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

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

Macbeth first night shakes the walls


I don’t know how I didn’t notice in rehearsal, but when we are waiting in the dressing room, we can not only hear the overture, we can feel it, the drums and brass rumble through the floor and the walls shake slightly. I can only assume that they’d been holding back a bit until now! Not quite bringing the house down, but darn close. After a moment’s concern over the age and fragility of the building I settled in to enjoy the sound and feel of ‘hell gaping.’

If you haven’t got tickets for the rest of the run, sorry, you are too late – we are sold out.

Nick Jenkins (Musical Director) had a huge grin on his face each time I checked for a cue, so I think he was happy. And Chris Rolls (Director) was very free with his hugs afterwards, so I think he was happy too. We certainly were: I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed an evening of performing so much, this is right up there with Eugene Onegin three years ago.

One of the (many, many) best things about the BHH Community Opera is getting to know professional opera singers, directors and musicians on a personal level, so it was great to see in the audience (and speak to later) the lovely Wendy Dawn Thompson (Orpheus in our production of Orpheus and Eurydice four years ago), and the delightful John Flinders, (a regular repetiteur for BHH choral productions, who is already looking forward to Elijah with Edward Gardner OBE at BHH next year.) We make new friends every year, and it speaks volumes for the quality of the organisation of Rose Ballantyne and the real feel of community and team work the process engenders that we regularly see former principals and directors in the audience of the latest production.

Special thanks to Jill for the VERY WELCOME beer in the bar afterwards!

Spooky rehearsals


Chris Rolls (director) and Oliver Townsend (designer) have really gone for the supernatural and psychological in our production of Verdi’s Macbeth – lots of ghosts, spooks and blood.

masters of the earth2An Act III cameo role for 5 children as the Masters of the Earth warning Macbeth against MacDuff and setting im up with the Birnham Wood nonsense. this is followed by the legion of Banquo’s descendent kings flitting ominously across stage staring out at Macbeth (Quentin Hayes) in contempt, who collapses in horror.

king3  king 1king 5 king2

macbeth3macbeth 2

Our witches are looking suitably evil even before they get into their costumes and wigs (I think that might be a first for BHHCO, massed wigs, quite alarming coming across them spread all over the floor of the recital room).

witches4 witches 6 witches 2 witches 1

The interestingly ghostly effect in these photos is due to using a phone camera – in the low light it couldn’t cope with focusing. I quite like it!

© Cherry Potts ( Soldier, Assassin, Courtier, Refugee, Spear carrier etc, etc.) 2013

The Scottish Opera


BH_MACBETH_POSTER.inddThings are hotting up for the cast of Macbeth (Verdi), the latest production from Blackheath Halls Opera. We’ve met and heard all the principals, and we’re firmly off the book and managing to move and sing at the same time, though getting up from kneeling (to various kings – we get through a few) and singing at the same time remains a challenge.

This year we are being directed by the talented Mr Chris Rolls, who has a wonderfully psychological interpretation of the action, which is as much surreal as supernatural.

I was very hesitant about doing the Opera this year – too busy – whole process over-shadowed by A’s broken leg last year – couldn’t get to grips with the music on the rather muddy recording I’ve got – but actually it’s a riot, the combination of Chris and our lovely Music Director Nick Jenkins is extremely harmonious and as always I’m enjoying myself hugely. And though I says it myself, we are going to be AWESOME.

Actually, with this opera – when you have jolly little parlour tunes for the assassins  (that would be us tenors and the basses), as we wait for Banquo, relishing our moment in the limelight (or darkness if you are going to be pedantic) you need to get psychological. Jeremy Sams’ translation of the Italian, which doesn’t bear much relation to the original Shakespeare anyway, is so delightfully bonkers that I actually laughed out loud the first time we sang through the assassins’ scene.

Tremble Banquo for your time is nigh
first you see a flash of steel – then you die.

Tremble Banquo, (meet your fate)
Tremble Banquo, (meet your fate)
Safe in silence we will wait…

So we have to work quite hard to find the inner callousness that would make us, as the assassins, think it was amusing – without the audience thinking so too.

On the subject of translation, Shakespeare’s version is magnificently pagan, whereas the Italian has everyone, especially the chorus, calling on god at every possible moment. I’m  not objecting particularly, as it’s a vengeful god we seem to have in mind, and the chorus get to sing some pretty powerful things (yes, he will be branded, branded as Cain was the first man to strike his brother dead). I seem to recall recounting a friend’s analysis of Verdi’s Requiem that it was church music as high opera, Macbeth seems to do the opposite, and bring religion to the dramatic performance. Most importantly we get to sing some absolutely cracking tunes, which after some of the fidgety bitty line here, line there, stuff we get to do as a chorus a lot of the time, is VERY welcome.

So final rehearsal before the Sitzprobe tonight, drop off costumes on Sunday on way to Sitzprobe, busy week of rehearsals next week finishing with two dress rehearsals at the weekend, then performances  Tuesday 9th, Wednesday 10th, Friday 12th and Sunday 14th July.

Well what are you waiting for?  Go and buy a ticket, we are waiting (in silence, safely) … with our knives…

© Cherry Potts 2013