?/3/69 [Date missing]
Dear Mum, I’ve been meaning to get going on this letter all week, since I received your one about the Linguaphone records, but it has been one hell of a week and I just haven’t got round to it. Anyway, about the records: yes, I did bring them with me, and funnily enough, the day I received your letter I was taking them to Lindsay Campbell, who’d been asking me for them for about a month! Does that put you in a very awkward position? Certainly, as soon as Lindsay is finished with the, I’ll post them out if you’d like. [No idea why my mother wanted these records, which I must have brought over with me from NZ.]
About the Italian and German newspapers, I’m waiting for an opportunity to be in the West End at the time of day when the shops are open. I dare say there are other places, but Piccadilly is the only one I’ve been able to recall seeing foreign papers in. Actually I was there on Friday evening...and forgot!
Well, to bring you up to date on recent events. When I last wrote it was at the end of a day in bed, and I was just thinking that I was getting over that sore throat I had, when blow me down, I suddenly found I was the possessor of another cold! You wouldn’t believe it would you? Colds at home always used to start in the head and go down to my chest. But here they do what they please, and I’ve had them going up and down with great abandon. Anyway I had to go in on Friday (though they sent me home early in the end ˗ not for my sake, but for the singers!) and I thought that perhaps I could get something to knock the cold back, so I went and got some Coldrex tablets (which I wouldn’t normally touch, as they leave me feeling all drugged) and they did the trick eventually, by sort of holding the thing up in my head somewhere, and not letting it run all over the shop. I felt revolting, because I kept feeling as though I was in a permanent dream state, but they seemed to calm the effects of the cold down enough to enable me to go into this last week with some degree of calm.
However, it left me with a most horrible chest cough ˗ one where the phlegm was so far down in my chest that I couldn’t cough it up. And though I took some cough medicine that someone at the Centre suggested it didn’t help. The same person suggested that I might be getting bronchitis, which gave me scare, as you’d expect, so when I got up to the Crowls on Friday night I said that I thought I’d better see a doctor soon, as the whole thing was worrying me terribly. Reg suggested we get hold of a doctor up here in Palmers Green, and tell him that I was just visiting up there and see if they would do something for me ˗ rather than wait until I could find out where the doctor hangs out in Blackheath. So yesterday morning, he rang up someone and they made an appointment for ten to ten, and I went round and a Lady doctor (it’s always embarrassing that ˗ now I know how it feels for a woman to have a male doctor examining her) listened to my chest and said I didn’t have bronchitis, and gave me some sickly sweet, but bitter, medicine which does seem to be doing some good. At least when I cough now, something dislodges, rather than staying there!
Back to last week ˗ and again, just to keep things in chronological order! On Sat morning, I hired a studio at the Blackheath Conservatoire ˗ like everything else, about two minutes walk ˗ and went in intending to do three hours work on the stuff for the re-audition of the Opera for All that was on the following Monday. However, about three-quarters of the way through my time, I was rung up by John Kentish (our Director of Studies, whatever that means, at the Centre, and a man who doesn’t even recognise me when I meet him round the place!) He wanted to know if I would come up in the afternoon and play Traviata for the people from the Opera Federation which was meeting at the Centre over the weekend. They must sing through the opera while James Robertson takes them thru it and gives them an idea of how it should go. Well, I wasn’t very keen, quite honestly, as I had all the weekend shopping to do, and also still felt rotten with my cold, but when he said the magic words: we’ll pay you, I accepted! (They paid me three guineas in the hand for two hours work ˗ and I didn’t play a good deal of the time! No wonder they don’t make any money. I felt a bit silly throughout, as my eyes were watering, and I couldn’t even concentrate on what I was doing completely.) Anyway, the people from the Opera Fed. Who are out and out amateurs, wouldn’t have worried because they barely seemed to know what they were doing, let alone anyone else.
Went to bed reasonably early on both Sat and Sunday nights, and on Monday morn went to the first Fidelio with the 83-year-old [Otto] Klemperer conducting. Or so they say: to my eyes he appeared to be asleep most of the time. It seems a bit curious to me. I mean, when a man is so old that he can no longer do an even reasonably good job of work, I don’t see the point of his doing it ˗ however great he may have been. Klemperer has been a fine conductor, and perhaps some of the finer details of this production were due to him, but really it seemed more to me that the orchestra was looking after itself, and that the singers were doing likewise. Considering they couldn’t even see his beat, it was so tiny, I don’t see how they could have been following him! I’m told the prompter in the prompt box was really who was keeping the singers together! And it was so slow. [This slowness is confirmed by someone else online.] This is also due to his age, and while some small details, that might normally be overlooked, came to light, the thing fell apart dramatically. I didn’t stay for the second act (though I would have liked to ˗ because in spite of all I’ve said above, there was a curious fascination about it all. The soprano, some of whose singing was like mine ˗ horrifying ˗ had a lot of personality. Again she shouldn’t really be doing the part ˗ she can’t in actual fact sing a lot of it properly ˗ but she does make you watch her) but went back to the Opera Centre to do a bit more work on my audition music. (I don’t know what’s wrong with this typewriter but it’s constantly wrecking the side of this page and tearing it to pieces!)act of a rehearsal of
The audition was later in the afternoon, and I was first. This time they really listened to us, by contrast with the previous occasion when they had raced through the reps. But in the end it made not much difference, as I didn’t get a job. Robertson called each of the reps into his office the next day, and had a long chat with them. Alistair [Dawes] got the English Opera For All tour, but the other job which was going hasn’t been filled at all for some reason. If Alistair hadn’t got it, I would have been a bit annoyed because he is the one who really deserves it, but I also feel that I could have done it. Anyway, Robertson and I had this talk, and it at least cleared a few things up. From what he says it is worthwhile my continuing in this profession, but he seems to feel that I have some catching up to do ˗ which is what I’d felt all along, because the others have all been doing full time music for so long.
continued on a second aerogram.
The problem is of course, how to do this catching up. He reckons I work very hard ˗ in fact he said he sometimes wonders if I don’t work too hard ˗ good grief! ˗ but as far as I can see, I’ve got to work hard to stay with the others. Isn’t it a problem? I just don’t know where to start to help myself. I’d thought perhaps of going to some small opera house in Germany or somewhere (there is a lot of work there) but it’s a matter of getting there. He suggested I might try teaching for a while but while I don’t fancy it it may do some good, even if it was only part time. I’d thought of some part time work ˗ preferably musical (for example with George Bamford if he’d take me on ˗ he obviously needs an assistant) and filling in the rest of the time with coaching. But here too I’m at a disadvantage, as I only know a limited number of people. I’d thought of going back to Aussie, where at least the standards aren’t quite so high [!], and where perhaps I could get the sort of experience I need to help me cope over here. But as Michael says it’s a long way away from the mainstream of things and it wouldn’t be worthwhile going back there unless I definitely had some work. And unless they’d take me on my Opera Centre background, I’d probably have to go all the way out there to audition or something. AAAAAAgh! (excuse me!) Whatever happens I’ll have to start getting onto people soon, and get something underway before the next term is too far advanced. So there we are.
On Wednesday, the Tauber competition was to take place in Wigmore Hall, and so Abigail [Ryan] and I went along, and found that we were something like eleventh on the list, out of twelve. What a long wait. From where we were it sounded as though Abigail didn’t stand a chance, the voices seemed to be so good, and when we did go on, I don’t really think she sang all that well. Anyway, after everyone was finished we went down into the hall, and waited with a whole pile of Abigail’s relations who had made an occasion of it and come down from Manchester. There was her mother, a lovely plump homely woman with the sweetest eyes I’ve ever seen, and her aunt (whom I later found out was likely to burst into an old Music Hall song on the slightest pretext) and her two sisters, Mary (who was mad as a snake and three months pregnant) and Vera, a rather more straight-laced girl, but still very friendly. And there was also Tommy her brother, a tall, balding very gentle man.
Eventually the judges came out and of course the hall was electric. They then announced after considerable spiel, that though there had been many lovely voices there this afternoon, the aim of the prize (a year in Vienna studying at the Academy with all expenses paid) was to help someone with potential to develop, and the prize therefore went to Abigail Ryan. Well, you’ve never seen anything like it. Abigail was by this time sitting with her sisters and aunt, while I was with her mother and her flatmate, a middle-aged spinster of American origin, and her young friend, an Anglican girl doctor (who practises in Wood Green ˗ I thought she might have turned out to be the lady doctor I was to have yesterday) who has recently come out of a convent where she spent 18 months before deciding it wasn’t for her.
Abigail’s mother gave me a kiss and a hug (which nearly made me vanish from sight) then rushed over and hugged the American woman (Miriam is her name) and meanwhile Abigail had stood up, sat down again, been clapped, stood up again, tried to get out of the row she was in, walked briskly up the aisle to fin there was no way to get up on stage (!) walked round through the connecting doors and arrived on stage looking considerably confused, and there she was presented with a large bouquet of flowers, and congratulated by the judges and photographed by a funny little man who suddenly appeared from nowhere. I think we were all as excited as she was.
I was terribly pleased, especially as when I had been sitting down at first and Abigail had gone off to talk to someone (this was before the announcement) some idiot German woman behind me had been spouting off in a know-all fashion about this Abigail saying she shouldn’t be singing dramatic soprano, as though she was a specimen of some sort, and she had got a bit of a shock when she recognised the accompanist was sitting right in front of her ˗ I hope she got even more of a shock when the winner was announced. These people who have all the knowledge of the world tucked away in their brains annoy me not a little. [Possibly the pot calling the kettle black, I suspect.]
Naturally this all called for a celebration. I was the first to arrive backstage ˗ and Abigail gives me a big kiss ˗ in front of all the dignitaries and officials and judges. They didn’t seem to mind, and I can’t say I did either. Anyway, we all (family and friends) went off to the pub down the road, and stayed there for about an hour ˗ filling the air with laughter at a whole lot of in-Catholic jokes: the whole family is Catholic of course. And they’re terribly friendly people, and terribly funny. We all went off after this (we’d picked up another one of the students by this time, David Harrison, who’d just come into a whole lot of money and insisted on paying for things left right and centre ˗ the evening cost me practically nothing ˗ though I did try to pay ˗ and with him in tow, nine of us (Miriam had left by then) went to a restaurant called the La Laguna, near the Coliseum [Theatre], and took over the basement section. We must have been a bit noisy, as there were some other people there originally!) Then they went to another pub, and just sat, and then we all went to Miriam and Abigail’s flat in St John’s Wood (by tube) and stayed there for a while, watching a foggy TV picture (it starred the man all the women had seen in a musical in the West End the previous night and they’d all fallen in love with him) and playing some songs on the piano.
I left quite early as I still had a hectic couple of days to follow. I had to play for 5 of the singers auditioning at the Wells on Friday, and we were told on Thursday that instead of only having to sing one song each they should have two prepared, so this meant a whole lot of last minute work. I can’t say I felt particularly happy about any of the playing I did, and anyway, we all think that the whole business was merely a courtesy thing because the Wells always used to audition the singers that were leaving the Centre and had stopped doing this last year.
Yesterday, Reg and I went down to Southend, because in the last few days the sun has come back to us (we’ve hardly seen it all winter ˗ it’s horrible). We spent about four hours wandering around ˗ it’s a resort, of sorts, because it’s actually on the Thames estuary ˗ tho this is very wide. (They call it Southend-on-Mud!) It has the longest pier ˗ a mile ˗ and at the end of it are restaurants, cafes, theatres, etc. It’s quite a thing ˗ with even an electric railway running its length.
With a bit of luck the fresh air may have done some good ˗ lots of love, Mike.