Congratulations to Vitaliy Bilvy..

January 28, 2017

.. on his superb debut at the Royal Opera House as a particularly evil baddie – Count di Luna in Il Trovatore. I hope that he will return to Covent Garden many many times and I will get to listen to his marvellous voice again.

While I am on Il Trovatore, how amazing was Anita Rachvelishvili as Azucena? Very. Mind you, she did have the juiciest bits and got to reveal the most interesting plot twists. Without giving too much away, I would recommend thinking carefully before murdering someone and seeing Il Travatore – still 4 performances left.


My cultural education in 2016 (quick review)

December 31, 2016

Here is a list of my top 10 cultural experiences of 2016:


  1. Onegin – Royal Opera House


  1. Running Wild – Regents Park Open Air Theatre


  1. Christmas Carols – Royal Albert Hall


Bernard Cribbins read out of .. well, a Christmas Carol..


  1. Tosca – Royal Opera House


  1. Stravinsky at the Proms – Royal Albert Hall


  1. Anastasia – Royal Opera House


This ballet was yet another proof that Natalia Osipova is the greatest dancer of our age.


  1. Les Mis – Queen’s Theatre


  1. Boris Godunov – Royal Opera House


I wasn’t previously a fan of Bryn Terfel but after this opera, this very much changed!


  1. Jesus Christ Superstar – Regents Park Open Air Theatre


Tyrone Huntley was fantastic as Judas! This production returns next year and I will definitely be seeing it again.


  1. No Man’s Land – Wyndham’s Theatre


It was such a joy to see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart on stage together. This play was very dark but at the same time full of warmth and humour – definitely the best experience this year!

2016 has been another fantastic year to enjoy culture in London. I hope that 2017 is even better (and I hope to write more reviews!)



On fundraising with a heart full of love.

February 19, 2016

Alice: ‘I work for a charity’

Bob: ‘Aww’

Alice: ‘ .. as a fundraiser’

Bob: ‘Ah. *avoids eye contact*’

 Any fundraiser knows that conversation well.

Why do people want charities to do well but feel so uncomfortable around fundraisers? How can that be changed? Are all the headings below from Les Mis? Let’s find out.

‘There was a time when love was blind’

.. but now people are getting more educated about charities and increasingly care about how their money is being spent. We are learning that simply being for or against something (poverty, systems, abuse) doesn’t do it anymore. Many want to support those with solutions, or those actively looking for positive solutions, charities that are not just doing something but doing that something well. There are still charities that need to adjust to the new age of transparency and accountability and this very much includes fundraisers.

‘I don’t want your money, sir.’

OK, so no one is expecting fundraisers to say quite that, but no one wants them to get cash by harassing pensioners. Where is the line?

I think the starting point is to encourage a culture where all involved are respectful of the fact that people’s money is theirs, not the fundraiser’s. Just because a cause may be just, that doesn’t give anyone any kind of ethical claim over other people’s money.

‘Look down and show some mercy if you can!’

I strongly disagree with guilting or shaming people into giving. People may choose not to donate at all and it is their choice. Working for a charity doesn’t make one holier-than-thou and does not give an excuse to judge others.

‘Who cares about your lonely soul, we strive towards a larger goal’

Just no. If people decide to donate, it’s their prerogative to choose which cause is worthy of their money. Fundraisers can make their case, maybe try to persuade, but must never assume that they know ‘what really matters’ better than an individual. Giving is personal, and thoughtful giving is based on values that will not be easily influenced by the latest fundraising trend. If you can match people’s values and demonstrate a significant impact, your cause may become their cause.

‘Crying at all is not allowed’

I think that giving money to charity is a wonderful thing. It’s a privilege to be able to shape the kind of society that you want to live in. Fundraisers have an important role to present people with options to make the world a better place. Good fundraisers have a chance to make giving enjoyable, making donors feel empowered and valued.

‘There’s a new world for the winning!’

There is a new world to be won! There are so many opportunities for winning support by ethical fundraising now. Being respectful, ethical and appreciative will lead to increasing support. Because people want fundraisers to be nice (and it’s nice to be nice) and don’t like being tricked. Getting back (or going forward?) to these basic values gives us an opportunity to say ‘I am a fundraiser’ with pride.

My cultural education in 2015 (quick review)

December 31, 2015
  1. ‘Un Ballo in Maschero’ (ROH)

An enjoyable opera, made more enjoyable by seeing Dmitri Hvorostovskiy for the first time. It got poor reviews, which were not deserved in my opinion. The material itself is on the boring side but it was beautifully performed.

2. ‘Andrew Chenier’ (ROH)

The best discovery of this year. Jonas Kaufmann was beyond words – amazing! It was one of those rare experiences when you know that you are sitting (or standing in my case) during something very very special. Read more here

3. ‘Letters live’ (Masons Hall)

I saw Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston and Kylie Minogue. Praise here

4. ‘Eugene Onegin’ ballet (Royal Ballet)

Natalia Osipova was absolutely divine in this beautiful production.

5. ‘Madama Butterfly’ (ROH)

The stakes were high as this is one of my favourite operas of all time, however it did not disappoint at all! Kristina Opalais was great and I actually cried. Patrick’s first guest review

6. ‘Fleurs’ opera recital (Conway Hall)

It was a fine way to spend an evening without any cost and I heard a couple of my favourite poems performed in a new way. However, I am not sure if I would pay money to see it again.

7. ‘La Boheme’ (ROH)

Not the best production of Boheme but as Anna Netrebko was Mimi it was magical nevertheless! More details

8. ‘Raven Girl’ (Royal Ballet)

I am far from being an expert on modern ballet but this one was very gothic and interesting

9. ‘Sylvia’ ballet (Mariinskiy)

The highlight of our trip to St Petersburg. Very confident and forceful ballet. Almost rough, rather than elegant – a very interesting viewing, full of dramatic explosions and thunder-like notes. I didn’t write a review but here are some words from my diary describing the ballet – strong, raw, powerful, perfect, magical, a privilege to witness. Vladimir Shklyarov.

10. ‘Eugene Onegin’ opera (ROH)

A disappointing end to the year. While Hvorostovskiy was as brilliant as one can predict, the production was completely awful. My mum taught me not to say anything if you can’t say anything nice (sorry, mum) so I will stop there…

Overall, 2015 was a great year for my cultural education. Maybe I became more spoilt in my preferences – but it’s only because I had so many great experiences, my standards are incredibly high! I am glad to finish the year even more in love with London and the cultural opportunities it provides. Happy New Year!


On the Raven Girl (Royal Ballet)

October 6, 2015

Today I went to see the double bill of Raven girl and Connectone at the Royal Opera House.

I never wrote a ballet review before (although I’ve seen many) because I am not sure how to do that. However, this ballet took many risks so on this rare occasion I shall too.

Firstly, let me tell you about the Raven Girl. It narrated a story in a brave different way, making the experience challenging and thought-provoking. It was lovely to see a new story being told, so there were no pre-existing impressions, leaving the mind to wander and give full power to one’s imagination. It was amazing to see a ballet that dark. It was beautiful,  gothic, scary – simply wonderful. The visual effects were incredible – on par with Tim Burton movies – creating a brilliantly nightmarish atmosphere. A scene with a doctor attaching metallic wings to the Raven Girl was truly terrifying – I never felt this way seeing ballet before. Ballet fans know that if you have Sarah Lamb, Edward Watson and Olivia Cowley on stage, magic happens, and this time was no different.

The second ballet – Connectone was also beautiful but less impressive. I didn’t get the neuroscience theme and it felt a little forced. However, I got to see my favourite ballet dancer – Stephen McRae again so I was very happy anyway.

What made an evening even more unforgettable was sitting next to and chatting with Kenneth Tindall, former Principal of the Northern Ballet and choreographer. He was very friendly and it was fascinating to discuss ballet with such a knowledgable person.

To conclude: go see the Raven Girl. Tickets start from 2 pounds (yes, 2 pounds) – you will not be disappointed.

10 years in the UK

August 25, 2015

Exactly 10 years ago today I arrived in Heathrow to have an adventure in the UK. I was 16, already in love with England and with a place at Oxford & Cherwell college.

Many things happened since and my adventure is still going. Here are 10 things that I experienced on the journey to get to know the UK better.

1. Education

Studying here is the main reason why I moved and I am still studying! After finishing my college, and an undergraduate degree in law, I am only a month away from finishing my Masters Degree. I love studying in this country because you don’t just have to memorise things for the sake of passing exams but get to really evaluate the issues. Critical thinking is essential to getting good grades and that is the very essence of why the English university system is one of the best in the world.

2. Politics

I could write a lot here but I will mention a few highlights. I was involved in local, national and European elections and by-elections and had a chance to see how the English political system works. What I found most interesting is how easy it is to be involved, how competing interests are managed and how realistic it is for grassroots campaigners to influence real change. I had cake with the former Deputy Prime Minister, had a drink with the Monster Raving Loony Party, helped win a few elections and shared the disappointment of losing many more. I made great friends in politics and their enthusiasm made me not only appreciate how amazing England is but also how many people there are who are striving to make it even better. Oh, and I sat in the House of Lords!

3. Parties

Many parties have been had in the last 10 years. From drinking and playing chess in one of the Oxford colleges, to dancing all night with a bunch of goths, to intense debates about the meaning of life that last for 16 hours… I met many amazing people in England, some of them, I am certain, are my friends for life but more about them later. In general, I found that English people are interested in life, loyal and have drinking capacities that are no less than of those from my Motherland.

4. Culture

I have had unforgettable cultural experiences in England, many of which I shared on this blog. The highlights are seeing a Shakespeare play in Stratford with David Tennant in the main role, meeting opera stars at the after-show party in Glyndeborne, seeing Benedict Cumberbatch live and many many trips to the Royal Opera House. I also met Emma Watson from Harry Potter, went to a Doctor Who convention dressed as the TARDIS (definitely the finest television in all time and space) and saw the New College choir in one of the oldest English churches. As a Russian girl, culture is very important to my life and England proved to be more than capable of satisfying my soul.

5. Work places

Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been very interested in how places work. In the past 10 years I worked in pubs, charities and even a military organisation. That gave me a unique perspective of how different areas of English life work from the inside. Now I work for an amazing charity called LawWorks, which supports access to justice.

6. Legal world

After years and years of studying English Law, I am still in awe of its traditions, practices and complications.  I am very lucky to work in the heart of legal London with amazing lawyers who give up their time to help those who can’t afford legal advice and are not eligible for legal aid. I’ve only been there for a couple of months but I am struck by just how generous and passionate so many lawyers are. This kind of generosity is fundamental to British culture. Oh, and I sat in the Supreme Court!

7. Diversity

I am still amazed by how many different accents there are in the UK. Not only from foreigners, such as myself, but local people too. I spent time in Hastings, Oxford, Northampton, London, Liverpool, Cardiff, Edinburgh and different bits of the Countryside, including the West Country, Pembrokeshire, Oxfordshire and the Lake District. Each place has its unique identity – it is truly fascinating. Apart from one time when a drunken football fan was shouting ‘dirty Russian’ at me, I always felt very welcome here. I am eternally grateful to all who welcomed me in this country and made me feel that my foreign origin is an advantage, rather than a disadvantage. There has been a lot of negative press about immigration recently but in my experience I found that British people are truly hospitable and inclusive.

8. The Queen

We were invited to to the Royal Garden Party in the Buckingham Palace and saw the Queen. She looked lovely. Most people I know here don’t approve of the monarchy but I absolutely love living in a Kingdom.

9. Friends

There have also been challenges in living in the UK but a problem is not really a problem if you have family and friends to help you through it. I am incredibly lucky. Firstly, my own family sacrificed lots to afford to bring me here and always believed that I can succeed and achieve anything that I want. Secondly, there are so many friends and families of friends who always supported me and allowed me to share lots of wonderful moments in their lives. The key families are the Abbass-Saal family, who were my host family for many summers in Hastings while I was still at school; the Fine family, who not only let me live with them for a while but also supported me in the most crucial moments, without them I would not be able to stay here. Also, the Power family for many parties in Oxford and free holidays in Wales, and the Heaton family for many challenging and fascinating discussions (and also many parties in Oxford). I’ve never been alone or lonely in 10 years thanks to all my lovely friends. There are too many of them to mention in this blog but they know who they are.

10. Marriage

The last but the most important thing that happened to me while I’ve been here is finding my soul mate, a fellow Hobbit, Patrick. Considering my obsession with the UK and ginger people, it came as no surprise to anyone that my husband is British. We got engaged after a few months of knowing each other and now we’ve been married for over 4 years. My parents-in-law are celebrated academics, my sisters and brothers in law are all incredible lovely people and I am privileged to be a part of the Murray family. Oh, and their great great grandfather wrote the Oxford English Dictionary. #justsaying

On reflection, 10 years ago I made the right decision and I hope to have many more adventures in the UK. While Russia will always be my Motherland, I can honestly say that England feels like home.

Here is us celebrating in the Shard!

On La Bohème with Anna Netrebko (2015)

May 24, 2015

Dreams come true. Last night I saw Anna Netrebko – the best opera singer in the world, the legend and pride of Russia, and she was as fantastic as one expects.

I was very lucky to see her as Mimi in the opening night of La Bohème at the Royal Opera House. First night celebrations went really well, I’ve never seen such an atmosphere in the ROH!

Not that it was all perfect. It is difficult to sing high praise to a production that for some inexplicable reason added so much crude ‘humour’ into the opera. La Bohème has fantastic humour in its text already and it’s enough. Also, when Musetta sings Quango m’en vo’ solutta, one of the most recognised songs from the opera, why would you put her somewhere upstairs at the very edge of the stage, where no one could see or hear her? I have to admit my bias, I am extremely spoiled with a perfect Musetta – Susanna Philips, who in the Met production was so divine,  it has proven to be impossible (so far)  to be nearly as good as her. Still, they should have made their Musetta presence felt, it is not in her Act 1 nature to hide!

It is always lovely to discover singers who you would want to see again. This week’s it is Joseph Calleja (Rodolfo), Lucas Meachem (Marcello) and Marco Vinco (Colline).

However, most importantly, Anna Netrebko was there. It made everything amazing and the whole experience magical. I am overwhelmed with joy and can’t really comprehend that less than 24 hours ago it really happened.

There are plenty more performances left, lots of tickets available if you queue in the morning, don’t miss this opportunity! What I am trying to say is: I recommend it very much!

Here is a clip of Anna Netrebko:

On ‘Fleurs’ by Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton

April 29, 2015

Today I had the pleasure of experiencing a lovely recital of the new repertoire by Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton in Conway Hall.

The highlight for me was to hear two poems that I love performed beautifully. I would like to share their English translation with you here.

First, ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’ by Aleksandr Pushkin:

‘In the silence of the gardens, in the spring, in the darkness of the nights

An eastern nightingale sings over a rose.

But the dear rose does not feel, pays no heed,

And it swings and slumbers to the amorous hymn.

Are you not singing for a cold beauty?

Come to your senses, o poet, to what are you aspiring?

She does not listen, does not feel the poet;

You see, she blooms; you beseech – there is no answer.’



Second, ‘The Flower and the Butterfly’ by Victor Hugo:

‘The poor flower kept saying to the airborne butterfly:

‘Don’t fly away!

Our destinies are different: I stay put, you travel!

Yet we love one another, we live without human beings, 

Remote from them;

And we resemble one another – some say that both of us are flowers.

But alas! the breeze carries you off, while the earth ties me down –

What a cruel fate!

I would like my breath to perfume your flight in the sky!

You go, then you come back, they fly off again to shine elsewhere

So every morning you find me

Bathed in tears!

Ah please, so that our love may glide along faithfully

take root like me – or else give me wings

like you’

Congratulations to all involved on a lovely concert!

On the 2015 production of Madama Butterfly by the Royal Opera House

April 9, 2015

Went to see it this afternoon. This review is by a new guest author Patrick Murray

Set at the end of the Japanese period of isolation Puccini’s Madama Butterfly is a tragic tale, based on a true story, of an innocent young Geisha, Butterfly, who renounces her culture, religion and family to marry an American sailor, Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton. He abandons her, returning several years later with an American wife in tow. All this time Butterfly believes he will come back to her and raises their son. This is not to be. Forced to give up her son to the new American wife, she kills herself “to die with honour” rather than live without it.

Speaking of living without honour, where to start with Mr Pinkerton? He is a shallow, ignorant, arrogant man who respects nothing important. He does not respect Butterfly’s culture and he does not respect love. This is portrait of a man who is little more than a moral vacuum. However he does not marry her out of malice, but because he believes love is about joy and happiness and that this is a good intervention in Butterfly’s life, despite repeated warnings from his friend. Needless to say, Pinkerton is proven drastically wrong. His final moment of shameful dishonour is when, upon his return to Japan, he realises what he has done and stricken with guilt he flees as he cannot bring himself to face his former wife. It is left to others to clear up the mess he has made.

The production from the Royal Opera House was quite simply magnificent. Puccini’s rich, beautiful music was played brilliantly, from the dramatic crescendos to the tender moments of hope and heartbreak. The cast was superb. Kristine Opolais as Butterfly was incredible in particular, but it feels wrong to single out any particular individual.

It is not hard to miss the symbolism that Puccini is going for here. The final scene of her plunging a dagger into her chest as her son waves a miniature American flag whilst the cherry blossom falls from a tree speaks to that. In truth it is such an incendiary opera that one wonders whether Puccini would have prosecuted for incitement or radicalisation if he composed it today!

My only regret is that this was the final performance with Opolais so I can’t see it again. Just magnificent – 5 stars from me!

Patrick Murray

On ‘Letters Live’

April 4, 2015

Dear friends,

I have to write very briefly about the best evening of entertainment I’ve had in my life so far.

Completely by chance, and I am afraid to say, news of the fire in Holborn, I found out about the performance of ‘Letters Live’ in Freemasons Hall.

I saw Benedict Cumberbatch, Louise Brealey, Tom Hiddleston, Kylie Minogue, Matt Berry, to name a few. All about 3 metres away from me. But being starstruck didn’t last very long. It was the most intimate venue and they read the most intimate letters – by the second act, I felt so close to every single person there. Letters they read varied from very funny, such as a letter from Elvis Presley to Nixon, to heart-breaking, such as a letter written by a man, who was just sold to slavery, to his wife. Benedict Cumberbatch read Kurt Cobain’s last letter in such a way that no one in the audience remained tearless.

World class performers, an excellent collection of letters, almost a family atmosphere all made this an evening I will never ever forget. I was reminded of how precious letters are. I write some to my friend in Germany but I absolutely must write more.

Can’t write anymore now, I am far far too excited!