Tuesday, December 11, 2012

28.9.68: Washing and Wagner

Dear Mum, got a lovely long letter from you – incidentally as far as I know I’ve had all your letters; and have meant to answer things in them, but there’s always so much to tell you that by the time I’ve finished I’ve also finished the aerogram.  This time I will give you some answers.  The floods were all a lot south of London as far as I know – I’ve hardly bought a paper since I’ve been here; for one thing there are so many to choose from, and it saves those few pence a day.  Re Kevin Rowlands: I’m a bit unsure how to get hold of him really – I rather doubt that I’d get to see him at the stage door of the theatre, the way things are here, and it’s a bit of a trip up to the West End, unless I’m going that way, and when I am, I’m always in such a darn hurry to get somewhere that I don’t have time to sidetrack.  I’ll see if I can get hold of a phone number at his home address tomorrow – Sunday – and if that doesn’t work, I’ll just have to try ringing the theatre. When you see how busy I’ve been since the course started, you’ll realise that I don’t even seem to have much time in the day to ring anyone. [You get the impression I wasn’t keen to follow up on Kevin Rowlands. I’d heard about this man for some years – he was the only son of our direct neighbours across the street at home – and he was his mother's pride and joy because he’d ‘made’ it in London. He was a dancer, but I’d never met him at this point.] I’ve meant to ring both Kathy Tither, who’s now back from Spain, and Max Jarman, this week, but haven’t had the time.  [Max had toured with me in La Bohėme, when the NZ Opera Company had produced a piano tour version of it that travelled around both the North and South Islands. He was a young baritone and played the landlord, and any other odd part that needed filling in. He obviously went on to have a reasonable career – see this ‘cuttings’ page and this bio]

Congratulate the H’s on Philip, I don’t think I’ve even mentioned the poor kid yet!  [My uncle and aunt, Terry and Monica, had obviously had their fifth and last child/]

Very amused about Fred and the Blackbird; I’m glad too that she’s such good company for you. It’s a bit like the radio here – they’re so informative about everything (the 3rd [Radio 3] programme plays serious music most of the day, except for the odd play) and they explain all sorts of interesting points, and I quite feel as though it’s someone talking to me particularly all the time! 

Tell Kingsley sometime that the rent is £5 a week between us; but his fares may cost him another pound going to and from the Guildhall each week, and food is sometimes surprisingly expensive; meat, eg, is fantastic, and yet other things are so cheap that you wonder if they've charged you for everything! [Kingsley was to be my flatmate, and hadn’t arrived at this point. As I anticipated, when he did arrive, he found the cost and the travel from Plaistow too much and didn’t stay long.]  The meals at the Opera C. are filling enough and I only need to have a reasonably cheap snack when I get home.  [For the life of me I can’t visualise where the cafeteria was, or what it looked like, at the Opera Centre.] I imagine that they have a cafeteria at the Guildhall too. We have to put a 1/- in the slot for electricity here, which is sometimes annoying because it always seems to happen when I’m cooking, and shillings are very hard to get because everyone wants them for the same reason.  At the moment I have a fair supply, however, and Mr M. down-stairs says I only need to ask if I do run out as he keeps 10/- worth.  Mrs M occasionally makes my bed only because she happens to be trotting around with the sheets which she says she will always do – she got quite a surprise when I did the first one!  [I say first one, but my memory is of doing both sheets, in the bath, and having a great deal of trouble trying to wring them out. She realised what I was doing when I tried to find somewhere to hang them.] And she has offered to take our washing along to the laundrette with hers as things get wetter. At the moment the weather is still quite reasonable, though it has poured a few times.  I did my washing about 10.30 last night, and put it out and it was dry this morning. Nina suggested putting my underclothes between hot water bottles to dry them, and this has worked well so far, and I hang my shirts in the little sun-room sort of thing at the back of the house, where they seem to air quite well.  And tell K[ingsley] there is a tea-pot! 

To change the subject again, I haven’t had any Tablets yet, but presume they’re coming by a slower post. [This was the Catholic national magazine, produced in Dunedin. I eventually wrote book reviews for its successor, Tui Motu.]  At the mo there is a big controversy about the 5d and 4d new mail system, and it’s quite likely that if anything has still to come via the OVC it is still being sorted, because apparently things are a bit chaotic.  The 5d mail is stuff to be delivered the next day, and the 4d is stuff that isn’t urgent, and they say that they are taking the 4d mail right out of London to sort! 

I took a bunch of flowers to Mavis last week, only 2/6 but the thought is the main thing, and they won’t let me pay for teas when we have them, so! 

Now to continue the story. Up until about Wednesday, I was still feeling as though perhaps I’d done the wrong thing coming to the Centre, as I seemed to be putting my foot in it quite a lot and saying things during classes that seemed to take the instructors aback a little, but I think this was either my imagination or else I was still feeling my way rather a lot. However all sorts of people are very friendly, even though they don’t look as though they’re going to be, and I’m now really enjoying it, (although I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard continuously before – what with the housework, etc) and looking forward to it all.  On Tuesday we had a whole morning on Traviata; the 5 reps playing through a section which was then commented on by Mr Rob[bertson]. James Robertson had been a well-known opera conductor in the UK as well as working with the NZ Broadcasting Orchestra for a time before I met up with him.] and played by him to show what could be done, or should be done; and the other reps and stage managers (!) sang the parts. Very musical s.m’s, ha ha. [This wasn’t the favourite class of the stage management students, and I seem to recall, as time went on, that they appeared less and less at these sessions.] Mr R’s comment, rather quietly to me – I was the first pianist – was, ‘not exactly up to Royal Choral Society Standard yet, was it?’  I don’t know if this was sarky or not!  [It would have been. He wasn’t the friendliest of people, and we never quite seemed to hit it off. I think the Opera Centre was something of a backward step, career-wise, for him, and he was often frustrated with the students.] And later in the same lesson he asked if any of us were interested in conducting, and I said I wasn’t worried about it, as his Personal Assistant, June Megennis, had said there was more opportunity for coaches these days than conductors.  And once again I felt as though I’d said the wrong thing.  (When he brought the subject again up yesterday I didn’t feel so bad, so as you can see perhaps it was just me that first morning.) Anyway, none of the other reps seemed any better than me, or worse, so I ceased to worry about it. 

In the afternoon I was supposed to have two coaching sessions, one on my own, and the other sitting in on a session with a professional. rep.  The singer had gone home by mistake for the first session, so I did some work on my own, but the other one was very interesting.  We spent nearly an hour discussing whether or not appoggiaturas (which is sort of changing what’s written for the better) should be used in a piece of recit (the guff that goes on before an aria) and it was quite fascinating.  Then we had Italian, and unfortunately the teacher isn’t a patch on the German lady, so we’ll just have to do most of the work ourselves. The G. teacher works on the individuals, which can be terrifying, but also very satisfactory, but the I.T. just works on the class as a [handwritten] whole, and one doesn’t learn
continued in the next letter.

[handwritten] and thank you for the postal notes.[typed] things properly, particularly the pronunciation.  Never mind, no one is on their own, and the other students have talked about it with me, and it’s great to see one’s own ideas agreed upon.  This is what is marvellous about the place, of course, it has the music school atmosphere plus the serious approach to everything. [I had attended at least two Summer Music Schools in Dunedin before I did any touring in NZ – I think. They were held at John McGlashan College, and we slept in the dorms. At one of these I played the piano in a movement from a Mozart Concerto, and in another I conducted a one-act opera: Down in the Valley, by Kurt Weill. This was addition to doing lots of accompanying, and even having one of my own compositions performed by a small ensemble. There were plenty of serious people at these, but we also had an enormous amount of fun.]  Not entirely serious of course – one of the reps is a bit gloomy, and another seems a trifle aloof, but generally we’ve got a sense of humour, and the singers with a few exceptions are a pleasant enough crew.  Those that I’ve really met.  On Wed morning I had two singers, coaching, on my own, and then German again.  This was a very satisfactory morning.  In the afternoon we were divided up with the singers who will be attending a master-performance-class with Ella Gerber, who produced Porgy [and Bess] in NZ, I think, and who will produce, in ten days, the first act of The Consul, by Menotti, The Telephone, a one-acter by the same, and sections of an act of P & B.   She will sort of comment on American opera as she goes along which is the whole idea, and then the three things will be performed somewhere for the Friends of Covent Garden.  I rehearsed with two of the singers in The Telephone -  there are only 2 characters – and it has now transpired that I will be playing the performance of it (only piano perfs) with one of the other reps conducting.  [I had played for this opera back in Dunedin at an earlier point.] We sorted all this out yesterday afternoon when we went through the three setting tempi with the singers, Mr R and the two ladies who are sort of senior coaches. I think one is a Miss Nash. [I got on very well with Miss Nash – she was very much more approachable than Mr R!]  This is quite exciting really as it has to be up to performing standard in about three weeks time, and we also have to know enough about the other two works in each case to be able to play them at rehearsal if necessary.  And I’m not worried, so I must be enjoying myself!!  Mad....

On Thursday morning we went straight from our homes to Covent Garden and sat through the first act of a dress rehearsal of Götterdämmerung.  Typically Wagner, it starts off with three ladies (Norms) who stand on a pitch black stage, just spotlit on them, and sing for a quarter of an hour.  But it really was interesting, once it got past them.  This is the opera that we saw being recorded by Georg Solti on TV, remember? And on Thurs night the other two acts were performed – back to front – with only those from the OC who wanted to be there (in the morning the place was full of Friends of C G), and we sat in much better seats – went in through the stage door, in fact.  And the conductor was....Georg Solti.  Marvellous.  The last act, which we saw first at night, has the bit where Brünnhilde immolates herself, and anybody else who happens to be around, and burns Walhalla down.  And they do it all before your eyes.  First she throws a not very burning torch behind a pillar, and shortly flames (lights pouring up the scenery, but quite effective) flood across the stage, and then the lighting changes, as the scenery collapses! It did. And across the front of the stage is a gauze curtain which when lit a certain way represents an arc of the sky, somehow, it’s hard to describe, and then the lights behind the curtain come up again, and we see Walhalla  in the distance being burnt; it disappears, and we see a twinkling sky rather like the Milky Way, this goes, and we see on the stage itself, half of the rock that Brünnhilde lived on, now broken with all the back gone, and in the distance, the 3 Rhine Maidens gracefully waving, and this vanishes, and the ring that encircles Walhalla (it had appeared throughout the opera, as a platform, sort of, and also encircling those great massive pillars, the ones that collapsed, and turned out to be canvas!) appears lying flat on the stage, looking a bit shattered, and then this goes too, and all goes gloomy behind the gauze, and sort of fades away. I think I’ve got all that out of its sequence somehow, but never mind, it was a tremendous thing to see, on a stage. The backstage crew must have had their work cut out with that lot. 


Götterdämmerung is of course part of the Ring Cycle and all the way through this production the stage is graced with a Ring – Brünnhilde’s rock is a ring on a slant, and a scene in Walhalla is the ring on a different slant.  Rather precarious, really  - one young lady had to go shrieking out right from side to the other and down a flight of steps – it’s a wonder she didn’t break her neck. 


Between this I had two more coaching sessions and another Italian lessione. I was going to the opera with two of the other Reps that night – they went hairing off down the street after a bus, which I missed!  And so I tootled off in the other direction and caught a tube, and arrived with two minutes to spare.  Soaked through with sweat.  Ugh. 


Yesterday, neither of my advertised coaching singers came, so I did some work on my own, and then went to a lecture for the new students, with Mr R.  This was just a general run-down on things. In the afternoon we had the run-through of the three operas.  After this I did another scream through London to go to a film at the National Film Theatre called Cat People.  It turned out to be not very exciting, except in a couple of spots, and rather obscure, and rather hilariously full of clichés.  But the shorts were what they call a study extract, from Bringing Up Baby with Cary Grant and K Hepburn. Its 8 minutes were worth sitting through the other thing. And the other short was called the life of a cat, and in spite of including a scene where five kittens were born before your very eyes!, showed the kittens as they grew and played with their father and mother, both of whom, for once, lived at the same address.  It was very delightful, particularly when they started to play with their father: one, pouncing on his daddy’s tail, until father turns round and belts him, the father himself encouraging them to play by pushing them around a slippery floor, and so on. Marvellous. There’s a Laurel and Hardy session on tomorrow evening, so I’ll think I’ll go, and this afternoon I’m going in to do some practice when there’s fewer people around. [handwrittenYou've got to warn that you’re going in - they keep a GUARD DOG!!  Love Mike. [Which reminds me that I think they had a security guy there much of the time too, with whom I got on quite well.  But am I imagining that?]