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?
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

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