Saturday, 25 October 2008

A whole new ball game

I do a few reviews for HMV's free in-store music magazine. In the latest batch of CDs was a live recording, made on 8 May 1971, of Wagner's Parsifal from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with Jon Vickers as Parsifal.

The cast list was a little more interesting from our point of view further down, though. For there, as Erster Knappe, was one Nan Christie. I emailed Nan to let her know. She was amazed - she had no idea it had been recorded, and remembered little of the occasion. Which is hardly a surprise: it was 37 years ago (Nan must have been a child prodigy) and she was only on stage for about five minutes, out of four and a half hours. (Goodall conducts with the urgency of a glacier outrunning a tectonic plate.)

Oh yes, I did listen to all four CDs of the review copy, honestly. I'm a professional, you know. I mean, I wouldn't do anything like listen to the football on Radio 5 at the same time.

Oddly enough, I remember that particular day very well: while she was doing her stuff on stage, I was watching Match of the Day, seeing Arsenal beat Liverpool in the FA Cup Final 2-1. Which tells you the extent of my musical background.

Anyway, I brought the Parsifal disc along to the rehearsal on Thursday (pictured above and below). We were hacking through the mighty end of Act II, the bit where the gardener comes in and Mozart does his showpiece ensemble composition stuff.

I'd hurtled from work to arrive late, then immediately missed the easiest of entries. I felt rather like Chris Iwelumo, the Scottish striker who came on as sub and immediately missed an open goal last week.

Compared to Grimes, of course Figaro is far far easier to sight-read and get in your head. Except that it's hard in a different way: there's tons of it, some of it very very fast, all that machine-gun buffo patter.

And the recitatives. We've never done that before – none in Grimes, Carmen or Magic Flute – so that'll take a lot of work.

After Grimes last June, I spoked to Natalie (one of the Nieces). (We were in the same year at Goldsmiths and were in Magic Flute and Carmen together too.) We agreed then that we definitely, certainly, would not be doing any more Opera Gold.

We're just too busy, we said, and have too many other things to do: Nat's now at the Academy, and I'm just up to my eyes trying to earn a living.

So, we confirmed to each other, there was simply no way we'd be doing Figaro.

You wouldn't be seeing us at rehearsals.

Oh no.

So, Nat's the one second from left in the picture below. I'm the one taking it.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Welcome to our civil Marriage

Is Opera Gold coming of age?

Yesterday was the first meeting for our 2009 production, Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. The parts haven't been all assigned, or the auditions done, yet. So it was really a sequence of run-throughs of this duet or that aria, not a rehearsal.

But it was packed. Well, I counted 30. That's much more than last year. That's almost enough to have a chorus, dammit. It's probably more than the population of Iceland, or at least the solvent population of Iceland.

Why so many?

Partly because there are some welcome returning faces: Ros and Helen C, for instance, who finished at the same time as me in 2006. Ros was a show-stealing Papagena when we did Mozart last time, in 2005; Helen was involved then too, but both have been busy earning money to pay their council tax to invest in Icelandic banks.

Partly because we'll be double-casting for the two nights again this year, so it's just as well we have our growing band of regulars: Dan, Charlotte, Ryan, Casey et al.

And partly because we have a few singers from Trinity hovering around. We've had a few informal links with them recently: Mario, who sang Don Jose and Grimes for us, was a student there, and several Goldies took part in a Trinity-based production of Carmen last year. Helen B, who sang a fine Micaela, is one of the Trinity singers who was there yesterday.

That production included me, and you'll be pleased to know it was the first time I've worn eye make up. (Er, apart from once a long time ago, but look, I can explain everything, and the photos aren't as compromising as they seem, honest.) Anyway, my girlfriend howled with laughter when I rolled up home each night after Carmen having been too busy or lazy to wipe off my eye-liner. "You look just like your mum", she kept saying.

My mum's 74, so I'm not sure who this insulted more.

But I couldn't help feeling yesterday that we had, well, come of age somehow. We now have four (or possibly five) productions under our belts: Venus and Adonis, Dido and Aeneas, Magic Flute, Carmen, Peter Grimes. I hesitate to use a word like 'serious' - you can always tell when I'm taking the piss, because my lips are moving, or alternatively, my fingers are pressing some keys - but though we may be a small amateur outfit in scruffy south-west London, we're a genuine outfit. (At least, I hope that's what the several Trinity students think who've come along fondly hoping to plump up their CVs.)

I mean, Opera Gold even has its own page on Wikipedia, so we must be serious. (Mind you, it was me who put the page up.)

Having all those people chasing a limited number of parts, double-casting notwithstanding, means (as the astute Mr Crowhurst pointed out to me, possibly at length, possibly while Tim was trying to play the piano) there might be a few egos under pressure. But, to paraphrase the old saying, you can't make an opera without breaking egos. And a bit of friendly competition, done in the right spirit, is good for everyone. Just so long as I get the part, of course.

So, has Opera Gold come of age? Maybe that's meaningless. Maybe that was just a good line to start the first blog of the new season.

Just as well. When I came of age, at my 18th birthday party, I got off (a) my head on brandy and (b) with a girl called Gill who was wearing a man's three-piece suit and had muscles like an Olympic swimmer. It all ended rather strangely, in Cherubino-like circumstances. But look, I can explain everything, and the photos aren't as compromising as they seem, honest.

So there you are. Beware the coming of age.

See you all next week.