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(Source: Guardian)

How did a groundbreaking production of Tristan und Isolde make it to the stage? With help from kneepads, booze, painkillers and video artist Bill Viola, reveals company manager Henrietta Bredin in her tour diary:

Back in 2004, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, director Peter Sellars and artist Bill Viola created the all-enveloping, sensurround Tristan Project. Their hugely ambitious version of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde mixed Viola’s video art with Sellars’ choreography and direction against a semi-staging of the immense opera. The piece played in New York, Los Angeles and Paris, and Salonen began planning to bring it to London. Six years later, reimagined and retitled, Tristan und Isolde has been performed in Switzerland and Germany and is about to go to Birmingham, before finishing up in London’s Royal Festival Hall on Sunday. This new take brings the musicians out of the orchestra pit and on to the stage. Over their heads is a vast screen – 11m x 6.6m – on which Viola’s images, of fire and water, faces and reflections, moonlight and waves, are projected. The screen is in a horizontal position for the first two acts and then pivots on its own axis to a vertical position. The entire thing weighs 1,740kg, as much as a car, and has to be transported to and erected in each venue. At various points during the performance, singers and solo instrumentalists perform from different places within the concert hall, which produces an extraordinary three-dimensional effect, immersing the audience in Wagner’s music. I was brought in as company manager by the London-based Philharmonia, where Salonen is principal conductor, to put together a mini opera production team of technical director and stage managers, and then to look after the singers and keep things on track while the show went on the road. We started with rehearsals in London …

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Miss Lily Elsie made her name on the opening night of The Merry Widow, in London, on 8 June 1907. Overnight she had the town at her feet. On the stage Elsie seemed mysteriously beautiful with her perfect Grecian profile, enormous blue eyes, and hauntingly sad smile. Tall, cool, and lily-like, she moved with lyrical gestures in a slow-motion grace.

She was a true “star” of Edwardian times, although the word was yet to be used in that context. Magazines produced special supplements about her, adverts featured her picture.

Although her fame and fortune came entirely from public appearances she was painfully shy. After just a few years on the stage she retired to a quiet life away from the public eye. She did however leave us with hundreds of pictures, a few gramophone discs, and two films to remember her by.

Born Elsie Hodder on 8 April 1886 in the Armley district of Leeds, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, she was to become one of the biggest stars of the Edwardian musical theatre stage.

Her mother was married on 19 March 1891 to William Thomas Cotton, at Chorlton-on-Medlock Register Office in Manchester. Young Elsie also took the name Cotton at this time. The family lived first in Manchester, then in the neighbouring city of Salford.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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