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

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!

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

Celebrating Benjamin Britten


noyes fluddSo, it’s still LGBT History month, and it’s also Benjamin Britten’s centenary so what better way to celebrate the magnificence of BB’s unapologetic gayness and talent than to sing in Noye’s Fludd?

A. has had an ambition to sing some Britten for many the long year so we were thrilled when we heard that our regular singing venue, Blackheath Halls were doing Noye’s Fludd Directed by James Hurley.

There isn’t a vast amount of singing for the adult chorus to do (although there is plenty of ark building!), as the majority of the choral work and six of the principals are taken by children. Apart from the three hymns (Lord Jesus Think on Me, For Those in Peril on the Sea and the Tallis canon) we have only a few Kirie’s and hallelujahs and a short piece as the animals disembark as the flood recedes. However our brief moment is thrilling: all the children and sopranos are singing hallelujahs, and us tenors sing the bottom line of the principals’ verse, which cuts through all the pretty stuff gloriously.

Our orchestra sound superb, with  each section in turn – trumpets, recorders, strings, piano/organ, hand bells and in particular percussion getting an opportunity to shine, which they do. I’m getting a huge amount of pleasure from just listening to them nail the rhythms and comedy moments, and the moving discords of the flood: Mrs Noye’s delivery of the slap round the chops to her husband, the dove crooning encouragingly, the tea-cup first drips of rain. Nick Jenkins has every reason to be proud of them, and I think Mr Britten would be pleased with them too.  The fact that some of the orchestra are smaller than their instruments makes no difference, they aren’t good-for-their-age, these are talented musicians and performers: I look forward to being able to say ‘I worked with her/him when …’ when they are famous.

The design (by Rachel Szmukler) is huge fun with the animal masks for the children a delight of recycled plastic bottles and spoons. A special mention for the  giraffes, who act their ears and horns off, disapproving of Mrs Noye, anxious of the waves, consoling Mr Noye and fascinated by the other animals. the fact that their ears flap with such dignity is a massive assistance.

Atmospheric lighting from Ben Pickersgill makes our flood refugees; shelter effectively dreary and murky, and the children have produced some really stylish pictures for our wall of ‘missing’ family and pets, and images of animals floods and arks. The piles of dead TVs, sleeping bags and suitcases create a suitably chaotic impression, and teething problems with the overly ambitious building of the seating for the audience are now resolved.

We are privileged to be working with Matthew Rose and Clarissa Meek (Mr & Mrs Noye) who aren’t a bit worried about getting physical as they climb about arks and giant water tanks.

A special mention for Mrs Noye’s ‘gossips’, who wield their umbrellas with wit and panache and sing beautifully, and Lawrence Wallington as Voice of God, by turns sinister and kindly, directing his angelic property men to bring up the flood of sleeping bags, or deliver the dove back to Noye’s waiting hands.

Sorry to get you all enthusiastic, because unfortunately the shows are all sold out!

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