Mark Ronan
Latest Theatre Reviews

Il segreto di Susannah, and I pagliacci

July 21, 2024

In this excellent double bill the lightness of Wolf-Ferrari’s I segreto di Susannah (the secret is she smokes) was followed by the disturbing emotions displayed in Leoncavallo’s opera about a troupe of actors, brilliantly conducted and performed at OHP. See my review in The Article.

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Un giorno di regno, Garsington, July 2024

July 14, 2024

Congratulations to Garsington for putting on this feisty production of Verdi’s second opera. The story is absurd, but the music is full of oomph and the staging was a delight. — see my review in The Article.

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Ernani, La Canterina, The Boatswain’s Mate, Buxton Festival, July 2024

July 12, 2024

Of the four operas I saw in four days at Buxton, The Boatswain’s Mate by Ethel Smyth was the most fun. Like Haydn’s La Canterina this was really an operetta, both providing a delightful contrast to the blood and thunder of Verdi’s Ernani. Only Peter Brook’s take on Carmen seriously disappointed — see my review …

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Edgar, Opera Holland Park, July 2024

July 6, 2024

Puccini’s first opera was Le Villi, and his third the very successful Manon Lescaut. The stepping stone between them was Edgar, a work that demonstrated the composer’s budding lyricism, but suffered from a weak libretto — see my review in The Article.

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Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, Longborough, July 2024

July 3, 2024

Under the baton of Anthony Negus this Ring cycle was outstanding, and of course a tremendous achievement for Longborough Festival Opera. The singers excelled themselves, and this venue has become a mini-Bayreuth — see my review in The Article.

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Latest Journalism

The brilliance of Babylonian Mathematics

The achievements of Babylonian mathematics are still poorly recognised, but these were the people who treated numbers in the abstract way we do today, rather than as lengths, areas or volumes. This began before 2000 BC, and enabled them to develop formulas where a square could be added to a length. In particular they not only knew Pythagoras’s theorem but had a formula for producing three side lengths for a right-angled triangle, something the Greeks could not do well over a millennium and a half later. See my article in Engelsberg Ideas.

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How modern Numbers came to Europe

Our modern representation of numbers is the result of a complex process that can be traced back to the ancient Near East, via India and the Arab world — see my article in Engelsberg Ideas.

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The Pythagoras Myth

Contrary to popular belief, Pythagoras was by no means the discoverer of his eponymous theorem – it had already been known for over a thousand years. In popular perception however he became the source of the famous theorem about right-angled triangles: The Square on the Hypotenuse is equal to the Sum of the Squares on the Other Two Sides, a great result – serious mathematics indeed. But it has little to do with Pythagoras — see my article in Engelsberg Ideas.

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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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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