Dear Mum, I can’t recall when I last wrote whether Ella Gerber had arrived or not, but she came on Wednesday, and promptly set the place in disorder, by rearranging all the schedules that had been worked out for her, and never keeping to her own time-tables either. And though she may do the students a lot of good in acting – she would make a marvellous play producer, she seems to know very little about music at all, and consequently it’s very hard to make her appreciate points that are necessary to the productions from the singers point of view.
Anyway, enough of her. We went to see The Magic Flute on Friday morning. (Also saw the Opera for All version of Manon – it wasn’t bad, although I think the production has some very bad moments, and Ann Gordon who is doing Manon, is really very good, but the thing rather requires a huge chorus and stage, to hide the faults that promptly turn up when done this way. Never mind, it was quite enjoyable and the third act is excellent.) The Flute is a delight. It’s sheer pantomime, anyway, but has the added advantage of a good bloke on the musical side – Mozart! The whole thing is done on a sort of raised stage with an infinite variety of squares set into it. It is only after the first scene that one appreciates the fact that the entire floor is full of trap-doors and throughout the piece, people suddenly vanish through the floor or appear unexpectedly in a cloud of smoke, or props rise out of it, etc. Fascinating. The dragon in the first scene is a little tame – he hangs in mid-air, snorting a bit but not really threatening the hero. But when the Queen of the Night arrives a little later, the scenery at the back rolls away to thunder and lightning, and a set of stars appear to reveal her slowly gliding forward on a platform. The girl who is playing her – a Dutch lady – has so remarkable a voice it almost ceases to be human in sound. When she sings at first it doesn’t sound like much, but once she starts her coloratura you wonder how such perfection can exist in a human being. Every single note is clear – there’s practically a definite click between them, and she hits top Ds and Es etc as though it were as easy as eating. [This was Christina Deutekom – rest of the cast listed here.] The rest of the cast are equally good: the tenor is the right shape, and sings well, the soprano heroine is gorgeous in every way, the bass is like a singing statue but the sound is magnificent, and the women who play the three ladies, even though they have some tricky ensemble work, have such clear enunciation that you wonder if you’re really hearing it right. And the Papageno, though his voice is not to my liking, is very funny. But the whole thing is full of delightful ideas – the animals (about twenty children) who appear when Tamino plays his flute, the chorus of baddies who dance away when Papageno plays his magic bells, the three boys (who sing very well) and invariably appear in a floating chariot type thing that swings slowly and gracefully across, up, down and around the stage, the lighting effects throughout: lamps that appear to have no source, but which quietly flicker away in a kind of non-existent breeze, a huge cyc (pronounced syke) [short for cyclorama] or plain backcloth that at one part turns from a daylight blue slowly through every blue in existence, carpets that don’t just roll straight forward, but which have a bias in them and roll round at an angle, so that they look like they are vanishing over the horizon (like the yellow brick road in Oz) and so on and so on. It’s surely one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen on stage, and I really wish you too could see this particular show. [I’d seen the NZ Opera Company’s Magic Flute a few years before this, and had been charmed out of my socks by their production, so this must have been good. I can still visualise the Queen of the Night’s entrance, in fact.]
This weekend I didn’t go up to the Crowls as we had a rehearsal on Saturday morning, and it wasn’t due to finish till 1.00, and that’s too late to start tootling up there, though Reg suggested I come up a bit later. But I said I felt perhaps I should stay home and show Kingsley round a bit of London (as it happened he didn’t seem particularly interested when I did. He’s a funny boy in some ways: - he seems to think I’m very reserved, particularly as far as the opposite sex is concerned, [I was] and yet quite honestly, I think the boot’s entirely on the other foot. Don’t mean I’m Don Juan, but I think I’m interested in a more general outlook on life, etc. He doesn’t drink, smoke, eat sweets or fruit, or ice-cream, doesn’t read books, aaaagh! Seems to me to be a rather narrow sphere he’s set himself. However there’s no use forcing things on him, but thank goodness Mike’s still here, cynical and unpunctual as he may be, he’s at least on my wavelength.) [This may be a bit harsh about Kingsley: he was probably just interested in things that I wasn’t interested in!]
At 5.30 last night, I went to where Mike is at present living – Kingsley was going to Aida – and from there we went round to Kensington way somewhere where Norman and Doris McKinlay from Dunedin were staying and finished off the scraps of food and drink that they wanted to get rid of before they left today on their way home. They’ve been here about three months on a business trip. I think. [Norman McKinlay, as I recall, was involved in theatre in Dunedin, but wasn’t someone I knew well; he’d have been better acquainted with Mike.] Mike and I had intended to go to a film at the NFT at 8.45 but we didn’t get there, and so found ourselves in Oxford St at 10 or so with nothing to do. Well, we wandered down through Soho (which even at night is only rowdy, not dangerous or anything, rather sleazy perhaps) and called in at a pub just before closing time (11.00) and had a half of bitter (compare Coronation St!). Mike thought that buses ran all night so we decided to go to a late film showing, and went, and got out at 1.30, to find that buses don’t run on Saturday night for some obscure reason. So we wended our way back to his flat which is close by, and had a cup of coffee and a glass of brandy and ginger, to put some warmth into me, because I’d decided to walk home. At least a good deal of the way and then get a taxi for the last part. Well, I left Mike at 2.50 and covered something like four miles in an hour and about 20 minutes. It’s a straight, though long walk from Oxford St via Commercial Rd to Plaistow. And wound up getting a taxi for the last couple of miles and arriving home about 4.30 a little tired! But actually it was quite an enjoyable night, just relaxed, and with nothing special to do. Mike and I are like brothers now, I feel [handwritten], we accept each other’s faults because we’ve known each other so long and just enjoy what’s left of each other’s company. Luv Mike.
[From Oxford St to Newman Rd in Plaistow, via Commercial Rd, is about seven and a half miles. Google reckons it would take about two and a half hours walking. Perhaps I was following in Charles Dickens’ footsteps: he often went for long walks at night, anything up to twenty miles!]