Brittle Bright Young Things


Last night we fought freezing temperatures, planned engineering works closing off three possible routes, and failed signals on the DLR to get to the wonderfully named St-Sepulchre-without-Newgate, for an evening of Ivor Novello songs with the Oxbridge Opera Company.

I wouldn’t have gone if it hadn’t been brought to my attention by Simon Dyer (Bass-Baritone), who isn’t generally associated with rubbish in my experience, and nor was he this time. Like (I suspect) many people, my knowledge of Ivor Novello starts with Keep the Home Fires Burning and ends with We’ll Gather Lilacs. I had him in the same bracket as Noel Coward, as frivolous, lightweight and sentimental, and not particularly complex musically.

Well, yes and no.  Noel Coward is acres better, his lyrics have some thought behind them. Melodically I kept hearing echoes of other songs, but too distant to be sure which came first. Predictability in melody line and rhyme (he really is the original moon-and-june-er) could have made for a tedious evening, particularly since the acoustic was hard work, setting up an echo that swallowed the less emphatic voices and all but did for the ensemble pieces.  It was not a venue to encourage vibrato or rolled ‘r’s. I felt I was having to work unreasonably hard to catch the words, and that the effort was not repaid by the weakness of the songs.

However, not to carp on too long, what did work was when the women sang together, or the men sang together.  And in terms of harmony there was some quite interesting things going on, ably supported by some very good piano playing from (I assume) Chris Milton (as no-one introduced themselves, and not everyone mentions which voice type they are in the write-up, and they don’t say who sings which song, I can’t credit those I felt did a particularly good job.)

Oxbridge Opera Company had wisely decided to give a dramatised storyline to the proceedings, and a series of brittle bright-young-things wisted and yearned and had their hearts broken like a silent screen version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, while mother played poker in a corner.  The youngest, not too used to alcohol got the worse for wear and made a spectacle of herself (an execrable song Prim-rose) much to the discomfort of her mother’s guests, one of whom  had her fur tippet on and was heading out the door before being persuaded to stay.  This gave focus and spurious poignancy to the really very hackneyed sentiment of the songs, and I was grateful for it.

High spots were the mash-up of a solo Soldier Lad and male chorus of Keep the Home Fires Burning; and another solo And Her Mother Came Too, a witty ditty of frustrated passion well executed.

St Sepulchre is a bit of a mash-up too, allegedly a musician’s church (presumably there are things that the acoustic is kinder to) it is gothic without and classical within, so panelling and doric columns, but not to classical proportions: too narrow and tall.  There are a few good monuments, in particular a Jacobean one.  So it was sufficiently interesting to walk round in the interval and have to rush back to our seats; and warm, which is a triumph – I could  list churches I have frozen in during concerts, but why?

So if we could have got home without what ended up being three changes and a long walk on the way back, it would have been a more enjoyable evening, however I shall restrain myself from a rant about planned engineering works and the other sort!

© Cherry Potts 2012

Welcome Yule


The to do list is getting smaller.

Presents bought and wrapped. √
First batch of mince pies cooked and eaten.√
Cards written and posted or delivered.√
Christmas concert sung√
Carols sung and money raised for Crisis√
Someone else’s carol singing event attended.√
Family visits lined up.√
Christmas tree bought.√
Decorate tree√
Gather winter fuel.√

Still to do:

Shop for food, cook, attend poetry reading and possibly read… one more days at work…

So the Blackheath Halls Concert on Friday went better than we expected; we didn’t make too many mistakes in Navidad Nuestra, and The Lamb sounded very good. Despite not being well, Nick Sharratt sang beautifully.
The children’s choir were brilliant.
Raise the Roof were enthusiastically received and had the audience clapping along in no time… and Mel won the raffle!
A woman passing me in the corridor said that Navidad gave her tingles.  Just think what it could have been with another three rehearsals.

SAYL at our first pitch, Crofton Park Library

Saturday Summer all Year Long went carol singing in aid of Crisis, with me muttering as we headed off that I wasn’t in favour of us performing ever again too much hassle, just meant to be a bit of fun, etc. etc. Apart from completely losing the low harmonies in Wassail, we sounded very good; I think our voices blend well and we make a nice warm noise – we even had someone tweet positively about the Crofton Park Library gig. However, a learning process: while the Library has a lovely acoustic, it’s not a great venue. The nice men selling Christmas trees outside gave us a substantial amount of their float, but most people in the library were plugged into computers and waiting for us to go away; everyone contributed something though.

The mulled Wine does its work

A more positive reception at Hills and Parkes, where we were fed mulled wine, and Emma joined in on Wassail.  One customer was thrilled and stayed right to the end of the set. We stopped on the way to sing to a housebound neighbour, much to the amusement of the people up the scaffolding a couple of doors down.

We were early at the Broca so had a cup of tea and waited to see if any audience were going to turn up, and when they didn’t, we went and sang outside the station instead (with their permission), which worked very well, people emptied their pockets and gave us handfuls of money.

final stop the station

I think with H&P’s mulled wine sales we’ll have raised a reasonable amount, but you can make it MORE by donating on our fundraising page. (Thank you).

we are now considering becoming the Overground Choir for a day next year, and travelling up and down the line singing on station forecourts.

What was that about not performing again?  The others talked me round in about a nanosecond, and we’re wondering about a set of shanties and other sea related songs at the National Maritime Museum at some point (if they’ll let us), perhaps in aid of RNLI.  Anyway, the new year will bring new songs with possibly a spring theme, we’ll see.

Voice Lab getting carried away

Sunday to Welcome Yule! Voicelab’s bash at the Southbank.  A most enjoyable collection of drinking songs and warnings (you don’t want to know what happens to people who plough on Christmas day).  These were carols after my own liking, steeped in ancient beliefs and passions, sung with gusto, accompanied by a bit of piano, fiddle and brass, and Morris dancing. The excellent Morris Offspring, a very young side wearing black and denim, with just a token sheaf of ribbons and no bells:  I don’t know whether Morris is getting better, but each time I see it I like it more. It seems to be less and less about men getting into their beer and then thrashing about with a staff or a hankie, and more and more about some magnificently  pagan ritual.  This was some seriously beautiful dancing, a real highlight of the season so far; so good I forgot to take any photos…!

© Cherry Potts 2011

music is taking over my life


Raise the Roof at the Horniman

Haven’t written anything here (or anywhere else much) for a while, and I blame that pesky singing lark. It has taken over.
We are rehearsing Ramirez’s Navidad Nuestra, carols and RTR stuff for Blackheath Halls on the 16th December, end of term concert for Raise the Roof at the Horniman Museum TODAY!!!! 2.30pm,
and a selection of more unusual carols with Summer All Year Long in aid of Crisis for 17th December,
3pm at Crofton Park Library, 4pm at Hills & Parkes Deli 49 Honor Oak Park and 5pm at The Broca Cafe Coulgate Street Brockley, right by the station.
It’s all huge fun, but time consuming, and there’s always room to be made for just one more extra rehearsal, or (Latin American) Spanish to be written out phonetically and big enough to be read (Score is unreadable), or posters to be designed, printed, distributed.
Would I have it any other way?
No.
But the garden is neglected, I was writing Christmas cards at 5am this morning, and Christmas shopping started yesterday – normally I’d have it all tied up by September!
That said I highly recommend Cockpit Arts in Deptford (and Holborn) for Christmas presents of a very classy kind. I won’t go into detail or everyone will get previews of what will be in their stockings on the 25th… but check out their website.
And when not rehearsing or performing I’m attending musical events.
Highlights recently Coope Boyes and Simpson at the Goose is out, Goose is out singaround at the Mag, two versions of Figaro… and yet to come Lewisham Choral Society at St Mary’s Ladywell on the 10th, and Nunhead Community Choir on the 11th
I had high hopes of getting to lots of the Spitalfields Winter Festival, which has some really exciting things on, but there’s so much on locally that I think I’ll be lucky to make it to even one, and then of course there’s the Welcome Yule at Southbank on the 18th, might try to squeeze that in.
And there’s been less successful outings, a disappointing Eugene Onegin at ENO, which was too static, under characterised, and had a very odd libretto although the sets were wonderful (I worry when the sets are what I’m praising – I also worry when people laugh at Onegin’s anguish when he realises what a disastrous mistake he’s made), I really think rough edges not withstanding our Blackheath production was vastly superior… followed by an APPALLING Castor and Pollux also at ENO, which by comparison made Onegin look like a shining light of dramatic excellence. I know I shouldn’t judge an opera by it’s dramatic punch, but I do, if I just wanted the music I could listen to a disc. Rameau’s music is exquisite and I can’t fault the orchestra nor the singers, particularly Allan Clayton as Castor, but the director showed very little respect for his singers, who were required to (I was going to say act, but really; no) behave like disturbed and sexualised toddlers. I winced for them I really did.

The storyline was rather throw away too, I didn’t much care which of the brothers died and I wasn’t moved by their dilemma, mainly because the production (and lack of it) detracted from the music in a depressingly consistent way. I can only assume the budget for scenery and costume had been blown on the other productions, This was naff, and I was not surprised that Roderick Williams (Pollux) was taken ill, the amount of compost and glitter they were probably breathing in, I hope no one sustained permanent damage… My dad was groaning in anguish and muttering imprecations through out. This would have been better as a concert performance, then we could have allowed Rameau to light our imaginations and conjured up Hell and Jupiter for ourselves, rather than having it channelled for us by Little Britain doing zombiesRus.

I found myself wisting after the productions of Handel (Xerxes, Ariodante) that ENO did many years ago, which were directed with wit and aplomb, and with a knowing nod to the audience; and still manage to move me; I still quote a tiny bit of recitative from Xerxes where Arsemenes is asked to woo his own beloved on behalf of his brother, the timing and phrasing of his ‘I’d rather die’ summed up his entire character.  That was great singing, great acting and great direction.  Handel had a hand in  it too, but Rameau is good enough to deserve that kind of attention.

Enough grumbling, got to go and SING!!

copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Etruscan Smiles at the Estorick Collection


Marino Marini Quadriga, 1942 Bronze, 40 x 40 x 4 cm Estorick Collection

The Estorick’s collected twentieth century Italian art, a period and region I thought I knew nothing about, but there are a couple of Modiglianis, the piercing turquoise gaze and pursed lips of Doctor Francois Brabander standing out in a room of more muted pictures.  I did find myself thinking oh yeah Modigliani and moving on.

Then I recognised the pot-shaped women (or are they woman-shaped pots?) of Massimo Campigli with their brittle ceramic smiles looking like ancient Etruscan goddesses, until you come across one of them blandly gazing across a loom, and then another – side by side, one in polychrome, the other in red pastel (the pastel is a more accurate loom) – and the domestic usefulness makes the women seem at once more human and more unlikely.

There are some really interesting paintings by people I hadn’t heard of – I was particularly taken with Giacomo Balla‘s The Hand of the Violinist, which is a multiple image of a hand on the strings of a violin, broken into lines perhaps by the strings, and shaped like the sounding board of a dulcimer, an odd thing but pleasing.
Zoran Music‘s Horses and Landscape made me think of Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, a group of multicoloured horses, spotted and striped in blues and pinks, haunches touching in a dispirited huddle against the cold, retreat into a landscape of dusky hills.  It just begs for one of the riders to turn back to the viewer and say: A cold coming we had of it.
There are a few sculptures: I especially liked Marino Marini‘s Quadriga, a wall plaque of four horses face-on, crowding through a doorway knees raised as if contemplating a delicate can-can, that had overtones of ancient Rome.
Giacomo Manzù‘s Bust of a Woman is a distorted long-necked bust wearing an expression of self-possessed happiness, that I think I could  live with if someone asked me to; although there would be days when I’d be yelling what are you smiling at, and throwing a blanket over her.

There are some works that left me indifferent, a lot of sketches that are only of significance because of who drew them, some very studious studies of still life, and a very ugly Death of a Hero by Renato Guttuso which isn’t something I’d give house room to, but led to an animated conversation with the lady on the desk about Flemish Medieval art and Gerard David’s The Flaying of Sisamnes being even more not what you’d want in the livingroom, although neither of us could remember who it was by, or the exact name, she knew it from my description and recollection of seeing it in Bruges. And this in a gallery specialising in Italian art of the twentieth Century.

A collection worth seeing, particularly with smells of Italian cooking wafting up from the caffé.

Wednesday to Saturday 11:00 to 18:00 hours.  Sunday 12:00 to 17:00. Late night opening Thursdays until 20.00.  Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

£5.00, concessions £3.50, includes permanent collection and temporary exhibitions.  Free to under-16s and students on production of a valid NUS card.

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art: 39a Canonbury Square, London N1 2AN

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Days Out by Bus at the Estorick Collection


The second of our forays into North London on the lovely Overground; appropriate, since we were heading to an exhibition strong on leisure journeys by public transport.

I didn’t know the Estorick Collection existed until A’s walking buddy J handed her a leaflet about their current exhibition of Edward McKnight Kauffer posters, The Poster King.  Most of the posters are from the heyday of  Transport advertising in the 1910’s-30’s, both London Transport and Shell being well represented and many of the images were familiar in a subconscious way, possibly from films of the time.

They were also familiar because they made use of styles prevalent at the time; and reminded me of such diverse artists as Jean Cocteau, Picasso, M C Escher, Clarice Cliff and John Heartfield.

A wide range of styles:

Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954) In Watford, 1915 Poster, 76.2 x 50.8 cm London Transport Museum

Bucolic scenes of trees and rivers (that’s Watford? Really?) and oddly what seems to be lime kilns at Godstone (wonderful image but as a destination?), aimed at tempting the urban workers out for a day in the countryside by train, bus or tram.

Scurrying windblown shoppers abstracted into mere suggestions of silhouette, shadow and rainy reflection (A particular favourite for me) who are wisely advised that the tube is a good way of avoiding all that weather, though anyone who (like me) has got on a tube having already been completely drenched in an unexpected downpour, knows how silly you can feel dripping on dry troglodyte passengers who got on before it rained.

Bright innovative posters for rather earnest museums

Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954) Actors prefer Shell, 1935 Lorry bill, 76.2 x 114.3 cm Courtesy of the Shell Collection

Quirky cubist advertisements assuring us that Actors, Artists, and Magicians each prefer Shell.

Pastel-coloured marionette-like figures in paper collage backgrounds extolling public holidays for trips out, one Green Man for Whitsun, reminiscent of a tarot card: the fool tripping along his mind wandering, all that was missing was the drooping hose and snappy dog.

book covers with loose, delicate, duo-tone images of ancient Greece…

Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954) Soaring to Success! Daily Herald – the Early Bird 1919 Poster, 297.7 x 152.2 cm Victoria and Albert Museum

and wild, thrusting, lozenge-shaped birds that would be Oyster Catchers if their beaks were red, but aren’t because they aren’t birds, they are an idea of progress, happily flying into the future together in praise of the Daily Herald (“Soaring to Success… the Early Bird”).  This particular image makes great use of space, the birds are roughly the top quarter of the image,  and the message is maybe an eighth and right at the bottom; in between, an expanse of vigorous yellow silence.

As much social history as art, I would highly recommend this exhibition for both the images themselves and as a window onto the artistic movements and advertising claims of the time.

There are a number of gallery talks coming up that might be worth catching:

5/11/2011 A Quest for Kauffer
12/11/2011 Posters and Modern Life in 1930s Britain

10/12/2011 Kauffer’s England

Kauffer exhibition continues until 18th December 2011.

Wednesday to Saturday 11:00 to 18:00 hours.  Sunday 12:00 to 17:00. Late night opening Thursdays until 20.00.  Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

£5.00, concessions £3.50, includes permanent collection and temporary exhibitions.  Free to under-16s and students on production of a valid NUS card.

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art: 39a Canonbury Square, London N1 2AN

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Fast and Furious Figaro


The Boss stitching Figaro up copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Puzzle Piece Opera’s Figaro in 50 minutes, is the latest in a series of 50 minute operas they have performed and my second Figaro in a week, but  it was worth the journey, and what a journey! Figaro transported to the office at top speed.

Figaro sulking copyright Cherry Potts 2011

How do you get through the Marriage of Figaro in fifty minutes?  Lose the choruses, take out the recitative, truncate some of the arias and dispense with some minor characters: Barbarina does not feature nor does the Gardener. Although the singing is in Italian, the action is held together by a narrative in rhyming couplets in English written by Lucy Drever who also directs and page turns for a nimble fingered Gaspar Hunt on piano; and performed by Figaro himself, (Simon Dyer) doing cheeky chappie by turns plotting and sulking; and taking the narration a tad too fast, although his singing was excellent.  In fact everyone was in good voice, it would be unfair to single anyone out (although I will).

Mrs Boss masquerades as Susanna copyright Cherry Potts 2011

The Regent Hall is an obscure performing space, right on Oxford Street but almost invisible.  It is a massive echoing space, and the singers had a lot of stage room to fill too: much effective use is made of a  coat stand centre stage, hiding in turn: Cherubino, Figaro, the Boss and Mrs Boss; this last played by Emily Garland typically mopey, and rather static, but her voice is amazing: vibrant, clear and delectable, her duets with Susanna (Emma-Claire Crook) were particularly fine.

The Boss (Casey-Joe Rumens) was played with conviction as feeling absolutely entitled to grope Susanna, stitch Figaro up and sack Cherubino on a whim, and thoroughly undeserving of his wife’s forgiveness.

Susannah's 'faint' copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Basilio (Matthew Straw) was a very effective toadying second in command, conniving at the Boss’ attempts to seduce Susannah whilst secretly yearning after the boss himself.  Susanna herself flirts and bats her eyelashes and fakes a faint to protect Cherubino from discovery.

Marcellina restrained copyright Cherry Potts 2011

I particularly enjoyed Clara Lisle playing  Marcellina as a bit of a would-be vamp (wearing enormous gold platform shoes reminiscent of Vivienne Westwood). She thoroughly enjoyed twisting Figaro’s tail and was anxiously checking her makeup (or possibly her crows’ feet), in between cat fights with Susanna, and had to be physically restrained by Basilio and Steven East’s Bartolo, a loyal supporter of Marcellina who seems a bit surprised to find himself named as the father of her child.

Cherubino makes for the window copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Cherubino’s escapade with the window is managed wittily, and cheeky use is made of coffee jugs.  Georgina Mottram playing him staggeringly young I felt, possibly on work experience!

All is resolved as the office workers bury their differences, grab coats and scarves, and head for the pub.

Puzzle Piece are performing 50 minute Figaro again, 28th October 1pm at Charlton House, and next month at Blackheath Halls, go and be entertained.

Get your coat... copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

Feverish Figaro


To the ENO for the Marriage of Figaro last night, with around 20 fellow Onegin  chorus members, which added to the entertainment value.  We went because Kate Valentine, who sang Tatyana in our production of Eugene Onegin, is singing the Countess, and very relieved we were that she was singing the Countess, as she missed the opening performances due to a chest infection.

There was no sign of this recent illness impeding her, Kate has a phenomenal voice, with great beauty, clarity and power.  It is only with the distance of being in the audience rather than on stage with her, that I truly appreciated just how lucky we were to get her for Onegin.  Up in the balcony (never again in the balcony, uncomfortable is an understatement, I was worried about developing DVT, my feet went numb!) we could hear brilliantly, in fact it was only Jonathan Best as Doctor Bartolo who let us down on that front, he seemed unaware that the top stack existed and projected his voice exclusively at the stalls.

With a piece that will be (very) familiar to a lot of the audience it is important to have a fresh approach without going off the rails.  If I don’t have much to say about Iain Paterson (Figaro), Devon Guthrie (Susanna) and Roland Wood (Count Almaviva) in this production it is because they are wonderful, but equally I’ve never seen a production of Figaro where this wasn’t the case, and in a big opera like Figaro its the quality of the minor characters that sets it apart for me.

Being in the balcony had its advantages with understanding the ever spinning set. (that’s an exaggeration it does stand still a fair bit.) I imagine that from the stalls you only get glimpses of what’s going on behind the front layer, through the windows and doorways, whereas we had a bird’s-eye view of the Almaviva’s household about its business.  There has been a bit of discussion about this in reviews, but I liked it, it freed the action from the confines of the one room and rigid entrance/ exit options and allowed us to witness the characters interacting with others in ways that particularly filled in their temperament and state of mind: The Count pursuing other serving women, and their strategies for staying out of his way; him ignoring the one who rather wants him to notice her.  In fact there is a lot of ducking through doorways to avoid each other going on, and with the steady turn of the revolve, this became balletic and exciting rather than tedious; although I can imagine it making the rehearsal process a lot more challenging, you would need to time the movements a lot more carefully and stick to it; less room for improvising an exit.

There was  something about the hustle and bustle, spying and overhearing, ducking and diving, and pursuit and hiding that puts the main action into context, and genuinely gives a feeling of threat: the Count really is a powerful man who can dispose his favours and his displeasure as he sees fit, and no one, including his wife, is safe from him.  It makes the subterfuge less silly, and more plausible; these are not people with a lot of tools to fight their battles, they have only their wits and the power of ridicule – there is this constant feeling of if this goes wrong we are in major trouble; which accentuated the humour; and the libretto translation by Jeremy Sams, is very funny, there was a lot of startled laughter from the audience; and laughter from something that your audience can anticipate the humour of is quite an accolade.

The cast have no doubt benefited from Fiona Shaw’s acting experience informing her direction, and the chorus get a lot of silly things to do like lugging the Count’s hunting kill into the Countess’s bedroom (was it a wild boar? couldn’t tell from that high, even with binoculars) and mugging their way through Figaro’s conducting of their hymn to the modern thinking of their feudal overlord.

Kate Valentine plays the Countess as addicted to smelling salts and wine, jittery, at the end of her tether and liable to do anything in her misery, even play along with Figaro’s crazy schemes.  Good for her, the Countess is often played whining or sulky and I have never been much on her side before.

I’m always fond of a britches part and Cherubino has some of the best tunes is a dazzlingly satisfying score, and Kathryn Rudge does a superb job both vocally and in her acting; which if a little broad at times doesn’t have that lovesick-calf-mooning-pricipal-boy discomfort that some  singers give it, naming no names.  She does adolescent irrepressibility very well, and is very funny when ‘cross dressing’ to hand over flowers to her/his beloved countess, dress rucked up and proffering an entire rose-bush, roots and all, which is later battered against a kitchen table by the Count. (I bet the gardener had something to say about that).

Marcellina (Lucy Schaufer) is a vigorous, sparky and rather arch madam, and again, refreshing for it.

The costumes are not what you’d call ravishing, but I rather liked the austerity of almost everyone in black with white trim, and there are some wonderful hats.  Against the white walls of the set, it felt more like Flanders than Spain, but then the bull skulls drew you back into the suggestion of bull fighting.  There was some interesting use of projection onto the screen that doubles as part of the set and a curtain; both of live action with shadows and of filmed snatches of the cast in costume and in mufti mainly for the overtures, but also occasionally commenting on the action, a silhouetted horned man, made by the use of sickles stands behind the Count when he thinks he’s being cuckolded.  That mufti seeps out into the action: there are a few deliberate anachronisms, Cherubino wandering around with a cine camera, the Countess in a trench coat and trousers when she threatens to leave the Count at the end, by implication literally walking out of the story, not just her marriage;  Cherubino skipping about in an anorak when he has no more to do.

I do have a nit to pick however, why is Don Basilio (Timothy Robinson) played as blind – or played as playing blind, perhaps?

Overall, an enthralling and charming evening.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011