Saturday, November 14, 2015

24.5.69 Peter Grimes and others


Dear Mum, you’ll never guess where I’ve just been. In the ROYAL BOX at Covent Garden. It is a great big box, with a little room behind it where we had iced champagne ˗ and coffee ˗ and which has its own private entrance, and loo. That’s about as close as I’ll ever get to royalty I think! We (the two designers of the mid-term pieces, and David Syrus) were invited to go along by John Kentish, our Director of Studies, and the producer of Manon. Don’t ask me how he happened to have the Royal Box for the occasion ˗ but it was great to see the doormen and ushers etc sort of doing slight double-takes when they realised I wasn’t one of your normal paying people! (Actually the Garden is full of snobs anyway ˗ and I’m not helping by the sound of that last sentence! ˗ especially those who are Friends of the Garden: people who support the Garden by subscriptions and by which they get preferential bookings, etc. They are frequently completely ignorant, and don’t seem to be afraid of showing the fact. God knows what they think about as they sit thru hour upon hour of singing in foreign languages. Some of them came on the last night of the mid-terms and you’d think they own the place.) [Here endeth Crowl’s ongoing inverse snobbery ˗ for the moment.] Mr Kentish couldn’t come in the end but his wife was there with two friends, a Mr and Mrs Michael Dodd, I think, and they were rather charming and not too far above us menials. (We had our own special waiter for the box too!)

Jon Vickers as Peter Grimes
The opera, after all that, was Peter Grimes: Britten, who else? And we could have spat on the conductor (according to Mrs Kentish); it was Colin Davis, one of the most dynamic conductors around, and the tenor was Jon Vickers, who is just unbelievably great. The sort of person I’ll my grandchildren about. [But haven’t yet!] (We were closer to him in the Opera Centre canteen one day than tonight, but it was still very exciting being right on top of the orchestra, and having a close-up view of the stage. Well, of most of it. There is a certain disadvantage about a box ˗ it’s at the side of course, and so you can’t see one side of the stage at all. And all the action happened down on our side, which meant we had to strain a little to see. I don’t know how the Queen gets on! But what a fabulous opera this is. It keeps hitting you time and again, and really is probably the greatest opera Britten has written, so far as sheer drama goes. It has everything (the six big sea pictures for a start, between scene changes) [so overwhelmed, obviously, that I increased the number of the Four Sea Interludes, as they’re actually known], off-stage bands, tremendous chorus sections, storms, kids, a complete scene without orchestra, where Grimes is accompanied only by an off-stage dream chorus and a fog-horn (!) and where he goes quite mad (this was terrific!), riots, drums played by the singers. You name it! [On the night Colin Davis collapsed, in 2011, and fell from the orchestral pit podium at Covent Garden, his job as conductor for that performance was taken over by David Syrus, who had been at the Garden since leaving the Opera Centre.]

On Sunday evening David G and I went to a concert at the Festival Hall, mainly because Jennifer Vyvyan, whom he’s worked with, and likes a lot, and she was singing the solo in Britten’s Les Illuminations. Guilini was conducting, and thought the audience got up on its feet and clapped him at the end; I don’t know that I think he’s all that great. The Britten was fabulous, and but the Schubert Fifth [Symphony] that preceded it was nothing startling. (I was going to say to write home about, but that seems a little contradictory.) The last item was the rather marvellous Romeo and Juliet suite by Berlioz, and being Berlioz it was very exciting and very sentimental and full of lush orchestrations and big tunes and funny odd bits, and generally very interesting.

Yesterday, being Whit (!) Monday, David and Hazel and I went out, first to the Regent’s Park Zoo, tho’ it wasn’t anything startling, and then later to Fiddler on the Roof (which I’d seen, but liked very much, in Sydney). This is a rather marvellous musical but the cast here has been doing it so long (it’s in its third year I think (that the whole thing didn’t quite have the magic of the previous occasion. [The Sydney production had been a real eye-opener, with a brilliant Hayes Gordon in the leading role; Alfie Bass played the lead in London, and was a real disappointment.]

[Handwritten] This is terrible ˗ I started this letter over a week ago and just keep not finishing it, and since then I’ve seen Peter Grimes again. Oh, it is fabulous. I’ve put my name down to usher for the 2 concerts in St Paul’s celebrating the Berlioz anniversary and that is going on in the next 2 nights.

On Saturday last I went to what I thought was a very good production of Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Old Vic ˗ marvellously costumed and moved (Laurence Olivier producted it). But other opinions have said that it wrecked the play by making it funny in the wrong places.

On Sunday I went to the last Boulez concert at the Festival Hall where they played more Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. It was a great concert and much more easy to take than the previous one I went to. They were all earlier works and still vaguely in the late Romantic type of sound.

Well, I better close here ˗ I’ve got to get home to do some work ˗ I’m at the Centre at the moment. I’m glad to hear you liked your present ˗ I thought the palette knife (is it?) was the thing you mightn’t use! Give my love to Fred, Mike.