Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Carmen Inspired

The final piece of the twelve week Chelsea Academy Carmen Inspired project (see our website for the project blog) falls into place today when the students give their performances at an event at Cadogan Hall. We are making a short film of today so watch this space for links to that which no doubt we will plonk on the web somewhere. A really exciting day for them I hope and we are all looking forward to it.

The podcast went well with Ed and I did my utmost to sound as hinged as possible. That will be on the web soon too so you'll be able to make your own mind up. I think some interesting stuff was said along the way...

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

James and I are recording a podcast for the Independent today. Ed Seckerson who does these for the paper and syndicates them elsewhere never seems to edit them; which is a good or bad thing depending on how ridiculous the things you say are. I did one with him last year and I still think I sound a touch unhinged on it.

Podcasts are good things now that people are used to the whole process of getting them, not to mention the streaming, press and play nature of most websites. If you have the money you can fill your website with films and podcasts and all manner of fancy content. Very nice too, if you can dredge up the resources. I have doubts that the costs are totally commensurate with the ticket sales it all generates but it doesn't do any harm I am sure.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Get on with it

The news that Scotland and the north are about to be deluged with snow is a timely reminder that in the UK at this time of year you really can get four seasons in one day. We, meanwhile, soldier on with the build and today saw the arrival of the first elements of the lighting installation. I just shared a pint or two of Spring Cottage Biscuit ale (recent tipples have included Cornish Knockers - the Brits like to have fun with their beer names) with Ops manager Stu and he appears to be taking possessive ownership of the site. He is one of the less brusque Aussies I know but I still sense the first 'effoff and suck yer own pineapple' isn't far away; this will be a good thing and a momentous step in his development.

The box office had a mightily busy day today but appeared to cope admirably. Forza is going all guns blazing and is absurdly popular. Our Friends have been extremely demanding in their desires and have purchased significantly more tickets than at the same point last season. Am I complaining? You can bet a pair of Cornish Knockers I'm not.

The school thing we did was amazing. Ms Boylan was stupendous and brilliant and I can't thank her enough. Her la mamma morta was mind bogglingly good and her way with the students most expert. She is a Star (note the capital S) with a heart of gold.

Saturday, 27 March 2010


It happens every year; we open the online bookings and for the first hour carnage ensues. Irritating as it is, it is sometimes sheer weight of traffic but the hackles do go up when those who support us technically always act surprised at the volume. A few issues came up yesterday that were a first for us although those same techies tell us that none of this is new - of course not. Well readers of this blog and followers of my Twitter made their feelings known and gave us the odd heads up. New systems are in the pipeline. At one point we had three different servers in different parts of the world suffering the screaming hab dabs for one reason or another. Eventually we opened the phones. Several thousand tickets were sold yesterday alone. Hard hats and saline drips have been prepared for Monday. St Johns Ambulance might have to be in attendance too.
One obvious cause of the rush is the ten pound ticket allocation. Hardly surprising. A couple of thousand went on sale online yesterday and had gone within the blink of an eye. Another couple of thousand go on sale on Monday via the phone (not everybody has online access) and no doubt others will be disappointed. It is frustrating that we cannot give more - Dannii Minogue still hasn't sent the cheque (see earlier blog post if that confuses you). The temptation is to start restricting how many one person can buy of these tickets and perhaps we will look at a booking period just for ten pound seats, stagger their release etc. Making it as fair as possible for everybody is the real challenge.
I am working on a scheme whereby companies and donors can contribute units of money to specifically subsidise further blocks of ten pound seats....more anon. My personal aim is to get up to ten thousand seats at £10 in the season. These would be spread evenly across the six for the first five thousand seats as they are now and then donors could decide what productions they would like to enable people to see. Obviously we need to work out details but watch this space. It might take a while to get to that golden figure of 10,000 but don't bet against us getting there. We will need a better box office system though!

Thursday, 25 March 2010


I have decided that getting ahead of schedule can be a frustrating experience; you start to grumble when contractors can't take up the earlier slot that has now opened up for them. That then leaves you with empty days that you frantically try to fill with other smaller jobs. I'm not complaining because clearly it beats being behind schedule but the trick, I suppose, is to give each job less time next year (then you will fall behind schedule but will have a month long "safety period" to fall back on). The mezzanine has fair flown up in two days and it sits proudly alone like a giant modern sculpture beneath the vast roof. Just the glass to go in and we will be able to have a party on it although guests would have to climb the zip tower to get onto the floor. There might be a PR opportunity right there.

Talking of which, I was sent a copy of an interview with James and I in this months festival edition of 'Opera' magazine. The writer, Nick Kimberley, in composing a very good piece, has quoted me as referring to myself as a 'melodramatic Italian tart'. I could tell who in the office was reading it by the hoots and snorts of recognition. I can't blame Nick for the fact that in the industry magazine, in which one would like to present oneself as a serious opera professional, one has caricatured oneself thus. Alas, one has to accept its truth. This crashed home to me this morning as I flounced out of the house muttering Neapolitan profanities at Fiora's wilful truculence over playing with the forbidden fruits of Sally's make-up bag. Melodramatic Italian tarts make no concession to the fact that her second birthday is still five months away.

I look forward to tonight when my children's school indulge in an evening of operatic endeavour. In such an environment, melodramatic Italian tarts are tolerated.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Up we go...

The mezzanine starts to take shape. We are a little ahead of schedule...

X Factor and free tickets

Today's post will seem a little surreal but be patient with me.
Last night I had a peculiar dream in which I was watching a programme on TV that was a strange hybrid of the 'X Factor' and 'Britain's got talent' and Dannii Minogue began to launch into a tirade about young people not seeing enough opera (there had been a vaguely operatic act on stage). Anyway if you are still with me, hang on in there. Dannii said that she thought that all young people needed were free tickets. Then, oddly, the actor who plays the religious guy in Eastenders - who also happens to be a serial killer - Don somebody or other - came on stage to talk to Dannii; actually this is not so odd because years ago that actor did play a non-singing role in a production of Beggar's Opera at Holland Park. Alora, this actor told Dannii about this place called Opera Holland Park who give 1200 free tickets to young people (by now I was beside myself, phoning James and urging him to turn to the channel on which this huge publicity coup was happening).
Dannii vehemently proclaimed that 1200 was not enough and asked how much it would cost to provide 5000 free tickets and said she and her fellow judges, including Simon Cowell who was sitting beside her nodding in agreement, would put up the money. Don, the serial killing preacher, was impressively on top of his game and told Dannii it would cost £116,000 which is pretty much spot on.
"I would do anything", said Dannii sincerely, "to get you young buggers to the opera. This Holland Park place is going to get a big surprise tomorrow!" And the audience rose to roar her on. Meanwhile I was frantically trying to phone the programme to tell her where to send the money. And then I woke up with a horrible anxiety because I thought she would never find out where to send the cheque.
Now, that entire dream was absolutely how it happened. And when you stop to think about it, that is all it would take to genuinely bring our young people into theatres too. Just theatres - you know, pick up a paper, check the listings, go to an opera. Not dressed in pop garb, no stadium spectacles, failed pop singers or rags to riches pub karaoke singers. Just good old fashioned cultural experience given a great big kick up the arse start with a hundred grand of cash.
I'm getting in touch with Dannii's agent today and everybody reading this should mail it to everybody you know -let's get the X Factor doimg some good!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Port out...

I view a glass of port as a luxury at the best of times but on a Monday night it is positively indulgent. I bought a bottle on impulse when I was feeling chilled and damp after an hour on site - the weather has turned most un-spring like again. Still, never fear, a small long range weather forecasting outfit in Cambridge somehwere (odd because they get the prevailing weather last of all over that way) have said we are due the hottest summer since 1976 or since Emperor Hadrian was in the hot seat or some such elongated passage of time.

Good. The rain was horizontal today and you'd get wet standing at the centre of the covered space at the theatre.

The mezzanine is prepared and will rise from the ground tomorrow like some constructivist set (or a giant Meccano house - pick your own cultural reference). People are starting to gaze through the fence at the build.

I'm drowning my anxieties in an ever growing catalogue of chaotic late Italian opera - Giordano's Mala Vita is the latest.

Friday, 19 March 2010


I'm in the middle of a series of meetings with PR companies who we may charge with supporting our annual work in this field since OHP the brand gets bigger but the office staff count doesn't.
However, perhaps by way of karmic warning, I had an encounter yesterday that demonstrated unequivocally that no matter how hard you work to foster an image, patrons' personal experience or views can quickly render all that you purport to be - or in reality are - worthless. The patron in question was objecting to our admin fee - a small charge on the entire booking and not per ticket. Anyway, the point is not so much the charge itself but the depth of feeling and expression it evoked. The letter of complaint laid a barrage of caricaturistic (have I made that word up?) accusations at our feet: 'nasty' was the least of them and if I am honest I was quite impressed by the lyricism of his opprobrium. I engaged him and feel I may have re calibrated his view somewhat but the point is that after years of happy, willing patronage, one small charge could have rightly or wrongly poisoned his whole view of us.

I do sometimes feel that the modern patron spends much of their time railing against the PR culture whilst falling hook line and sinker for it at other times. The obvious conclusion is that we buy only the message we are willing to buy. It is also a long held belief of mine that PR often seems to reach over the heads of the product's primary audience - PR for PR's sake as it were. And the unpardonable sin of believing your own PR is one that continues to be committed without end.

We need, of course to tell people what we are doing, hence talking to these companies, but the golden rule that the only kind of business is repeat business still applies. It is not lost on either James or me that no PR in the world will save rubbish work. It is also true that the best PR in the world won't change an unyielding mind even when the work is magnificent. But the devil is often in the detail and (coining, literally, yet another cliché) if you look after the pennies the pounds will look after themselves. My complaining client was not happy, I suspect, to get a reply that disagreed with him but was content to get one at all. PR, like charity, seems to begin at home.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Funny old world

Just a short note.  We had sent a proof copy of a gala poster, for his approval,  to Richard Bonynge. However he is away and Dame Joan Sutherland approved it instead. Just thought I'd mention it since it isn't too often you hear that.
I'm glad she liked it though.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Memories and melancholia

A walk to work with the voice of Roberto Murolo in my ears. Murolo is one of the great authentic Nnapulitan singers; him and a guitar alone, aching melancholia drenched in the visceral regional accent, words that even other Italians don't understand. I don't know of any other music with such profound 'L'esprit du lieu' and it evokes summers in Salerno with the family, when mum was making the memories she has now lost -although she still remembers Roberto Murolo. I have still to decide if I think that is a blessing or a curse.

Lea is sending me a poster that is being used to advertise the master class/concert that I have arranged at her and Gianluca's school. The fabulous Orla Boylan is coming over to take upper school students through pieces they have prepared and will then give a short recital before joining the combined choirs for the final chorus from Iolanta in Russian. Great credit should go to the head of music there, Ben Parsons, for being so ambitious on behalf of his students. It should be a great evening and a real thrill for the youngsters to sing with Orla.

The away day went well and in a year's time we shall look back, as we did yesterday on last year, and hopefully see the various wish lists coming to fruition. We have a habit of creating monsters that leap from nothing and force us to chase them around; we manage to get them on a tight leash eventually but yesterday certainly showed that we haven't lost any ambition. Expect monsters to pop up all through the coming year.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


Sally, who is a stock librarian, asked me to do a list of book suggestions to be printed up and posted in the library for readers. I dashed off a varied list that won't give me entry to the house of literary sages but it did make me wonder at how opera is so much more shackled by prejudice (benign or otherwise) when it comes to what people will venture out to see and hear. OHP, of course, has a better record than many in this regard - we have persuaded thousands of people to extend their operatic tastes, but even we meet entrenched resistance with some parts of the repertoire and no matter how good you tell somebody an opera is, they will dig their heels in and refuse to give it a try. 'Better the devil you know' would seem to be the principle criteria.

Music is unique in this regard which is odd since it is the art form with the most infinite possibilities. People who happily read new book after new book, see play after play, watch latest movie after latest movie will restrict themselves to the narrowest repertoire of opera (you know the form) and even when they do explore the edges, there will often be other rules of engagement - in my experience the rarity stands a better chance if it is Italian. And offering it cheaper only makes a partial contribution to improving that situation. I have mountains of statistics to back this up by the way so don't argue with me.

I'm not complaining that people flock to what they know - it means we can safely programme the bulk of our season. Our many years of work mean that we can also safely (almost) programme some rarities that others would consider potential disaster. But I do wish that unknown, but good operas (and I'm not talking about contemporary opera although some of those do quite well relatively speaking) would be greeted with the same universal excitement as a new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I will leave the reader to luxuriate in the irony of that last remark.

The build is ahead of schedule and the mezzanine part of the construction has been moved forward a week. At this rate we will have so much time for the finishing touches (vital!) that we will be able to hand polish the gravel.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Climate control

I seem to be on a trawl through American literature at the moment (Of Mice and Men, To kill a mockingbird, Confederacy of Dunces, No Country for old Men etc.) and virtually all wallow in the climate of their settings which, apropos of nothing else in particular except that sun and warmth figure prominently, increases the anxieties for the summer ahead. I need to start reading books that celebrate the cold and rain. La Wally in 2011 features an avalanche so it is possible I will welcome a chill north wind come July next year.

There can't be too many opera managers who worry and fret about the weather as much as we do. The concerns for our artistic output do battle with those for the output of Gulfstream and if you believe half of what you read, that is about to head south, leaving us in the grip of an iceage. This past winter has been a rehearsal for such an event so it is lovely to report that my Earls Court cafe seat is bathed in genuinely warm sunshine this morning.

Tomorrow the office decamp to a local hostelry for our now annual away day where everybody gets a chance to contribute to strategic planning for the coming two years or so. If the weather holds it will be pleasant since the hostelry meeting room overlooks the river Thames and Hammersmith Bridge. OK, it isn't Kowloon or Sydney Harbour but it beats the Library roof hands down.

Sunday, 14 March 2010


Had to post a short news item;
'Warm air in Fulham shock'
Off for walk up the Kings Road. Apparently Sally's moisturiser can only be found in a boutique in Sloane Square.


I had a thoroughly blokey afternoon in the pub where I met up with a few pals after the Chelsea match. The conversation soon turned to opera.
One of those present is a big rock/metal fan and I was soon holding forth on my theory that opera can be a lot like Judas Priest. I believe this fellow would hear much to admire in Wagner or even Verdi. Indeed I have always felt that growing up listening to the grand episodic music of Yes and Genesis gave me a facility for appreciating opera (where George Duke and jazz fits in I am not so sure). Anyway by the end of the afternoon we had arranged a West London heavy metal chapter trip to the opera to test my theory. A common refrain from those who feel unable to confess a curiosity is that their wife or girlfriend would love it so they will suffer the hardship on their behalf. Regardless I had done my bit (a daily target) to spread the word.

Saturday, 13 March 2010


I have deleted the Villazon post; I'm not a critic..

I have the latest variant/mutant retroinfluenzavirus etc that Fiora has made firm friends with at nursery. She invites them over without asking; they arrive about once a fortnight and enjoy coming here, turning up in Bermuda shorts and sunglasses and making themselves very much at home. Fiora (who is asleep in the new gum boots she refuses to remove)merely has a runny nose for an hour but I appear to encourage greater aggression and bring out the worst in them. They in turn bring out the worst in me (ears, nose, cough etc). I think I would prefer the hangover.

It was a good week for the build. Monday, weather permitting, will see the fabric unfurled and readied for hoisting into position. Once the sky is blotted out the creation of the theatre can begin in earnest and I am only worried by the fact everything seems to be going well. People like us are not at our best when things are going well - it's a little perverse I agree but that is just the way it is. I might invent a problem tomorrow (come to think of it I haven't yet dealt with Tarzan's security hut?)

Friends are booking thousands of tickets but I will not have the clear picture for a little while. The Friends, at all levels, are being terribly generous and supportive at the moment; our membership is well up, donations are growing, our lecture series could have been sold twice or even three times over and the annual 'Prelude' concert is almost at its limit. To top it all the new production syndicate has been very popular at our first attempt. All very humbling really and our gratitude is endless.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


It would seem that the lavish new dressing rooms that we have designed for 2010 are not a moment too soon in their creation. Previously, our stars have shown commendable patience when confronted by cabins joined by leaky walkways.  And neither have they enjoyed much privacy - a school of thought (one that has the smack of truth to it) determines that the communal nature of the OHP backstage area is an integral part of our success. However, the burgeoning roster of starry singers gathering for the Richard Bonynge Gala will be delighted to find they have arrived, by comparison, in the Algonquin. Enough separate rooms now exist, lavishly appointed, and with doors sturdy enough to post small name plates. In the world of the temporary theatre we rank in the upper echelons technically. From the accommodation point of view, there wasn't an echelon low enough to warrant the use of the word. Such advances matter.

James and I are turning to confront Wagner.  He sits at home listening to Dutchman ("Its bloody overture is longer than the whole of L'amico Fritz") and I can almost hear his brain whirring from here. I have no fear that we'll make the right call on this one; we took ten years to decide the time was right for L'amore. No doubt it will make the board when - and only when - we have the nerve, the resources and the right planets have aligned. I cannot deny that it is an exciting prospect though. Wagner is a part of our journey to this point, if only in spirit. So, I suppose, is Debussy who makes his debut in June. Come to think of it, Beethoven's Fidelio carried with it a frisson of fear and that too returns in the summer in the form of a revival of our splendid 2003 production so maybe we worry too much. Hubris, however, is forever haunting us; it knows us because we know it right back. Many things that make us successful 'impresarios' can be self defeating burdens but blessed be their unmistakeable weight, ensuring we remain fully aware of them.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Building blocks

It has long been an ambition to move the security hut in which our site guardian lives from the line of site of our audience. It has been a carbuncle on the aesthetic journey of the last few years and now we have a solution; we have put a smaller one on the other side of the wall. However on visiting the site yesterday I was met by something that gave a good approximation of what the Colossus of Rhodes must have looked like. Perched on spindle legs was a small metal box with shuttered windows - the roof of this thing was into the lower bowers of a huge horse chestnut. The operative who will use it is going to need a harness and rock climbing skills to get into it. It is henceforth known as the tree house but those legs are going to need lowering because when I said we have lofty ambitions for the site I wasn't being literal.Generally speaking, the steel rises in preparation for the canopy install (as the pictures illustrate)

Opening the door to change can always invite the cold wind of calamity to blast through your carefully laid plans. Our carefully laid 'lawns' and plywood are under threat from anxious cherry picker and crane drivers at the moment too. Gentle coaxing helped them solve a potential problem yesterday and our lawn continues to be bruise and rut free but a watchful eye will need to remain focused on them.Today I am meeting a chap who aims to launch an outdoor opera festival in France and who wants to pick my brains about our operation. I'm certain he'll have lawns on the site he intends to use so he has come to the right man.

Monday, 8 March 2010

The Whole Heart

Freezing. Absolutely perishing, but dry and bright which will do. The cold is being held at bay by my macchiato and the beautiful interlude from Francesca da Rimini 'Per la Terra Di Maggio'. Lithe and dreamy, its solo cello and angelic chorus are enough to warm the heart. My ears are kept warm by enormous headphones which, whilst delivering an unrivalled audio experience (for me and anybody within twelve yards) make my head look like a croquet mallet if I'm in silhouette. One must suffer for one's art but not so much that I don't wear a hood to hide the equipment.

Zandonai's opera really is, like L'amore dei tre Re, an exciting prospect. Infused with music that you are frequently left open mouthed by there is a palpable sense that we have a real treat in store for audiences. The company puts their whole heart into such jewels although that is no guarantee of course; I read somewhere that even when working with the whole heart you are bound to suffer failures from time to time and often the whole heart is the reason.. But it is a good starting point. Right now, the whole heart has to get me over Kilimanjaro on a bike so I'll bid you farewell - a domani.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Long and winding road

The journey begins tomorrow. You'd suppose by now that after so many years it would be a doddle but there is always that same feeling of trepidation: so many unknowns lurk in the distance. Of course I don't wish to sound anything but positive - the mysteries of the few months to come make them worth waiting for. The prospect of six first nights (well seven including Mr Fox) have their own appeal as months of work and passionate endeavour by so many people come to fruition and judgment is passed by our audiences: its a strange relationship that one and deserves further rumination, but not now.

My eldest daughter has returned from France where she has been attending a conference on global warming. Our own efforts in this regard are growing as are the expectations on us to do so. As a venue we are not, as you might expect, the worse polluters, but some mighty claims as to how we can improve are frequently put to us by Kate, our office Green Champion. I will ensure that I walk to work in the morning.

Friday, 5 March 2010

A coiled spring

The third crisp blue sky of the week greets us this morning. Spring hasn't sprung but it is ready to leap forth. The BBC weatherman was beside himself as he breathlessly predicted a 'really balmy day with highs of - just look at that! - NINE degrees celsius'. Small mercies but mercies nevertheless as the trucks carrying our roof are readying themselves for the journey to London. The delivery of the steel and cables and the preparatory work of the next week pre-empt the lifting of the spectacular structure by the end of this month.

The spotlight falls onto the 2011 season today, quickly followed by the 2012 plans. The Bonynge Gala is also very much to the fore today as well and, believe it or not a big Christmas event is taking spectacular shape too.

Fiora is still less than 100 percent and had us awake at half five this morning; by the time she had to go to nursery she was ready for bed again and so were we. Thankfully the emetic flourishes of the weekend look to have been a one-off and the carpets are recovering well.

Thursday, 4 March 2010


The mundane nature of my day ahead (washing machine delivery etc) is offset by the evening we had last night for our Ambassadors, a group of 100 committed and generous Friends. It took place in a beautiful house in Kensington that was once owned by Stanford the composer, an apt venue since many great figures from operatic history including Tchaikovsky and Wagner had visited him there. Indeed, Wagner was very much to the fore by the end of the evening as several Ambassadors, in what can only be described as a pincer movement, cornered James and I and made a bid for Wagnerian glory. Now Wagner is, I suppose a natural progression for a company that has been tearing through the giovane scuola and the 'Children of Tristan' but it is still one hell of a leap. Nevertheless our Wagnerian Ambassadors were encouraged to hear that we have indeed been thinking about introducing him to our stage in the years ahead and thus, right there, in the room in which the great man himself had once stood, was born the OHP WI (Wagner Initiative). We left them arguing amongst themselves about who should be chairman. My money is on a chap called Martin - he's a lawyer with some significant scalps in his pocket and I don't fancy their chances.
With a thoroughly pleasant evening ended, James and I retired to the pub for a nightcap where we wondered at how we had ever come to be at the heart of such a wondrous enterprise - more specifically I suppose we continue to wonder how we were ever allowed to be! I doubt either of us are in line for the top job at Bayreuth should it ever become vacant.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


My coffee stop is made brief by the need to get to Great Scotland Yard (an evocative place name if ever there was one). Unfortunately the destination sounds more interesting than is my reason for going there; I am to do a course in order to become a Personal License Holder (which means as the manager of OHP I will be allowed to sell booze). I even have to sit an exam at the end of the day which given my historically profound aversion to them will be something of a landmark. Let's hope that our patrons appreciate my sacrifice and take lavish advantage of our new bar menu.

Mr Fox is off to a flyer with great interest from the Royal Borough's summer play team. What an amazing responsibility they have; keeping a couple of hundred kids occupied during the summer holidays. They must all be touched by genius or madness (or both, as is commonly the case).

The sun continues to tempt us into optimism and the crocuses were showing themselves profusely in the park yesterday. Is it all just another Conchis 'masque' ?

Monday, 1 March 2010


I'm currently reading 'The Magus' by Fowles. It is a somewhat convoluted tale of a rich, super clever psychiatrist who embroils an English teacher on a idyllic Greek isle in a game of mystery, timeshifting, psychosexual tomfoolery. Through it runs a seam of theatricality - literally in the set pieces that are created to confuse - and the reader, like the subjects of the games are constantly left disoriented. Conchis (the 'Magus') is something of a frustrated producer I feel. Notwithstanding that the book actually might make a decent opera (you would need to find identical twin sisters though), the striving to constantly create other worlds and places to which one can take an audience seem suitably in line with the operatic world all of us inhabit professionally. The book proposes that mystery and pretence lead us ultimately to real truths, but that isn't really much of a surprise to those of us who work in theatre and amid all the drudgery of getting the whole thing together we ought to constantly remind ourselves of that particular aim. Culture is mostly make believe and in our scientific, forensic and technological world, it is ever more necessary and therapeutic.

The sun greets me at my cafe table. Nice of him to make an appearance although, of course, it could all just be an illusion.