Monday, 10 December 2007

The Rest Is Noise... the title of a new book on 20th-century music. Written by a very smart, very readable music journo called Alex Ross, it contains among its excellent, sharply observed essays an incisive examination of Peter Grimes. (There's an extract on this blog here.)

Ross is an American (the music critic for the New Yorker magazine; I don't know what the English equivalent would be) but has clearly visited Aldeburgh and understood its atmosphere, and that of the Britten clique. And if he hasn't, then he's got a far better storyteller's imagination than John Darwin.

It's not yet available in the UK, but there is at least one copy here, because I ordered it through the Barbican. When I've finished with it I strongly recommend that you get it out, or pester me for it. Or, if not, just wait for the programme notes I write for our production, because I'll probably steal all his choicest phrases and sharpest observations.

As for our rehearsal last Thursday, well, there's good news and bad news again. The good news is that we've actually covered all the chorus note-bashing, not just once but twice. That's twice more than we'd achieved at this stage last year with Carmen.

You don't want to know the bad news.

Anyway, next Thursday is principals... full-time jobs permitting. Nan keeps telling me the key to 'singing' Boles is actually to shout it most of the time, and look angry. Last Saturday I was at Southampton, seeing Hull City get hammered 4-0. As the Italians know, there's often a link between football and opera.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

One good Turn deserves another

My review of ENO's excellent Turn of the Screw is now up on the Sky Arts website. The 'opera-singer companion' I refer to was Nat, btw.

Last Thursday's rehearsal was the usual routine of half-assed mumbling that got better as it went along, eventually reaching near-adequacy.

There were some intriguing challenges of part-division in the lynch-mob chorus ("And cruelty becomes his exercise"... etc). Challenging because we had a chorus of two tenors and a tenor line split into two parts. Which would be OK except that one of the tenors, ie me, was also trying to sing Boles. Similarly, the two-strong bass section had two parts, but one of the basses was also singing Swallow.

That scene is supposed to be one of overwhelming terror and crowd-rule, as the entire village turns to hunt down Grimes. It should have the deranged ferocity of Sudanese lynch-mob demanding execution over the name of a soft toy. That's a bit tricky when you can fit the entire men's chorus into a Smart Car.

So ladies, we look to you for violence, chaos and irrational hatred, as you did so magnificently in Carmen! That fight scene was terrific - for a moment I thought I was back at my auntie's wedding reception.

And there's that weird, brilliantly effective section at the end where everyone is almost literally baying: that extended 'Ha ha ha, ha-ha-ha-ha ha' bit right at the top of everyone's register. It's cackling, vengeful music with an evil glint in its eye. Which, I can't help thinking, was Britten's mood when he was writing it: right, tenors, you lazy bastards, let's see you get this high C-flat at the end. That'll show you what happens if you don't sing with your body.