About Me

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Lewes, East Sussex, United Kingdom
Hello and welcome! I am Colin Bell, a novelist and poet, previously a TV producer-director of arts programmes, also known as the blogger Wolfie Wolfgang. My novel Stephen Dearsley's Summer Of Love was published in 2013, my next novel Blue Notes, Still Frames will be published in October 2016 - check them out on Amazon. I hope you find something here among my daily blogs. I write about anything that interests me - I hope it interests you too. Let me know.

Monday, 1 August 2016

My friend and companion the iPod keeps me running on that treadmill.

Going to the gym is enjoyable enough. I try to go at least three times a week to the pleasantly eccentric one at the White Hart Hotel, near to where I live in Lewes, UK. The treadmill run can seem at times like the kind of punishment  once doled out on a prison sentence with hard labour, but, mostly, I enjoy the adrenalin flow you get from pushing yourself that bit further each time and, of course the feeling you get when it's over. My companion in these adventures is my iPod - already old technology, it seems, but one of my best friends, when I'm travelling or when I'm running.

I always take time to plan what I am going to listen to at the gym each week - usually deciding on one album that I will get to know all the better from these repeat performances. At times it turns the gym into a sacred temple - maybe that is what gyms are in modern times.

Last week my album was the hypnotic and quietly melancholy new album, Pagan, from a young English one-man band known as Palmistry. Palmistry is quintessentially English with his lightly limpid  voice and gentle sensitivity but where he is musically new to my ears is the way he uses and transforms Caribbean traditions into an exquisite hybrid, substituting tightly controlled but delicate rhythms for the more extroverted beat we associate with reggae.

 I've loved this music. It has helped too when I was reaching exhaustion point at the end of a run.

Over the weekend, I found time to sit in the garden and read the latest issue of The New Yorker, always a pleasure even though the US, just like us here in the UK, is going through a difficult and worrying time in its history. Part of me felt guilty, the bit that wasn't happy to be soaking up the sun in my small  urban garden. Guilty to be enjoying a lifestyle so different from many of the people described within those pages this week. I have made many enjoyable, stimulating and eye-opening trips to America over the years and, sitting there in my garden, I was taken back specifically to the time I spent in New York City in the 1990s (in my Sony Discman days) when I used to listen to what was a new phenomenon to my ears, American hip-hop.

I have been to the States a lot in my life as a TV producer and I haven't always been there for its beauty or its excitement. I have seen, and photographed, many things in the USA that showed me that even my favourite countries have their downsides.

1990s rap music now reminds me of some difficult times over there but also the thrill of being out there on the streets where danger and excitement are often edgy companions.

So this week, my album has to be illmatic by the artist knowns as nas. Surely one of the best hip-hop albums ever - well certainly in my experience. I was reading about nas in a previous issue of The New Yorker and just had to dig it out again. It will, I hope, keep me running this week.

So if you want to hear something of what I've been talking about, here are two tracks from these two wonderful albums. Enjoy:

Palmistry: Pagan

nas: illmatic

Friday, 29 July 2016

My miniature Fibonacci poem The Music Of The Spheres becomes a movie - Wow!

I wrote a miniature Fibonacci poem five years ago on the gigantic subject of humanity's ideas of the Universe and religion - well, there's no need for humility if you're writing a very short poem. It was called The Music Of The Spheres and was published in that excellent poetry journal The Fib Review: http://www.musepiepress.com/fibreview/issue10/wolfiewolfgang2.html - I hadn't thought about it much since then until recently when the highly imaginative Joseph Nussbaum approached me asking to make a short animated film of the poem.

I was thrilled earlier on today to see the result. Wow! I think it's magnificent. See what you think:

"Music of the Spheres", a video by Joseph Nussbaum. FIlmed in Second Life. Poem by Colin Bell. Music by Moby. Sculpture by François Arteo. With Marly Moon, Joseph Nussbaum, Boris Twist, Bryan Trefoill, and Novs Morlim.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A perfect summer evening for a less than perfect production of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro at Glyndebourne.

Le Nozze di Figaro at Glyndebourne, 2016.

It was a lovely day for a wedding. Yesterday Glyndebourne Opera house looked at its most seductive on a hot golden day sitting among those corn fields and rolling downland sheep pastures. It was a lovely day for a picnic too sitting out there under a peach tree among England's chattering opera-goers and champagne tipplers. The wedding, of course, was Mozart's supreme masterpiece, and, possibly, opera's supreme masterpiece too, Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro, 1786).  If Mozart wrote an opera that is surely the nearest we will ever get to operatic perfection, then, maybe this, a revival of the 2012 Michael Grandage production, was not the best way to appreciate the beauties,  ambiguities and subtleties of Mozart's tale of a particularly chaotic wedding day.  We've all been to weddings where there were lovely, emotional moments when love is celebrated as really being the sweetest thing and we've all seen relatives behaving badly, guests in silly costumes and a fair amount of world-weary cynicism.  All of these traditional wedding characteristics were on display yesterday evening, sometimes on the stage, but also out there in the beautiful Glyndebourne gardens during that long dinner interval which was particularly sun-kissed last night.

Susan Bickley (Marcellina), Alasdair Elliott (Don Curzio), Gyula Orendt (Count Almaviva), Carlo Lepore (Dr Bartolo), Rosa Feola (Susanna) and Davide Luciano (Figaro).

Michael Grandage's production, however, which was certainly both fun and colourful, was high, in both senses, on the opera's comedy and cynicism but, by being carried away by its oh-so-smart concept of  hedonism in a '1960s'  setting,  it lost many of the darker and more nuanced aspects of a piece which is a great deal more than slapstick farce.  The 1960's, as far as this production was concerned, was a time of cynically practiced free-love (a nice comparison to pre-revolutionary France), a lot of cannabis and,  most depressingly, what appears to have been the birth of 'dad dancing'. Like some of the other tired old jokes on display here,  everyone found time, even the Countess,  to show us that they could twist again like they did last summer.

Serena Malfi (Cherubino) and Rosa Feola (Susanna).

Of course, especially after the dinner interval, slapstick often gets the wildest applause at Glyndebourne. and the performance reduced most of the people sitting near me to charmingly childlike giggling. I know, don't knock it, it's wonderful these days to find people happy to spend any time at all enjoying opera.

Gyula Orendt (Count Almaviva) and Rosa Feola (Susanna).

The main problem with Mr Grandage's production was the way he reduced the role of the philandering Count Almaviva to a rather silly character, mostly high on cannabis, easily tricked by all around him and thus, when Mozart's music reveals the character's real anger and danger, all we get is dope-crazed  slapstick.  Gyula Orendt was perfectly fine, with his light and, mostly, flexible baritone, but having to play the role as a youthful and caricatured, Whitehall farce, version of the notorious hippie aristocrat, the 7th Marquess of Bath (born 1932), drained the interpretation of soul and the opera of its beating heart.

The 7th Marquess of Bath.

Rosa Feola (Susanna) and Gyula Orendt (Count Almaviva).

It's not, I hope, me being resistant to opera directors up-dating their productions to find the work's relevance for modern audiences - there have been many thrilling productions, not least here at Glyndebourne,  that have justified what has, in all truth, become a bit of an easy cliché. It's that this, of all operas, is a marvel of character analysis in music and, by turning the Count into a joke, all the light and shade so intricately woven between the other characters unravelled.

It was still a lovely wedding! The cast were all on top vocal form. It was great to have such a fine ringing tenor  from Alasdair Elliott, in the tiny part of the notary, Don Curzio. Too often the tenor line in the great Act 3 sextet goes missing but not last night. There was a classic Dr Bartolo from Carlo Lepore, a silly (sorry Mr Grandage) but gloriously sung Cherubino from Serena Malfi, an unusually solemn but well-sung Susanna from Rosa Feola, and a magnifiently dark-voiced  Figaro from rising star Davide Luciano who was, in this topsy-turvy production, deprived of most of the comedic side of his role.

Davide Luciano (Figaro).

Accolades though for the limpid singing and glorious phrasing from the thrilling South African soprano, Golda Schultz, who, in spite of struggling to walk in those ridiculous platform shoes,(and to do the twist in them), was allowed to let her lovely voice, perfectly produced throughout its range, to take us to that place where only Mozart can transport us. Brava!

 Golda Schultz (Countess Almaviva).

 Conductor Jonathan Cohen and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (with some nifty fortepiano playing from Ashok Gupta) gave us Mozart in all his glory too, allowing us to hear all the details, the pain and danger of love,  the pride and the prejudice, and yes, the humour, but, most of all, the humanity so vividly caught in this wonderful music.

On such a beautiful Sussex summer evening, Glyndebourne reminds me just how lucky I am to have this small miracle of opera just down the road from my home in Lewes. On such a beautiful Sussex summer evening, Mozart, too, rises to the occasion, in spite of the some of Michael Grandage's trip wires,  and sends us all home with joy and, yes, sadness in our hearts.