Saturday, 21 November 2009

BBC4 x 2

Today's Guardian has a "Spanish Spirit" supplement, which says the best known Churriguera retablo mayor is in the church of San Esteban in Salamanca. The article's accompanying photograph isn't as detailed as the one I took in San Esteban - and even that doesn't really do it justice.

Our visit to this (and sundry other equally magnificent Catholic churches and cathedrals in Spain) last Autumn came back to me last night as I watched Don Carlo on BBC4. I'm not a great fan of opera on the small screen, or even at the cinema - Cineworld have of course stopped their relays from the Met., which I regret. The Covent Garden production of Verdi's grandest opera came across superbly on TV, however, and I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

Marina Poplavskaya's Elisabetta stole the show for me - even with the great Rolando Villazón singing the title role. Her acting was terrific, and what a joy to hear a young, still lyric soprano, with no vibrato, in that great dramatic part! Only 29, Marina lives over a pub in Soho, the daughter of a Moscow chemist with five specialist diplomas, but working as a taxi driver because she can earn more.

The Poplavskaya family held to their Russian Orthodox faith throughout the Soviet years, keeping an icon hidden in a wardrobe. Nicholas Hytner's Don Carlo has plenty of icons of one sort or another to evoke the atmosphere of 16th Century Spain. Orthodoxy and the Reformation are the themes for last week's and next's instalments in Diarmaid MacCulloch's History of Christianity, also on BBC4. I really don't watch that much TV normally - just football (as I've said before): this week seems to have been an exception. But I'm not sure I am going to stick with MacCulloch. I envy him the opportunity of skipping around Europe and Asia Minor, seeing the sights, and he is distinctly likeable. Further, his substance is interesting enough: he makes it all sound fresh. The accompanying pictures are, however, repetitive and ultimately distracting. Radio 3 would be a much preferable forum.

Odd, that the previous week in MacCulloch's exploration of "the extraordinary rise of the Roman Catholic Church," there wasn't a single mention of St Benedict.

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