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.

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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


‘CENDRILLON’ – A TRIBUTE

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