An estimated billion people will tune in on July 27 to watch the London 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony by Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle.
The event is part of a rich slate of cultural events, from the historic to the histrionic.
Hours earlier, Daniel Barenboim conducts the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra of young Arab and Israeli musicians in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, the final performance in their nine-symphony tribute to Beethoven at the Royal Albert Hall.
At 8:12 a.m. that morning local time, bells of all kinds -- doorbells, ringtones, Navy bells, even Big Ben -- will usher in the Games countrywide in a collective chiming work conceived by artist Martin Creed.
“When I was a kid, I remember the local church sometimes ringing its bells in a crazy cacophonous way when there was a wedding,” Creed said in an interview. “I always thought it was a very beautiful and exciting sound.”
“So I thought, to try to ring all of the bells in the whole country would be a nice thing to do on this special occasion of the Olympics,” he said.
The arts agenda is part of a four-year, 105 million pound Olympic cultural program up and down the country that continues after the games’ Aug. 12 finish.
For the opening-ceremony celebration of British history and culture, director Boyle is turning the Olympic Stadium into a meadow teeming with sheep, goats, cows, horses, chickens, geese and sheepdogs, not to mention 10,000 human volunteers.
Paul McCartney will be among the performers. Albums of the opening and closing ceremonies will be available digitally immediately after the ceremony.
The original games in Greece likewise featured farm animals in a celebration of Greek-ness. Only they were sacrificed in rituals to placate the potentially menacing gods.
“The games were an act of worship recognizing Zeus’s power,” said Paul Cartledge, professor of Greek culture at Cambridge University and author of more than 20 books on Greece. “You wanted to keep him sweet.”
During the opening ceremony, every athlete made an oath and offered animals -- oxen, cows, chickens, goats -- in sacrifice. Midway through the games (which lasted just under a week), 100 bulls were slaughtered, cooked and shared by the 40,000 people present.
Artists popped up during sporting lulls to tout their talents.
“If you were an ambitious sculptor, you would go to Olympia and offer your services,” said Cartledge. “You’d have a maquette of what you were going to make for your client.”
By contrast, London’s Olympic cultural extravaganza has been commissioning art for the last four years, leaving little to chance, except for a few spontaneous events.
Jeremy Deller’s life-sized inflatable Stonehenge, for instance, is popping up in locations revealed not long in advance. The bouncy castle, 35 meters in diameter, offers everyone a chance to jump on a key piece of heritage. (For its whereabouts, see www.sacrilege2012.co.uk).
In another pop-up event starting after the games and orchestrated by award-winning “Jerusalem” actor Mark Rylance, some 50 actors will sidle up to pedestrians reciting Shakespearean verse (Aug. 28 to Sept. 9). They might ask the time, then lapse into “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
Rylance himself plays Richard III in the Globe Theatre’s all-male, historically correct production of the Shakespeare play (through Oct. 13). He then plays Olivia in “Twelfth Night.”
Shakespeare gets his very own gallery exhibition: at the British Museum (through Nov. 25), an evocation of the London he knew -- full of brothels and bear fights -- and the many other places that inspired him: Venice, the Americas, North Africa.
The National Gallery glorifies the goddess Diana in a free show. The three Titian masterpieces that she inspired hang side-by-side for the first time since the 18th century, alongside three contemporary commissioned works including Mark Wallinger’s homage to Diana, who turned Actaeon into a stag for sneaking a peek at her naked body.
Wallinger’s riposte is a walled enclosure featuring a real-life model in a bathtub whose face, elbow or shoulder you’ll glimpse if you peer through a keyhole or a Venetian blind.
See also clips, costumes and sets from the specially commissioned Royal Ballet production “Metamorphosis: Titian 2012.”
Tate Modern has gone avant-garde for its Olympic-season slate, and invited artist Tino Sehgal (hosted at the Guggenheim in New York in 2010) to take over the Turbine Hall in the Unilever Series. Sehgal has a group of “participants” move around the sloping lobby at varying speeds, individually or in swarms, and stopping to have conversations with visitors.
East of the Turbine Hall are Tate’s newly opened Tanks: arena-sized spaces that once contained oil for electricity generation in the ex-power station. Now venues for film and performance art, they’re open through Oct. 28. The Tate also has the Damien Hirst show that includes his diamond skull.
The Institute of Contemporary Arts has taken over an East London garage to show more than a dozen BMW cars redesigned by artists including Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg. The free two-week show (through Aug. 4) is at the Great Eastern Car Park (35 Great Eastern Street, London EC2A 3ER).
The closing ceremony on Aug. 12 will include George Michael. A show in Hyde Park is headlined by Blur, New Order and the Specials.
Muse highlights include Mark Beech on arts, Richard Vines on London dining and Mike Di Paola on conservation.