Saturday, January 19, 2013

3.11.68: Operas, Concerts, and du Pre

Dear Mum, I had intended to write on Friday, but what with one thing and another, especially the very busy week we’ve had, I just didn’t get round to it.  I had originally planned a not very busy week after the exhausting Ella Gerber period, but found in the end that I was out nearly every night.  On Tuesday, I had planned to go to The Italian Girl in Algiers at the [Sadlers] Wells with Michael – Kingsley had already been on the previous Saturday – but as things turned out I went with David Gorringe (think I’ve mentioned him before, if not, he’s small, 25, from Canterbury, an ex-furnishing business man, who’s very interested in the theatre) and Kevin, who had come back from the South Coast to get a job. Apparently the work over the winter period down there is considerably lessened and the hotel he’d been at couldn’t keep him on.  So anyway, he’s now going to be working in London, near Hampton Court (as far West as we are East) from tomorrow.  When he’s going to see his fiancée, I don’t know, because he only has Thursday – all day – and Sunday afternoon off!  He’s still working as a barman, incidentally.  [I don’t know who this ‘fiancée’ was – I don’t think I ever met her, or at least not more than once, and the engagement got broken off in due course.]

So we four went to the Italian Girl, and though it had some marvellously funny bits, I think I enjoyed the Opera for All production that much more.  Besides, where we were sitting in the Coliseum (the new Sadler’s Wells) in the Dress Circle we found that much of what was being sung on stage in the bigger ensembles was completely lost.  And they left out the funniest thing in the whole show, by not repeating the never-ending septet at the end of the first act, which I think I mentioned previously.  But it was very beautiful to look at, full of lovely luscious greens and blues, and with a marvellous set consisting of three variously-shaped platforms that fitted together sometimes, but other times would sort of float apart to form different levels.  It was produced by Wendy Toye who has also made several films. 

Prior to this I had gone up to David’s place to have a snack tea – he lives near Great Portland St, which is near Regent’s Park, Baker St, and Madame Tussaud’s, in a very nice, centrally-heated penthouse which he shares with a bloke who’s working on the Opera for All at the moment, but he only pays a quarter of the full rent because the flat is actually also leased by another bloke who uses it as a base for the business he partners with the other bloke (the OFA man – get it?).

Next night Michael and Lindsay Campbell (from Dunedin, an actor in his 50s whom Mike shares a flat with – near Oxford Circus – I think I told you).  Anyway I was invited up to their place for tea before I went because I was getting them in free (as I had the previous night – great isn’t it?) and we had a very nice meal cooked by Lindsay, who then also shouted us a cab to the theatre, and brought us a drink in the interval!  He was very appreciative.  According to Mike, though he (LC) has lots of friends he doesn’t really have many close ones and so it seems that he’s very happy to be taken somewhere so to speak.  [Lindsay Campbell had been one of Dunedin’s top amateur actors before heading for London; he appeared in a number of roles on TV from 1964 onwards and had a tiny part in A Clockwork Orange a few years after this letter was written.  He also claimed that he’d suggested the theme music for The Onedin Line.]

Anyway we went to La Belle Helene, by Offenbach and after I’d changed seats after the first act – I was sitting behind Hazel, from the Centre, and she had a lot of hair on! – I enjoyed it a lot.  Denis Dowling [a singer originally from Ranfurly, in Otago] was in it, by the way, and the whole thing was a hilarious spoof on Classical Mythology.  It was rather like a Gilbert and Sullivan on a slightly different scale.  It was produced, originally (this particular performance is a kind of re-production) by Basil Coleman who spoke at one of our lectures one day.

Oh, on the Tuesday night I forgot to say, Kevin came out and stayed with us, and slept on our divan which apparently he found quite comfortable. The only trouble was that we sat up and talked after we’d got home till about one.  Also forgot to say that on Monday morning we’d been to see Madame Butterfly at the Garden, and though the production, especially the lighting wasn’t always the best, it’s always worth watching Puccini.  And the singing was generally very fine. 

On Thursday night, Mike and Kingsley and I went to the Festival Hall, only because it was free, (I’d intended to stay home as I felt very tired) to see a gala concert – seats at anything up to 20 guineas! – and quite honestly it was the most disappointing concert I’ve attended.  Andre Previn was conducting, and Jacqueline du Pre was the cellist in two concertos.  They started off with a Weber Overture, which was interesting, and then Mrs Daniel Barenboim (he’s a pianist and she’s du Pre in private life) [did I mean she was du Pre in public life?] came out and played the Bloch: Schelomo (whatever that is) for Cello and Orchestra.  Bloch was a Jewish composer and this comes through quite strongly. Unfortunately he’d never had to contend with Miss DP, which we had to.  She plays the cello as though she wishes to tear its strings to pieces (authorities tell me one of her strings was off pitch anyway) and constantly produces a grating sound as she hacks at it, and then when she’s finished a section she turns and looks either at the conductor or the first violinist in a way that suggests they’d better not criticise or she’ll get up and belt them.  She’s all elbows too, and has a fierce look on her face throughout.  Her finest achievement of the whole evening was when she played down to the lowest notes on her cello, and instead of letting it vibrate with her left hand, she let that go, and continued bowing her right – I’m sure Mr Bloch never intended that ugly sound.  This overall effect was so off-putting that when she played her next, the Saint Saens, I looked anywhere but at her, and the effect was much more pleasant, although the SS is nothing to write home about.  The orchestra finished up with the Rachmaninov 3rd Symphony – which dragged on until nearly the entire audience was asleep.  Perhaps this was Mr Previn’s fault, because people who said they knew the 3rd, said later perhaps they didn’t!  What really got me was that the papers gave the whole mess a good write-up!!  And I though the London papers were supposed to be amongst the most fiercely critical in the world!  [It doesn’t occur to me that I may have been wrong about this concert; plainly something upset me in terms of the playing or the music. For an opposite viewpoint on it, check out Hywel David’s article, which says that the playing made him feel as though he was in ‘seventh heaven.’]

On Friday I went to Mass in the evening, All Saints Day, and then went again yesterday morning.  I couldn’t remember if one or both or neither were Holy Days of Obligation so I went both times to make sure!  They didn’t announce them as being anything special last Sunday, but however. [handwritten] Have to stop apparently. LOTS of love, Mike.
[Handwritten on the return address page] Kingsley sez thanks very much for the money for the trunk – he didn’t have time to say it before he left.