Two Musical Weekends

Busy days busy days! Work is mental, the summer is starting so suddenly there are a-thousand-and-one things to do after work, and I’m still trying to go to the gym as often as possible. And I must say, it’s been a good last few weeks.

I’ve been wanting to try some new things, mostly, I’ve been wanting to get back in to culture stuff. Music, theatre, opera, and all that jazz. But Leuven isn’t really the perfect spot to do so.

For Jazz, there is a free concert every Sunday evening in the Stuk Cafe. At 9pm. I’m sorry, but Sunday evening at 9, I’m sat on  the couch in my jammies. There are two cafes that do the occasional concert. The Bebop (which is a really fun place to have a drink and play boardgames with friends too, since it’s generally nice and quiet) and the Blauwe Kater. In both, I’ve never been to a gig. Generally because it just didn’t fit into the calendar, or within our budget. The Stuk cultural centre also organises a fair bit of live music, but I never know any of the bands on and it’s kinda hard to decide to go see something if you have no idea if you’re gonna like it.

For theatre, I gave up on Leuven a long time ago. I spent two years studying theatre in Antwerp when I was still in  secondary school, and the theatre companies there, like Olympique Dramatique, are absolutely amazing. In Brussels, the KVS gives you theatre of the highest quality. The plays give you food to think, and whether they are repertoire or newly written, they are staged marvelously. In Leuven, we don’t get the big companies. Same for opera, because we simply don’t have an opera house. And also, that stuff is pricey!

So when there’s an amateur music company in town that offers cheap tickets for their yearly concert, I happily oblige. First, we went to the university alumni orchestra‘s yearly event. They played three pieces: the opening of Verdi’s Nabucco, then The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto by He Zhanhao and Chen Gang, to finish with the 8th symphony of Dvořák. All very different kind of music, especially the Chinese middle part, but absolutely glorious to listen to. Here and there you could hear it was an amateur orchestra, mostly since some of the copper instruments (I apologise for my lack of decent music terminology, I have always enjoyed music stuff in Belgium so I don’t know the words for all the instruments and such) weren’t on top of it. But I tried not to focus on that and just enjoyed the music. It worked. I didn’t realise how much I miss a good classical concert until I experienced this one. Ah, what a lovely way to spend a Saturday evening.

Last weekend then, we went to a choir thingy. Again, an amateur company. If I would’ve googled the thing properly, I don’t think we would’ve gone. It turned out to be a church choir. But the tickets were cheap and the first half of the concert was great, so a fun evening nevertheless. The choir teamed up with a jazz big band to play Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concert, a collection of jazzy church songs. Unfortunately, the acoustics of the place were a mess, and since we were sat at the side, it just didn’t sound as you would want it. Also, I didn’t particularly like the sound of the choir, and the boyfriend (being an established atheist) wasn’t too fond of all the Praise Gods. But the first half of the concert was just the big band, and that was good fun. Very cheerful. I do wish I could’ve had a little dance 😉

I hope that’s not it for our cultural events of the year. It was truly wonderful to try some new things. So far, we have two more events lined up for summer. At the end of the month we are going to watch Nina Conti perform in Brussels. She is a British comedian / ventriloquist. When the boyfriend told me about her, I have to say I wasn’t particularly fond of the idea, it sounded a bit childish / boring. But after watching a few youtube clips, I couldn’t wait to book our tickets. We’ll be sitting on the third row, I do hope she doesn’t pick us out of the audience! And not to forget, probably my favourite event of the year (nerd alert): we’re going to the Harry Potter exhibition in Brussels this summer 😀


Review – Otello by Verdi

Once in a while, me and the boyfriend like to enjoy what I call high culture. This is not to say that certain kinds of culture would be ‘better’ or ‘higher quality’, it’s mostly to do with the accessibility of it. For example: the occasional cinema visit, some comedy in the local pub, or a concert of a popular band, are easily arranged and (at least for the first two) not too pricey. Whereas high culture very much puts us and our piggy bank out of our comfort zone. But last Friday my parents invited us to go see an opera with them. Yes please!

My favourite operas so far, are the ones where you don’t know where to look first. Of course, you have the orchestra you can glance away at, the people around you in their fancy clothes and odd looking hairdos (and that is generally where we feel out of our comfort zone, being young and wearing are one and only set of fancy clothes, therefore referred to as my ‘opera’clothes). The insanely strong voices singing the impressive melodies coming out of these tiny little humans. (Yes, we generally sit on the 2nd balcony or higher). The stories unfolding, sometimes drama but sometimes pure slapstick comedy. But you also have the set and costume changes, the action happening on stage in the background, the choir doing all sorts of stuff. And usually, De Vlaamse Opera very much succeeds in bringing an interesting adaptation. They don’t put the opera on scene the way it was meant to when it was written hundreds of years ago. The only thing that is the same, is the music and the lyrics.

Last Friday, it was the premiere of Otello by Verdi (of course based on, as you all know, good  ol’ Shakespeare’s story). The set was quite minimal, which usually makes me worry a little bit, as it gets boring more easily. But this time it didn’t. And for me, that was all thanks to the choir and the music.

For every act, only the absolutely necessary characters were on scene. Nothing was happening in the background, no set changes or no secondary actors acting out a side story. Even the costumes were bland, everyone dressed in black against a black set. But when the choir came on, I was dead impressed. You could almost call it a choreography, the way they all moved as one. The opening image was one of a black stage lit up by lightning, the back of the stage filled by the choir. It was set in a boat on a stormy sea, and the image was created beautifully and only by the movement of the choir. Really well done.

And then their was the music. Quite melodic, which is I why I still prefer the classics over more contemporary operas. In the first three acts, the music was strong and powerful, but in the last act it winded down beautifully. And that’s probably why the minimal decor worked so well. The music suited the story so well, the actors created a beautiful image just with their voices. They only had their faces and bodies to work with, but really managed to get under your skin.

So all in all, this opera was definitely worth watching for the music and just that. The music and the acting was so strong, they didn’t need any set or costume changes to keep the audience’s attention. This opera went back to its basics and did so very successfully.


Check out this video, the opening song and one of the more quiet songs in the last act.