Friday, 27 March 2009

Edith's directorial debut

Edith has been slaving away, with a band of very loyal and committed fellow students, at a production of The Real Inspector Hound by Sir Tom Stoppard for the past 6 months. She founded the sixth form drama club in the autumn and this is the result. They opened last night to an ecstatic audience, second (and last) performance is tonight.

Brilliant and efficient direction, very funny acting and everyone pulling out all the stops 100%. There was a palpable sense of co-operation, warmth and team effort such as Sir Alan Sugar will never see on his stupid TV show. What a talented bunch of students Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School has - and what a lovely daughter we have.

The cast and credits as detailed in the programme (design by Isabella Chakiris, and very nice too)

Moon: Daniel Laking
Birdboot: Liam Steward-George
Mrs Drudge: Ailish Coghlan
Radio Announcer: Alison Cryan
Simon: Patrick D'Arcy
Felicity: Edith Nnotum
Cynthia: Sophie Platts-Martin
Magnus: John Crowley
Inspector Hound: Michael Galea
Corpse: Gabrielle Deehan

Director: Edith Johnson
Producers: Anne Le Fur and Alexandra Sayers
Assistant Producers: Georgia Ford, Eleanor Hingley, Ann O'Malley, Anna Godinho
Stage Managers: Alison Cryan and Maya Malarski
Publicity: Isabella Chakiris
Costumes: Barbara Ryan
Hair and Make up: Ximene Weaver
Design Team: Edward Abedian, Connal Harper, Freya Anderson (Thanks to Ben Payne and Alex Sayers)
Sound and Lighting: Joe Childs, Sophie Boles and Eleanor Hingley (thanks to Andrew Hingley)
Filming and Photography: Becky Johnson and Tom Warren

Special thanks also went to Mr Cooney, Ms Muhammed and Ms O'Connell (but actually the kids did all the work!)

Special thanks also should go to Sir Tom Stoppard for sending Edith a very encouraging email just when she was getting close to despair!

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Gorgeous male singers

Dan is away for the weekend, so I am taking mild revenge by collecting gorgeous male singers. Jonas Kaufmann is a good place to start:

What a dream. I think this one of Dmitri Hvorostovsky is a bit of a laugh but he's not bad, is he, considering he's obviously wondering if his flies are undone:

A classical music Youtuber has posted a very good beauty contest for beautiful male singers. Both these guys score well but everybody's favourite is always the Placido.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

And the kids came too

I had been very much looking forward to last night's concert at the Barbican Hall. First it was Thomas Quasthoff and the Berliner Barock Solisten playing Bach and Handel. Secondly we were going to a press reception so we wouldn't have to buy our own drinks or queue at the bar. Afterwards there was even a teensy chance we might meet the great man himself at another reception later on, if we could hang about. Thirdly, as (I've said before) we first heard TQ 20 years ago when we were just married, there were happy feelings around the whole evening, and it was going to be a relaxed grown up DATE.

Then I looked at the tickets. In some moment of utter madness, Daniel had bought four adult tickets and one under-sixteen one.

It was unthinkable to allow the kids to duck out of coming, the idea of having empty seats right under Quasthoff's nose was shaming. So first the job of persuading the kids to come. Then the panic about feeding them, stopping them having all out blazing rows in the middle of the concert hall...and there was of course no question of hanging about to meet Quasthoff because Certain People have to go to bed.

It's the year 2001 and Aggie is 3. We take her to a daytime folk concert at the Wigmore Hall. In the middle she stands up and says, "This is so boring" in a loud voice. There is nothing so unstoppable as a 3 year old who wants to say something. my date is shot to pieces. I feel incredibly angry with Dan, and I feel even more angry with myself for feeling so uncharitable to my dear darlings. And I feel profound disappointment.

In the end the kids were sweet, loving, patient and kind to their grumpy mother. The music and TQ's performance were heavenly and thanks to a bribe of £10, Aggie was silent, relaxed and attentive throughout the performance. Leo was exemplary (and had NOT been bribed), and of course Edith is an old hand at this, plus she added much-needed grace and ornament to the press reception.
And oh well, so what if we didn't get to meet Quasthoff. I'd have probably made a fool of myself.


For one thing, there is the dilemma on being introduced to Thomas Quasthoff: to go down on one knee, or to bow? By far the preferable option is obviously to go down on one knee. Bending over is bad for the back, looks terrible and also would give the great man an unrequested and unwanted view of wrinkly middle-aged cleavage. Quasthoff has a certain undeniable charm...a woman does not want to look a complete idiot. Not even at my age.

I notice from news footage that the lovely and youthful Mrs Quasthoff has perfected an elegant running genuflexion: there is a film on Youtube of her smoothly dipping, rising and dipping again (for a quick snog) with ease. Obviously the kneeling option is the expert's choice. You are immediately on a level and you are able to maintain good posture while talking.

But what one might term the "Claudia Quasthoff running bob" presents certain problems for those of us not quite so limber. My big fear would be not being able to get back up again without aid, especially while wearing high heels. I have a scary vision of myself flailing about helplessly on the empty acres of the Barbican concourse, still trying to get up long after everyone has gone home.... And another thing. Some of my trousers get a bit tense around the bum in that position: what if there was a terrible ripping sound? Worse still, some of Dan's suits are very old: they might not stand up to the strain.

I suppose it's back to the gym...

But for now back to the concert.

The Berliner Barock Solisten are just wonderful and if they come to London again I want to hear them play again. Most of them play standing up, like management consultants who have been on a management training course about stand-up meetings. They don't have a conductor - their Stradivarius-wielding leader, Rainer Kussmaul (what a name) kind of looks over at the band all the time sending thought waves. So they are a very big small band...and they have a theorbo! There was a big cellist in my way and I could not see it being played, though I could see it sticking up behind the cellists' heads like a crane. It's f-ing huge!
TQ was in really fine voice, or so I thought, of course I know nothing about music. I don't feel I'm hearing exactly the dark golden honey which knocked me sideways all those years ago in Passau - but the voice is still velvety rich. Very appropriate that we were promised "hot chocolate cocktails" after the concert.
Now here's the shocking thing. Exactly as Ben Heppner had to do last month TQ had to begin the concert by announcing that the programme had been printed wrongly, missing out a whole Brandenburg Concerto from the list. "So you will get even more for your money," he joked.
Yep, every time I've been to a concert in the last 2 months something has been wrong with the programme. My suspicion is cutbacks and over-use of inexperienced unpaid interns instead of professionals.

Favourite bits? Hard to say. I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed the Brandenburg C, the BBS's bite and rhythm and sense of galloping along succeeded in conquering the strange feeling one has, on hearing this music, that one is on hold. It is great to hear a BC live instead of tinnily down a telephone receiver.
I adored the six part Ricercar. Bach wrote this to persuade Frederich II of Prussia to pay his son CPE properly. I don't get the logic of this; surely Frederich must have gone away with his lovely Ricercar thinking, "Wow, it's easy to get free stuff out of these Bachs"?
Quasthoff sang with great brilliance and I especially adored "The people that walked" from the Messiah and the aria "O First in Wisdom" from Joshua.
For an encore he sang an intense and moving moment from the St Matthew Passion. It was magical.
Quasthoff complained on regaining the stage at one point that "the stairs are more work than to sing".

Fashion note: Everyone in casual matt black, no ties, black or white. Some of the BBS should bear in mind that black fades with time. TQ in classic musician's black silk roll-neck. I want to get one for Dan.
Audience downright scruffy.
My daughter Edith looked exquisite, of course, and my daughter Agatha looked as exquisite as is possible wearing a hoody with pasta sauce down the front and sheepskin boots.


Cantat, BWV 42 - Sinfonia
Cantata, BWV 57 - Ja, ich kann die Feinde schlagen
Musical Offering, BWV1079 - Six-part Ricercar
Cantata, BWV 73 - Ach, unser Wille Bleibt verkehrt; Herr, so du willt, so schicks mit mir
Third Brandenburg Concerto
Cantata, BWV 82 - Mein Gott! Wann kommt das schoene Nun!; Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod

Messiah, HWV 56 - Overture; For behold; The people that walked
Concerto grosso, Op 3 No 2 (HWV 313)
Joshua, HWV 64 - Oh Joshua, both to rule; O First in Wisdom; Sinfonia; The walls are levell'd; See the raging flames

Friday, 6 March 2009

W11 Opera to be at Riverside Studios again

Hooray! Our amazing, energetic Company Manager has secured the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith for this year's W11 Opera production.
We think it might be a proscenium set-up this time instead of performing in the round as last year.
We loved being at the Riverside Studios last year so THANK YOU Riverside!
This is my first year as a trustee of W11 Opera...I am getting quite nervous hoping I can do justice to the honour.
We have a new commission - of course we do, we have a new commission every year, that's what W11 Opera does - from MARTIN WARD and PHIL PORTER and it's called (at present) THE WHALE SAVERS. Guess what it's about...

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Gurrelieder (and nearly flies off the podium)

For a moment during the last seconds of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Royal Festival Hall last night I thought Esa-Pekka (crazy name, crazy guy) was about to achieve lift off as he exhorted his 400 strong orchestra and choir with the ultimate physical expressions of the idea of "onward and upward", his knees quivering and bouncing, and his toes only just managing to remain on the podium.

The real star of this piece is the orchestra, rather than the 6 singers or even the electrifying "Sprecher" (actually a Sprecherin, ) as the music is so bright and colourful and solid you can almost reach out and touch it. Basically Dan and I had a brilliant time and were among the first to jump up at the end and encourage a lengthly standing ovation. (Also the seats at the RFH are a nightmare. My back was killing me.)

Written mostly when Schoenberg was pretty young, and the last bit ten years later, it is so evocative of Mahler, with a bit of Wagner too, that I suppose it was inevitable he'd want to branch out into stuff I can't listen to. The final chorus about the sun coming up is fabulous and ought, Dan said rather strangely, to be a Classic FM favourite. Why that would be good for it I really can't tell.

Barbara Sukowa, the Sprecher, was scintillating. The Waldtaube, Monica Groop, was also marvellous. It was only afterwards that I learned the heroine Tove is murdered by Waldemar's wife. So she's a homebreaker and a hussy and got what she deserved. Pah!

The one slight, very slight disappointment was that Stig Andersen's voice wasn't not quite strong enough to top the volume of such a large orchestra, though for people sitting in front of him it was probably OK. We were near the front-right, and right by the double basses so we got a strange sound mix all in all.

The RFH is really going down hill. We nearly got stuck in a queue to enter the carpark - no full sign. There were only 2 people serving millions at the bar in the 20 minute interval. The management even f***ed up the programmes. They were supposed to have the words in an insert but lots of them didn't have the insert. Dan found a crowd of furious people haranguing a programme seller. I bought a programme with the insert easily at half time...from a programme seller sitting with nobody buying his programmes. We had our CD programme notes with us and the words were projected in English onto a screen above the orchestra throughout, so it didn't matter hugely. The projected words were rather a nuisance, very distracting. And "Extraordinary Tove" is a useless translation for "wunderschoene Tove". "What an extraordinary young woman," he seems to be saying.

I think they wanted to discourage noisy page-turning - it was being recorded for Radio 3.

Audience behaviour: well, not too bad actually, and no phones, but right in the middle of the sunrise chorus two old people - one on each side of the stalls, decided "ah, a noisy bit, I can go home now and no one will notice" and just walked out. Unbelievable. These were people in their 70s - surely a generation which knows how to behave? Evidently not.

Fashion note. Why do the male singers wear white tie and tails while Essa-Pekka is in a more contemporary outfit (black nehru collar number)? Can't they co-ordinate? The women had got it together and were in evening dress of comparable formality. Everyone would think it odd if one of the women singers was in a low cut evening dress and the other in a suit and blouse, wouldn't they?

Another fashion note. My new comfortable high heeled shoes (yes! it can be done!) are wonderful and make me feel tall and sexy, And my scarlet cardigan from Coast with the chiffon bow is great.