...I was summoned with three hours' notice to the BBC News 24 studios. The reason was loosely connected, I guess, with that surprising incident at what turned out to be a big party to celebrate Nelson Mandela's life (and incidentally I can't see under such circumstances why the hypocritical Daily Mail is at it again, condemning Obama's 'selfie' with glamorous Danish PM and not so glam Cam after he'd given such a wonderful speech). My studio and newsroom shots are a bit fuzzy as I didn't want to disturb with flash. There had booing at La Scala - che sorpresa - following what looked like a rather inventive new production of La Traviata by hit-and-miss genius Dmitri Tcherniakov, and the news folk seemed most interested in the fact that tenor Piotr Beczala (pictured below by Johannes Ifkovits) had also got a boo or two. Full focus was on him, it seems, because he Facebooked that he'd never return to Italy after that experience.
I explained that as I wasn't there I couldn't comment authoritatively, but they wanted me there all the same and drummed up George Loomis, who had attended, in the Paris studio. He looked comfortable there with a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower, whereas I was a bit overawed by the new television centre headquarters behind the much more familiar (to me) old Broadcasting House.
There were hordes of people around reception, plus cameramen outside waiting for Katie Perry (about whom I know only the name and what she does). Then I was whisked down a corridor overlooking the largest newsroom in Europe - impressive and Metropolis-y - to the studio where Tim Willcox was waiting.
To makeup first, and a chat with a lovely lady who told me how they're all on freelance contrasts, shocking. And then to the vast studio where there were only a man who pinned on my mike, two cameramen and Tim. I never spoke to him properly, got a nod as I sidled into a chair beside him and double-checked the pronunciation of 'Beczala' (Bechawa). I'd hoped there would be more about Tcherniakov, but it was mostly about tenors and why this one was booed.
From the excerpts on YouTube, I've no idea (why): Beczala, as I know, has style and musicianship most tenors with a voice as good as his completely lack. 'De' miei bollenti spiriti' is lovely, and done while rolling out pastry with Damrau's Violetta, a perfect image of domesticity (though as with other supposed soliloquies in the opera Tcherniakov breaks the rules and gives the singer a springboard for reaction). If anything's to be criticised it's conductor Gatti's heavy tempi, though the Italians don't seem to have noticed those.
Despite pushing the voice dangerously in the public denunciation of Violetta, Beczala didn't crack - though he does on a wicked clip from a 2012 production of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette in a YouTube series called 'Perle nere' - 'black pearls'. Botha is on there too so Beczala is in fine company; it happens to the best. I want to see the whole of the show now - especially intrigued why Damrau is fancy-wigged as Jean Harlow in Act One and as 1970s Bette Midler in II.ii when the essential look is contemporary.
Anyway, I was walking back to the taxi from the rather intimidating telly wing when nice co-ordinator Victoria Sill ran after me. BBC World Service had seen the live couple of minutes, liked it and wondered if I'd come back in to do a radio slot. Typically, this was more relaxed and I had fun with World Service Newshour presenter Tim Franks. Wonder if anyone saw the 'telly' - I just have, since Victoria very efficiently sent me the film without my even having to ask - but the radio chunk, neatly edited, is downloadable here (my bit's right at the end of the 'US Cuba Handshake' instalment). For the next two and a half days, there;s also Radio 3 iPlayer access to my chat with treasured colleague Marina Frolova-Walker and Music Matters presenter Tom Servicec on Stephen Walsh's excellently written but oddly marketed/presented book about Musorgsky and the Five.
Not much to add about mighty and compassionate Madiba, except that while dining on superb Indian dishes at friends Anupam and Paul on Sunday I brought up Peter Tatchell's equivocal response - which was that Mandela was unquestionably a great man, but from the great we expect so much, and he could have done more when it came to speaking out against Mugabe - apparently he never did - and dealing with HIV/AIDS in South Africa. To which Chris Smith, aka Baron Smith of Finsbury, the first out gay MP and so a bit of a hero of mine*, responded that the day after he'd proclaimed his own HIV status, he got a message asking him to call Nelson Mandela and on ringing the number found the man himself on the end of the line. No other major figure showed that kind of solidarity at the time.
When I emailed Chris to ask if he'd mind my mentioning and/or naming him, he added 'one of the things that had prompted me to say something publicly...was his speech after his son's death when he said we can only defeat HIV by being open about it, and talking about it'.
That personal touch sounds typical - lovely slot in the middle of Tuesday's World Service coverage where the daughter of a white activist remembers him not only coming to their Camden home at the time of her father's funeral, but staying for tea and interrupting a speech to say hello to a neighbour he knew. At last tears did come to my eyes after all the generalised - if well deserved - eulogising. There's a nice tribute from colleague Jillian Edelstein on The Arts Desk, describing her experience of photographing Mandela in 1997. Here's her shot of a man we usually see smiling and extrovert rather than pensive.
*Speaking out against a possible ban on gay employees in Rugby, he said: 'Good afternoon, I'm Chris Smith, I'm the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury. I'm gay, and so for that matter are about a hundred other members of the House of Commons, but they won't tell you openly'.