During these thirteen years we traveled a lot, and among other places we went to London a few times. And always in London we saw at least one play, we went to Selfridges’s in Oxford Street and we went to Foyle’s wonderful bookstore in Charing Cross Road where we walked down to the basement and looked over the wonderfully messy stacks of books which reminded us of the old bookstore, Barnes and Noble in New York City, where, in the old days, you could walk down to a somewhat less scruffy-looking basement and find the real jewels.
We went to Soho Square which neither of us knew of from previous separate visits. It doesn’t at all look downtrodden any more, just quiet and beautiful.
We visited the British Museum and its fabumous collection of stolen artifacts from the old world, Egypt mainly. We bought some minor Kashmir scarves and things in the very special store across from the museum. We heard a group of mostly young people singing Christmas carols outside Saint Martin-in-the-Fields on Trafalgar Square. It was the end of November, it was cold and I was wearing a new Irish tweed suit from Selfriddges. The singing was delightful and we have always wondered how it is the the British are so musical and the French not. This was a very nice surprise.
In 1988 we finally got around to visiting the V&A (Victoria & Albert) Museum, the jewel of art and design in its magnificent building on Cromwell Gardens just south of Knightsbridge and Kensington Gardens. It is only a stone’s throw away from the Roayl Albert Hall where I once went to a Promenade concert in 1955 with my dear friend Melville, who introduced me to London. The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens is right there too.
In this nonpareil museum the very rooms are part of the art exhibit. If I ever saw anything vaguely like it, it would be Glyptoteket in
Copenhagen, but this is on a far superior level with its enormous number of art objects and its splendor. Some works of art were donated to the V&A, others were of course bought with the money the British Empire stole from its colonies in all parts of the world, and which they certainly thought they had a perfectly legal and moral right to. The museum was founded in 1852. You will find art of all imaginable forms from various European countries, from India and from several other Asian countries.
We must have been seriously overwhelmed during our visit, because we don’t remember very much of what is in this magnificent museum. Surprisingly enough, we have only one picture from the interior and that is one of Victorian costumes. If we ever decide to go back to London one more time, I believe it would be to revisit the V&A Museum. We would take a couple of days for the museum alone and hopefully also get in a visit to a theater. 7
We met with one of our Swedish girls, now a guide in London, Katarina from Stockholm, the daughter of very close friends from my youth, Britt and Ingvar. We first saw her at the hotel where she had her guiding headquarters, which was far better than ours that year, which happened to be pretty much of a dump that time, even though the exterior looked fine. We also went to her home in a street called something ending in
‘Mew’ — such a cute street name. She worked as a guide for Swedish tourists in London, and she loved her job. It ended after a year or two though. She got married to the nice man, Anders, and had Britt’s and ingvar’s first granddaughters, being the oldest one of three sisters .. They now have seven grandchildren in all, of both genders.
Now John being the one he is, it was a must to go to Simpson’s in the Strand for dinner. We went there a, at least twice. When John called to make a reservation, he wisely asked if tie was de rigueur. The answer was ‘Yes’. John of course had not brought a tie, so we found on at Simpsons in Old Bond Street. Funny coincidence, and I don’t think it’s the same Simpsons. Apparently the name of this men’s clothing store is Daks Simpsons, so the likeness in the names is just a coincidence.
The atmosphere at Simpson’s in the Strand is sober and low-keyed, not snobbish. No noisy Americans here. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding was the choice we made both times, since it just could not be more succulent than here. The noisy Americans might well be at the Savoy, which is close by, but certainly very different. But we also had delicious steak and kidney pie at Lyons in Fleet Street, which leads up to St Paul’s Cathedral. This was an area that I remember seeing still in rubble after the war in 1955, all around St. Paul’s there was nothing but rubble. I was amazed and shocked. Ten years after the end of the war London had not yet quite recovered, not by a long shot. Leicester Square was another shocking surprise where you could still see the ghastly destruction from the blitz during the war.
London today is a glitzy place of theaters and museums galore, Picccadilly Circus has been totally chnaged and much of its great charm gone by the seemingly eternal ‘Guiness Time’ neon sign with the enormous clock having been replaced by — what else, Mc Donald’s increasingly tasteless and domineering signs plus a multitude of IT signs. Even the Coca Cola sign is better than IT, in my opinion, since it was there as long ago as in 1955.
I had been to concerts in London in 1955 with my dear friend Melville, who first introduced me to London, its very modern Festival Hall and the Royal Albert Hall right south of Kensington Gardens. I had seen plays in London before I got to London with John, even the historic play by Agatha Christie at Ambassadors Theater,with one of my protégées
when we passed through London in 1966, a group of thirteen young American girls and I as their chaperone. It is still running today, but at a different theater, Since the opening in the 50s, it must now be the children and grandchildren of the early audiences who are now seeing it. Amazing. I do believe it beats the most long-running performance in Paris, which is Ionesco’s La cantatrice chauve and La leçon at La le Théâtre de laHuchett in le Qiuartier Latin. (‘The Bald Soprano‘ and ‘The Lesson‘) Or doesn’t it beat Ionesco?
I quote from ‘Leçon de français‘ “What’s created the renown of this place is that for fifty years here we’ve been performing The Bald Soprano and The Lesson by Ionesco. It’s the world record for a consecutive run of the same show in the same place. Well, to begin with, the success was the success of a discovery. People came to listen to a new kind of humour. The Theatre of the Absurd, to begin with, surprised.” So it seems that Ionesco takes the price over old-fashioned Agatha Christie. I saw that performance around 1070 and even at that time it was a sensation, the way it seemed to have been running forever.
We even all of us saw the musical, Oliver!, all arranged by ‘Simpsons Study Tours’ or rather its sister company in London who arranged our entire 8-week tour through Europe — badly. Oliver!, a musical based on Dickens’s ‘Oliver Twist’, was seemingly a great success, but I found ti a very lackluster performance, as did in fact several reviewers, if I remember right.
However, now with John as my guide, theater in London became a much more interesting thing.
The first play we saw together was Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers, a play and a playwright I had never heard of until then. I was back in the U.S. and my school at Mamaroneck after the one year in Paris when I had met John.Came Easter and I had nothing to do with myself. It was 1972 and it was getting close to Easter vacation. There was nobody in the U.S. I could go and see during my vacation. So I found a charter company (which I lived to regret, since they had gone bankrupt and closed down when it was time for me to go back home).
We had a good time seeing all John’s Collège de France friends, Roberto among others. When it came time for my returning from London, John generously suggested accompanying me. So that got to be out-r first visit together to London. We saw Jumpers and I donn’t suppose we had much time for anything else. I am not sure if our first visit to Simpson’s in the Strand was in ’72 or rather in ’83, which was to become our second trip to London. That was after we had sold our fermette in l’Indre and it was after our big tour of the United States in 1979. But I do know that we have been to Simpson’s in the Strand on two occasions. Both times equally pleasant and delicious. We might go back one day and see how it has changed. After thirty years it simply can not have remained the same as the last cenbtury’s refined, low-toned gentleman’s-club-like restaurant.
‘Jumpers‘ was an exciting play and an excellently staged performance, lively and funny. It was on at the Royal National Theater on the south bank, right across the Westminster Bridge crossing the Thames from the Houses of Parliament.
Tom Stoppard makes fun of the field of academic philosophy — in the person of George Moore university professor of philosophy — and “likening it to a less-than skillful competitive gymnastics display.” (Wikipedia) Stoppard also makes fun of the exercise-nut, Archie JUumper, Vice-Chancellor of George Moore’s university. To complete this whimsical story, a murder mystery is also added to this highly unconventional play. Dotty is George’s disturbed wife, played by Diana Rigg, the only actor I had ever heard of. I knew her as the smart and funny Emma Peel in ‘The Avengers‘, a pretty funny television series in the sixties that I often watched in New Rochelle.
Quote from Wikipedia:
“George Moore is a faded and slightly foolish philosophy professor employed at a university whose slick, exercise-mad Vice-Chancellor Archie Jumper forces a tumbling and leaping curriculum on the faculty.” (Wikipedia)
In the fall of 1983 we saw a second play by Tom Stoppard — ‘The Real Thing’. We were somehow less impressed, but it got excellent reviews and it was a success. It opened in November 1982 and we saw it in the fall of ’83. We were not really impressed by the play, but it was a clear success and so, I suppose that the fault lay with us.
In the fall of 1988 on our next visit to London we first saw ‘The Secret of Sherlock Holmes’, a play by Jeremy Paul, at the Wyndham Theatre. Sherlock Holmes was played by Jeremy Brett who later got to be the Sherlocjkl Hollmes to at least one generation as he played the part on television between 1984 and ’94.. It was great fun.
We also saw The Tempest at the Old Vic with Max von Sydow as Prospero in 1988. I was not terribly carried away by the play itself, even though I love Shakespeare, to read and to watch and to listen to (e.g. BBC excellent radio productions). However, what made this a very special evening, at least for me, was my idea to go backstage and try to talk to Max von Sydow. , We managed this with a little white lie to the man (porter?) at the entrance. He asked if we were friends and I said Yes.
Max von Sydow came out of his dressing room just about finished with his de-make up and re-dressing. I said I was the daughter of Arne Lydén and I mentioned the beginning of Malmö Stadsteater with Sandro Malmquist and Arne Lydén. They were indeed the very beginning of the therater’s existence, even though there were also guest directors. Max von Sydow said with quite a bit of nostalgia that those were indeed the beginning and it was Malmö Stadsteater that was at the very beginning of his interest in the theater. He lived not far from Malmö and he probably saw every play at the theater. He was 18 years old when the theater opened in 1944. I couldn’t get myself to say that it was a wonderful performance, and Max probably knew well that it was not, but I did say something positive about his acting. He is always a wonderful actor, always just right, the same as many of the other Ingmar Bergman actors. I made a mistake by speaking Swedsih too much since John didn’t understand what we were saying, but he forgave me. It was fun speaking Swedish with Max von Sydow. He actually seemed to enjoy our little chat too, and John nudged me so I did switch over to English finally.
How we managed to also go to the Covent Garden I am sure I don’t know, but we have definitely been there twice. The first time was the fun time and I do think it must have been in 1983, even though for some reason I don’t have the program around here in my binders where I have saved all my programs.
We suddenly had the idea of trying to get tickets to Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II at the Covent Garden, where neither of us had ever been. It would have been in 1983. We got back to the Covent Garden in 1988 to see Boris Godunov by Mussorgsky — Robert Lloyd as the feared Boris and Eva Randovà as Marina. Boris However, the only seats we could get were up right under the roof, what we in French call ‘le poulailler’ — where the chickens roost at night. We knew the operetta well and even though we were sitting so very far from the stage we really enjoyed the show.
I had seen Die Fledermau (Läderlappen) at the Stockholm Royal Opera in 1962 with wonderful Elsabeth Söderström as Fra von Eisenstein, the female lead. The New York Times wrote in 2009 in their obituary “the revered Swedish soprazno”. She performed at the Met in the early sixties and then again in the eighties. The other leading Swedish soprano of that day was Maragreta Hallin whom I saw as Desdemona at Malmö Stadsteater in a guest perforamnce by the Roayl Opera in 1964. She was heavenly, but never did perform internationally. It is said that she was inhibited by her lack of knowledge of English. Well, as Desdemoan she was a dream. That was the same year I later moved to the United States.
Back to the Covent Garden and the poulaiiller. fun interlude where the main singers have fun show off with a song from their own country. The hostess/soprano makes a joke about being from Ohio, which she clearly was. I don’t seem to have the program, but it would most likely have been Barbara Daniels Big laughter from the audience when she starts speaking English. And she sings an American song, I forget which one. It might well have been from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. It probably was. I don’t remember the other jokes, but here were of course several and the audience enjoyed it immensely.
In our recording at home Jussi Björling sings a Swedish national song, not the anthem, but almost. We had a fine time up in the poulailler. Also at the beginning of the party when the Emperor Franz Joseph calls to say that he can’t come, the princess/hostess says Hallo Josi, wie get’s dir? It’s of course hilarious to hear the hostess — even though a princess — treating the emperor as ‘du’ and calling him by a nickname — a fun little detail in the libretto.xx
Our vision was good back in those days, and our hearing too, and it was of course lucky that we knew the operetta well. From up high we came down a pretty small staircase, and since we wanted to see the foyer, we went around to the main entrance and saw … Daniel Barenboim coming down the big fancy stairway with a couple of other men, his white silk scarf loosely arranged around his neck over his black evening coat. We saw Daniel Barenboim once at the Philharmonic Hallat the lincoln Center (renamed Avery Fisher Hall in 1973) doing a piano concerto, being both the pianist and the conductor, and we have always very much admired him as a conductor especially.
The Barbican Centre 1988 Shakespeare — magnifivcent cultural complex, 1988 or ’83. Amazing when I thought about how all of this was nothing but a huge pile of rubble on my first visit to London n 1955. Rubble all the way from St Paul’s to where the Barbacan Centre was created
The Centre hosts classical and contemporary music concerts, theatre performances, film screenings and art exhibitions. It also houses a library, three restaurants, and a conservatory. The Barbican Centre is member of the Global Cultural Districts Network….
was officially opened to the public by Queen Elizabeth II on 3 March 1982. (Wikipedia)
London was great fun, but it was in Paris that two of the most unforgettable opera and ballet events took place. I have already mentioned Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten with the unique Canadaian tenor, Joh Vickers in the role of Peter. I suspect that my feeling that has stayed with me ever since we saw that opera stems from the opera in Paris, not the Met at the Lincoln Center. (Chapter 24 – An active year with John in New Rochelle) in the spring of 1973. This was now three years later and the important part is that I now already knew the opera. The music haunts me and Peter Grimes going mad in the final scene almost breaks my heart. To me Jon Vickers ios Peter Grimes, and I don’t care about the way Benjamin Britten himself did not like Vickers’ interpretation.
Another performance that will stay with me forever was The ballet Petrushka, music by Stravinsky and the choreography directly based on the choreography from the beginning of the 20th century when the Ballets russes performed if in France “Petrushka was first performed by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on 13 June 191 Vaslav Nijinsky portrayed Petrushka with Tamara Karsavina as the Ballerina. Alexander Orlov portrayed the Moor, and Enrico Cecchetti the Charlatan — Wikipedia1”
This too was a repeat from the performance we had seen in New York City in October 1972 at the City Center, by the Joffrey Ballet. It was a wonderful performance, but… it was not with Rudolf Nureyew. So in 1976 we saw Petrushka with the Paris Opera ballet and Rudolf Nureyev. 8
This outstanding performance is far from being just ballet. It is mime in its utmost perfection and it is theater at its very best. To see Petrushka heartbroken when he is rejected by the Ballerina, here played by Noëlla Pontopis., the formidable Prima Ballerina at the Paris Opera.
We saw a large number of operas in Paris, but among all the Verdi and Mozart, one that I remember well is Tales of Hoffman by Jacques Offenbach. If I remember right, Arne was with is that time and itw as probably the time he had traveled to Paris wirth one old shoe and one new one. He had found the perfect Italian hoes for his long and narrow feet and so he bought the same ones several times. He was trying to find his best pair the evening we were getting dressed to go to the opera, but what he did find was how he had traveled with one old shoe and one new shoe. Oh well… We dressed up to go to the opera in those days; usually a long skirt a
0remeber Hoffman standing on a table in the first act singing Kleinzach, and fires burning at the front edge of the table. I was just hoping Hoffman’s long black rob would not catch fire.
Tales of Hoffman by Jacques Offenbach, 1974 with Nicolai Gedda as Hoffman. When he sang ‘Kleinzach‘ he was up on a table with flaming fires all along the front of the table and I was worried his long black robe would catch fire.
La Bohème– Puccini Possibly my favorite opeara ever. We saw it again here in Lyon and it’s always wonderful.
ILe nozze de Figaro — as it says in the program, 1974 with the incomparable Teresa Berganza
Alfred Brendel, German baritone
Continued: Chapter 30 – Our Swedish girls – and other memories