Mark Ronan
Latest Theatre Reviews

Don Giovanni, Glyndebourne, May 2023

May 23, 2023

Mozart’s most renowned operas are the three he wrote in the late 1780s to libretti by Lorenzo da Ponte: Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte. Sadly da Ponte’s benefactor, the Habsburg Emperor Joseph II, died in February 1790, bringing the writer’s income to an end and effectively terminating his collaboration with Mozart. One wonders what …

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Wozzeck, Royal Opera, May 2023

May 23, 2023

A composer’s first opera may well be forgotten, though certainly not that of Viennese composer Alban Berg — Wozzeck (succeeded by Lulu, which was competed just after Berg’s early death at the age of 50) remains very much in the international repertory. Based on a play by the German dramatist Georg Büchner who died very …

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Blue, English National Opera, April 2023

April 24, 2023

Growing up as a black male in Harlem, New York there are rules for avoiding police attention, for example by never ever running away. His father, a police officer — who corrects him whenever he uses the term cop — has taught him these rules. A loving and caring man who won’t be pushed around …

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Innocence, Royal Opera, April 2023

April 19, 2023

A school shooting reverberates ten years later when one of the plotters is about to get married. His bride has no idea her husband-to-be is the brother of the teenager who shot ten students and one teacher. But one waitress, Tereza at the wedding reception knows very well. After working abroad she is drafted in …

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Turandot, Royal Opera, April 2023

April 13, 2023

Soprano Catherine Foster finally arrived in London, thank goodness. An English nurse who took up singing and made her name in the German speaking world on the Continent, she already sang Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Ring at Bayreuth ten years ago. Since then she only got better. Four years ago I was bowled over to hear …

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Latest Journalism

Vandalism at the Coliseum: why we should not let the ENO die

Is the English National Opera dying? Or does it stand at the threshold of new developments? The argument for death is that it has difficulty filling the London Coliseum, a vast auditorium that accommodates an audience of about two and a half thousand. It cannot survive without a decent subsidy from the state. Can we afford it? As for the idea of moving the whole thing to Manchester, Arts Council England has certainly not evaluated the logistics nor the implications of its hasty decision. My essay in The Article.

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Reality check: mathematics is not racist

Engaging with students on the history of mathematics would do far more than pretending that the subject abounds with racism. My article in The Critic, 18 March 2021

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A new lease of life for Schrödinger’s Cat? Carlo Rovelli’s Helgoland

A review of Carlo Rovelli’s new book on quantum theory, dealing with the superposition of two states, and quantum entanglement. The Article, 4 March 2021.

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Just keep swimming

Those of us who partake in open air swimming should be allowed to return to this miraculous prophylactic, despite the semi-lockdown. The Critic, 12 November 2020.

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US Election History — a personal view

Recollections about elections from the post-Vietnam era when I first went to America, and their relevance today. The Article, 11 November 2020.

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The man behind the Monster

The man who first glimpsed the Monster has died. He came to this vision via very precise arguments, but later had to fight German students who wanted to cancel his branch of mathematics. We need his type again to fight the new battle against those who would turn mathematics from careful argument and precision to woolliness and confusion. The Critic 24 August 2020.

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Decolonise … maths?

If ‘decolonising maths’ means reassessing who did what, we need to put Greek geometry into perspective. Who invented algebra? And for modern arithmetic we have to thank the Sumerians, whose ethnicity and skin colour remains conveniently unknown. My article in The Critic, 7 July 2020

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Feature

Symmetry and the Monster is the story of a mathematical quest that began two hundred years ago in revolutionary France, led to the biggest collaboration ever between mathematicians across the world, and revealed the ‘Monster’ – not monstrous at all, but a structure of exquisite beauty and complexity.

This book tells for the first time the fascinating story of the biggest theorem ever to have been proved. Mark Ronan graphically describes not only the last few decades of the chase, but also some of the more interesting byways, including my personal favourite, the one I called “Monstrous Moonshine”.

John H. Conway, von Neumann Chair of Mathematics, Princeton University


Opera on 3: for the BBC Radio 3 broadcast (on 19 November 2016) of Parsifal from this summer’s Bayreuth Festival, I was the guest with presenter Christopher Cook. We discussed the opera and its production, which I reviewed for the Daily Telegraph on 27 July 2016.


Truth and Beauty: The Hidden World of Symmetry

On the face of it, symmetry may seem simple, but diving beneath the surface reveals a whole new world. Over the last 100 years, the mathematical idea of symmetry has proved to be a guiding light for the world of physics. But what does a mathematician mean by symmetry? How does this link in with the world around us? And could it be the key to the mysterious ‘Theory of Everything’?

This was a BBC Radio programme on Symmetry in the Naked Scientists series. Here is the link