Monday, 9 August 2021


What I’ve missed most over the past eighteen months has been live performance. Quite how much I realised the Sunday before last at Glyndebourne. The first test was whether my one-time sylph like form now enlarged by lunching and lounging about at home would fit into my dinner jacket and trousers. “Only just” was the answer as my trousers were tourniquet tight. We were to see Luisa Miller a Verdi opera little known and seldom performed created a few years before Rigoletto and La Traviata. It was the first night. The soprano was an Armenian who was making her Glyndebourne debut. She was described as Armenia’s best singer.

Our breath was held, our mood skittish – this was a new experience…going out, eating, drinking, watching and listening. Throughout the auditorium  there were corpulent afficionados conversing in voices like Brian Sewell. 

Conversation quietened to a hum, the conductor arrived in the orchestra pit flamboyantly; he waved his baton and the curtain went up. It was like being transported back to the mid-1960s, to a Rita Tushingham film called “The Knack …and how to get it” which had a house painted inside entirely in white. It’s stark and strange. I confess I was not blown away – I heard whispered comments “it’s all about triangles”…”virginity”… “they ran out of money”

After dinner, which incidentally was brilliant and colourful, in the second act something extraordinary happened that can only happen in live performance. It was like falling in love or being hit by a bolt of lightning. The star-crossed lovers and the turmoil around them became the only thing on my mind. It was much more than a suspension of disbelief. It was a heightened sense of being, like flying in a balloon or the feel of Mediterranean sun on your face as you get off the plane on holiday. I was transported.

The singing was magnificent, the feelings tragic, hopeless and gut wrenching. Mane Galoyan, the debutante, extraordinary, moving and joyous. Joyous? How odd to see a tragedy, a car crash of a relationship and feel happy. That again is what live performance can do. 

The many reviews unanimously lauding the opera, the performance of everyone and describing Mane as a “revelation” were the best I’ve seen for anything ever.

I was lucky. It was like winning the lottery. Unknown opera. Unknown lead singer. Tightly trousered I basked in the glow of a triumph and felt I somehow owned a bit of it.

What I love about live performances is the frisson that the risk of doing it brings. My wife when asked to sing that solo first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City” said solemnly “If I muck it up I’ll ruin everyone’s Christmas”. She didn’t. Christmas survived. But the point was a poignant one.

As I ease back into being sociable again I realise how tiresomely functional life became in the lockdown. There was no smell to anything, no surprises, no spontaneity, no discovery, like Mane the Armenian soprano’s, that one could fly.

Last week I met an old friend and we started to talk about companies or business or political leaders we admired and trusted.

We struggled for a few minutes and then we began to discover we were, in fact, impressed by a lot of companies, mostly quite small, many run by women.

It’s only when you can see body language as opposed to being on a Zoom call that magic can happen. Human beings are meant to mingle and share. They are meant to perform. 

Live performance can transform you. Without it life is dead dull.

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