Inspirations – claustrophobia in the closet


To celebrate HM the Queen’s royal assent on Gay Marriage, some thoughts about what it used to be like when I was first coming out in 1982… when I wrote

Trying to Tell You…

A story about coming out,  not to straight colleagues or family, but to the only Visible Lesbian ( this is my version of the only gay in the village and predated Little Britain by a decade or two). The story is based on my partner’s one time workplace, where she was the Visible Lesbian, meshed with my memories of school. A. and I have a running joke about people who ought to be Lesbians but haven’t worked it out yet. And this is about one of those women, at the moment the penny drops. Who is she going to tell? How? Because the Visible Lesbian is too busy fighting her own battles, and isn’t listening.

Anyway one of the pleasures of republishing Mosaic of Air(out at the end of September), which includes Trying to Tell You … is finding that what I have written is now a period piece.

© Cherry Potts 2013

Oh the weeping and the wailing


The trouble with having a brilliant time at Blackheath Halls prancing about singing is that inevitably it comes to an end. The party helps make the break, and it was good to hear from orchestra members how much they enjoyed the process too, and either wanted to know what on earth we did to Macbeth (because seated with back to action) or admiring the way we faded into the darkness as assassins (which we didn’t know we were doing.) Also good to chat to everyone and say thank you properly for what has been the best opera yet, and the bar was high already. I am unreservedly proud to have been part of this production, thank you Nick, Chris and Rose (and everyone else) for making it such a joy.

Having lots for the chorus to sing really gave us the freedom to show what we are capable of – even the drunken spoofs at the party were in proper harmony this year, (if not absolutely the right key) usually I feel sorry for Rose’s neighbours.

Undertakers convention in Kiev
Undertakers convention in Kiev

Howsoever, very glad not to be donning black polo-neck, combat trousers, heavy boots and woolly hat today – all that stuff is on the washing line, it looks like we’ve just got back from an undertakers convention in Kiev.

I can’t settle to work today so I’ve made a vat of Gazpacho (too much to fit in the fridge, which is going to be a problem…) and started sifting through the nearly 3000 photographs from Lena Kern (official photographer this year) They are absolutely brilliant, and there are actually several of me this year, usually (apart from the year Tony Stewart did the photographs) there’s only  one or two. I will post my favourites later. The accounts can be put off for (yet) another day.

There is a groundswell of opinion amongst the chorus and some audience members that we ought to have recorded the performance. Nick, if you are reading this – maybe we could at least get the chorus back together and just do our numbers? Guaranteed 60 sales!

© Cherry Potts 2013

More Macbeth Reviews and more unsung heroes


The Independent have reviewed Macbeth as have Classical Source they both really liked it, and the chorus get special mention.

I would just like to mention another set of unsung heroes – the stage managers. Managing sixty amateur chorus members thirty children and all the principles, to say nothing of guns, knives, glasses, trays, beer cans, playing cards and cigarette packets, gold watches, lit lanterns and sixteen stakes (that’s sixteen, whoever it is who kept bringing on an extra one!!) is no mean feat. We take them for granted. That is quite an accolade. Thank you Richard, Sarah, Charli and Osnat.

© Cherry Potts 2013

Macbeth does Murder Sleep


Being part of an opera plays havoc with your sleep (and eating) patterns. I’m a bit of a homebody normally (although running a publishing venture has changed that a bit – schlepping about with a suitcase full of books to readings of an evening has meant my normal bedtime is now nearer midnight than it used to be) but during the opera run I find myself eating lunch at 4pm, supper at midnight (or later) go to bed still zinging with excitement, with the music roaring round my brain … not asleep before 2am … but come what may I’m awake again at 6am, which means not a lot of work gets done, because I need a bit of a lie down by 2pm which usually means I crash for a couple of hours. Of course today its a matinée so we are planning brunch for about 11, then there’s food at the after-party, so that’s sorted, but sleep … when will that happen?

Macbeth doth Murder sleep.

I’m not complaining: I’d rather sing than sleep, but there will definitely be a period of readjustment required, a diet of folk music (or anything really just not Opera) to calm me down, a gradual return to more normal meal times, support group meetings with fellow opera withdrawal sufferers … I suppose the words can come off the kitchen walls now. And the poster out of the window, oh dear!

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!

but that’s a different play.

© Cherry Potts 2013

The performing bug


It’s the last performance of Macbeth on Sunday and from previous experience I know we will have withdrawal symptoms.  I think it was after Elixir of Love that we bumped into fellow chorus members at the Maritime Museum and practical had a keening session on the subject of how bereft we felt.

Years ago I was asked for my most unreachable ambition.  I said I wanted to sing on stage. I remember saying not a solo at the Met,  just in a chorus in something amazing. Well, thanks to Blackheath Halls community singing programme, I’ve done that many times now. The very first was the South African Township choir Mbuwala and that, and the community operas led to taking part in Re:Wind a very challenging piece which we sang at the Royal Festival Hall – that definitely met my criteria!

So we are already pencilling in the next project Elijah? Othello? In the meantime we are singing next Saturday (20th July) with Vocal Chords at St Saviour’s Church in Honor Oak in Love Songs to the Planet. 2pm-5pm. After that not sure, but lots of readings to keep me performing including the Towersey Festival.

Unsung heroes


We’ve got a very good review for Macbeth in Opera Today, but I do have to take issue with one thing: While I’m sure the opera wouldn’t happen without Keith Murray’s support, the true heart, soul and backbone of the community opera projects reside in the main in one person: key go-to person and community outreach worker, Rose Ballantyne.

Rose co-ordinates with the schools, the volunteers, the orchestra and the community chorus, negotiates with the principals and funders (with help from Helma Zebregs), works silly hours on days the children are rehearsing as well as the adults, and even lets us use her garden for the after-party. Alongside all this she helps produce the practice CDs, hires scores, learns most of every chorus part, and sings alto in the chorus. Sometimes she even joins the orchestra to play percussion.

It is Rose (and Helma again) who organise fundraising galas, sweet-talk potential benefactors, and Rose who fields chorus queries about costume, photographs, rehearsal timings, lost property, box office opening hours and who knows what else that people fret about when they are gearing up to perform. On Wednesday at about 22:30 we found her tidying the refugees’ coats and boots, which have to live in the foyer because of a quick change.

Rose is an oasis of kindness, coherence, commonsense and calm (not always felt, but always displayed) in what can get to be a rather fevered atmosphere, her people-wrangling skills are a marvel to behold. She holds the entire process together, and it WOULD NOT HAPPEN without her.

Matthew Rose dived into the chorus and hauled Rose up onto the front of stage to take a bow on Wednesday night. She knows how much we in the chorus appreciate her, it was nice to see her getting her well deserved applause.

© Cherry Potts 2013

rose with flowers  copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Musical storytelling


Last night, before the performance Chris Rolls (director) reminded us that it is easy at a second performance to think, right I’ve done that now, and to slacken off a bit.

Don’t let it get comfortable, he said. Good advice.  We didn’t. However the advantage of having done a full performance with audience was that this time round, I was more aware of what I was experiencing, and of when to rack it up a bit more – for example, the Hell is Gaping chorus, after the death of Duncan, I have always found very moving and upsetting, in dress rehearsal I had quite a lump in my throat. This time I was angry – fists clenched, I’m going to tear the throat out of the B*st*rd who did this, kind of thing. The joy of live music – you can (literally in our case) get inside it and explore. One of the most satisfying moments for me in the whole opera is the silence at the end of that chorus, when sixty plus people have worked their way, a semitone at a time, up to the third Strike him Dead, – and there is room for us to realise what we are saying before going into more ‘appropriate’ outcry to God. The echo is subtle but wonderful.

Alix, Suzanne and I are billeted in the men’s dressing room because we only have a couple of minutes to change from assassins to courtiers and can’t leg it up the stairs and back in the time. I have to admit it’s rather refreshing – only two people fighting for the mirror (and it isn’t any of the three of us) – and we are all sitting around reading scores, discussing performances we’ve been to or taken part in, other choirs we sing with, and how much of everyone else’s parts we know.  We agreed that we could probably take over the witches scenes if we had to, and portions of Lady Macbeth – we can hear Miriam perfectly through two walls and a corridor – there was much laughter at the idea of a minimalist version with only bass and tenor voices, singing all the parts, but only for the bits we know – I don’t think there are any serious contenders, though we might have a go at the after-party!

Another cracking moment last night, which I  really relished was our assassins’ scene. Standing on the main stage looking down the vast length of the performance space to the orchestra the far end (all fourteen of us) and thinking, right, let’s fill that, as we sing Tremble Banquo, meet your fate, and hearing our voices bounce off the back wall – very satisfying – another of those excellent little silences to fully appreciate both the music and the storytelling. I grow to appreciate Mr Verdi’s skill more with every rendition, and respect Nick Jenkins’ skill in interpreting and controlling the musical  juggernaut that is Macbeth. I spend a lot of time thinking, wow, that’s clever, as another little nuance is revealed to me. Again, LIVE music: I bought a recording when Macbeth was first announced as this year’s opera  and wasn’t terribly impressed, I’ve played it constantly since and I’m still not impressed, and these are people you’d have heard of singing it; by comparison, almost any live performance lifts my spirits, engages me, and makes me really think about what’s happening musically. It’s not just about sitting in a big dark room with nothing to distract; no, the difference is that even the best recording is only stereo (for people with two ears, as Kenny Everett used to say) whereas live music is three-dimensional, you can mentally explore the shapes and turn them upside down and inside out if you want to; and no two performances will ever be the same.

So those of you coming to Macbeth on Friday and Sunday, be prepared for something unique.

© Cherry Potts 2013