Monday, March 04, 2013

7.12.68 The big Christmas letter

This is the longest letter by far.  For once it was typed on ordinary paper rather than on an aerogram, and it ran to a massive eight pages, with additions and postscripts.  
Started 7.12.68 
Dear Mum, in one of my most recent letters, I talked about sending you a long letter, as a part Christmas present, instead of one of these eternally too short aerograms.  And what a mess I’ve made already of this letter!  I may not send this for a few days, the last mails don’t close till the 13th I note, so if you haven’t received my usual (nearly!) weekly letter, you’ll know when you get this, why.  Follow?  I’ve passed on what you’ve said about the Tithers to Mike, and I think he’s quite pleased about it.  Still haven’t been able to locate that chronometer makers’ place.  Apparently the bloke I was going to ask about it has left, so that closes up that avenue of detection too.  I’m not really going to grow a beard, though I still think that in this climate the more you can have covered up the better.  [Ironic, since I grew one a few years later, and have hardly ever taken it off since.]
Glad you don’t mind keeping me up on all the bods at home, not just the family, but others in the parish etc.  Funny to think that the kids round the place are starting to set out on careers.  Makes me feel as though I’m very disorganised, and only having just got started, so to speak, and even now, still not sure that I’m quite in my right field. I don’t know.  [I obviously wasn’t impressed with the fact that I’d already worked for five years in an office before touring with the Opera Company; career was the big thing in those days.] There seems to be so much that I don’t know, about basic operas even and such, and I’ve never had less confidence in my sight-reading before!  Strange is it not?  I seem to cope all right, but it seems to take a lot more work than it takes the others – or perhaps they do do the same amount of work, and I just never see it.  I find the one that I get on easiest with is Alistair.  He (and David) is 22, but very capable and originally intended taking up science! but couldn’t do it at University because he hadn’t done Latin, or some such!  Great to be able to drop something as involved as that and pick up something else like music full-time.  But Alistair always says hello, and looks pleased to see you and have a chat – David does too, but I feel he’s often a little condescending in his approach.  [Interesting that the one I maintained contact with, and got to know best, was David. I went to Alistair’s wedding but had little to do with him after that.]  He approaches music like too so perhaps it’s just his general nature.  [I wrote a footnote to this in the letter: But he seems less secure in himself than even I am sometimes – though he’s a very competent musician.] (I find it very annoying – well, perhaps not, just a bit curious – when people will talk to you one minute and then ignore you the next.  Using you as a sounding board because there happens to be no one better around obviously.  Lots of the singers are like this – actually that’s an exaggeration.  Some of them are, especially the second-year ones.) [I'm not sure who I'm talking about in regard to 'condescending' - David certainly wasn't, and I don't think Alistair was either!] Anthony is still very much the old man of the reps, it seems, though how he comes by this position I’ve no idea, and I find him the sort who isn’t prepared to accept a person’s limitations.  Fine, up to a certain point, but I think it may land him in some awkward spots later.  And he’s also the type that can get offended by being had on – this is an English fault, I think – as long as the joke is general it’s acceptable, but if it starts to knock their dignity somewhat, they get shirty.  [The difference between the Kiwi approach and the English one, I think.] Mona Semke was very much of this sort.  [Mona, an English immigrant to NZ with her family was very involved with the music scene in Dunedin, and we actually got on fairly well.]  Henry Ward is the one we least see – and has that vague, lost air, though I’m sure he’s neither, and consequently the women seem to fall for him. Especially the sopranos – the mezzos don’t seem to find him interesting, and neither do the girls in the stage managers class!  Funny!  He too, is a come-and-go acquaintance, and no one seems to know quite where they stand with him.  Give me people, any day, who will always acknowledge your presence!  That’s all I require.
I seem to have got over the cold all right, although the germ is still very prevalent in the school.  Everyone has had it, or has it still, and it’s unbelievable the number of singers who have it at present.  I had had a bottle of sherry in the flat since I first arrived, mainly for this very reason, or to occasionally soothe my ruffled feathers after a particularly wearing week – and at the time I had my cold it had only just run out – it had taken me nearly two months to finish it, so there’s little chance of my becoming alcoholic at this rate!  - and until I could go and get it myself I was unable to use it for its usual medicinal purposes! 
About the heater that Kingsley bought: he actually refuses to let me pay for it, and I have mentioned the subject once or twice more since he got it and he still won’t take anything, so!  As it is I don’t think he’s likely to run into any financial difficulties, what with his job, his organist position – did I tell you?  He’s organist for a church in the next parish – the fact that his mum is paying ten pound a month into his accounts for travelling expenses...and so on!  so I didn’t really feel that I’m being mean and sponging. 
We received the bill for the trunk yesterday – not only has it cost whatever it was in Dunedin, but it’s now over a month and a half late, and the other one has also come!, but the trunk is costing another £18!!!! at this end, and the small box £12!  Again I offered him a cheque for half - £15, but he wouldn’t take it, as he said the box was his idea, so he only wanted £9 for the trunk.  [I don’t remember, but we must have shared sending a trunk to the UK.] Well, I’m afraid I’m not really in the position to be overgenerous, and when someone says they don’t want money, I take them at their word.  Do you think this is fair enough?  Anyway, the heater is in my opinion (and, of course, do you think I can get it to work properly? It always does what the instructions says it must not do when I light it) is of questionable value, because although it heats the room reasonably, it’s next to useless for drying anything on, and consequently I’ve got a fire on here tonight to air my washing.  (And the fire went out the first time I lit it too!!!  Why, oh why, wasn’t I born practical?)
Re the Crowls, I haven’t gone up again this weekend, so that’ll be three weeks since my last visit, but this weekend we had a rehearsal this morning – Saturday – and I really felt I needed a break from travelling somewhere in London!  [There’s a footnote to this rehearsal on a separate page: This morning’s rehearsal: conducted by James (Robertson) so everyone calls him – or Big J!! and he was a lot more even-tempered, especially with me, than I expected! Keeps forgetting I’m only a student, ha! ha!]  Anyway, I can do next weekend, as I know we haven’t a rehearsal, and hope they don’t mind the long gap!  Funny isn’t it, since before I came, you were worried that I might wish myself on them too much!  Another funny thing.  Remember I said Kingsley was doing all the shopping.  Well, this weekend, he asked me if I was going up to the Crowls, as usual, and when I said no, he explained that he’d thought it might be better from now on to live entirely on small meals – for him, I hasten to add!  - at least, at weekends, I think his idea is.  So this meant that I’m now back in the position of being able to experiment if I wish!  Talk about things falling into place.  So this afternoon, after the rehearsal, I got off at the big supermarket in Barking Road, next to the open-air market it is, and spent some time trying to be a little different, but anyway finished up buying things with a bit more flavouring to them.  E.g. instead of plain spaghetti I got spaghetti Bolognese, and I bought some rice risotto too.  In tins of course – these are just for snacks at night – or tea, that is, as opposed to the reasonable meal we get at the school in the midday.  (That mess is a tear in my tape). [The typewriter tape, that is, making splodges in the words.]  Got some soups too, and also some mince for tomorrow – it should keep in the present cold atmosphere [handwritten footnote: Continual frosty, misty atmosphere, cold, but not unbearable – though I wear gloves and scarf all the time – and am thinking of buying a thick (cheap!) overcoat.] – instead of the roast that K usually turns up with at the weekend.  Not that I don’t think the latter isn’t quite a good idea – but to get a reasonably cheap roast and a meaty one is almost an impossible task, and I can’t see much point in getting a piece of meat that I for one am not going to eat very much of!
I must write to Marilyn, [a former girlfriend] too, tonight, it’s ages since she sent me her last letter – with a postal note to pay for the return stampage!  (The p.n. needless to say has long since gone in the Crowl kitty, and equally needless to say it will now have to come out again.)  How are you doing with all those bills and things I seem to have calmly left you with?  I feel rather awful about it all: the TV, the insurance, the Building Society, and all your own normal ones.  Are you coping?  If not, scrub the insurance – I can always start again. [I presume these were items I’d been paying for up until this point at home.  We did cancel the life insurance.]
What a delightful story about Fred.  Isn’t she a horror?  I nearly had a fit too when you said she’d practically laid down and died – I hope she doesn’t do anything as silly as that; she’s the one thing that I know keeps you permanent company, and I’d hate to see her bash her head on something!  Talking of cats, have you heard any more about the Mrs Leslie and Kevin [Rowlands] thing?  I’ve never heard a word from him – do you think I should start again?  did you know you included a blank sheet of paper in with your last letter?
I’m in the middle of reading a life and discussion of Puccini – seems this is another branch of the business that I’m very much behind on. (The lives of people.)  Fortunately, the tickets for the library that our [Opera] Centre Library made us members of, also enables you to get books out in any other library in London.  This means therefore that you’ve a fantastic choice.  The only trouble is, how am I going to read two or three million books in the next nine months?  Do you know – yes I’m sure you do, that I’ve been here three months?  It’s quite unbelievable.  The time just absolutely flies, and I’m convinced that the average English day is considerably shorter than those in NZ.  Perhaps when they’ve been mucking around with the Standard Time they’ve lost some hours somewhere.  This is the first year they haven’t had the change, and of course they’re making a great to-do about it in some quarters.  [The standard time used in Britain all the year round from 1968 to 1971, set one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and equalling Central European Time.] A little boy was killed going to school in the dark, and the headlines were almost as big as those for the death of a Queen.  As I see it, the poor kid could just as easily have been killed in the daylight.  He was only five, after all.
[Edited section]  Anyway, Figaro (which is one of the most popular operas in the world no doubt, and yet this is the first time I’ve ever seen it – I was quite amused when one of the visiting reps said he’d be amazed if there was anyone in the room who’d never seen Figaro!) was very good – its faults lying rather in the opera than the cast, except perhaps Raimund Herinx, the baritone, who annoys me constantly.  I lie, actually, when I say that – he is very good as long as he doesn’t have to do anything that requires him to stand out too much from the crowd.  His aria last night was pathetic.  His Rigoletto, which I saw the night I arrived in London, was surely one of the biggest casting mistakes ever perpetrated at the Wells, his solo part in Belshazzar’s Feast was an uninteresting mess, and the best thing I’ve seen him do was a part in The Violins of Saint Jacques, where he does nothing particular, which seems to suit him fine!  [And yet, he was in constant demand throughout the singing world.]  The girl who played Susanna – Margaret Neville – though not possessed of a big voice, is a delight to behold, and exactly the right type for the part.  I found the third act very slow, mainly because absolutely nothing except the writing of a letter and its sending take place, but it takes an age!, and this is Mozart’s fault if anyone’s. 
Mentioning the Violins of S.J., by the way, I may as well tell you about that too. It’s another Malcolm Williamson – remember I saw The Growing Castle? – but this one is a little older, about 18 months, and this performance I saw was the last this season which is a pity, because you need to see a new opera a few times to get hold of it.  Particularly as far as the story goes in this one.  I’d read the first act synopsis before it started and had gleaned from amongst a welter of acts that three of the four people I’d see were related: a brother and sister, and their cousin.  When the brother proved to be in love with the cousin (a girl), and the cousin was in love (good grief) with the sister!, I thought I’d got my facts wrong – but this was all correct!  No wonder the island blows up at the end of the opera.  (They live on an island with an unfriendly volcano, a host of mad Carnival dancers and islanders and a group of neurotic French

Colonials of the Upper Class.)  In spite of all this, it was very entertaining, the ballet being far and away the best I’ve ever seen in any opera.  (The ballet in the Wells are always far too obtrusive, and stick out from the chorus as being somehow different.  But here it didn’t matter.)  And after a very lushly scored first act (horribly sensuous music, with lots of mysterious off-stage singing) the second act was delightful – a ball, (with Jennifer Vyvyan as the aforementioned brother and sister’s mother – constantly tipsy, and delightfully mad, and consequently very neatly and humorously handled by Williamson.  He seems to have these sort of funny little bits in his operas.  There was a ‘daughter’ in The Growing Castle, who finished up pasting up the whole house with paper, over doors, windows, ceiling, floor – singing ‘I-i-i-i paste, I-i-i-i paste,’ endlessly over an equally endless accompaniment.)  Apart from the very curious story, I enjoyed the opera a good deal, and don’t care what highbrow musos may say: Williamson is definitely contributing something to English opera. (He’s an Australian, by the way.)  Some very interesting effects, too.  The opera opens and closes on the sea – with a rocking boat – halfway between the floor and the ceiling (and a rocking background), and after the first of these two scenes, during an orchestral accompaniment, the sea scene clouds over, and slowly dissolves before your very eyes into a lush bush scene.  Done with gauzes but very effective.  It’s all there in the music, but all they did was turn the red lights up very high with everyone on stage staring blankly off, then total darkness, then a curtain came down with a reddish light slowly growing behind it. 
On Friday afternoon, I had nothing to do, and didn’t feel like working, having reached, once more, a saturation point – or having got musical indigestion as they say here, and so I caught a tube to Blackfriars, since I’d never got on or off there, and walked out along the Embankment to Charing Cross.  As a result I saw a part of London that I must have passed under several times and at a distance (on the river): the Temple.  I’ve been in and out of the Temple station a number of times, but always gone in the opposite direction.  The Temple, strictly speaking, I suppose is a collection of buildings comprising the lawyers’ apartments and rooms.  There are several buildings, of probably mainly last century’s vintage, possibly earlier, but on their river side, is a lovely open part, strictly for the use of members of the Temple.  Dickens, (of course) talks about the area a good deal, along with Lincolns Inn Fields (another law area, particularly for students and young lawyers, I think) which is further north, and has only a semblance of grass still in existence, let alone fields.  Approaching the Temple area from the other side – I think it comes out around Fleet St or Ludgate Hill (Hill?!) [it was nothing like the hills I lived on in Dunedin] (which was so bombed during the war that not a sign of Dickens’ old houses and buildings exist anymore – even a lot of the streets have vanished.  To digress even further, he mentions Commercial Road in one story, where the Opera Centre is now, and how going towards the river it was all slummy etc.  Well, I just noticed the other day that a number of the streets running off C. Rd towards the river are all about thirty yards long with very new buildings and estates cutting off their other ends.  I can only assume that most of this area was bombed too and that the major parts of these streets were destroyed.  An awful lot of the East is suspiciously new. Approaching, as we were, the Temple, you go into some lovely old courts that are, I think much older than Dickens.  And he mentions them too.  There’s even a plaque or memorial in one where David Copperfield, or was it one of the other boys?, is supposed to have stopped for a drink!!  Mike and I were round that way very early in my sojourn, but I must go back and have another look.  The day we were there it rained very heavily, but briefly. 
Can you smell oranges?  I’m in the middle of one at the moment.  They’re fairly cheap here, particularly off the street or market stalls.  I don’t know how these people stand it; they seem to stay right through the winter, out in all weathers.  There must be quite a collection of them, and all ages, because they’re all over London.  Some streets – Petticoat Lane, on Sundays, for example – are taken over by them more or less permanently, and in other places, the original market sites, I guess, still exist and are used.  But it’s really rather funny in Barking Road.  There they have a market right outside a whole collection of modern shops, and will even tell you to go inside if they haven’t what you want!
I’d better finish here – perhaps I’ll send it a little earlier to make sure that it arrives for Christmas – but I’ll definitely write again before then – if the mails will take the stuff!
Lots of love and the very happiest of Christmases, if I don’t get through again before then.  XXXXX
[But wait, there’s more.]
I’ve decided to start another page, because I’d intended all along to tell you about Angelique, and then forgot.  It’s really a farce with music, rather than an opera, or even an operetta. The way they are doing it in this production is as based on the French Music Hall, almost, with everybody very much aware of their audience.  The story is consequently a bit naughty, I suppose, but not crude or anything, as English farce might be.  It opens with a violent piece of orchestral music that doesn’t really go anywhere, although it introduces a theme that is used a good deal in the ensuing number and also once later as
Angelique’s own theme.  The music rushes straight into the opening scene with a crash as two plates hurtle out of Angelique and Boniface’s house.  Then Boniface himself comes running out of the house followed by a very irate Angelique who is telling the world what a terrible husband she has and how she could have had a choice of all the best suitors in the town (a seaside resort).  She is in fact a real harridan, and Boniface is a timid mouse, which is quite obvious in spite of what she says.  Anyway, she belts poor old B over the head with a vase, and he collapses.  She goes inside slamming the door, as two female neighbours look on (and a group of four ‘neighbours’ who appear from four bathing tents at the back emerge) and these delightfully down-to-earth old bags say what a terrible life she (Angelique) leads!  They have a little tune of their own, always the same, which runs into a piece of spoken-in-time-music that invariably leads to their saying they must go and not interfere! (The last time they do this, they are about to carry on into the speaking bit when they are interrupted still with their mouths open by one of the other characters.)  Charlot, a neighbour from across the square appears to comfort Boniface, and during the ensuing conversation they ponder what to do.  Charlot hits on the brilliant plan of selling her, which Boniface gladly agrees to (anything to get rid of her) as long as he (Charlot) can convince Angelique that it is a logical thing.  Charlot then goes and tells Angelique that they’ve decided to sell her and says that she shouldn’t have to put up with Boniface when there are men willing to buy such a beauty as she is – after all, don’t the men of the East buy their women, he says.  Angelique agrees, he vanity mainly having been played upon, and they agree to a signal when a customer is approaching – Beethoven’s Fifth: Tah, tah tah, Taaah!  Charlot meanwhile hangs up a sign saying Wife for sale.  The two neighbours once more appear and comment upon this lamentable wrongdoing!  Charlot appears, whistles, and an Italian appears dancing to a delightfully wrong waltz time.  Angelique begins to sing inside the house and the Italian listens gleefully.  Angelique appears at the window, and the Italian, after serenading her a little, begs her to come down.  She does, and soon he is romanticising about his villa in Southern Italy.  The song resolves into a mad tarantella, with Angelique distinctly at a disadvantage, being swept literally off her feet.  Charlot arrives, and demands the money for her, and the couple dance off.  Boniface appears hopefully, and Charlot hands him the money.  Just as they are rejoicing however, the couple return shouting at the top of their voice and Angelique throws the Italian out, then grabs Boniface and chases him inside.  Charlot puts up the sign again, and the two gossips appear, gradually changing their tune to feeling sorry for Boniface!  Charlot comes back with an Englishman, who talks of buying Angelique as though she were a horse!  How many teeth has she, etc.  Charlot gets Angelique and once more the pattern goes on: this time with a parody of those opera ensembles where several people say they are going to go and never do!  Anyway, they go, and once more Boniface appears even more timidly.  Peace has set in temporarily, because the pair are very soon back, squabbling.  She throws the Englishman out.  Then goes into the house to have a sleep.  Neighbours again, this time in support of Boniface.  A Negro appears and does a shuffling jazzy sort of dance.  Much to Boniface’s horror he runs into the house to see Angelique asleep and comes out in utter bliss – she is unbelievably beautiful.  He goes off to get some money, leaving the conspirators discussing how to get Angelique to accept the Negro.  (He is the King of the Bambaras, whatever that is!)  Charlot gets a shawl to cover Angelique’s face, so that she won’t see the Negro, but tells her that it is because it is the custom of the King’s country.  The Negro returns, and in a quartet tells her how much he loves her, in a lovely quasi-Arabic-African song.  They go off, but naturally soon return arguing.  Angelique dismisses the Negro, and is about to re-enter the house, when Boniface, thoroughly fed-up, tells her to go to the Devil; or more specifically, The Devil take you!  And the Devil appears through a trap-door and takes her off!  When the darkness clears, Boniface is alone, but not for long.  All the irate suitors return demanding their money back; Boniface puts them off temporarily by offering drinks all round, but suddenly the Devil returns, a broken spirit!  Angelique has even caused chaos in Hell, and the Devil begs Boniface to take her back. Boniface, meanwhile, has fetched a rope and is determined to hang himself, but everyone cries not to, especially Angelique, who says she couldn’t bear to see him hang himself because of her.  Celebrations ensue, but just before the curtain falls, Boniface cries out, But she is still for sale! as Angelique doesn’t show any sign of improving. 
Mad, is it not?  But quite a lot of fun.  Lots of love and Happy Christmas. 
 [But wait, there’s even more, this time handwritten.]

P.S. Forgot to mention the Cecil Beaton Exhibition I went to the other day: Friday.  It’s something like 600 of his most famous and best photos set out in periods and groups – actors, musicians, artist, writers etc.  Some are fantastic – the way the character of the subject isn’t only shown by themselves but by their grouping and relation to the ‘props’ around them.  Picasso is one of the most photographed: he appears almost as 3 generations of himself, growing gradually older, and always in surroundings like his paintings.  Marilyn Monroe is there in about 25 studies, only a few really outstanding.  Curiously enough the theatrical ones are less interesting than the non-theatre, because you expect former to be in interesting surroundings, whereas it comes as an original idea to see non-theatricals in slightly outlandish surroundings.
Lots of love
PPS or is it PSS?
Went, with Hazel and Kurt, to the former’s local flea pit picture theatre (after a brief digression to a ‘props’ shop in Cambridge Circus – three floors of theatrical props – fabulous!!) to see two horror films – by way of a complete change!  They were both fairly gory, and both quite unbelievable, unfortunately.  (The first also sported the most idiotic mid-fifties beatnik – boy, was I glad when he was done in!)  Then we went round to Hazel’s flat in Islington for a bite to eat and talked and talked and talked – on everything but music.  I left Kurt at the bus stop, finally, in the middle of a religious discussion (!!) – he’s an atheist – he thinks!  Lots of love.