Mark Ronan
Latest Theatre Reviews

Magic Flute, Welsh National Opera, March 2023

March 20, 2023

Mozart’s final opera, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is a masterpiece. It sets the realm of night and obscurantism against that of daylight and rational thinking. These opposing worlds are ruled by the Queen of the Night, and Sarastro, named after the great Iranian prophet Zoroaster. Sadly the depth of this opera is lost in …

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Akhnaten, English National Opera, March 2023

March 19, 2023

Open are the double doors of the horizon/ Unlocked are its bolts. Thus intones the Scribe at the start of Philip Glass’s opera Akhnaten about an extraordinary king of Egypt. The staging starts with the funeral of his father Amenhotep III, and the transfer of power. It ends with modern archaeologists examining ancient fragments, and a …

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Lucrezia Borgia, and Il Viaggio a Reims, English Touring Opera, ETO, March 2023

March 6, 2023

English Touring Opera is a gem of a company. It creates sensible productions and tours them widely from Exeter to Durham. This review covers Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia and Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims. Unable to afford big name directors who sometimes bend the original creation to their will, ETO gives us what the composer intended, allowing …

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Rusalka, Royal Opera, February 2023

February 26, 2023

Can a force of nature acquire a soul? This is what the water nymph Rusalka wants, to become human. As she says to her father the water spirit Vodník, humans have souls and go to heaven when they die. But souls are full of sin, says Vodník, …  and of love she responds. Dvořak’s opera Rusalka pits the powers of nature, particularly …

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Rheingold, English National Opera, February 2023

February 22, 2023

This new staging of Rheingold is part of a new production of Wagner’s Ring being produced in collaboration with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Director Richard Jones has given us a clear set of allusions in a modern setting, rather than a simplistic interpretation overlaid with subtleties that no audience member can fathom without reading …

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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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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