Friday, 23 April 2010

From Europa to Figaro!

I never thought I'd be sitting at home writing a bit about my evening out, at the opera house in Belfast. I suppose all's well that ends well.

I motored in to the Province's Big Smoke round tea-time yesterday, parked near Glengall Street - which is almost impossible to park at now - and, armed with the indispensable little netbook, made a beeline for the Europa Hotel. I prefer to indulge in a modest restorative there, which I find more congenial upstairs in the Piano Bar, than the ghastly "add-on" attached to the opera house.

They have a choice of two kinds of gin, Gordon's and Bombay Sapphire. I opted for the latter, which came in a tall glass with plenty of ice, a generous slice of lime and a swizzle-stick. Wish to know what it cost? Gin, £3.60; tonic-water, £1.60. It's a rummy thing, isn't it? I am loth to pay £3.60 for a miniature on Thos Cook's flight, yet cough up at a hotel. Service was quick and attentive. The bar was exceptionally quiet on this occasion. I seated myself at a big arm-chair and turned on the little Dell. It connected me immediately to BT Openzone and I had a strong signal. I wonder why the Europa doesn't have free wi-fi from their own system? Many hotels and places have it abroad.

After seven o'clock I drank up and made for the Grand Opera House, at the other side of Glengall Street. I did what I usually do, walking into the carbuncle extension, taking a hard left into the original building, and up the grand stair-case to the dress circle. My seat was B3.

B3 is a dreadful seat. Don't pay £36.50 for it and avoid it like the bubonic plague. Unless, of course, you happen to be an eight foot six - no, make that nine foot two - giant. The people in front of me - or, rather, their heads - inadvertently impeded my view of the central stage. B1 and B2 were vacant, so I shimmered on to B2 while the opera had merely begun. This proved to be a good move, because I had a clear view of the entire stage. Remember that - B2!

Tonight's production was The Marriage of Figaro, by Mozart. I'm no expert in these matters; it was, I felt, well done. Not particularly lavish, but acting and singing seemed competent to me. There was what I'd call polite applause at the end. It lasted about three hours.

Howard Hastings, whom I was pals with at prep school, was sitting with a party of four further along row B, in the middle. He owns a number of hotels in Northern Ireland, including the Europa. I said Hallo as he passed and we exchanged a few words. He couldn't linger, because others had to stand up to let them through as they passed towards their seats. Still, he noticed the little Dell and asked me how the Leaders' Debate was faring. Incidentally, I was able to obtain an Internet connection in the auditorium, BT Openzone.

I avoided the carbuncle entirely while exiting the theatre, because the original entrance doors were open. When are they going to do something about it? The façade is so incongruously prosaic and modernist, such a contrast to the splendid extension at the Royal Opera House.

I see that the New Lyric Operatic Company is presenting the Pirates of Penzance from the 4th to the 8th May; and Scottish Opera is putting on La Bohème on the 10th and 12th June. I haven't book them, yet.


Peregrine's Bird Blog said...

My first date with my wife was to take her to the Marriage of Figaro at Covent Garden in 1987.

Timothy Belmont said...

It's hard to beat the Covent Garden experience, isn't it? The sense of occasion, the opulence, grandeur. It may be expensive, but memorable.

Even the Orchestra of the Royal Opera is large, with 3 or 4 harpists!

Stephen said...

Tim, what's BT Openzone? Well I imagine what it is, but do you have to pay for it? Thanks

Timothy Belmont said...

Hi Stephen, Openzone and BT Fon are British Telecom's wireless network.

They have "hotspots" in most towns and cities in the UK, as well as airports etc.

Because I'm a BT customer, I get 240 free wi-fi minutes a month. I think!