Monday, 21 January 2008

Nessun' dorma nelle montagne Lake District

Not really a Grimes connection here, really, but I've just got back from a stag weekend up in the Lakes. Not, of course, mine. One of the lads in the room next to me heard me singing bits of Grimes in the shower and commended me the next morning on my singing. Actually, he thought he'd been hearing selections from HMS Pinafore, but I suppose he wasn't a million nautical miles away.

Anyway, the next day we all walked up to the top of the Old Man of Coniston and he insisted I sing Nessun' dorma at the summit, in the freezing cold fog. Which I did, after a fashion - probably the fashion of a Stars in their eyes contestant doing Russell Watson after nine pints of Bluebird the night before.

The party was amused, anyway, though they were keener on doing a team version of The hills are alive with the sound of music.

I can't make the rehearsal on Thursday, as I'm up north for a wedding. Not, of course, mine.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Good news and bad news

I'm a firm believer in getting bad news out of the way first. So here's the bad news.

The Act I rehearsal today was really a bit rubbish.

We did the bit from Grimes's first appearance, bawling offstage for someone to come and help him bring in his boat, to the end of the 'storm' ensemble ('Now the flood tide and sea horses...').

Or rather, we didn't. Much.

Same old story: hardly anybody having memorised the parts well enough, with some honourable exceptions (Abby! That kind of attitude could take you places, you know... well, Manchester, anyway). At 2.35pm, we'd hacked through the entrails of Act I with about five per cent of singable words actually being sung. Nan was into her usual manic-laugh-despair state at this stage of proceedings.

It almost got called off then, and given up as a Concert Performance. (Er, it still might.) But it didn't, and the reason it didn't was because we did *another* run through of the whole of Act I up to page 86 without scores.

And, guess what. Most of us had been wandering around Act I to date with scores in hand, like befuddled American tourists with maps of central London confounded by the streets not being laid out on a grid like Atlanta, Georgia, but on a tangle of spaghetti like London, England. But once we'd been forced to put the libretti down and actually look up and watch each other and even, er, look at that bloke called Tim at the piano who waves his hands around in a rhythmic kind of way sometimes....

Well, put it this way. Before we put our scores down and were forced to sing from memory, it was worse than a scratch performance of Grimes by a bunch of Radio 4 comedians. And after we put our scores down and sang from memory, it was just about as good as a scratch performance of Grimes by a bunch of Radio 4 comedians.

Then we did it again from memory, the whole of Act I. And this time it was so good that Nan only gave us the same bollocking as she gave us at the same stage in the previous two years. That was with Carmen, which was a much easier opera, or even Magic Flute the same stage the year before, which was easier than that.

And the good news? Well, I made a very good curry. And also, Abby's got into the Royal Northern College, except that's kind of bad news as it means she won't be in next year's Opera Gold performance of Bohème or whatever (I'm guessing). She'll be up in Manchester. But it's good news for her, if not for her bank manager.

So, see, I was right about this business of memorising things. If you put in a bit of application in learning parts, you'll be like Abby, or me. And be confident on stage.

And, er, skint. But impressively skint.

Anyway, I'm off this weekend on a mountain-biking-stag do up to the Lakes. The weather forecast's terrible: torrential rain all Saturday and Sunday. Oh dear. We may end up being stuck in a pub.

Monday, 14 January 2008

The patience of jobless

If you have neither a family nor a job, you're always having to justify yourself to people at parties. The first two questions they ask are usually 'Do you have a family?' and 'Do you have a job?'. Once you've answered No to both, they look blank fora few seconds, say Oh, then sidle off claiming they've left their drink in the kitchen.

Occasionally, people sympathise:
Them: "Mm. Must be tough without a job. Must be hard to know what your role is."
Me: "Well, fortunately, I DO have a role: that of an angry drunk who shouts constantly."
Them: "I see. And didn't you say something about being in an opera, as well?"

We had our first staging rehearsal on Thursday. Some bits went OK, mainly the bits that involved shifting scenery or making pretend paper fish for me to fillet.

The singing went less well, due to (a) the usual problem of nobody having quite got round to memorising their part yet, and (b) most of the principals being at work or in Cardiff or in a lecture or just AWOL. We did the court scene and the opening chorus of Act I, pretty dreadfully, and that's our main rehearsal for that bit gone.

So Nan is suggesting that we move rehearsals to Wednesdays, to give the principals a chance to be absent for different reasons. We'll vote on it next Thursday, except that nobody will be there as it's Thursday and nobody can make it on that day. Obviously I can make any day, as I don't have a job.

Still, I was pleased with my origami herring. You could tell it was a herring because I wrote HERRING on it in biro.

And there was some good news. Nathalie has got a place at the Academy, which is great, because we can make Opera Gold sound really cool and say our company includes members of the BBC Symphony Chorus (Dan) ENO (Abby) Trinity (Mario) and now the Royal Academy (Nat) etc. Congratulations Nat! Thoroughly deserved.

I'm not a member of anything just now, not even Goldsmiths, as I'm doing the rounds of Recruitment Agencies. Some people say Recruitment Agencies are useless, that they're just full of airhead 30-something women who get all enthusiastic and promise instant unlimited lucrative employment and then fail to return your calls.

Well, I'm currently on the books of about a dozen agencies, and I don't have a bad word to say about one of them. That one is TFPL. It's because they at least made me a cup of tea at interview before failing to return my calls. They haven't got me any work, though.

Enough moaning. Time to go and chase the fox out of the front room: the door is open to let the washing dry and they keep coming in and nosing around, perhaps trying to find that bar of chocolate I lost down the back of the sofa. Perhaps I do have a role after all.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

You don't have to mad to do Grimes, but it helps

This is about the time of year when Opera Gold starts to invade my daily conversation. There I am talking to someone at the checkout or the water cooler or the bar, and bits of Peter Grimes come out.

For example, I was in a tapas bar the other night. (Meson Don Felipe on the Cut, in fact - great atmosphere, but the food at Mar in Terra round the corner is better, we reckon.) Anyway, we'd troughed our main courses and glugged the wine, and the waitress came round.

"Would you like to see the dessert menu?", she said.

Out came this bit of Grimes in the Prologue as my instinctive reply:

And whenever I'm in a train that's spent ten minutes waiting in the middle of nowhere and then suddenly gets going again, I find myself doing a quick bit of Mrs Sedley:

And goodness knows what the Aussie barmaid at the White Bear round the corner thinks when I go in to order a beer and do an unconscious Balstrode quote instead:

At least all these involuntary outbursts are in English. For the last two years the checkout girls in Lidl have been listening to me gabbling in Bizet-era French and Mozart-period German. But then as nobody in Lidl has English as a first language it didn't seem all that strange.

There is, of course, a slight problem with all this: none of the bits are actually my part. This is what always happens. That mental CD of the opera keeps playing on shuffle through my head, but it's always Grimes or Balstrode or Mrs Sedley and never me.

See you at the first staging rehearsal tomorrow...

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Happy New Year to all partners in Grimes

There's now a group on Facebook for the Opera Gold Peter Grimes. Thanks Jenny, I think.

On it, you'll see amusing descriptions of each character on the Facebook group. Here they are with some additions and amendments:

Jenny Hunt - Auntie: Landlady of The Boar; dispenser of dodgy gin, and fixer for Ned Keene's three-in-bed quickies upstairs with the obliging nieces. Nod-and-wink vocal lines. Think Cilla from Blind Date with Cynthia Payne.

Ryan Webber - Ned Keene: Sex-crazed quack; gobby joker, Jack the Lad, initially chum of Grimes but turns against him. Jim Davidson with a chemist's shop.

Charlotte King / Ruth Willow Mariner - Mrs Sedley: Drug addicted fuss-pot; snobby retired old bag collecting reward points on Keene's Pharmacy clubcard. Think Heather Mills with an addiction problem in 20 years' time.

Dan Rudge - Swallow: Pompous, Captain-Mainwaringesque local magistrate, who can barely conceal his contempt for Grimes. Vocal lines mostly proclaimed rather than melodic.

Hamish Gallie - Balstrode: Retired sea-captain, wise village elder who's been around the block a few times; sticks up for Grimes at first but ultimately tells him to commit suicide. Bold, controlling, often ominous vocal lines. Think Alec Guinness (perh. as Col. Nicholson in River Kwai) with a pipe and a pint.

Jonathan Crowhurst / Ross Michalski - Hobson: Too pissed to walk home? Boy to be sent up a chimney? Call Yokel Taxis of the Borough. Anything and anyone carted anywhere, any time of day or night. The village carter, a dull-witted local who can't stand Grimes. Trigger from Only Fools and Horses, perhaps.

Nathalie Chalkley / Casey Evans - Nieces: Relaxing massages for gentlemen discreetly performed in the Boar's state-of-the-art shed. No job too big or small. Mostly girly, giggly melodic lines, but gorgeously moving trio with Ellen. Nowadays would be two girls both called Natasha from Eastern Europe.

Rob Ainsley - Bob Boles: Drunken, ranting, lecherous, Bible-bashing fisherman. The Borough's equivalent of the radicalising imam, a sort of Methodist Abu Hamza. Spends most of time shouting. Detests Grimes.

Abigail Sudbury - Ellen Orford: Curiously non-romantic 'romantic interest'. Lonely widowed schoolteacher, forlornly hoping that her compassion and kindness can redeem Grimes. Doesn't. Has softest, most palliative vocal lines of the whole opera. Possibly a young Maggie Smith.

Mario Sofroniou - Peter Grimes: Fisherman loner. Not evil, but stubborn, uncaring and desperately unwise. Craves ordinary respectability but won't make any compromises to get it. Most balanced man in the Borough - has chip on both shoulders. Like the man, vocal lines veer between extremes, often cutting abruptly across the chorus or even himself, trampolining between aggression and self-pity, restless lyricism and disjointed bullying.

Now, I'd just like to stress that the above description is of the roles, not of the people.

I've never gone fishing, for example.

Happy New Year, everyone. Hope 2008 brings you a very different kettle of fish.