out and about with Carmen


I’ve not been on here much recently, there’s been too much happening.

The opera – of course the opera! Each year I’ve done more and written about it less. Barely managing a faint tweet now and then this year. Carmen, under the direction of Chris Rolls had us on stage almost all the time  even when not singing – so no time for gathering thoughts to get on the blog. IMG_4585I’m in the background here somewhere (photo © Lena Kern) foreground Don Jose, Adrian Dwyer and our amazing Carmen Hannah Pedley – so good we tended to get caught up and forget we should sing too. This run sold out weeks ahead of the performance so I know a lot of people were disappointed. You can read a (5 star) review here, and you can catch us singing the choruses between 3 and 5pm TOMORROW (Saturday 23rd July) at Greenwich Park bandstand, and stop to chat while we picnic between sets. (I may not actually be singing myself, as the company throat infection caught up with me as soon as we stopped performing.)

Between performances I hurtled up to Derby to be on a panel (Is high fantasy getting more literary?) and run a workshop (Writing with Your Ears) at EdgeLit5. I’m doing more of that at NineWorlds at the Hammersmith Novotel 12-14th August, with creative writing panels: The Feminine Voice and Writing Female Characters in 21st Century Fantasy Fiction and Writing Queer Characters. I’m not sure of the timings yet, but there’s loads on, workshops, panels, book launches and so on and the finalised timetable will be up soon.

So: writing! Sci Fi Novella turned down by Tor, flash fiction published on line by Spelk, if you like your literature short you might enjoy a free haiku walk (should that be a Haik?) round Horniman Gardens with friends The Museum of Walking on Thurs 4th Aug.

And finally, I got my first ever bit of fan mail – as in hand-written, from someone I don’t know, who loved The Dowry Blade! I think it’s such a fat book that it’s taking people time to read it, but there is now a very nice review on Goodreads too.

I think that’s me caught up for now.

How Idomeneo looks from here


The audience are never going to experience an opera the way the chorus does. Even though performance in the round gives them some idea, as they peer through the crowds to catch a glimpse of th action, but actually, the action is what they are peering round.

Our chorus experience is  sweaty, loud and partial – we never get to see the whole show, but the bits we do experience are visceral.

Idomeneo - Mozart - Blackheath Halls Community Opera - 14th July 2015 Musical Director - Nicholas Jenkins Director - James Hurley Designer - Rachel Szmukler Lighting Designer - Ben Pickersgill Idomeneo - Mark Wilde Idamante - Sam Furness Ilia - Rebecca Bottone Electra - Kirstin Sharpin Arbace - William Johnston Davies Pupils from Charlton Park Academy, Greenvale School, Year 5 from Beecroft Garden Primary School and Year 5 from Mulgrave Primary School Blackheath Halls Chorus and Blackheath Halls Orchestra
escaping the monster IdomeneoBH copyright Robert Workman

This is quite a physical show, and we are very glad that the carrying corpses off stage was cut, and we weren’t convinced we’d manage it without injury, to us or the ‘corpse’. The costumes are very hot (winter weight flying jackets with 2 inches of wadding in them, gas masks…) but at least there are no quick changes – last year’s nun-to soldier-in-3-mins is mercifully not challenged for award for fastest change. The emotions change faster, one minute a concerned civil servant,

concerned civil servants copyright Robert Wiseman
concerned civil servants IdomeneoBH
copyright Robert Workman

the next an anxious guard,

Anxious Guards - IdomeneoBH copyright Robert Workman
Anxious Guards – IdomeneoBH copyright Robert Workman

then a cheery well-wisher (although an imagined one!)

Imagined well- copyright Robert Workman
Imagined well-wishers IdomeneoBH
copyright Robert Workman

and finally a zealous follower of Poseidon turned vigilante – (no photos of this, will have to see what we can do in the dressing room!)  but there is a lot of anger throughout, I just have to remember what I’m being angry about and ‘on whom rest the blame’.

If you would like to discover who is to blame, we are performing again tonight at 7pm and on Sunday at 2pm. tickets and info here

Orchestral Manoeuvres


One of the delights of being involved in the community opera at Blackheath Halls is working with the Blackheath Halls Community Orchestra. We don’t get to hear what they are up to until the sitz probe, when we run through the entire opera and work out the corners. This is one of my favourite sessions, because we rarely hear the whole work. Then we get two stage & orchestra rehearsals and a couple of dress rehearsals (two of everything because of the split between the schools we are working with) to get used to what the music sounds like full on, before the first night.

Sitz Probe
Sitz Probe

And very necessary it is too, when we’ve been working with a piano accompaniment up until then. Jeremy, our assistant musical director plays a cut down version of the orchestral score magnificently, and it doesn’t always seem possible that he has enough fingers.

I wonder how much attention the audience pay to the orchestra, there is so much going on in an opera, although they are at least visible in our production.

I know I listen differently as a performer to how I would as an audience member – ear tuned to the instrument that will play the note I need a bar and a half before I have to sing it, that sort of thing; making it hard to take in the whole, but two things really struck me last night during the first performance of Idomeneo.

One was how very full and brassy the sound is considering how little brass there is playing – Mozart makes fantastic use of horns, but that’s about it.

The other was during a brief interlude when the tenors & basses are up with the orchestra for our ‘off stage’ chorus of drowning mariners during the storm. We all creep on and lurk at the side and wait for our cue. This gives us an unusual ‘conductor’s eye view’ of the orchestra. I can’t imagine the concentration and eye for detail it takes to conduct an opera, with orchestra soloists and chorus to pay attention to – I couldn’t even begin to make sense of the full score. Nick Jenkins, I salute you! Anyway while waiting for the music to cue us in,  I noticed these waves of movement going through; not the documentary film cliché of the bows all moving at the same time (although of course they do), but for example, a point at which all the violins put down their bows as one, and plucked the strings instead. It was an incredibly elegant little movement, which delighted me – and then I had to get on with singing and had no thought for anything but coming in correctly on the tricky bit…

 

Who are all these people?


We are a reading household (there’s a surprise) and an oft-quoted  exclamation, when one of us, uninvited, reads an extract from the current book to the other is ‘Who are all these people?’ I think it’s from a Peter Nichols play but I could be wrong – we are also very poor on attribution.

So it is something I’ve been thinking whilst we’ve been rehearsing Mozart’s Idomeneo. Assiduous readers of this blog will know that I’m not averse to plundering Homer myself, and Idomeneo is set in the aftermath of the Trojan war, so naturally I’m curious as to the source of the story.

This opera was first performed in 1781, and Mozart’s librettist Giambattista Varesco seems to have borrowed heavily from an earlier 1712 opera Idomenée by André Campra (I’m listening to it as I write) libretto by Antoine Danchet, who in turn borrowed from a stage play of the same name by Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon performed in 1707.

Idomeneo (Idomeneus) King of Crete (Grandson of Minos in case you are wondering) does appear in The Iliad occasionally, and comment is made on the vast size of his fleet (relevent to the plot!). He has a tricky journey home like so many of the Greek allies, and in order to be saved from drowning promises to sacrifice the first person he sees, who is, of course, his son – it wouldn’t be a Greek tragedy otherwise.

2015-07-07 11.36.17
Rehearsals: Preparing for a sacrifice

I’m not sure this is in The Iliad, but in all the other versions of the story I can trace he does  kill his son (Idamante in this version) either as a sacrifice, or by accident, and is then banished either by the Cretan’s themselves as a murderer, or driven mad by Poseidon.

So where do the women come in? Neither Ilia not Electra appear in Crébillon’s play, and Ilia seems to be a completely 18th Century invention, she is not mentioned in the Iliad, and the only person of that name I can find is a daughter of Aeneas who would presumably not have been born at this stage in events (hark at me going on like it was real…) In this version she is one of Priam’s many children, shipwrecked from one Idomeneo’s many ships, along with the rest of the Trojan captives. As for Electra – daughter of  possibly the unluckiest family in the history of time…

In case you don’t know, she was the daughter of Agamemnon (brother of Menelaus whose wife was Helen, married to Clytemnestra, sister of Helen – keep up!). He sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia (Electra’s sister) to get favourable winds to get to Troy in the first place. When he got home from the war, Clytemnestra killed him, and then Orestes, their son (Electra’s brother) killed Clytemnestra.  (according to Sophocles and Euripides, since you ask) After that it gets murky as to what goes on with Electra, but various options are open including her becoming a kidnapper, or a quiet marriage to a cousin, but in none of them does she end up in Crete in a jealous fit of pique at Idamante’s adoration of ‘Trojan Slave-girl’ Ilia, as she does here, and in the Campra version. Hey ho, that’s Opera for you, as if there isn’t enough going on already, there has to be someone driven mad by jealousy!

There are several editions of the Mozart opera in any case, with varying inclusions and omissions so I shan’t give you clues as to the ultimate fate of poor Electra.

Come along and find out what happens in our version, under the direction of James Hurley, and how we manage the sea monster (did I not mention the monster??)… tickets here

It’s about to get loud…


If you’ve been thinking I’ve been a bit quiet lately it’s because I’ve been so busy.

One of the things I’ve been busy with is the Blackheath Halls Community Opera. We are doing Idomeneo [Mozart] this year and it is tremendously singable – lush baroque music to make you weep with joy at the cleverness of the harmonies. But Idomeneo is a pretty bleak tale of ill thought out promises and monsters (some of whom are human) and sacrifice. Our production is blood drench and stark, a bit of a shock after last year’s gloriously silly Count Ory.

Normally I do a blog through out the process but it’s not been possible this year – too much else happening. So this is it, really. First night is TOMORROW. tickets are going fast – especially this morning apparently the phones at the halls were red-hot, possibly down to being previewed in the Sunday Times & the Telegraph, though modestly(!) I’d like to think its down to us flash-mobbing Blackheath Village yesterday during our lunch hour from dress rehearsals.) You can buy tickets (unless we’ve sold out already…) online here or by phone on +44 (0)20 8463 0100.

There’s a thunderclap with about 15 mins left to run to hit the target, JOIN IN NOW!!!

2015-07-09 12.50.26

Blackheath Brundibar


Brundibar, the children’s opera by Hans Krása, was performed many times by children in Theresienstadt concentration camp, and the music is very much of the time, wandering from tango to ragtime with overtones of Kurt Weil. This rather sombre historical note is echoed in the pre-show performance by Trinity Laban’s Colab singers, with songs actually written in Theresienstadt, with their final song segueing straight into the opera.

kids2

There isn’t much plot, two children – Joe & Annette are sent out to find milk for their sick mother, but they have no money. They spot Brundibar raising cash playing a barrel organ, and hatch a plan to make the money for milk by singing. Bundibar takes exception to them muscling in on his action, and threatens to have them jailed. All the children, and some animals, gang up on him, and eventually Joe and Annette manage to get milk and all is resolved happily.

nickIn our Blackheath version Brundibar is played by Nicholas Merryweather, in some rather alarming makeup, with me, Alix and David as henchies, going about with buckets demanding money with menaces. This necessitates some seriously ghastly fake leather coats (hench-coats, as Alix has dubbed them), our habitual army boots and a lot of sneering and posturing. We are having a lot of fun!

 

 

Alix in Hench-coat, takes a break from demanding money
Alix in Hench-coat, takes a break from demanding money

The main roles are taken by Adam Music and Rebekah Smith, but the children are the stars – especially those playing the animals – wonderful sparrows and a magnificent cat who has a voice I could listen to all day.

 

 

 

 

adam james & kids

 

 

It wouldn’t be a Blackheath production if there weren’t some kind of construction job as part of the action -Harry Fehr always gets us doing something complicated in the summer opera, and James Hurley does likewise here, with walls built of suitcases.

The costumes for the animals are wonderful, and our sparrows actually get to fly…

sorting suitcasesThe first night last night went past in a flash, but we are on today at 2pm and 6pm, and tomorrow, Thursday 2nd April at 6pm.

buckets All Rehearsal photos copyright Cherry Potts 2015

 

 

Last Blackheath performance of Count Ory this afternoon


Barnaby J Munday making notes
Barnaby J Munday making notes

It is the last performance! After Friday’s sold out but sweltering performance, it is cooler this afternoon, and I can consider the wearing of my (quilted!) tail coat fairly calmly. I hope the sweat in the wimples has dried …

There’s a nice enthusiastic review on Classical Source.

Lena Kern (official photographer) has been having fun, and taken a few thousand pictures. I’ve had a quick look and winnowed out these particularly good ones of ME, making a fool of myself variously as:

Barnaby P Munday, Regional Reporter for the Camberwick Courier, a member of the B*llingd*n club, and said Hooray Henry disguised as a nun, and as a returning soldier.

Showing my nasty side as a drunken hooray henry
Showing my nasty side as a drunken hooray henry

Enjoy – I’m listening to the excellent recording by Juan Diego Flórez as I type, singing along to all the bits I DON’T sing on stage, so I’ll be nicely warmed up by 2pm.

Drunken disguises
Drunken disguises
exhausted from battle (and quick change in the bar)
exhausted from battle (and quick change in the bar)