Some enchanted evening

by Keith Clarke

OK, I admit it, the editor was right. I went along to the Lincoln Center production of South Pacific at the Barbican last week and had a jolly good time. It wasn’t an overnight conversion to the world of the musical, and I can’t say I didn’t look at my watch just now and again, but it was a terrific show, and I was probably the only person in the 1,160-seat Barbican Theater who didn’t know how it came out until it came out.

But as an infrequent frequenter of musicals, I do find some aspects of the experience that really stick in the craw. Most of all, why does the audience feel obliged to yack all the way through the overture? Is the music only worthy of attention when someone’s singing?

At least this was a show that stayed on the non-cheesy side of cheesy. And in an idiom that lives on its foot-stomping, up a key, play to the gallery conventions, that says a lot. Heaven knows, it’s bad enough in the opera when the chorus trips on spraying rose petals, but musicals really know how to lay the schmaltz on thick. This South Pacific didn’t, and I’m grateful. And the rest of our party wept buckets, so it must have been good.


The BBC’s in-house safety adviser has published a new report on protecting musicians’ hearing and come up with some useful suggestions. Sit further apart, it tells musicians. No doubt concert platforms on your side of the pond are generously proportioned, but in the UK if players start spreading out the brass will be tumbling off the back risers and the first fiddles will be back in the green room. Another helpful suggestion is that musicians should alleviate the effect of having their hair parted by the brass by chewing gum. But so many people go to see a concert as well as hear it, and televised high-definition relays tend to go in for dramatic close-ups of the players. Is the great British public ready for the vision of a symphony orchestra masticating its way through Mahler?

Meanwhile, another report, from Toronto, suggests that playing a musical instrument throughout life is likely to ensure better hearing into old age. This is good news for those of us who have managed to do that, and we live in hope that it will also protect us from muscular pain, tone up our brains, and stave off those “Where the hell did I put the keys” moments.

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