Afternoon tea at the Langham! Little bears cannot leave London before spending a lovely afternoon at Palm Court, famed as the birthplace of Afternoon Tea. And now also famed for teddy bears!
One of the Hamleys teddy bears promptly joined Puffles and Honey 🙂
Little bears settled in to enjoy delicious sandwiches…
Followed by warm plain and fruit scones served with Devonshire clotted cream and strawberry preserve…
And the main treat, exquisite chocolate creations created for chocolate week.
Classic opera slice with espresso reduction
Langham chocolate mousseline, chocolate brownies
Dulcey and kalamansi canelle, sesame sable
Macha and white chocolate macaron, lemon jelly
Mango and lime lassi, basil seed
We are ready to go to the opera to listen to Rossini’s best known work, Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), which premiered in 1816. Rossini had a birthday in 1816 too! Born in a leap year, he enjoyed the idea that he only had a birthday every four years. On his 76th birthday, he invited friends around to celebrate his 18th!
“Give me the laundress’ bill and I will even set that to music,” Gioachino Rossini is reported to have joked about his status as one of the most popular composers during his life time. He wrote a variety of instrumental, chamber and sacred music, but he is best known and loved for his 39 operas, most notably Il barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola (Cinderella), performed all over the globe every year.
2016 marks Il barbiere di Siviglia’s 200th anniversary. Who would have thought it would survive its disastrous première so robustly?
The 23-year-old Gioachino Rossini completed his masterpiece Il barbiere di Siviglia with incredible speed – legend has it in just 13 days – which Rossini attributed to ‘facility and lots of instinct’. He was given short notice, less than 3 weeks, to write an opera for the close of the Carnival in Rome. This was Il barbiere di Siviglia, based on the play by Pierre Caron, known as Beaumarchais. A clockmaker by training, Beaumarchais was an adventurer and chancer and, at one stage, an arms dealer acting for American revolutionaries; he fortunately survived duels and spells in and out of prison and love, to write the play Le Barbier de Séville, part of a dramatic trilogy (The Barber of Seville; The Marriage of Figaro and The Guilty Mother) that also inspired Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, and to concoct a scheme for supplying Paris with water.
The first night of Rossini’s Barber, 20 February 1816, was a fiasco. The Don Basilio tripped over a trapdoor and had a nosebleed; a cat walked onto the stage, and there was an awkward pause while the tenor tuned his guitar before beginning a serenade! The jeering and booing had been compared with the reception of Tannhäuser in Paris and the first night of Carmen. The second performance was a very different story — the opera was a triumph – and within a few decades of its 1816 premiere, Il barbiere di Siviglia had been seen around the world, reaching opera houses in New York, Buenos Aires, Trinidad and Ecuador. At the end of the century, Verdi wrote “Il barbiere di Siviglia, for the abundance of the musical ideas, for its comic verve and the accuracy of its declamation is the most beautiful opera buffa there is.”
The opera contains some of the most familiar opera music in the world today, and the work is the 7th most performed opera around the world. Although the original overture to the opera was lost and Rossini replaced it with one he’d written for an earlier opera. That’s the famous work we know today, which contains none of the music from the actual opera!
If you’re wondering where you heard that before, maybe in Bugs Bunny? The Rabbit of Seville is a classic Bugs Bunny episode 🙂
As well as possessing a simply stunning overture, the opera is a sheer delight throughout, with hit after hit, including Rosina’s aria ‘Una voce poco fa’ and Figaro’s ‘Largo al factotum’.
Il barbiere di Siviglia has all the right ingredients for comic chaos: an imprisoned young woman, her lecherous guardian and a young noble suitor. Skilfully plotting behind the scenes is Figaro – an irrepressible and inventive character in whom many have seen a resemblance to the young Rossini himself. The score fizzes with musical brilliance, from Figaro’s famous entrance aria ‘Largo al factotum’ to the frenzy of the Act I finale, when the five principal voices all pile on top of each other.
Just the opera for little Isabelle! Tremendous mischief and fun.
This was the fourth revival of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s 2005 production of Rossini’s great comedy, and apparently one of the best with a terrific performance from a truly virtuoso ensemble cast.
There are two versions of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia commonly performed and the main difference is whether or not the spectacular and phenomenally difficult tenor aria ‘Cessa di più resistere’ is included close to the end of the opera. Even Rossini tended to omit it, possibly because asking an average tenor to attempt it might constitute cruel and unusual punishment. In recent years almost the only man who could be trusted to perform it has been the wonderful Peruvian Juan Diego Florez. Now there is another.
Javier Camarena, the Mexican tenor who has already taken the New York Met by storm earlier this year (he became only the third tenor allowed to perform an encore – the others being Luciano Pavarotti and Juan Diego Floréz), made his Royal Opera debut as Count Almaviva, stopping the show with his second-act aria, ‘Cessa di più resistere’.
He was a fantastic complement to Daniela Mack’s tempestuous Rosina, also making her Royal Opera debut, all dark tone and formidable coloratura, and lush mezzo, showcased beautifully in “Una voce poco fa”.
Another debut came from José Fardilha, who is an old hand at lecherous guardian Bartolo, having played the role in Paris, Stuttgart, Barcelona and Madrid. His rich baritone was clear and fluid and his comic timing was wonderful, especially in his scenes with the inimitable Ferruccio Furlanetto, whose slimeball Don Basilio is about as good as it gets. Vito Priante’s twinkly-eyed, knowing Figaro, had effortless charm and he clearly enjoyed every moment on the stage.
The girls thought it was all tremendous fun!
The Royal Opera House is home to The Royal Opera, The Royal Ballet and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. The present building is actually the third Theatre to have been constructed on the site since 1732.
An opera and major performing arts venue based in Covent Garden, the building was initially named the Theatre Royal when constructed in 1732, with the exquisite facade fronting Bow Street. The first theatre was built by John Rich, and was one of the only two theatres in London that were allowed to perform drama, in close competition with the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. At first it was purely a playhouse, until the first ballet performance showcased in 1734, with Handel introducing opera not long after in 1735. Several of his operas and oratorios were first performed there, including Alcina and Semele. In 1808, the building was destroyed by a fire, which also took the lives of 23 firemen, Handel’s own Organ and many of his manuscripts. It was reconstructed by Robert Smirke and opened again in 1809. The building was devastated once more by fire in 1856. E. M. Barry designed a new building that opened in 1858 with new a new addition; a Floral Hall that could doubly be used as a wonderful ballroom (now the Paul Hamlyn Hall).
Eventually, the building was renamed the Royal Opera House in 1892, but come both World Wars, it was used as a furniture repository and a Mecca Dance Hall respectively. Finally reopening again in 1946, the company was now almost inexistent and had to be put together from scratch. Collaborating with the ballet, both companies were awarded Royal Charters: The Royal Ballet in 1956 and The Royal Opera in 1968. Towards the end of the 20th century, the buildings were completely renovated to become the grand structures they are today, and the Floral Hall was transformed into a large public space housing bars and restaurants.
The main auditorium is a Grade I listed building and can seat over 2,200 people. The auditorium was completely restored in the 1990s and looks absolutely fantastic, like walking into a brand new Victorian Theatre. The stalls were re-raked to accommodate the new stage, and the stage itself and fly tower were completely demolished and rebuilt.
One of the most striking features of the decor of the auditorium is the pale blue saucer-shaped dome in the ceiling. The use of the colour blue is a tradition in theatre and reflects the open-air amphitheatres of Classical Greece. In the past, a huge gas-lit chandelier hung from the centre of the dome and remained lit during performances, along with gas-lit candelabras along the tiers.
Honey and Isabelle visited the Crush Room, with its crystal chandeliers said to be made of the original chandelier from the auditorium. Resplendent in reds and golds the Crush room harks back to the 19th century, many of its oil paintings and fittings have been in place since 1858.
The tiny opera lovers left the theatre by the Grand Staircase 🙂
Set along the Thames, the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens are the largest collection of living plants in the world, not to mention one of the most historic, having been founded in the mid 1700s. Its 14,000 trees and exotic flower collections are interspersed with elegant domed temples, a striking 19th century glasshouse, a treetop walkway and hidden forest paths that weave around the lake.
It was Henry VIII who, in the 16th century, was crucial in making Kew a desirable place to be.
Following his victory over Richard III at Bosworth Field (the last significant battle of the Wars of the Roses), Henry Tudor Earl of Richmond became Henry VII and the first English monarch of the Tudor dynasty. He took over the royal residence of Richard III, and rebuilt it after a fire destroyed the mainly wooden palace in 1497. The manor of Sheen had recently been renamed as “Richmond” and the palace became Richmond Palace.
Henry VII moved his court there for the summer months and changed people’s perceptions of the area. Henry VIII liked to stay at Richmond Palace but grew jealous of Thomas Wolsey’s new residence at Hampton Court and at the start of Wolsey’s fall from power forced him to swap homes. Henry VIII reacquired the palace following the death of Wolsey and gave it to his fourth wife Ann of Cleeves as part of their divorce settlement. Both Mary I and Elizabeth I liked to spend time in Richmond Palace.
The presence of the court drew nobles and influential courtiers to the area, and the nearby village of Kew grew rapidly over the next 100 years. By the 17th century Kew’s place as a hub of power and political intrigue was firmly established.
For London, the early 18th century was a time for blossoming culture, with writers, artists and musicians being drawn to the capital for access to aristocratic patronage and a growing commercial market. Some of the aristocracy moved out of the teeming city and Kew became a popular enclave. The Royal Family used Kew Palace, purchased from a wealthy merchant, as their summer residence. Prince Frederick and Princess Augusta, parents of the future George III, started a garden around Kew Palace, adjacent to the Royal Park.
The first botanic garden at Kew was founded in 1759, when William Aiton was recruited from Chelsea Physic Garden to manage the small “Physick Garden” at Kew.
From the 18th to the early 19th century, the property was a place of retreat for the Royal Family. Internationally renowned landscape architects Charles Bridgeman, William Kent, William Chambers and Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (appointed Master Gardener at Hampton Court by George III in 1764) re-modelled the earlier baroque gardens in the 18th century to make a pastoral landscape in the English style.
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was known as the father of landscape architecture. He was the creative force behind more than 170 of the UK’s most spectacular gardens, including Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Blenheim Palace and Sheffield Park and Garden. Instead of using masonry and other obvious manmade touches in his designs, he focused on keeping landscapes as natural as possible, employing elements like rolling hills, stands of trees and serene lakes that appeared never to be touched by human hands. His gift was to develop gardens and landscapes that looked natural and in harmony with the surrounding countryside. He got his nickname from his ability to point out “great capabilities” in any landscape. Reportedly he refused to work in Ireland as he had not yet finished England. 2016 sees the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Shakespeare of English garden design, Lancelot Brown.
Kew Gardens became the centre for study of native and exotic plants for economic purposes with plant researchers bringing back species from around the world. It was to Kew that Joseph Banks brought all his botanical samples after traveling around the world with Captain Cook and it was Banks who helped establish Kew’s reputation for plant research.
Kew Gardens are also very large, covering 120 hectares, and cannot be fully appreciated in one day. In fact it would take around four days to properly explore the entire site! Little bears explored part of the gardens.
The Hive is a new feature of the gardens, an abstract construction from around 170,000 pieces of aluminium which catch the changing sunlight. There are 1,000 LED lights dotted around its core which glow and fade, while a unique soundtrack hums in response to the activity of real bees in a beehive behind the scenes at Kew. It is immersive, very impressive and really highlights how important bees are to life on earth.
The Hive is the design of UK based artist Wolfgang Buttress. It was originally created as the centrepiece of the UK Pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo.
The Tree-Top Walkway is a feature that transports you to that special world only normally inhabited by birds and insects.
The Treetop Walkway stands in the Arboretum, between the Temperate House and the lake. It was designed by Marks Barfield Architects, who also designed the London Eye. The 18-metre high, 200-metre walkway enables visitors to walk around the crowns of lime, sweet chestnut and oak trees. Supported by rusted steel columns that blend in with the natural environment, it provides opportunities for inspecting birds, insects, lichen and fungi at close quarters, as well as seeing blossom emerging and seed pods bursting open in spring. The walkway’s structure is based on a Fibonacci numerical sequence, which is often present in nature’s growth patterns.
The Rock Garden displays a collection of Mediterranean plants, mountain plants and moisture-loving species from all over the world.
Kew dabbled in creating small rock features in the mid 19th century but only constructed a substantial rock garden in 1882. The decision to build the Rock Garden was hastened by a donation of 3,000 alpine plants, one of the largest collections in the country at the time.
Director William Thistleton-Dyer, wanting to avoid creating something ‘uncouth and obtrusive’, opted to design a 150-metre valley, akin to a Pyrenean mountain habitat. At its centre was a winding path, simulating a natural watercourse. It was fashioned from blocks of cheddar limestone, Bath oolite (also a type of limestone) and rocks salvaged from ruins of former buildings at Kew.
Experts consider Kew’s Palm House to be the most important surviving Victorian iron and glass structure in the world. It was designed by Decimus Burton and engineered by Richard Turner to accommodate the exotic palms being collected and introduced to Europe in early Victorian times. This pioneering project was the first time engineers used wrought iron to span such large widths without supporting columns. This technique was borrowed from the shipbuilding industry and from a distance the glasshouse resembles an upturned hull. The result is a vast, light, lofty space that can easily accommodate the crowns of large palms, while boasting 16,000 panes of glass and the amazing tropical palms.
In the middle of the pond is a statue of Hercules fighting Achelous in the guise of a snake, by Francois Joseph Bosio. The Queen gave the statue to the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in 1963. It originally stood on the East Terrace at Windsor Castle. This statue was acquired by King George IV in 1826.
Paolozzi’s sculpture, “A Maximis Ad Minima” is located at the southern end of the Princess of Wales Conservatory, in front of the Woodland Garden. The sculpture’s title means “From the Greatest to the Least”. Sir Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi was a Scottish sculptor and artist, widely considered to be one of the pioneers of pop art.
Little bears plan to visit the gardens again in springtime, when the Rhododendron, Magnolia and Cherry Blossoms are apparently breathtaking!
After seeing The Bean (Cloud Gate) in Chicago, little bears decided to check out what Indian-born British artist Sir Anish Kapoor has done in London.
The ArcelorMittal Orbit is the first public artwork by Anish Kapoor to be lit.
The ArcelorMittal Orbit (often referred to as the Orbit Tower or simply just the Orbit) is Britain’s largest piece of public art (114.5m tall). Orbit was designed by Turner-Prize winning artist Sir Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond of engineering Group Arup.
Anish Kapoor’s sculpture is often architectural in scale. He is one of the most influential sculptors of his generation. Perhaps most famous for public sculptures that are both adventures in form and feats of engineering, he manoeuvres between vastly different scales, across numerous series of work. Immense PVC skins, stretched or deflated; concave or convex mirrors whose reflections attract and swallow the viewer; recesses carved in stone and pigmented so as to disappear: these voids and protrusions summon up deep-felt metaphysical polarities of presence and absence, concealment and revelation. Forms turn themselves inside out, womb-like, and materials are not painted but impregnated with colour, as if to negate the idea of an outer surface, inviting the viewer to the inner reaches of the imagination.
Kapoor said that one of the influences on his design was the Tower of Babel, the sense of “building the impossible” that “has something mythic about it”, and that the form “straddles Eiffel and Tatlin”. Balmond, working on the metaphor of an orbit, envisaged an electron cloud moving, to create a structure that appears unstable, propping itself up, “never centred, never quite vertical”. Both believe that Orbit represents a new way of thinking, “a radical new piece of structure and architecture and art” that uses non-linearity – the use of “instabilities as stabilities”. The spaces inside the structure, in between the twisting steel, are “cathedral like”, according to Balmond, while according to Kapoor, the intention is that visitors will engage with the piece as they wind “up and up and in on oneself” on the spiral walkway.
You’ll have to engage with the piece of sculpture as you wind down and down, visitors can only use the stairs going down.
Orbit functions as an observation tower, with two indoor viewing platforms on two levels.
Two large concave mirrors turn the horizon on its head – you have to see it to believe it!
From the lower viewing platform, you can access The Slide! It is London’s newest attraction. At a length of 178m, it is the world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide and you’ll experience speeds of 24 kilometers per hour. Kapoor claims plans to install a slide around the Orbit were “foisted” on him by the Mayor of London.