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Twenty operas to see before you die

The Magic Flute

As reported on the pages of The Stage - famed British soprano, Lesley Garrett, will be presenting a new series on Sky Arts titled 20 operas to see before you die. If your death is tragically imminent and making money off websites you simply cannot rely on a performance of La Boheme turning up at your town hall, there is no need to grow concerned as Sky Arts will be broadcasting a different opera each week, including Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Bizet’s Carmen.

Garrett will be presenting each episode, sharing her experiences of performing some of the featured works, and discussing them with each show’s composer. The one-time Mother Abbess in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage production of Sound of Music (which a certain art blog writer was fortunate enough to see over the weekend, although this year the role of Mother Abbess is being ably filled by the powerful Margaret Preece), Garrett hopes that the season “encourages people to sample opera and [will] stir up debate about how to make money from your website the choice of operas we think they simply cannot afford to miss.”

ArtsWom haven’t been able to track down the full list of twenty operas, but with the series due to start on February 4th 2008, we expect to be able to fill you in soon.

Ballet and Dance

Pirouetting through the air…

The Snowman

Traditionally, a British Christmas is a very traditional affair. Rosy-cheeked youngsters gather to roast chestnuts over an open fire that rages from the car they’ve just hi-jacked. Families are joyfully united for an hour to enjoy the seasonal death of a major character in the Eastenders’ Christmas Day special. Your dad spends most of the time desperately searching for batteries before realising that what was actually required is one of those silly rectangular types which are impossible to get hold of and so he resorts to the shed before your cousin gets too drunk and makes a scene.

All these elements come together to make the 25th December the most magical day website income of the year, but even these special moments are essentially meaningless without that classic Christmas Day movie – Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman. Whether you love the understated charm or despise the sugary-sweet sentimentality, there can be no denying that 96% of the country would rather go ‘walking through the air’ than watch the Queen’s speech.

If you are partial to a taste of nostalgia with your Noel, but would also like something a little different, Sky Arts are broadcasting Robert North’s ballet version of The Snowman over the Christmas season – starting on Thursday 20th December at 4:20pm. If you like watching well-choreographed chubsters in white snowman outfits prancing across an on-stage winter wonderland, this could be your greatest Xmas yet.


The Envelopes steal the show?

From the Basement Envelopes MySpace

Indie punk-rocklets, The Envelopes, have been letting their fans know about their forthcoming appearance on Sky Arts excellent new series, From the Basement, on their MySpace blog. The down-to-earth Envelopes boys were somewhat bemused about the line-up of Saturday night’s show, saying:

“When you see the intro it’s really funny. First you see Thom Yorke, some black and white views of London, then Albert Hammond Jr, London again, and guess who? Envelopes. What the Hell?? We played 3 songs : Freejazz, Party, and Sister in Love.”

Don’t be so bashful guys! How many other bands get to claim Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr as their support acts? Listen to Swedish stars music via their MySpace page by clicking me right now.

Interestingly, The Envelopes also say that their episode of From the Basement will be available to download via iTunes on Sunday. ArtsWom can’t be sure what regions will be allowed to benefit from this, or how much it will cost but that’s useful for those few people who don’t know anybody with Sky. For the rest of us, tune in Saturday night at 9pm on Sky Arts channel 267 – and bring along that HD TV!


Getting to the bottom of the Basement

Currently sweating sweet beads of artistic joy beneath the mighty spotlights of Sky Arts Centre Stage series of live performances, From the Basement appears to be any house-ridden music fans much-needed Saturday night relief - but what’s the story behind the show? Who’s behind this and how did they attract such names as Thom Yorke, Beck, Sonic Youth, P J Harvey, and Autolux? ArtsWom investigates…*

From the Basement Screengrab

As explained on the show’s accompanying website, “From the Basement is an independently produced music series that features intimate live performances from the finest musicians on the planet”. Taking the novel approach of simply presenting great music without interruptions from the likes of Dave Berry, Fearne Cotton, and Alex Zane, and with no “everybody-scream-when-we-say-so” studio audience, the popular first series debuted last December but was available via download-only.

The concept attracted the involvement of TV studios from across the world, which are broadcasting the gigs the way producer Nigel Godrich intended – in glorious high-def picture and (most importantly) sound quality. Sky Arts is the first channel to air the series, followed by Rave HD in the US, and the promise of further international territories in the future.

So, what does this mean for the artists involved and the fans who want to watch them? Well, in the words of Thom Yorke: “From The Basement was exciting because it came from the desire to cut out the crap that lies between the music and the viewer. To get plugged straight into the mains. No producer director egos messing it up.” Well said. Now, quit talking and get playing!

Centre Stage Screengrab

Sky Arts has recently launched the Centre Stage microsite, which is looking pretty in a suitably disturbing kind of way and will be a familiar sight to anyone who have watched the promo video. It’s running very light on content at the moment, but we’ve been promised updates over the coming months and we’ll be sure to keep you posted…


Thom Yorke performs ‘In Rainbows’ - From the Basement preview

Did anyone get the chance to see Sky Arts inaugural episode of its From the Basement series on Saturday night? With performances from The White Stripes, The Shins and Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy, the season kicked off in style and sufficiently set the tone for the next five episodes. What was your reaction to Sky Arts promise of returning live music to primetime TV? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Next Saturday’s installment of From the Basement features Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, The Stroke’s Albert Hammond Jnr, and newcomers The Envelopes – it is looking set to be one of the more unmissable episodes in the series. To further fuel your insatiable desire for all that’s hot, live and aurally-incendiary, From the Basement have set up their own YouTube channel showcasing trailers and clips – including a rather popular and supremely excellent example of Thom Yorke performing In Rainbows (watch it below). For more information about all upcoming episodes, you can visit www.fromthebasement.tv or the Sky Arts website.

Finally, we leave you with some good news for our American readers… From the Basement will be hitting your shores on 22 February 2008, broadcast on the Rave HD channel. In the words of your nation: Awesome.


A guide to armchair gigging

The Shins

The 1st December is a significant date of the year for many reasons. Not least because it represents the day your Blue Peter advent calendar first decorates your room in all its coat-hanger glory. The beginning of the winter months also marks for many the last pre-Christmas shopping pay packet, the start of the wind-down at work before holidays, the perfect excuse to begin scoffing more chocolates (just to get into the spirit, mind), and the understanding in the collective subconscious that it’s no longer bloody freezing – it’s simply Christmas-y.

This year, the first day of the most tinselled month in the calendar also represents the start of Sky Arts Centre Stage series of live gigs. And to kick off the performances, Neil Hannon, The Shins, and The White Stripes, head down to the basement for an intimate concert that is being broadcast with the added dazzleance of HD picture and sound quality. Surely, this will be an experience that rivals being there in the flesh….almost. With ArtsWom’s help, and by following our five simple steps below, you can learn to turn your £500 leather armchair, £2,000 HD TV, £1,000 sound system and £300 Sky HD box into the equivalent of the experience you get for the price of an admission ticket…

1. Since July, gigs smell of only two things – beer and sweat. To ensure the accurately stifling odour sufficiently overpowers your viewing environment, simply reupholster your furniture with vests and shorts donated by runners of the London marathon and paint your walls with whitewash mixed from beer dregs.

2. Ask a burly friend to wear an orange jacket and stand innocuously in the corner of the room, pointing aggressively whenever you move from your chair.

3. Build a contraption that periodically pours a pint of snakebite down your neck. This works best if timed to coincide with the start of your favourite song. For the next fifteen minutes, squat under hairdryer in the toilet.

4. Employ a lanky, long-haired goth to block most of your view of the stage. Encourage him to use his spiky, leather DMs to crush your toes.

5. Mid-gig, whack the volume up to 11, give your best mate a ring on your mobile and then hold the handset to the speakers screaming, “this is the best gig ever!” down the line and then hang up.

If anyone has any further tips and tricks on how to bring live gigging home – leave a comment below….

Sky Arts Centre Stage begins on Saturday 1 December at 9pm with exclusive performances from The White Stripes, The Shins, and Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon…don’t miss it.


A reason to rock around the Christmas tree…

Sonic Youth fan art
Sonic Youth fan art by dlmx-13 on DeviantArt.

And so the impending horror of Christmas television descends upon this miserable, grey island yet again. Already, advertisements abound, striving to forcefully inject the merry, smiling and objectionably glittery seasonal spirit into our chilled, grumpy and flu-ridden veins in the hope that we will spend more money. Having already gobbled the chocs from our advent calendars in the first week of December, what more do we have to look forward to other than the obligatory broadcast of Santa Claus: The Movie, Home Alone, The Snowman, Eastenders Christmas Special and the Queen’s Speech?

Fear not edgy culture-types! Sky Arts has pulled out all the stops to ensure that your December entertainment remains as kitsch-free as possible, with the introduction of Centre Stage.

Starting on the 1st December and continuing every Saturday at 9pm until March, Centre Stage is Sky Arts’ most ambitious and dedicated foray into offering live performances and is likely to develop in reaction to popular demand. Throughout December and leading into early January, contemporary artists including The White Stripes, Thom Yorke, Beck, Jarvis Cocker, Free Blood, Autolux, and Sonic Youth will be performing intimate gigs ‘from the Basement’. We haven’t been able to glean much information from the Sky Arts team as of yet, but we are chasing up for more details and you’ll be among the first to know. That’s our Christmas present to you.

In January, Centre Stage takes something of a dramatic twist by moving away from the intimate gigs to broadcasting influential concerts from such legendary performers as The Rolling Stones, Eric Claption, Elvis Costello, The Pixies, and Queen and Paul Rodgers. Not to be missed.


Bacharach-a-like reviews Wilco Dublin gig

Wilco Dublin gig

Fans still smarting from Wilco’s recent cancellation of the UK leg of their worldwide tour may not want to read this review of their electrifying Dublin gig…

Sky News Sportscaster, Chris Skudder, received the opportunity to watch Wilco live at Vicar Street last week and wrote a highly entertaining review of the concert for the Sky Arts website, a gig which ends with some enviable personal abuse from Jeff Tweedy himself captured on video.

Read the review and watch the video here.

There are few occupations in life that allow you to mock and insult those supporting your livelihood (with the possible exception of the most discriminating restaurateurs), but we seem to welcome such public derision from rock stars. If any of the ArtsWom crew were to bump into Chris Skudder while out shopping for the lace-trimmed top hats and gold-tipped canes that are a prerequisite for anybody writing for the web’s most unashamedly opulent arts blog – we can imagine a less than pleasant reaction to any cries of “Oi, Bacharach!”

Maybe Tweedy is just more charming than us. Sigh.

Have you been the willing victim of verbal abuse at the hands of a personal idol? If so, share your stories with us…

Art and Architecture

Judgement Day: Images of Heaven and Hell

Sun 18 Nov 2007 11:35AM - 12:00PM Artwork from the DeviantART portfolio of ~captainslug

The first episode of this triptych is entitled Judgment and takes a look at the moment just after death when the unfortunate one meets Death and faces the music. Subsequent programmes focus on Heaven and Hell, and all three concentrate on the relationship between art and death.Stemming from early Egyptian artists who produced the Book of Death, the subject has fascinated artists for millennia. An earlier ArtsWom article has explored the obsession that artists have with the skull and images of the skull, but these shows follow the journey that death takes via art throughout the ages. Many, many artists have depicted death in their art, and there are discussions of the subject on sites like this and this.

The programme contends that the depiction of death in art has been an instrument to maintain the status quo in society – that the threat of death forces the people to toe the line for fear of incurring the wrath of the hooded one. The show takes in the entire spectrum of art from the earliest days, right through Michelangelo up to modern times with the work of Mark Wallinger (who is said to be influenced by the macabre thoughts of William Blake). If you have any thoughts on the depiction of death in art, feel free to discuss them with others on the SkyArts site.


Russian Propaganda on Sky Arts


Many of us have long admired the stark, artistic, political posters that characterised post-revolution USSR – and in the uneasy climate of bloody revolt, abject poverty and communist fervor, the battle to win Soviet hearts and minds was not just confined to the ominous billboards that overlooked the streets of Leningrad. From 1924 to perestroika, the USSR attempted to indoctrinate the silver screens by producing more than 4 dozen animated propaganda films.

They weren’t for export. Their target was the new nation and their goal was to convince Russian residents of the legitimacy of communism. Anti-American, Anti-British, Anti-German, Anti-Capitalist and Anti-Fascist, these films were to leave an indelible mark on Russia, and inspire a generation of animators.

And tonight from 9.00PM – a veritable feast of Russian propaganda will be aired on Sky Arts. Witness Ivano Vano’s (who was to become Russia’s foremost director of children’s animated films) attack on the church as an actively malignant social influence in Ave Maria – or the tragic tale of the courageous soviet child, shot by a Nazi for playing his own national anthem in The Pioneer’s Violin.

The full line up for tonight is as follows…. Or take a look at the Sky Arts website for more detailed descriptions on the programming.

9:00PM | Russian Propaganda: Someone Else’s Voice

9:10PM | Russian Propaganda: Ave Maria

9:20PM | Russian Propaganda: Shooting Range

9:40PM | Russian Propaganda: The Pioneer’s Violin

9:50PM | Russian Propaganda: We Can Do It

10:00PM | The Battleship Potemkin

11:05PM | Heavy Water: A Film for Chernobyl