Mark Ronan
Latest Theatre Reviews

Tosca, English National Opera, Sept 2022

October 3, 2022

As a musical performance of Tosca this was simply wonderful. The opera is straightforward to stage, requiring only three sets: the interior of a large church, a substantial apartment (Scarpia’s) in the vast Farnese Palace, and the upper parts of the Castel Sant’Angelo, all in Rome. This new production for the English National Opera — …

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Aida, Royal Opera, September 2022

September 30, 2022

In 1869 Ismail Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt built an opera house in Cairo — the first in Africa. It opened with a successful performance of Rigoletto, but the Khedive — the title meant Viceroy within the Ottoman Empire— was keen to impress the world even more by presenting a new Verdi opera. My review …

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The Makropulos Affair, Welsh National Opera, September 2022

September 19, 2022

A centuries-old lady retains her youth and beauty thanks to an elixir. In Karel Čapek’s story, the Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II — notorious for his patronage of the occult — asked his alchemists to create a potion that would confer an additional 300 years of life. He was told to try it out on his sixteen …

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Salome, Royal Opera, September 2022

September 13, 2022

Based on Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play Salomé, this opera uses the nexus of eroticism and death to dramatise proto-Christian ideas in the Holy Land. Its main protagonists are the anti-heroine Salome and John the Baptist whose head she demands on a platter. Conducting by Alexander Soddy fully brought out the drama, sexuality and passion of …

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Der Ring des Nibelungen, Bayreuth, August 2022

August 9, 2022

To say that this new Ring at Bayreuth never quite settles down is to put things politely. The young director Valentin Schwarz has lots of ideas, but they never really gel. There is no coherent vision bringing them all together. To put it bluntly his efforts are a failure — see my review in The Article.

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Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Bayreuth, Aug 2022

August 4, 2022

No gold. No Ring. This new production at Bayreuth has offended almost everyone, but contains interesting ideas while departing from Wagner’s story in many ways. For example it is not Hunding who kills Siegmund, but Wotan himself. Sieglinde is already pregnant when Siegmund encounters her. Oh, and Wotan and Alberich are twin brothers! My review …

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Latest Journalism

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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Dark Matters

Academics in this country need to allow new ideas rather than orthodoxy and group-think. See my article in The Critic on 22 June 2020 about the dis-invitation of a physicist who was scheduled to give a technical talk.

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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