season started on Tuesday night with the first of four concerts to take place over the next year. The programme boasted an array of the classical music world’s top Viennese waltz hits as well as a handful of charming German songs performed by soloist Silvia Hauer. George Jackson made his conducting debut with the orchestra and, having just come back from studying in Vienna, the theme of the evening was very fitting. It was also Jacqueline Martens first time as leader of the London Firebird Orchestra, making it a trifecta of new faces to the London Firebird stage.

The London Firebird Orchestra, set up in 2012 by Marc Corbett-Weaver, is the answer to where recently graduated music conservatoire students go to play in the terrifying ‘what now’ gap after leaving education and before securing a seat in one of London’s established orchestras . The young group of musicians create an energy that only a young dynamic orchestra can provide. The collective youth of the orchestra was sometimes visible in the occasionally tentative playing, but generally, the group held their own under the excellent direction of Mr Jackson. Though the programme’s unvaried material was not adventurous, the instrumentalists, most especially the wind sections, thrived on the notoriously tricky syncopated rhythm of the Viennese waltzes. I will take this opportunity to commend Alisdair Hill (oboe), Samantha Pearce (flute) and James Meldrum (clarinet) for their excellent playing, both in the ensemble and solo passages. The orchestra in general appeared to grow more confident as the evening went on and by the end of the concert the atmosphere was buzzing with Viennese whirls and flourishes.

It must be said that the real star of the evening was Silvia Hauer, the mezzo-soprano soloist. Her charisma and excellent stage presence punctuated the evening, providing respite from the heavier instrumental waltzes. The programme of songs enabled Ms Hauer to showcase her superb singing and also her wonderful acting ability, going from a passionate Carmen in Bizet’s ‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle’ to a hilarious drunkard in Strauss’ ‘Schwipslied’ from ‘Eine nacht in Venedig’.

The rest of the programme also contained some highlights, from the tradition of the instrumentalists singing in the Bauern Polka by Strauss, to the comical homage to the original performance of Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ movement of his Symphony no. 45 in F-sharp minor, in which members of the orchestra would gradually get up and walk off eventually leaving only two violinists and the conductor on stage. These fun touches and the double encore at the end, complete with audience participation in the form of clapping (expertly conducted by Mr Jackson) were the components to a satisfying and pleasant evening of famous Viennese music at the Actor’s Church of Covent Garden. You can catch the London Firebird Orchestra at their next concert on the 8th of February 2015 at their King’s Place debut where they will be playing a varied repertoire of classical composers.

More information on the London Firebird Orchestra here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy, Angelica Bomford.

The Dairy, Clapham

Clapham has never been a very appealing place to me: hectic main station, chain stores filling the streets and predominantly occupied by young professionals who continue to live and act like students. Recently though one of my best friends has moved to the neighbourhood forcing me to reconsider what Clapham has to offer. Consequently I have discovered The Dairy, a brilliant independent eatery serving innovative food that looks and tastes delicious.

A few months ago, when I took to Twitter to ask for Clapham restaurant recommendations, the Dairy was the unanimous favourite. The small characterful restaurant is found near Clapham Common station and certainly stands out, with its trendy distressed look and retro rustic décor – it is very countryside chic.

The utmost care is taken to use locally sourced ingredients. The September menu features an assortment of inventive and interesting flavours with a particular focus on seasonal produce. The chef, Robin Gill and his team collect many of the fresh components from the roof where an allotment has been planted!

The dishes are of the ‘small plate’ variety, reasonably priced, until the waiter tells you that you’ll need at least four each. Here’s what we shared between the three of us, carefully selecting from the themed sections on the menu.

Snacks
Sariette de Banon, courgettes, rooftop honey, basil £6
Truffled Brie de Meaux on fig & walnut toast, rooftop honey £8.5
Galician octopus, fresh coco beans, chorizo £6.5

Garden
Butternut squash, rooftop rocket, buttermilk £7.5

Land
Yorkshire venison, celeriac, game sausage, blackberries £10
Suckling pig belly, cobnuts, heritage carrots, cavolo nero £10

Sweet
Salted caramel, cacao, malted barley ice cream £6.5

Cheese
36 month aged Comte, grapes, maple & thyme cracker £7.5

There was a delicious sounding Gin Sour available but we opted for a bottle of house wine. Each dish is immaculately composed with clever contrasting flavours and textures. Highlights for me were the Truffled cheese on toast, a creamy, nutty and sweet delight; the rich and succulent pig belly with startlingly black cavolo nero and bright orange heritage carrots. Octopus and chorizo was a lighter dish for seafood fans and Butternut squash was a delicately seasoned vegetarian option.

For dessert the Dairy keeps things simple with a decadent chocolate caramel recipe paired with ice-cream, it was one of the best puddings I have ever tasted. Greedy rascals that we are, we couldn’t resist the cheese plate which completed the meal perfectly.

Those who want to experience the Dairy’s creative flair should order the bespoke seven course tasting menu carefully selected by the kitchen and priced at £45 per person. A diamond in the rough, the Dairy makes me want to visit Clapham again and again.

More information and book a table here.

Things to do in Iceland

I have only just learnt how to spell Reykjavik correctly… and after my short visit I can assure you, Iceland’s capital city is as surprising and captivating as its name. This isolated country is a unique and unusual destination, an island out at sea between Europe and America, unlike anywhere else I have ever been. With miles of deserted volcanic land and natural phenomena to see it is ideal for adventurers and explorers. Back in the town of Reykjavik there are home comforts of every kind, cute coffee cafes, high quality meat and fish restaurants, cool art galleries and design stores to browse. Night life is exciting and the harbour offers boat trips out to see local wildlife. In just 3 days I experienced so many firsts I returned to London feeling rejuvenated and inspired.

To Sleep

Kex Hostel – Possibly the coolest hostel on the planet. Kex is located in downtown Reykjavik housed in an old biscuit factory. Rooms are basic but brilliantly designed with quirky furniture and vintage ornaments. The communal areas are always buzzing thanks to the trendy and comfortable décor, tasty food and reasonably priced drinks.

Ranga Hotel – Out in the wilderness Ranga Hotel is one of the optimum places to see the Northern Lights. If you fancy a night outside the city this lovely 4 star hotel is the perfect place to stay and marvel at the colourful sky.

To Eat

Snaps – This neighbourhood restaurant is a favourite with locals. Serving casual tasty cuisine in a cosy venue, it is always busy so book ahead – tables are very sought after.

Laundromat –  This American-style diner hails from Denmark. Guests can use the coin-operated laundrette in the basement to clean their clothes whilst tucking in to a hearty brunch. Admire the amazing maps and read a book from the rainbow display.

Grillmarket – The top place in the city for steaks, Grillmarket is expensive but well worth the spend. Most of the produce comes directly from the farm to the table, via the kitchen! We sampled the exemplary Beef tenderloin and rib-eye which had a fine flavour and silky texture cooked both medium rare and medium well. For fish fans, Fish Market is highly regarded, both run by chef Hrefna Rosa.

Hamborgarabullan – Many will know Tommi’s Burger Joint in London which, after receiving rave reviews has expanded to a second branch. This hang-out in Reykjavik is Tomas Tomasson’s original joint and still stands serving irresistibly juicy and delicious burgers. The venue is more like a hut, with a maximum of 20 seats, and scruffy notes and posters collaged over the walls.

Boejarins Beztu – On the corner of Tryggvagata and Posthusstraeti this tiny van serves the best hot dogs in Reykjavik, coated in sauces and garnished with crispy onions, it is just the kind of comfort you’ll need on a freezing Icelandic day.

Bada Bing – Ice-cream is a bit of a craze in Iceland despite the climate! This trendy new parlour serves creamy gelato in tempting flavours.

To Drink

Loftid – This upstairs bar is ornate and with a sense of vintage glamour. Loftid is one of the leading cocktail venues in the city serving up sensational strong but pricey drinks. My favourites were the Bourbon based Lofitd Old Fashioned and the fruity Forbidden Apple.

Mokka Kaffi – A lovely 1950s old-fashioned café and gallery space which serves good coffee and cake in a comfortable, cosy setting. The hot chocolate is excellent, topped with freshly whipped cream but most pop in for the famous house waffles with cream and jam.

Reykjavik Roasters – My favourite coffee shop we found was Reykjavik Roasters. Also known as Kaffismiðja Íslands this café serves the best speciality coffee in the city. The coffee is roasted on location and the coffee itself is bought directly from the farmers, predominantly from Colombia, recently they have introduced coffee from Nicaragua as well. The design-led venue is often filled with caffeine-fuelled locals working away.

Kol – A new venue in town Kol serves impressive food and creative cocktails. The head chefs, Einar Hjaltason and Kári Þorsteinsson have gathered over 20 years of experience at Reykjavík‘s best restaurants as well as working at several known restaurants in Europe, Le Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons, Dabbous and Noma.

Slippbarinn – Leading the cocktail movement in the city Slippbarinn makes fine concoctions with innovative flavour combinations. Regular visits from renowned mixologists from around the world ensures this bar stay ahead of the trend.

Tiu Dropar – Ten Drops is one of the oldest cafes in Reykjavik, offering great coffee during the day and transforms into a romantic wine bar at night.

To Do

Elding Whale Watching – I’ve always dreamt of seeing one of the world’s biggest animals. The Elding Whale Watching is an environmentally friendly tour which often catching glimpses of minke whales, harbour porpoises and other sealife. We spotted a fin soaring through the rough waves and a group of porpoises sailing past as we headed back to the harbour. The tours are brilliantly organised, with informative and friendly guides and affordable ticket prices. Add Elding to your Reykjavik itinerary for a truly memorable encounter with these giant creatures.

Hallgrimskirkja – Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran parish church in Reykjavík, Iceland, and at 73 metres it is a striking sight from the streets of town.Pay the equivalent of £5 for a ticket to the top of the church and admire the views over Reykjavik.

Blue Lagoon – Mesmerising and magical these milky blue waters are an unmissable sight to see and experience in Iceland. Take a warming dip and coat your face in a deep cleansing mud mask. Before leaving make sure you head up to the viewing balcony to see the miracle from a distance, it really is breathtakingly beautiful.

Reykjavik Tours – The best way to see the sights of Iceland is with Reykjavik Tours. This efficient company are exemplary, organising sightseeing trips to all the major sights, picking you up from your hotel door. We experienced the popular Golden Circle and Fontana Spa tour with an exceptional tour guideHöskuldur Frímansson was funny, cultured and a brilliant communicator. On this one day tour we saw the epic Gullfoss waterfall, the unusual and sublime Geysirs, Thingvellir National Park and the parting of the tectonic plates and the Fontana geothermal baths. It was a great day seeing some of Iceland’s most spectacular sights.

To See

i8 Gallery – This tiny art gallery shows some of Reykjavik’s most prestigious shows. The gallery represents 18 artists, and the clean white space is a pleasure to wander round.

Reykjavik Art Gallery – The leading contemporary art gallery in the city close by to the harbour is worth a visit. I particularly liked the collection of Erro works, the renowned postmodern Icelandic artist.

To Shop

Hrim Honnunarhus – If you are interested in designer objects for your home, Hrím Hönnunarhús is the best place to start. It offers a variety of decorations and furniture by both Icelandic and international designers, as well as candles, jewellery, and fragrances.

KronKron – A shop for Reykjavik’s coolest fashionistas KronKron stocks a great collection of designer clothes and accessories. The shop is colourful and exciting to look round, I went in several times and fell in love with something new each visit.

Sputnik – Retro shops are plentiful in Reykjavik and Sputnik is one of the best for vintage clothes.

Suit – This shop has only recently opened, a Danish clothing brand for style conscious men. The retail space has been created by HAF Studio and suits the classic designs of the clothing.

Foa – Pick up an Icelandic souvenir from this pretty and untouristy shop. Less than a year old Foa is satisfying customers with its humorous postcards, quirky stationery and unique gifts.

Kolaportio – This indoor fleamarket takes place every Saturday and Sunday 11am-5pm and is a great place to find a special Scandinavian item to take home.

Many thanks to the Iceland Tourist board for their help with this trip. More info here.

PREVIEW: The Players’ Joys present The Magnificent Music Hall, Wilton’s Music Hall

The Players’ have been recreating Victorian music hall for 75 years. Produced by Jan Hunt, spiritual grand-daughter of East End girl-turned-superstar Marie Lloyd, the show features songs, comedy, magic and that special staple of music hall – the audience sing-along.

Music hall developed as a form of popular entertainment in Britain in the 19th century. A mixture of songs, comedy and speciality acts such as conjuring, escapology and musical dexterity; it entertained patrons who were busy drinking and smoking the length and breadth of the country. Song sheets will be provided!

Wilton’s Music Hall is the perfect venue for the occasion. The second you step inside Wilton’s you enter another era, the style, atmosphere and elegance is transporting. Put on your best frock, have a drink in the vintage Mahogany Bar and then enjoy the show.

“Anyone who enjoys a modern day alt-cabaret extravaganza such as La Cirque should be glad of the chance to see how the earlier generation laid down the conventions”
The Times

“This is cutting edge Victoriana… rich in the eccentricities beloved by the British and their visitors”
Time Out

Book tickets for the show on 28th October here.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 230 – Gilmour & Gray

Let me introduce you to Gilmour & Gray – handmade quality Chelsea boots with a colourful twist.

G&G launched on Thursday 16th October, a high-end and innovative brand, masterminded by two brothers from Gloucestershire. Currently based in London the boots are taking to the streets just in time the Christmas rush. Unisex and made entirely from one piece of the finest Portuguese leather, these boots will inspire Autumn and Christmas shoppers – the perfect present for father, son, daughter and mother.

A timeless classic, these Chelsea boots offer the consumer a cutting edge yet classy look. They are comfortable, hard-wearing and ideal for chilly winter weather. The Autumn collection comprises of four designs: traditional brown suede, brown suede with red elastic, blue elastic and green elastic.

The Gilmour & Gray collection range from European size 36 – 46 and start from £150 per pair, including VAT, (excluding postage and packaging).

Buy your boots here: www.gilmourandgray.co.uk

15 YEARS OF DISNEY’S THE LION KING, LYCEUM THEATRE

Last night the award-winning musical THE LION KING celebrated its 15th anniversary at London’s Lyceum Theatre, where it remains the West End’s best-selling production.

Winning over 70 theatre awards worldwide since its Broadway premiere on November 13, 1997, 22 global productions have been seen by more than 75 million people. In addition to the London and UK touring productions, THE LION KING can currently be seen in New York, Tokyo, Hamburg, Madrid, Sao Paulo, Brisbane and on tour across North America and Japan.

Recently the musical opened in Australia and they celebrated with a surprise singing outburst on the Virgin Flight over to the other side of the world. The proud cast made flight guests feel like the luckiest travellers in the world. I have seen the show several times now, and always leave stunned and silenced by the innovative and beautiful production, ebullient songs and the magical costumes. This time around (sitting close to the stage in the stalls) I noticed the enormous talent, from the adorable kids who carry much of the first half, to the charismatic animals who sing powerfully whilst mimicking their animal’s mannerisms immaculately.

The story is simple and universal, the music is affecting and infectious and the spirit of the show is undeniably wonderful. As the final curtain call music played from the pit I looked up to the African drummers in the balconies, both smiling as if they were just discovering the music for the first time… 15 years on from its debut The Lion King feels as fresh, relevant and magical as ever. It is a musical that never ceases to amaze me, a production that I know will still be going strong in another decade’s time.

More information and book tickets to The Lion King here.

Things to do in Bangkok

A city of many facets, Bangkok initially appears crowded, chaotic and claustrophobic. Before visiting I was warned against spending time in this humid city. I felt bewildered for a few hours when I first arrived, tired from the jet-lag and overwhelmed by the dizzying heat, but soon fell in love with the unique culture, and the exoticism and excitement of the place. Magnificent temples, fragrant fresh food and an addictive friendly lively atmosphere… I could have gone on exploring Bangkok for weeks but here is what I discovered in just a few days in Thailand’s capital city.

To stay

Mandarin Oriental – This hotel is without doubt the most recognised and renowned hotel in Bangkok.  An impressive 138 years old, this institution offers an oasis of Oriental cool and calm and all the luxuries you could ever desire. Interestingly Mandarin Oriental is the only property in Bangkok with facilities both sides of the Chao Phraya River.

Como – this contemporary hotel is luxurious but affordable. The minimalist lobby is instantly cooling, and rooms are spacious and indulgent. The star feature though is David Thompson’s on-site restaurant, Nahm which was recently named the Number 1 restaurant in Asia.

To eat

Bo.lan - Founded and run by two of David Thompson’s disciples, and chef couple, Bo and Dylan promise to serve truly authentic Thai cuisine. The Bo.lan Balance set menu is the best bet, changing seasonally every 2 months, it is a vibrant and exciting experience for the palate. I loved the flavours and passion shown in the cooking here, but be warned the food is fiery.

Thip Samai - this famous Pad Thai outlet lives up to expectations, it is always full for eat in and takeaway. Order the classic, or the egg wrapped speciality, then personalise with the condiments at the table: chilli flakes, sugar, fish sauce, crushed peanuts and lime. Sweet, sour, salty and super tasty, and costing the equivalent of £1 a plate, this pad thai is unmissable. Order a coconut ice or fresh orange juice to wash it down with.

Salt - venture out of the centre of town to the leafy and quiet Ari District where you’ll find this super hip restaurant and bar. With design conscious furnishings and a concrete cool outside yard seating area you feel like you could be in New York or London. Choose from the varied menu which features sushi and sashimi, pizza (cooked in the wood fired oven) and tempting desserts. To drink I recommend the Bangkok Mule cocktail, made with rum, ginger and lemongrass.

Gaggan - I had no idea what to expect from this creative and crazy Indian eatery. Housed in a whitewashed colonial-style wooden house in the heart of downtown Bangkok, Chef Gaggan presents progressive Indian cuisine with traditional twist.

Naie Soi - impossible to find, but worth the struggle. This little indoor canteen offers steaming hot bowls of delicious beef noodle soup with tender meat and flavoursome watery vegetable filled broth.

Sra Bua- experimental and exciting Thai cooking by Danish chef Kiin Kiin, whose restaurant in Copenhagen has a Michelin star. The set menus offer an individual and unique interpretation of familiar Thai recipes. Particularly memorable was the strange but delicious speciality Cold Lobster Red Curry Ice-cream.

To drink

Soul Food Manathorn - despite being run by an American soul food offers authentic and stylish Thai food and strong tasty cocktails. Located on busy Thong Lor road this petite restaurant is cosy and inviting with warm wooden design inside and original artwork on the walls. Sit at the bar, order a spicy, tequila based Bung Bang Fai cocktail.

Rocket - this Sweden owned and run café has a typical Scandi look, which stands out amongst the Bangkok venues. Offering delicious coffee, made from carefully sourced exotic beans, no two cups are the same.

Speakeasy – resist the temptation to waste your money at film-famous Skybar and visit this hidden gem on the rooftop of Hotel muse. Sip a refreshing fruity mojito and enjoy the dizzying heights and cosmopolitan views down below.

Iron Fairies – thousands of little bottles filled with glitter line the walls of this cosy and Thonglor bar. Doubling up as a gallery, restaurant, antique store and, most bizarrely a blacksmith’s workshop, this is certainly not your ordinary evening venue. Follow the winding staircase up to the secret seats at the top of the building, and soak up the magical atmosphere.

Lady Brett- This hip bar is ideal for weekend brunches or late night cocktails. The interiors are sleek and stylish and the menu features innovative and modern recipes. The mixologists here created us some tasty and distinctive cocktails.

To see

Wat Pho temple – This is one of the largest and oldest temples in Bangkok. Known as the temple of the reclining Buddha and the birthplace of traditional Thai massage, the magnificent golden lady housed here is a must see.

Chatuchak market – This weekend only market is North of uptown Bangkok. It is the largest market in Thailand covering over 27 acres with over 15,000 stalls. You can find everything here, I recommend wandering through and browsing the colourful array of goods with a freshly squeezed orange juice in hand. When you are feeling weary, stop for a 30 minute foot massage (150THB – £3).

Wat Arun- This intricate and decorative Buddhist temple is quite a spectacle up close and from a distance. Make sure you are wearing conservative clothes and then you will be allowed to climb the outside of this impressive structure for a small fee.

BACC- Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) is the main contemporary arts centre in Bangkok. Art, music, theatre, film, design and cultural/ educational events take place in its exhibition and performance spaces. The seasonal shows are intriguing and inspiring.

To do

Co van kessel bikes – See the city from another perspective. Take the 3 hour bike tour round the backstreets of Bangkok including Chinatown, the Flower market, a temple and local villages. Brilliantly organised and great fun for the whole family.

Sompong cooking class - this lovely little cooking school takes students to a local food market, explains the vital ingredients for key Thai dishes, and teaches you to make an authentic and delicious food. Those with more cash to splash may wish to try the Mandarin Oriental cooking class which is world renowned.

Chao phaya Express – This Boat is a transportation service in Thailand that operates on the Chao Phraya River. Jump on this choppy boat to avoid the traffic on the roads and see the city from the water. Ideal for getting from temple to temple.

Tuk Tuk – these colourful auto rickshaws are all the rage in Bangkok, a novelty that is always popular with tourists. Bargain the price down a lot and enjoy the bumpy ride through the city.

To shop

Almeta – Most dash to Jim Thompson House for their silk tailoring in Bangkok, however Almeta offers the highest quality luxury handmade silk and has an impressive Silk a la Carte service. Customers can choose from over 1000 iridescent silk colours, yarn types and weights.

It Happened to be a Closet – A mad and eclectic retro bohemian clothing store, that also serves as a tea room and nail salon. You could spend hours rummaging through the pretty floor-to-ceiling piles.

Sretsis – this brand is a collaboration between Pim Sumhahuta and her two sisters, Kly and Matina. The brand name is sisters spelled backwards and represents the strong bond they have. Sretsis creator and lead designer Pim Sukhahuta graduated from the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York and her eclectic East meets West background is realised in her colourful and imaginative designs. The shop was quite simply my dream wardrobe.

To escape

Amphawa- this charming floating market is a 90 minute drive from Bangkok, located on a small tributary of the Mae Khlong River. Thais flock to this traditional market every weekend, we loved observing the food sellers trading from their boats on the water.

Perfectionist’s Cafe, Heathrow T2

Forget Terminal 5, it is Heathrow’s Terminal 2 that impressed me on my last visit to the UK’s biggest airport. Known as ‘The Queen’s Terminal’, this departure area is truly fit for royalty with the finest British luxury brands (the likes of Smythson and Burberry) and a range of innovative cuisine choices to enjoy before your flight.

Recently international airports have been offering more exciting and prestigious restaurants with some of the world’s most famous chefs opening establishments and, since June, passengers travelling through Heathrow Terminal 2 have had access to The Perfectionists’ Cafe, from multi-award winning chef Heston Blumenthal. Heston hopes to offer Brits the chance to satisfy their stomachs with nostalgic British classic, but fast, food that is tasty and good quality. Inspired by the chef’s TV series ‘In Search of Perfection,’ the menu features fun and familiar dishes like Fish and Chips, Pizzas and Burgers.

The futuristic design is instantly recognisable in the smart and shiny new Terminal. We took a seat and quickly ordered a burger and pizza to share. Both arrived within ten minutes, smelling delicious. The burger was disappointing however, with under-flavoured meat and limp salad. Having tasted Heston’s triple cooked chips at his London restaurant ‘Dinner’, I was hoping for a reminder of these crispy delights, but the fries were plain and unimaginative. The pizza was thin crusted and fresh out of the pizza oven, it was topped with rocket and salami and tasted great.

For dessert, diners can design their own ice-cream sundae which is then made in the Nitro Ice-cream Parlour adjoining the restaurant. Served in a biscuit basket and topped with chocolate sauce and popping candy, it is a child’s dream come true. I love that the ice-cream concept is so different to any other desserts you would find in an airport, and this part of the restaurant is definitely the most original.

Flicking through the Heston cookbooks at the table, I could see how much the great chef has had to compromise in this airport scenario – the food certainly isn’t exceptional but it is much better than anything else I spotted on offer. If you haven’t got time for a whole meal I’d recommend popping by for a sweet treat at the Willy Wonka style parlour.

More information here.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MISSY: The Girl of the Golden West by Puccini, ENO

To think of Puccini’s operas is to be transported to the Orient, the Latin Quarter of Paris and to Rome. But when the curtain at the ENO was raised on the scene of a bar in the middle of Goldrush California, the audience stirred in their seats. When a cast of nearly 40 males crowded onto the stage moving with slick gun-slinging choreography and excellent solo performances, the audience were thrilled and carried away by the story. And when Susan Bullock, the ENO’s new Minnie in The Girl of the Golden West made her powerful entrance onto a stage crammed full of hearty male voices, the audience were entranced by her authoritative and formidable voice. Needless to say, this was not your typical Puccini performance. The last ENO performance of this lesser known opera of Puccini’s was over 50 years ago and the performances, direction, set design and general production proved to be well worth the wait.

Richard Jones’s direction introduced a fresh take on the dusty setting of Goldrush California and created nuances that one is surprised to see on an opera stage. For example, the decision to start Puccini’s rapturous opening to the opera with the curtain down but brilliantly illuminated, creating an air of anticipation before the big reveal of the somewhat bare and ever so slightly contemporary bar scenario. The set could have been inspired by the trendy ‘Scandi’ aesthetic of simple lines and bare wood with strip lighting accents. The set changes with each of the three acts and the third set, which acts as the backdrop for the nail biting finale looks like a 3D Hopper painting with a long cuboid Sheriff’s cabin which the audience looks in on as if eavesdropping. The simple yet effective design refreshes the Western soul of the opera and provides a bland enough backdrop for the tumultuous singers and storyline to shine.

Though some think that the opera’s less popular reputation is deserved since Puccini neglected his famous and standalone arias in favour of illuminating the drama of David Belasco’s libretto, much of the music can still sweep one away. (Whether this is due to the excellence of the singers, you will have to decide for yourself!) Personal highlights were the soaring ‘Quello che taceto’ performed by British tenor, Peter Auty, playing the part of Dick Johnson, which could rival most other Puccini arias (and also, it seems, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Music of the Night from his Phantom of the Opera). Another highlight was the seduction scene between Dick Johnson and Minnie, very amiably and wittily observed by the only other female cast member, Clare Presland.

Yet another original feature was the modernity of the production; the opera was well translated into English by Kelley Rourke and the line ‘would you like a cookie’ was enough to keep this production in the 20th, if not the 21st Century. There is modernity too within Puccini’s opera itself. To have a strong female heroine who has conviction enough to wait for whom she loves (even if he is a good-fer-nothin criminal), and also confidence to stand up to 40+ miners is still a peculiarity in the opera world. Susan Bullock thrives in this role and adds humour and sensitivity to the part – every inch a Thoroughly Modern Minnie.

The production in general is a triumph, and considering that for many of the cast and crew this was a UK debut, one can only see the result as a shining testament to their professionalism and talent. Keri-Lynn Wilson echoes the strong female role in the orchestra in her UK operatic conducting debut and American Craig Colclough makes his European and role debut as the unpleasant and rejected Sheriff Jack Rance. It is also worth noting that both Sonora (Leigh Melrose) and Larkens (Nicholas Crawley) stood out from their strong chorus. The ENO’s The Girl of the Golden West is truly memorable and a thrilling success. Do go see it and avoid the next 50 year wait!

Continues until 1 November, book tickets here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy, Angelica Bomford.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 229

The Bella Freud Sporting Fred Sweater was spotted all over fashion weeks, and ever since has been flying from the shop floors. Priced at £165.00 the Merino Wool garment is delicate but warm.

It was Fred Perry himself who first made tennis sweaters this way, giving them an athletic flexibility and a sharp edge. The company created this sweater in collaboration with Bella Freud choosing 100% extra fine merino wool and ribbing at the hem, cuffs, and collar so it hangs close to the body. Bella gave it some of her own style in a playful tribute to the brand’s sporting heritage and Fred himself with two intarsias – one on the chest spelling “sporting,” and another on the left sleeve spelling “Fred”. The statement sweater is finished off with an embroidering of the 30-leaf Laurel Wreath to the lower left corner. It is a smart and sophisticated monochrome and will complement any winter wardrobe.

See the whole Bella Freud for Fred Perry collection here.