26 July 2013

The ring, Wagner, and me.

I've harboured the desire to experience the full Ring cycle at least once. And with this being the 200th anniversary of his birth, this did seem to be the year. But why Wagner?

I grew up in a musical family, there was always something either on the stereo/radio or being played on various instruments. But not opera. There was a plethora of musicals and light/comic opera. To this day I can't stand Gilbert and Sullivan, I've come around to admitting that Sullivan was a very good composer, but his work with Gilbert does not make me feel good. I get the same response that hard-core born again god botherers get with Slayer, homicidal. I blame the name, nothing good can come from a name like Gilbert.
Musicals in general have the same effect on me. There are a few I like/love, but they weren't the ones I grew up with, namely: Rocky Horror; Chess; and err I thought there were a couple more. Oh yeah I can, at a pinch, tolerate Jesus Christ Superstar. And obviously the entire ouevre of Matt Stone and Trey Parker. That's all good. Today's trivia fact: Murray Head (one night in Bangkok / Chess) is the brother of Anthony Head (Buffy and many other excellent things)

So not a lot of opera, and thinking about it, I don't think there was any in the LP collection which I worked my way through as a nipper.  Mmm vinyl. There might have been some Puccini and Verdi in my grandparents collection, but I generally ended up playing Andy Stewart's stuff (stop cringing Neil).

Thinking about it, aside from limited exposure on the radio (my parents didn't listen to ClassicFM very often, more usually National Radio which would occasionally play opera), what opened me to Opera (capitalisation intentional) was TVNZs Sunday afternoon/evening Opera. In retrospect it seems somewhat incongruous for a sports mad country, with 2 (maybe 3?) TV stations, to devote Sunday viewing time to Opera. Anyway, I clearly remember being utterly entranced by Die Fledermaus (The Bat) by Strauss. I have no idea who was singing, but I loved it. Drama, music, brilliant singing, staging, conflict (well ok, not much in this one), humour - so pretty much everything you want from entertainment. And for an entry point to Opera, very approachable.

I also remember Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) by Mozart, which again is a nice gentle introduction. And with the hook-ins to the Smurfs, I had something to get into it from. Looking at that list of Smurf classical music, I'm beginning to wonder how much influence that TV series had.

But the one that utterly wrapped itself around my little head, was Die Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman), by - wait for it - Wagner. I also remember being told I had to go to bed, so it must have been an evening show and therefore missing half of it. Why no, of course I don't harbour grudges. However the passion, excitement, storyline, musicianship, conflict sunk into my impressionable head.
And this, I believe, is where my addiction began.

Over the years I've explored more opera. Not in the same way as I've gone through other genre's, probably as it's best experienced live and you need to have 2-3 hours (unless it's Wagner...) to set aside. I used to suffer from a lack of people to go with, and was a little intimidated by popping along to the opera - although not, oddly to symphonic performances - but got over that and have no issues going on my own. I reached a point many years ago when I realised my musical tastes, best described as diverse (and more accurately as slutty), meant finding companions would often be difficult.
I like Puccini, Verdi, Mozart etc and musically I often listen to excerpts from their operas, but Wagner. Oh Wagner. There's something there that makes you sit back and get involved in the music, you can't just switch it off. The music and drama sucks you in.
Yes, Wagner was a bastard and his social legacy hasn't been the best. But then a lot of great artists weren't the nicest of people. And look at Cliff Richard, he seems a thoroughly nice chap and his music is crap.
Far better writers than I have explored this, and I would recommend Stephen Fry's documentary 'Wagner and Me'.

And so to the BBC Proms Ring Cycle. I'd looked at other options, but in terms of cost/availability and convenience, the Proms won out. And when the singers were announced, it seemed like I'd made the right call. Sitting online waiting for queue to reduce from 2700 so I could buy tickets was slightly nerve-wracking, but ended up only taking 2.5 hours (so half an opera).

I'll continue this with some reviews of the actual shows ...


12 July 2013

Dealing with cold callers

Phone rings.
I answer.

Other: is there?
Me: who?
O: My name is Jack, from and I'm calling about some missold PPI  In very broad Indian accent
Me: I don't think your name is Jack. Are you lying to me? Is it really Jack?
O: err.

10 July 2013

Whisky Cabal Meeting 10 : in which we fall in a bog, big time

We'd all acquired a number of new drams, and so a tasting was called. The line up looked, and indeed was, intimidating. But all cabal members showed up for work, albeit feeling a little quieter than normal.
Unnecessary comments querying my handwriting were made. Of course I can read it.
Evidence for our group learning new tricks, we clarified scoring before we started - half marks are OK, nothing less.

As always, thanks to Loch Fyne Whiskies for keeping us inebriated. A little disappointed in their speed this time, 2h15min from ordering to shipping. Bloody appalling.

Look ma, visual aids.

Cardhu 18yo 40% LFW
Nose: sherry, raisins, caramel, xmas cake
Palate: sherry, dry, high cocoa chocolate
Finish: med-short
We've added this to our pub whisky list, which at some point we will curate. That's a guide for brands to look for in pubs.
Generally we thought this was ok, nothing special, and probably not deserving of its price point (£64). The bottle came in for criticism, with the members of the cabal who didn't own it, casting aspersions on its sexual orientation. A very happy bottle.

Teaninich 10yo 43% Flora and Fauna LFW
N: oak, cut grass
P: tangy, citrus, pepper
F: medium length, peppery
It's very smooth for a 10yo, quite light.

SMWS 1.165 10yo 58.4% (Glenfarclas) ex-bourbon "Coquettish, intriguing, seductive"
N: cut grass, marshmallows, vanilla, PVA glue
P: fresh, sugary, vanilla, sherbert
F: med-long
8/10  addition of water smoothes it but 7.5/10

We believe this dram was named after our Cabal. All the classic bourbon flavours present and correct, very nice, and ticks many of the 'farclas flavours too. Win.

Glendronach Batch 2 Cask Strength 55.2% LFW
N: sultanas, raisins, molasses, caramel, toffee, vanilla,
P: sherry, heavy chocolate, orange chocolate, rum'n'raisin icecream
F: short-med
Addition of water emphasised chocolate and honey flavours.
We like this. We liked Batch 1 too. I think it's becoming obvious our love for sherry monsters maybe coming through. Oh well, it's a curse we'll have to live with.

Glenburgie 14yo 60.5%
No link as it was a gift, but it was from LFW so I'm sure you can find it...
N: caramel, sugar, pears, strudel, apples, candyfloss
P: sweet, lemonade, sherbert, honey fruit
F: medium
8/10 (avoid water)
Described by the cabal as 'nice whisky' which, for this group, is quite a compliment. We've had some Glenburgie from SMWS before and it was rated 5-7/10 and failed with water (3-4).
So win from Suz and Neil.

Bruichladdich 46% 11/09/01 9yo
N: burnt rubber, leather, whisky (yeah, it appears things were getting to us)
P: honey, pepper, dry, salt, peaty
F: short
Not a win for the Cabal, described as a prick teaser (or hot nun) promised much on the nose, then promptly went soft on delivery.

Bruichladdich 15/06/08 12yo (bourbon)
N: toffee, musty, oil, lime/citrus
P: warm, yummy, sweet, banana, vanilla, hazelnut, puddings, fudge
F: med
"You want the experienced woman."
The older cousin to the 01 [Alec, did I get the right date?] and it's much better. Very very quaffable which worried the cabal, although we felt better when we realised it's only 46%. phew

Talisker - Port Ruighe 45.8% LFW
N: salt, port, cinnamon, warm
P: spicy, warm, salty, sweet, honey roasted cashews, chilli, flat
F: short
6.5-7/10 [or 5/10 from Garry]
I'm beginning to suspect that I may like Talisker more than I've given them credit for. But it's generally older ones. This ain't bad tho'.

Ardbeg Ardbog Festival bottling. 52.1%
N: fuuuuccckkkk, aniseed, rubber, burnt to fuck, peat, salt, what the fuck is that, oh jesus, oily.
P: sherry, smokey, warm, honey, fuck !
F: long
9.5 (Alec)/10 10/10 (me, Rich)  11/10 (Garry)
It's far to say this was a hit. in a fairly big way. Ardbeg have been hit and miss for me, I loved the Almost There, Still Young was very nice, and it all went to hell with the 10yo. But this. It's fair to say the excitment on the nose was delivered.

Glendronach Batch 1 cask strength
N: rough, poor
P: rough, sherry
F: long
Didn't cope very well after the Ardbeg. We had previously loved this whisky here, giving it 9/10.

And so we ended. Us taking the hits, so you don't have to.
But if you can beg/steal/borrow a taste of the Ardbog, do so.

Love, B