Tuesday, December 18, 2012

10.10.68: Concerts and Operas

Dear Mum (the 10th), got another one of your big letters yesterday, and an a/gram the day before, and along with the latter, a letter (!) from C[harles]. Spain, telling me that they’d taken up a collection for me at the A.G.M. of the [Dunedin] Opera Co and that they've credited me with £8-8-7, which seems an awful lot now!  I can’t make out though whether they've forwarded the cash to my BNZ a/c here or at home.  Since he says it’s sterling, I thought perhaps he’s managed to send it to the UK, and I’ll check sometime with the Bank and see.  If he has that would be great.

How’s Auntie Annie?  [One of my great aunts in Dunedin.] I was rather distressed to hear that she’s now on a downhill path – however happy she may be, I’ve hated to see the aunts sort of one-by-one vanishing.  And Tess would be so lonely, too.  [Tess and Anne had lived together as spinster sisters for all their lives, after fianc├ęs were killed in the Great War.]

Re Confession, I’m going tomorrow – and I hadn’t forgotten...!  It’s taken rather a while to find out even when they have it.  I’m going out to the Crowls again on the weekend.  I feel a bit guilty – up to a certain point – because I rang them the day after they got back, and though Reg was going to write and invite me again that day, I hope they didn’t think I was hinting, or anything.  But truth to tell I’ve got very attached to them (apart from the fact that they’re so generous and I really felt like talking to them again.

Michael came back too last weekend, and called at the flat (may as well call it that) with Kate while I was out, on Saturday. However he left a note to ring him, and he and I went out, after our various occupations, on Monday night, and saw a new version (and a not over wonderful one) of The Beggars Opera. Apart from a darn good comedienne and some interesting, and very modern orchestration – curious combination of piano-celesta-harpsichord with a load of percussion, a bass fiddle, a clarinet, a horn and bassoon!  Mike got a year at the Immigration – so he’ll be here at least that much longer! 

I should have written to Kingsley before he left and made some more definite arrangements about meeting him, but it wasn’t until mail started arriving here for him that I realised he was nearly coming.  Actually the mail must have been sent before he left, which seems a bit curious, but....!  Anyway, I’ll definitely leave some message at the OVC when he does arrive – I can’t even tell him now how to get to London from the airport and thence to the OVC, but he’s got more self-assurance than I, so he’ll find it, no doubt. 

SISTER ST ANNE!!! Isn’t that fantastic – it’s rather strangely like a lot of other odds and ends in the coincidence line that have cropped up since I arrived, and which seem to make me feel as tho I’ve done the right thing. [No idea what the coincidence was, but Sister St Anne had been my first music teacher, and I just loved her. She was still teaching music up until a few years ago, and had hardly changed a jot.]  EG, the first concert I attended included the Mozart Piano Concerto we worked on in the first Music School [in Dunedin], and the Bach P.C. [?] of the next year turned up on the radio one morning, then there’s been the number of NZers I met in the first week, the fact that Albert Herring figures so prominently in the programme for the Centre, etc. [I had been one of the two repetiteurs for the NZ Opera Co’s production of Albert Herring a year or so before this.]  Actually, over the last couple of days, I’ve had one of my depressive bits again – caused once again partly by a comment somebody made on the immoral state of a party that had been held – how he was supposed to have known when he didn’t attend it I don’t know, and so I’ll take that with a grain of salt, and the other thing was that whereas I thought I was going quite well in my playing of The Telephone, over the last day or so it seems to have fallen apart, and though the Senior Coach, Sheila Thomas, has been quite sympathetic to me and keeps saying how hard it is, etc, I feel I should be able to do better with it, particularly as the other two works in the programme are harder to play.  And just when I think I’m sort of playing not too badly, one of the singers or stage managers will turn around and play almost as well as I ever do! I wonder then whether I’m even remotely near to being of the right standard required.  It’s funny because earlier on this week, I’d been quite happy about it all.  However, I must persevere for the reasons mentioned in previous letters at least for a year, and perhaps by that time I’ll really know whether it’s worth while going on or whether I should go home and a ditch-digger.  I sometimes feel quite a lack of musical education and that I’ve a tremendous long way to go to catch up, but it seems as though most of the NZeders are in the same boat.  I’ll have to somehow combat this negative approach I think and plow ahead as though it didn’t matter.  Lots of prayers I think. 

I must certainly write to Sister SA and I’m sure I can manage to do it without cutting you out!  It seems ages since I wrote to you anyway.  ?. 

Went to The Bartered Bride at the NFT on Sat evening – a 1932 film vaguely based on the opera, but with a much better working of the plot and only occasional use of the actual music but very energetic and taken at a frantic pace.  The only bug-bear was the necessity of ear-phones for a translation (it was in German – bits of which I understood!), but one had to remove them to hear the music, which of course they didn’t translate!?!  On Sunday, though I had been going to go to another film, I changed my mind at the last minute, on looking in my wallet, and went for a walk on the Victoria and Albert docks instead.  They were absolutely deserted, and vast.  But it wasn’t really greatly interesting, and so I just wandered around a bit – and think I discovered the location that they used at one stage of the film Bedazzled there.  On Tuesday, by sheer luck, Mike and I were able to go to a Festival Hall concert – best seats at cheapest prices again – when we thought we wouldn't be able to, and we saw the best concert I’ve ever attended.  First Leonora No 2 by Beethoven (one of his four overtures ! to Fidelio – he was unsatisfied with 3) and then Barry Tuckwell, the big man in the horn-playing line, played a Mozart Concerto – with a distinctly funny last movement.  This man plays the horn in the manner of one of those old film actors who are so obviously being dubbed because they don’t move a muscle emotionally or physically, apart from actually sort of moving around the instrument, whatever it is.  And yet the sound and music he makes is fabulous.  And lastly [handwritten] aaagh, I’m not going to get it all in after all – I’ll start another letter.  Luv Mike.

Next aerogram...
What I was going to say at the end of the last letter was that lastly they played Mahler’s First Symphony, with a rather augmented orchestra: five trumpets and that sort of thing.  It was conducted by Jascha Horenstein, who although he isn’t that well known in London has quite a reputation as a Mahler man – he must be about 70, [he was indeed seventy, and died only five years later] and yet to conduct with the energy he uses would take a 17-year-old all his time.  You recall the Mahler 4th I’ve got at home and which we both liked?  It has the lady singing in the last movement and she and the flute sort of get carried away as though the record was being speeded up?  Well, the first is so obviously the same composer at work that parts of the two sound identical.  It hasn’t the long slow movement of the fourth symphony, but has instead a minor-key version of Frere Jacque! (plus another counter-tune eventually running along the top).  The whole symphony is based on the interval of a fourth – if you sing F.J. to yourself you’ll strike a fourth when you go Ding dong ding.  Of course apart from the fourth, there is a lot of surrounding material, but all his thematic material, on which each movement is based derives from this fourth interval.  Remember on the way to ChCh I was telling you about the B. Britten War Requiem, and how it is all based on the interval of a second?  Well, the idea is the same.  And it is fantastically well orchestrated.  I was trying to do what we’d been told that day in our reps class – to approach all older music as though it was new, and to try and feel how people must have when a thing was considered revolutionary.  (Vice-versa, new music needs to [be] approached as though we were already familiar with it!)   Going on this basis, the music is really fabulous – though one can see why Mahler has so long been neglected.  The last movement of the symphony, which by comparison with the other three is a wild fury, was so exciting that the audience went mad at the end and clapped for positively ages. We even stood up in the end and clapped, and people were shouting bravo – especially Alistair Dawes (see previous ref.) who had sat through the whole work as though any minute he might get up and conduct with Horenstein. and who is mad on Mahler – after that performance, anyone would be I think.  I’ve never felt so terrifically excited by anything musical before, and it really was a unique experience.  [It’s hard to imagine now that at this point, Mahler’s music had hardly been heard for the previous thirty or so years.]

The next night we were allowed into an Aida  general rehearsal, which was fabulous as far as the leads went – the Aida was so beautifully sung, and the tenor was rather glorious too.  The girl who played Amneris, who is sort of the villainess of the piece, had tremendous stage presence, for an opera singer, but hadn’t half the voice of the principals.  The sets were fantastic.  The opening scene is all gold and black, and the costuming likewise – the next scene is the inside [of] Amneris’ tent, which transformed into the huge courtyard where all the spectacle bit comes in, and then we had a scene at night near the Nile, with it all sort of gorgeously blue, and the costuming again fitting in, and then finally the interior of the prison, first just two doors with a set of lamps between, and then this goes and we see the tomb on stage level and a great slab is lowered on chains, and people move about on this upper area, which has steps leading off etc. Unfortunately, until the 3rd Act, by far the best musically and dramatically, none of us Opera Centre people could take it very seriously (most of the students were there) because in the second part of the first scene the wall at the back opened out and a dozen or so ballerinas, appropriately dressed, came out and did the most untidy ballet I’ve ever seen, and then in the next scene in the tent, there was a male ballet, which was equally sloppy, and then in the next scene, after one had got over the rather hysterical process of the same dozen men coming on again and again with different banners  - going out one side and coming in the other again – and they were always out of step! – there was another ballet in which not only did they not seem to know what they were supposed to be doing quite, but the lead ballerina was almost dropped into the pit by her three men supports.  She went head over heels between the 3, and after we’d got over the initial shock of seeing her slip into their arms upside down, it was impossible not to laugh at the sight of this very neat lady with her legs sticking upwards at two quite ridiculous angles!  In the tent scene there had been a male lead dancer and he’d done some acrobatic things over his supporters and almost fallen head first to the floor off one of their shoulders!  In the third act, the lighting, which was the aforementioned blue, suddenly went pitch-dark, then all the working lights came up and revealed the set as it really was, and this happened two or 3 times during the act.  The conductor had to stop several times because of the chorus who didn’t seem to know some parts of it, and one poor small-part man was constantly in the wrong place!  Apparently he’d played another part in the same production and there was always some production assistant coming up and telling him he was wrong!  What a night.  But the singing was good. 

Here are some more students:- Hazel Sharples, a Negress with an irresistible laugh, and who is very friendly, and who like many of the students isn’t a Londoner – lots of them feel about it the way I do. That it is marvellous to be there.  She’s a SM. [She was actually from Guyana – I had no idea where that was at that time – and a year later we were seriously considering getting married. She went on to have a successful career as a stage manager, and died suddenly in 1995. A book prize for stage management students at Guildhall is named after her.]  Tony Something, a baritone, a Welshman, who spends more time laughing at himself and life in general than anyone I’ve ever met.  Formerly a teacher, and one of those people you can insult on very short acquaintance.  Moyra [Moira] Paterson, one of several Scots, who with Joyce McCrindle, another, has spent all this time looking for a different flat.  They’re right at the other end of one of the tube lines I’m on.  I’ve got to some work with Joyce on Sat morning near Baker St, somewhere. Tessa Cahill, a slightly plump, but very attractive and very efficient sop.  Loreen [Laureen] Livingstone, a diminutive Scots soprano, with very dark hair, and a very quiet way. Oh, dear, look where I am again. [handwritten] There’s just never enough room on these things.  Not to worry.  Luv Mike.