Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Gin at the Idler, Costumed Handel with scores.

On the plane back from Canada I ran through the words of "Don't Bring Lulu" in my head. You can bring peas and crullers and cheese but don't bring Lulu! Give her two beers and she tears portiers and throws cups of the shelf...I wished I had a score of Jephtha but I'd been unable in Gibsons, Sechelt, Vancouver or Toronto to get to a shop to buy one, and I was convinced that I had one already, anyway. I was to sing the role of Storge, Jephtha's wife, in Epsom, at a semi-staged, but fully-costumed production.
I'd picked out my outfit from the National Theatre's costume warehouse. A lot of their stuff is in tatters, and this dress isn't much of an exception. It smelt of basement, and had threads fraying all over the inside of it, completely raw-seamed. However. The design! There's a flattering cut for anyone!
Jephtha is a story from the Old Testament, but the director thought that as it is about a war, it'd be nice for it to be set in WWI.
Looking through my boxes of music in three locations I didn't have a score after all, and everyone involved in the production had bought the last Novello copies (at about 10 quid) and I had to buy one of those big blue Barenreiters (at 22).

 Micawbers from NT productions past...
Masks at the National Theatres' Costume Hire!

Less jetlagged, I'd have braved the rain and poked around the Archive Bookstore's basement on Bell Street, and no doubt found a Novello copy for a fiver. But the weather! Oh the weather. Those droplets on the plane windows as you land at Heathrow...it's a wet parody of confetti, welcoming you to Britain. It didn't stop for days. I felt glad for the plants' sake, and for animals' and birds' sake. And of course, you're glad to be back in England just as soon as you see, say, a lot of colourful canal boats at the side of the railway line (at less than a minute as you take the Heathrow Connect toward Hayes). But I did go directly to Chappells instead of Bell Street.

Ben Thapa, director Stephen Oliver, moi, Iestyn Morris,
Jen Clarke, David Stout
Aside from picking out a dress at the National Theatre's hire-warehouse and being told that I'll be Storge, there was nothing in the way of preliminary rehearsals for the production. The soloists were all picked up at Ewell West station, having studiously ignored each other in the railway carriage but then extremely friendly once we actually spoke. The fee was a standard 'day-of' fee. That is, meet everyone on the day, use the score. And, USUALLY, stand in one place and sit down quietly when not singing. To have memorised it is a whole different ball game. To have gone to rehearsals costs, as it ought, much more. We tried on our costumes at noon, and went down to have instruction from the director, who told us when and where to come on, come off, and whom to greet, take by the hand, react to, stand, sit, and so on. Props were pointed out and we wrote it all down in our scores. Rehearsals were music rehearsals, in ascending order of ensemble. So as the musicians arrived we went through our bits in a radically different order to the way it's written. In effect, no run-through of what we'd just heard. The choir arrived and went through their parts with the orchestra, in between our bits. We just managed to finish at six-ish and the concert started at seven thirty. My mind was a blank. How did we do it? I don't know. We held our scores and wandered around, emoting and acting, and finding truth in it. It was a small miracle. The girl who played my daughter, Jennifer Clarke, was a sweet, almost old-fashioned Viennese-style voice in the tradition of Erna Berger, Lisa della Casa...when I came back onstage after she'd been saved from human sacrifice (tis that sort of a story, is Jephtha) to be the overjoyed mother, she was crying real tears, sobbing her heart out! I asked her afterwards how she'd managed to so invest herself in the role. She said it was relief at having survived it all.
Her parents were in the audience. They overheard a couple next to them muttering "Those soloists...shocking...after all those rehearsals and they still haven't memorised their music!"

With Richard Barnett! Photo by Kelley Swain!
Behind us is a book called Facial Justice. An interesting
Dystopian read from the looks of it. By L P Hartley! He
of "The Go-Between". Whaddya know.

Two days later and I was singing with the Parlour Boys in Notting Hill. It was the launch of Richard Barnett's latest book, the Dedalus Book of Gin. It is a gloriously quirky bookshop, club-house, coffee shop called The Idler, and the launch of the book involved G&Ts at heroic strength. But the gin was Miller's, which is quite all right!! Richard gave one of his really really great talks. This fellow never ever says "um" and he doesn't use notes and he is always fascinating. His talk was on the very starry origins of gin. It was inspired by philosophers, and it inspired philosophers. It's good to know something other than "Drunk for a penny, dead-drunk for tuppence" and yet again see Hogarth's Gin Lane engraving in your head. Then the Ragtime Parlour Boys supplied a rip-roaring version of the Old Gin Rag, later known as the Tiger Rag. I sang Don't Bring Lulu, Button up your Overcoat, the Tango des Roses, and the Honeysuckle and the Bee. All acoustic, and all appreciated, I think!

Richard B, me, Simon Marsh, John Baker, Matt Redman, Nick Ball.


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