Saturday, February 09, 2013

17.11.68: Hijinks at the Opera Centre & the difficulties of flatting

There's been a bit of a gap in uploading further letters to this blog because I was sent a dozen old letters I'd written to a friend recently, and I've been typing those up.  They cover a wider period from a few years before I went to England to sometime into the early 70s. 
There are two letters here, since the second runs on from the first, and they were sent together.

Dear Mum, how’s things with you two? Before I go any further, and before I forget, Kevin is no longer engaged – as far as I know, his fiancĂ©e broke it off, with some reasons about not leaving her mother, etc.  I rather suspect it’s for the best, for a number of reasons, and he doesn’t seem too greatly concerned about it. 

Mrs Tither, [Mike’s mother in Dunedin] incidentally, is in hospital as I write this – don’t know how long she’ll be there, but she had some rather unpleasant operation, and I’m sure Mike would be very pleased if you could see her some time – even after she comes out, perhaps.  She’s in Batchelor Ward at the mo’.  Do you know where they live in Mornington?  It’s that street (steep) beside the Post Office. [Brunel St.]  I said I’d mention it to you, to Mike, and he seemed a bit happier about it.

Another bit of news.  At the Opera Centre, as I think I’ve told you, we’re doing, for our end of term productions: Albert Herring, with a second year cast, and as a double bill, Dido and Aeneas, which Alistair and Henry are to play the harpsichord continuo in, and Angelique, which has piano part in the orchestra.  Because the other two were to do the harpsichord part, I rather suspected that I might be doing the piano part but since nothing had been said, I took it I wasn’t.  However, as I was leaving one night, James Robertson comes up to me and says, Michael, I want you to do the piano part in Angelique, so that was that.  I’ve now seen the part, and it has some very nasty spots in it, but I think I’ll manage to play it.  Angelique is one of the worst vocal scores any of us has seen – it’s been reduced for a pianist with three hands and six fingers on each of those!  I’m not alone in thinking this, which is something.  However so that is that, and I’m quite happy to be doing something in the show.  The two reps on Albert Herring won’t be doing anything at all apparently.  Gosh, how time flies – a week seems to go by in no time, and there seems in fact no time to do all the work necessary.  Oh, well.  

We’ve had Michael Moores at our repetiteur sessions for the last fortnight – we have 2 a week, and he’s the most down to earth of the four men we’ve had. [I don’t remember Moores, but he had a distinguished career – see below*]Robertson was first of course and if one ignores his slightly overbearing and trying to be one of the young crowd manner, he’s not a bad old soul.  But few – in fact, I don’t think any of the students really like him, and he’s inclined to come into a session where someone else is working and brusquely interrupt, and embarrass everyone. The second rep-man was Myer Fredman, who had been working in Canada and also at Glyndebourne over the last couple of years, and who has also done a good deal of film music arranging – not composing.  (So has Michael Moores.)  They both seem to take something not necessarily very inspired and by dint of arrangement and orchestration turn it into something worthwhile.  Fredman was on Lawrence of Arabia, and Exodus (and reckoned the composer was hopeless, with no idea of orchestration!) As a teacher he wasn’t bad, although we spent many hours discussing the characters and the way they behaved, and the way they’re generally presented, which is a different thing! 

Peter Gellhorn
The next fellow was Peter Gellhorn – a German living in England, doing occasional conducting, and mainly in charge of the BBC Chorus, I think. He was fantastic in that if he wished to compare something in Fidelio (which we were doing) with something else that someone else had written, or Beethoven if it comes to that – he’d just sit down and play it, not really by memory, nor even by ear – he seemed to have it all in his head as a matter of course.  Fredman, who was one of his pupils (Moores worked under Robertson once too!) had told us that Gellhorn had been brought up in the old school of music where unless you could play a piece of music while reading the newspaper there was something wrong with you – and you were also expected to be able to transpose it as well (the music, not the newspaper!).  Moores, who did Boheme with us, was a nice casual musician, with a genuine love of music – all music.  And he was fascinated by the sort of background detail to the opera.  From the start he brought along the book that Boheme is based on, and read bits of it, and on the last day we did no music, but merely listened to him discussing the letters, and collaborations that went on between Puccini and his librettists, and how the story had changed by the time had passed form book to straight play version and ultimately to opera.  Very interesting, and very easy to talk to. 

On Friday in place of our usual lecture, we had an Audition Forum, which meant that half a dozen singers had to pretend they were auditioning – in front of the rest of the school.  The trouble was, as far as the reps were concerned, we had to play the stuff they sang from sight, and the five of us arrived with sort of shaky looks.  As it turned out I got a piece that nobody knew, so in actual fact it didn’t matter that I botched up a bit of it.  But it was all rather nervewracking all the same.  The last two singers were Alan Opie, and Jane Plant.  Alan, of course, is one of the best singers in the place, and when he came on looking all dishevelled, and puffing and panting, and then made a horrible botch of his song, we were convinced there was something wrong.  Actually at the start it appears he was to be sending it up so that we could really criticise, but John Kentish, the sort of student manager, [Director of Studies, in fact] sounded too gruff to be joking and some of us were a bit puzzled. Anyway he was supposed to be clowning so that we could (the singers rather) see what not to do at an audition.  Jane came on next, and she’s always appeared to me to be someone who’s not particularly interested.  She’s second year. But she gave an Academy Award-winning comedy performance as the sort of housewife with her eye on the bright lights type.  She wore a flowing black and white coat, had two or three bags, had a silver type of frontal-tiara on her head, had jangling bracelets on her arms, and was in flat shoes.  First she took off her coat with a great flourish while John Kentish quite seriously announced that she had offered to do either the First Act of Tristan and Isolde! or some other piece I didn’t know.  She did the latter, starting by going over to the piano and requesting in a stage whisper that Anthony play her a C when the time required it.

Part II

Then she sort of composed herself in front of the piano, then just as he was about to start, stopped him, and pouncing on her bag, set about finding her high heels.  After producing a couple of egg boxes and other sundries, she took her shoes off and flung them under the piano, and then put on the others.  Oh yes, somewhere along the line she set about powdering her nose, too.  She started the song eventually, and sang it all to John Kentish, who was sitting to one side in the front.  Then every now and then, she’d remember the audience, and sing to us all.  At one marvellous moment in the music, she sang four heavily accented notes, and accompanied each with a shake of her arms, causing all the bells to ring.  Mad, and, mad.  Still it took away the sour taste of the rest of the programme. 

Michael took us to a preview film showing at one of the little theatres (holding about 60) in Wardour St, on Thursday, and though it was directed by the same man [Norman Jewison] that made In the Heat of the Night, and though it was very well made, its content was such that I wouldst advise anyone to see it.  [I assume this was The Thomas Crown Affair.]  (Sorry the typing is so appalling tonight – though I’ve got a fire on here, it’s just a bit chilly and my fingers aren’t quite with it).  After this we went up to his flat and had tea: Kevin was there and also Pam, the ex-flatmate of a girl Kevin used to know over here. 

On Friday night, Hazel, from the school, and I went to see the Hitchcock, Strangers on a Train at the NFT.  The last quarter of an hour is still marvellous but it seemed a little less interesting than previously.  After this we went into the Festival Hall Coffee Bar next door  and talked so long that the people who had been going into the beginning of a concert when we arrived were leaving when we did!  We just talked about the various people at the Centre – not so much in a malicious way or anything, as just sort of discussing them – and it’s quite an interesting topic!  We also talked about ourselves, too, in the process.

Last night Mike was going to shout me to Canterbury Tales as sort of a repayment for the Operas he’s seen free with me.  And Kathy was supposed to come too, but since she has her brother’s bad habits, she was so late arriving at the restaurant where he was to meet her that he couldn’t get seats, so we went to see a revival of Ring Round the Moon, by the same company that had revived The Importance.  John Standing was in it, again, playing two identical brothers, and Flora Robson, Isabel Jeans, and Bill Fraser (of Bootsie and Snudge on TV some years ago) were also there.  It’s all a mad romantic comedy, which just about describes it, and of course there’s a lot of fun with the fact of one actor trying to be in two places at once.  On one occasion, Hugo points out that his brother is coming, goes and hides behind a bush – his brother walks in (must have been a double) at the back – passes the bush, and Frederick walks out, while we can still see feet of his ‘brother’ behind the bushes.  Then they reversed this process later.  Very clever.  There’s a marvellous line at the end.  Everyone is on stage except Hugo, and they all look off to see Hugo come in.  Someone says, Oh, he won’t come in, and Frederick, who is already on stage, says, practically to the audience, I knew he wouldn’t.  [In spite of my enthusiasm for this show here, I don’t remember it at all. I never went to see Canterbury Tales; it was described as very bawdy, and wasn’t to my taste at all.]

Thanks for keeping me posted on all the relatives and things; it doesn’t, to me, lose any interest by being further away than usual.  And thanks for the Peanuts – I find they remain readable, long after you’ve first seen the joke.  And for the Tablets – I sort of pick them up when I have only a few minutes to fill in, and they’re very interesting.  I see Father Gaffey saying that having a sense of humour should be one of the virtues!

Kingsley is at present away playing the organ for a church in the next parish – they’re going to pay him too. I don’t really know that it’s worthwhile being tied down to a job of any sort – I told you he was working three hours or less a night, didn’t I? – because so many things of worth come up, all the time, and they’re bound to come on the night that you’re working, I think I’m not really worried about my finances although I’m still being pretty careful, but I’m sure the good Lord has a special accounting-minded angel looking after it all.  Kingsley is a bit of a [...], really; at the weekend, I don’t get a chance to say what I’d like to eat for our main meal – he just goes ahead and cooks it, and though I’m grateful to have someone doing the work (I don’t even bother to help since he’s obviously much happier doing it on his own) it would be nice to be able to say, well, let’s experiment a bit this weekend, and have such and such – which possibly in the long run would cost us less.  We have sort of ‘good wholesome meals’, and once again I’m grateful, but though some of my experiments were a bit weird, they were always edible, and made quite a change.  He’s not a very imaginative lad I don’t think, and obviously feels he should stick to what he knows.  He even refuses to have a drop of curry in his spaghetti, now.  and he has stocked up the cupboards with tins of spaghetti and baked beans, because they’re cheap, and large large tins of coffee and marmalade, which consequently wreck my budget, which is organised to a certain point.  The tins of food are fine, of course, for snacks (ie evening meals) at night, but one gets very tired of the same thing each night.  And today we had dehydrated peas with our meal, which were absolutely awful, and yet they’re cheap.  I don’t know.  He has got much more talent for getting things cheaper than me, although again, I didn’t think I was doing that badly before, and yet he doesn’t really see further than his nose about the subject.  I haven’t caused an upset about it, but I have sort of quietly mentioned in passing that he wouldn’t have the same thing every night at home, etc.  I don’t know [handwritten] the trouble is he has so much more time to do the shopping than I have  - and perhaps I shouldn’t complain about it because he is sort of constantly getting a cup of coffee or supper or the aforementioned big meals.  Guess, a bit of time will sort it all out.  Perhaps I’ll be able to clear the air without a blow-up.  I’ve finished the chocolate chippies and fudge – shall I send back the tin FOR A REFILL? – only joking.  Lots of love.

PS He even puts my hottie [hot water bottle] in my bed for me – I’m more pampered than when I was at home!!  AAAGH – perhaps it’s good training in tolerance.  [We don’t know what Kingsley thought about me, of course! And I guess some of this is just typical adjustment to living with a different person and his different approach to domesticity. Sorry, Kingsley! I was no doubt also a bit of a pain to live with...]

*After a distinguished career in England, for Sadler’s Wells Opera, the British Broadcasting Corporation, films and records – a career which has taken him to many other countries, including Turkey and Japan, Michael Moores was invited, in 1976, to become Director of the Opera Workshop for the California State University at Los Angeles.  Mr Moores also makes regular visits to New Zealand, where he presents, conducts and performs piano solos with the New Zealand Symphony in his own television series.  Michael Moores came to Houston in 1979, where he is currently Associate Professor on the faculty of the University of Houston School of Music.  In addition he has conducted for Houston Grand Opera and the Houston Symphony Orchestra and will conduct in the Pop Series this season.