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.

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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

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Hooray Henries dress as Nuns and break into wine cellar


If that sounds like the plot of an opera, it’s because it is.

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Tue 15th, Wed 16th, Fri 18th Jul 19.00h
Sun 20th Jul 14:30h

The Adventures of Count Ory (think Tintin crossed with Don Juan) a cartoonish take on Rossini’s le Comte d’Ory is the latest production from the ever wonderful Blackheath Halls, and the creative team which is Harry Fehr, Nick Jenkins and Rose Ballantyne; and one of the reasons I’ve not been on this site in a while. (That, and trying to organise a festival for the winter solstice, launch a new Arachne Press Title, and plan the next one!)

Religious fever has gripped a small feudal town (Camberwick Green! With a Castle!) as the ‘Hermit’ a modern-day evangelical preacher comes to town. But all is not as it seems. Disguise and Deception  are the order of the day, and chaos quickly ensues.

Tickets are selling fast get your now

I’ll be one of the ones in a habit/white ties & tails/ combat gear /etc etc.

 

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

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