World Premier… my very first tune

Organising Longest Night kept me away from my own blog for a while, but it was completely worth it, not least because it gave me an opportunity to share my first ever musical composition with musicians who would do it justice. Here are Ian Kennedy and Sarah Lloyd singing The Cold Time.

This is a Trobairitz song from the late 12th Century, written by Azalaïs de Porcairagues, in what is now Languedoc. It is written in a form of Provençal known now as Occitan. The tune is lost, and I came across it in Meg Bogin’s book The Women Troubadours, while researching my historical novel about Cathars and Trobairitz, The Cold Time, which I may eventually finish.

I actually wrote the melody a very long time ago, but coming up with harmonies has been a slower process. Ian & Sarah were incredibly patient with me!

I learnt Provençal, and tweaked Bogin’s translation for poetic rhythm and sense. The original song is a much longer work, but only this first section stands alone without understanding the social mores of the time and the geography and architecture of the city of Aurenga (Orange) – it was only when I went there and visited the museum that I understood a reference later in the song to the ‘Arch with the Triumphs’. A Roman triumphal arch, which for several centuries was built into the castle, effectively forming the front door. This was certainly the case when Azalaïs knew the then count,  Raimbaut d’Aurenga. These days the arch sits on a roundabout to the north of the city centre, and getting to it is a death defying race across, dodging massed lorries.

Roman triumphal arch, Orange, Provence

Raimbaut d’Aurenga’s Front Door

Notionally the section here is a typical Troubadour song of the seasons, although Spring was a more popular subject than Winter. However, the song is in fact an extended metaphor and a farewell to Raimbaut, Azalaïs’ ‘Nightingale’. She does not say so, but he had died.

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

Reading at Brixton BookJam: Opera first night nerves

First night nerves not about the Book Jam, but about the Opera which starts tonight (there are a very few tickets left – you’ll be sorry you missed it!)

CP at BookJam 5 copyright A AdamsI was a bit uneasy about yet another night out in a week of performances, but thought, what the hell, I’ll ask to go on early. Which I did. I really wanted to stay and listen to the rest of the stories, but really, really needed one early night. A shame, I love being read to, and there was some really interesting work going on. People talking to angels in telephone boxes, unwilling May Queens, and monsters swimming through concrete, just my sort of thing! I read Cloud Island, in a carefully edited version that kept it to the five minutes allocated (unlike other people, who shall not be named, who royally took the p).

CP at Bookjam1 copyright A AdamsI’m not really nervous, excited more. I keep thinking I ought to go and have a lie down before we have to go (reminds me of the party at the beginning of Gone with the Wind, with all the ladies lying about in their underwear) but I’m too keyed up for it to do much good, which might be why I’m blogging! It’s going to be sweltering in the dressing rooms, and we have full battle dress for the first few scenes then a two-and-a-half-minute quick change into evening wear – getting the boots off is the hardest bit. I bet you thought being in an opera would be glamorous, didn’t you? We are pouring sweat and trying to look like an elegant crowd of courtiers. I did find myself singing the right thing while struggling with a vital prop in the dress rehearsal on Sunday, and thought, Right, we’re ready then! Up until then if anything other than straightforward happened I would forget to sing. To think I considered not doing the Opera this year. As IF.

Inspirations – Marvell and computers

mosaic glyphThe short story Mosaic of Air, (title story of my first collection and republished this coming September)  began life in a computer literacy class in the late 1980’s. I was bored, the class was going slowly, and I’d been given some BASIC code to play with.  I started to imagine what would happen if the computer really talked back. Cal appeared at my elbow and started footling about with her highly illegal sonic knife, and within a few minutes I knew everything about her – her schooling in sabotage, her stammer and her obsessions. Rhani and the McCarthys came later, and have (inevitably) somewhat taken over from Cal in later stories, but it was a big moment, that dull afternoon in Catford.

The title is from an Andrew Marvell poem and it should really be That Mosaic of the Air – a reference to music, which inspired Computer’s idea of appropriate ceremony.  I gave  Computer a personality but let her binary logic run riot. Consequently, inevitably, things do not turn out well.

You can pre-order a copy of the new paperback version of Mosaic of Air at a special £1 off pre-publication price here.

© Copyright Cherry Potts 2013

Mini Last Night of the Proms at Blackheath Halls

I regard Blackheath Halls as an extension of my home, despite being a good twenty-minute car journey away. For about half the year I spend at least one evening a week there, singing; we had the party for our civil partnership there, and I am happy to turn up to be in the audience on a fairly regular basis.

The latest morsel of delight is a mini Last Night at the Proms, featuring some of my favourite collaborators from  Blackheath Halls Operas – Grant Doyle (La Boheme, The Elixir of Love, Cinderella) and Nicholas Sharratt (Elixir, Eugene Onegin).  Both great singers and lovely friendly people who treat us amateurs like equals. For some reason I cannot fathom, tickets are not exactly flying out of the computer – are people sated with Proms? Or is it just that you need the behemoth marketing skills of the BBC to promote this kind of thing? My totally biased opinion is that anything Grant and Nick are in has to be a good thing, and I don’t want to be doing a Henry V speech about we happy few.

So if you don’t want to be thinking yourselves accursed you were not there… phone the box office!

Blackheath Cendrillon: A slipper and a ring

L.C. here.  This is my last post on behalf of Cherry.  She says I’ve behaved very irresponsibly and I am lucky not to have been had up in front of the Leveson Enquiry.  Anyway, I’m feeling a bit crest-fallen because I didn’t find out who the mystery woman was first after all.

But I was there, when it happened at least, and yes, I know I wasn’t supposed to take pictures, because Harriet’s lot had an exclusive; but, what the hell, might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, eh?

What a turn up!  Who knew that the ghastly Haltiere woman had another daughter?  How did they hide her from the cameras?  Harriet says they thought she was a servant (in the Haltiere household read that as slave) and no-one, not even her Dad, recognised her until she took her shoes off – the heels weren’t that high.  Madame H nearly ruined my pictures blocking everything out with her giant hat.

So, anyway, Lucette de la Haltiere is our new queen. Charming looks pleased, and the King frankly, relieved.  I know you didn’t hear it here first or anything, but it’s still rather remarkable.

Sadly everything in this blog, even Elsie (yes it is Elsie, not L.C. no matter what she says) is entirely imaginary.  Thanks to Jules Massenet and his collaborators, including Harry Fehr for the inspiration of the Blackheath Halls Community Opera production of Cinderella (Cendrillon) You can read reviews of the production here and here, but the run is over, so that’s it til next year, apart from those involved in the work who get together in September to start planning … Purcell, anyone?

© Cherry Potts 2012

Blackheath Cendrillon: A Post from the Court Poet, Grand Duchess Elizabette


The skies above were leaden, the clouds loomed dark and grey,
but, at the Halls, the mood was light, all musical and gay.
Forget the Jubilympics,  forget the Torch Relay,
‘Cinderella, the Opera’ is the order of the day.

Nick Jenkins was regaling us with tales of Gay Paree,
La Belle Epoque, the Opera, the splendid Comedie.
We worried for his sanity –  he was so darn frenetic,
so passionate, so supercharged, so horribly energetic,
that, in the end, we really felt we really had to say,
‘Take a chill pill, calm down, Nick,  it’s only Massenet.’

Now, Harry, we’ve been wondering, when you were just a kid,
did you do all the games and pastimes other nippers did?
Or were your days spent reading Ikea catalogues,
instead of guns and football and walking with the dogs?
It’s just that we have noticed (and this isn’t disapproval),
that you seem to have a penchant for furniture removal.

Picture Harry with an analyst, you know the archetype,
goatee, bow tie and accent that you could cut with a knife.
Says Freud, ‘Lie on zis sofa, you’re obsessed und I can prove it.’
Harry says, My God, a sofa! I know just the place to move it!’

Madame is shrill and shrewish, she yells and screams and bickers,
but she is just a parvenu, all fur coat and no knickers.
The sisters weird, their mother mad, their schemes all dark and miry,
in fact, just like the Murdochs at the Leveson Enquiry.

Ah, poor Monsieur, we felt for you, your girl abused and spurned.
Oh how we cheered and clapped our hands when your inner worm it turned!
You showed Madame who’s master, but we fervently hope and pray,
you never buy her a copy of  ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’!

While cougars prowled the catwalk in search of princely bounty,
the younger ones were definitely of the set called ‘county’.
In their gorgeous ball gowns, they looked divine and lush.
More swaying derrieres were there than Pippa’s famous tush!
The panoply of human life, the highnesses and lownesses  –
there was more money at that ball than bankers’ annual bonuses!

Though suicide attempts were made, there were no casualties,
for in the fairy hospital were fairy remedies.
In fact, the Fairy Godmother was pulling all the strings.
Her silver call rang out and all the fairies flapped their wings.
Her powers are legendary – all must hear and obey.
She got a hotline call from Dave and Nick the other day.
‘G4S is yours’ they cried, ‘and, if you want to stay,
we’ll put you in the Cabinet instead of Theresa May!’

The brides thought they were shoe-ins, but hefty feet and shins,
meant that they could not fit into those dainty Louboutins.
Don’t worry, thwarted sisters, your futures don’t look dark –
just go down to Mahiki’s and nab an oligarch.

Oh, Prince and Cinderella, you tugged at our heartstrings.
We sobbed and cried with tears of joy when you exchanged your rings.
But even now the Godmother, though you are all loved up,
is at the elfin lawyer’s, looking through the prenup.

Our revels now are ended but we hope we may, we might,
next year – if funding will allow – continue this delight.
We all desire to sing again and to enjoy the sight,
of a little bit of Harry and Nick Jenkins in the night!

Written by Elizabeth Goldman © July 2012
and dedicated, with love and thanks,
on behalf of Blackheath Halls Community Opera Chorus to:
Harry Fehr & Nick Jenkins

Blackheath Cendrillon: Prince Charming’s Dilema

L.C. Spinetti here again, I got in a bit of trouble with that recording earlier, Harriet says she’s going to sue me, but only when she needs the publicity. However the head honchos at REALly?! really liked it, and I got a pay rise and a commission to take pictures of all the eligible Gels About Town, which has proved very useful, as the second most eligible bachelor is officially on the market, so most of the Gels in question are really keen to have their portraits on line.

Prince Charming refuses to go to the Ball copyright Cherry Potts 2012

but the questions is

Which will he choose?

Prince Charming trying to choose a wife copyright Cherry Potts 2012

here are a few of the lovely ladies making the running.

Of course, after the ball last night it was pretty obvious that none of these well-heeled, well-bred ladies no matter how good a self-publicist she is, no matter how far she is prepared to demean herself or her fellow princesses in wanton displays of vapid self-interest, they had not a hope amongst them.  The Prince has set his heart on an impossible dream, he wants to marry a woman with character (I told you so) and tiny feet (Ok, I didn’t think of that one.)

So all they can hope for now is to turn up at the Abbey tomorrow, and see whether the mysterious and impractical glass slipper fits them.

but I got a picture of the mystery heart breaker, and I bet I can find her faster than any herald with a slipper on a cushion and accompanying trumpeters. Ha!

Mystery woman makes her appearance at the ball copyright Cherry Potts 2012

Sadly, none of the people or situations in this blog are real, they are in fact the product of the imagination of  Charles Perrault, by way of Jules Massenet, Jeremy Sams, Harry Fehr and Cherry Potts, with a bit of help from other members of the Blackheath Opera Chorus.  Massenet’s Cinderella final performance is on Sunday at Blackheath Halls, but is sold out. Sorry!

© Cherry Potts 2012

Blackheath Cendrillon: At Home with the Haltieres

The Haltieres arrive at the cocktail party copyright Cherry Potts 2012

OMG! Have I got a Scoopydoop of a Scoop!  Madame de la Haltiere is going to be sued! Sorry forgot to say, L.C. Spinetti here.  Have a listen to this sound file, where Harriet Lime, director of Season 5 of At Home with the Haltieres reveals what it is really like behind the scenes at the hit reality show from REALly?! TV.

harriet lime phone call

Sadly none of the people or incidents in this blog are real,  Today’s blog features Harriet Lime, a character created by Alix Adams, based on the original character created by Harry Fehr for the Blackheath Community Opera Cinderella. Tickets are still available for Tuesday and Wednesday, but Sunday has sold out.

© Cherry Potts 2012

Blackheath Cendrillon: Prince Charming … alarming

L.C.Spinetti here again, Cherry’s too busy with Arachne Press to cover the unfolding drama at court, so REALly!? have given me a short commission to keep up with action in the small kingdom of BlackHeath.  Quite a change from covering Crufts.

So you’ll never guess who I met on the heath this morning. The Royal Poodles! All four of them, being walked by a couple of footman and the Prince’s ex nanny.

One of the poodles – Horatio – bounded up to me and almost knocked me over, and she came over to apologise.  Of course she’s used to being recognised especially if she’s out with the dogs, so she wasn’t terribly impressed when I said hello, but actually, I do know her – she’s a friend of Mother’s.  So after I reminder her who I was we had a bit of a chat, mostly about Signor Spinetti, who is off covering the Grand Prix, however I couldn’t help noticing she was looking rather strained.  So I asked, is one of the dogs ill?

Oh no, she said, no, they’re all fine, it’s the prince.  He’s been moping for days, and now he says he wont go to the ball.

Now, even I know a scoop when it’s dropped in my lap, so I persuade her that she needs a cup of coffee, from the stall by the pond, and sit her down on a bench. The poodles scamper in and out of the water and the footmen sneak off for a quick fag and a pint in the PoW, and nanny unburdens her anxieties onto my willing ears.

Nanny: The atmosphere at the palace is dreadful, Charming moping, his father stamping about in a temper – and normally I’d rely on Henry Fortescue-Smythe, to sort it out, you know what a fixer he is, but there’s been that incident – well, in his absence his uncle, (ginger-beer-peer, Lord H F-S) can generally get one of them to come round, but he got stomped on by a horse in the winner’s enclosure at Ascot, and has a broken foot, so he’s not really up to shuttle diplomacy from one wing of the palace to the other.
The Prime Minister has tried, but he has about as much tact as a rhino on heat – no, it’s very stressful.

LCS: What’s caused all this? I mean it’s not like the prince to sulk, he’s always been such a sweet boy.

Nanny: Well, just so – that’s how he got his nick name, it was me who coined it, as it were – I remember when he was just a little boy – well, never mind that – he grown now and he needs a wife.

LCS: You don’t think…

Nanny: Good heavens, no!

LCS: Well, it’s just that…

Nanny: No Elsie, put that thought from your mind.

LCS: It’s L.C. actually. Anyway, if he’s sulking about being asked to marry – it’s not like there aren’t plenty of pretty girls he can choose from.

Snooty princesses copyright Cherry Potts 2012

Nanny: Handsome is as Handsome does, Elsie dear. Most of them are scheming gold-diggers only interested in his money and position.  It’s not easy for a prince to meet the right girl; although there was a very sweet girl at the party rehearsal – he seemed quite taken with her at the time.  I had a long chat with the Mother, somebody de la Villette – daughter of a rent collector, can you imagine! She has great hopes for her Hortense, but – a little – provincial – I don’t think the King would wear it – it would take forever to get her polished up.  No, sadly, I don’t think Hortense is the girl for my Prince Charming, though she’d be a better bet than either of those toxic Haltiere girls.

LCS: Oh! Do you know them?

Nanny: Know them? I was at school with their mother, and a right madam she was too, bullied everyone.  Even the headmistress was frightened of her.  She thinks her girls are good enough for my Charming. He wouldn’t give either of them a second glance – except of horror possibly.   Not their fault of course, it’s just… Madame.  ghastly woman.

Hortense de la Villette overwhelmed by her encounter with the Prince copyright Cherry Potts 2012

LCS: So what do you think the Prince looks for in a  potential wife?

Nanny: All the traditional princessly virtues of course. Beauty, charm, grace, kindness, a lovely voice, her own money, good breeding…

LCS: Intelligence? Courage? Humour?

Nanny: Let’s be realistic Elsie, we are talking about Princesses.  He’d be lucky to find one with any of those qualities.

Lucky indeed. We’d finished our coffee at this point so I couldn’t drag it out any longer. Well, the party starts at seven on Tuesday, so we shall see: will the prince make do with a vacuous god-digger or will he find the princess of his dreams?

© Cherry Potts 2012

Sadly this blog is a work of fiction and noneof the characters depicted in it should be taken to represent any real person or company living or dead.  They spring from the fertile imaginations of Mssrs Perrault and Massenet as channelled by Harry Fehr with  a bit of help from Cherry Potts and other members of the cast of Cinderella;

this year’s community opera at Blackheath Halls. Today’s installment features Mme de la Villette, a character created by Laura Sparkes.