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(Originally published in the Grauniad on 7 April 1971)

Igor Stravinsky has died in New York at the age of 88. It was obvious half a century ago that his three early Diaghilev ballets – “Firebird”, “Petrushka” and “Rite of Spring” – were classics, but instead of resting on that unique achievement he ranged wider in search of new fields to conquer. He lived long enough to see his many stylistic experiments justified. In his eighties he remained more consistently creative than any other great composer before him, even Verdi. On his last visit to London he was tackled on his age. “Me? Old?” he snapped in mock irritation. “I just live. It is not my fault that I do not die.”

That was the characteristic of his eternally youthful approach to music and musicians. There was a chameleon quality in his ability to soak in influences from any and every source around him, even in Hollywood, where he lived during old age. Critics of the twenties and thirties saw in this characteristic a sign of declining powers, but what over the last generation has become more obvious was that his own personality triumphed unfailingly over any deliberate eclecticism. Even when he turned circle, and adopted serialism as a composition method (in his seventies) the results were always immediately recognisable for their unmistakable Stravinsky flavour.

History will probably decide that Igor Stravinsky was the most influential composer and also the greatest of the twentieth century thus far. Wagner in “Tristan and Isolde” may have foreshadowed the harmonic anarchy which would lead to Schoenberg’s twelve-note system and the whole world of serialism, but in “The Rite of Spring” Stravinsky liberated rhythm with such barbaric splendour that no musician from Debussy onwards (not even Mick Jagger dare we suggest) would have been quite the same without him.

In a sense Stravinsky was the first truly “modern” composer. He made a great deal of money out of music. He conducted most of his major works in the recording studio convinced that future generations would want to play them, and determined there should be none of the interpretative squabble which sometimes surround the great masters of past centuries. He was a gawky, birdlike figure on the rostrum, but a compelling one, as several generations of orchestral players and concertgoers in Britain remember. Almost to the last, he remained a cosmopolitan, a globe-trotter, and indeed some thought that his spiritual homelessness ever since the Russian Revolution was part of his musical essence.

Mike Figgis is about to make his debut as an opera director at English National Opera. But his production of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia is hardly the fulfilment of a dream for the 62-year-old Oscar-nominated director.

“I only went to my first opera three or four years ago, when my girlfriend took me to the Met in New York.”

What does Figgis remember of that first opera he saw in New York? “It was Verdi, the one where she’s dying. Actually, that could be any opera, couldn’t it?”

Fucking hell. Mike Figgis has a girlfriend? Poor bitch.

Five decades into his brilliant career as one of the world’s great tenors, Plácido Domingo – now a baritone – is working as hard as ever. Catch him while you can, says Peter Conrad.

Plácido Domingo’s name means Placid Sunday, which is not what he will be enjoying today. He may well sleep until the afternoon, but will make up for that inertia tonight on stage at the Royal Albert Hall, in a BBC Proms performance of the Royal Opera’s production of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, he will age half a century, beginning as a swashbuckling corsair and ending – after the lapse of a few decades between the acts – as the elderly, careworn Doge of Genoa, poisoned by a vindictive political crony.

The self-taught Argentine tenor, star of David McVicar’s new Aïda, talks to Emma Pomfret of the Times.

He is in town for Verdi’s Aïda, directed by David McVicar. It is Alvarez’s debut as Radames, the heroic Egyptian general caught in a love triangle between Aïda, a prisoner, and the scorned princess Amneris.

“I’m very engaged with the production,” Alvarez announces, explaining that this Aïda is no “earthy” Egypt but a mix of evocative ancient traditions: Aztec Mexico, Ancient Greece and samurai warriors. “It looks a little like Stargate.”

“Normally Radames is sung with a big warrior voice: ‘Wah, wah, bah, bah!’ ” Alvarez barks like an hysterical seal.

“I don’t have the body of a young man, but I’m athletic. I can move well on stage.”

“The audience think we are capricious billionaires; 20 or 30 years ago, yes, but not now. It’s not true.”

His greatest vitriol is reserved for opera bloggers, whose continual criticism and sniping gossip, he says, damages singers. “Perhaps you sing one bad performance and these websites attack and blow it out of proportion. They always write: bad, bad, bad!” he rants, drowning out the translator in English. “Some artistic directors read these sites and a lot of contracts go.” This hasn’t happened to him, and he cannot give me a direct example but, he says: “I know it has happened. This is the real cancer of our opera world.”

They know who they are.

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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