Tuesday 31 July 2012

Porgy and Bess at the London Coliseum

On Thursday 19th July 2012 I attended the matinee performance of The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess from the Cape Town Opera and the Orchestra of the Welsh National Opera. Christine Crouse the Artistic Director of the Cape Town Opera said that transferring the South African township history to Porgy and Bess seemed a perfect fit. All the cultures of township life in Africa rule in Catfish Row.

On Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina, Jasbo Brown is playing the blues for a group of dancers. Clara sings a lullaby to her child (“Summertime”). The drug dealer Sporting Life, Clara’s husband Jake, and some of the other men are playing craps. Jake sings his child a lullaby of his own (“A woman is a sometime thing”). The beggar Porgy comes in to join the game; he defends Crown’s woman, Bess, who the others are talking about. When Jake accuses him of being soft on her, Porgy says that he isn’t soft on any woman; God made him a cripple and meant him to be lonely.

Crown enters with Bess. He’s drunk, and when he loses he starts a fight and kills Robbins with a cotton hook. Crown runs to hide, but tells Bess he’ll be back. Sporting Life offers to take her to New York with him, but she refuses. Nobody else will give her shelter when the police arrive except Porgy.

Porgy and Bess are at Robbins’ funeral, where Serena is leading the mourners. The police enter and arrest Peter as a “material witness.” Serena is still mourning (“My man’s gone now”) as she convinces the undertaker to bury Robbins for less than his usual fee, but as the scene ends, Bess leads the mourners in a spiritual. (“Oh, the train is at the station”).

A few weeks later, Jake and the Fishermen are working on their nets when Porgy leans out the window and compares his life to theirs. (“I got plenty o’ nuttin’”). Maria, a shopkeeper, chases Sportin’ Life away from her shop when he tries to sell his ‘happy dust’ near her store (“I hates yo’ struttin’ style”). Lawyer Frazier comes in and sells Bess a divorce for a dollar; when he learns that she and Crown were never married, he raises his fee to a dollar and a half. Mr. Archdale, a well-meaning white man, comes in and offers to pay Peter’s bail. The group is frightened by a low-flying buzzard. Porgy chases it away, saying that trouble is far away from him now (“Boss, dat bird mean trouble”).

All leave except Bess and Sporting Life, who asks her again to come to New York with him and tries to give her more dope, which she refuses. Porgy chases him away and he and Bess sing about their new happiness. (“Bess, you is my woman now”). All except Porgy leave for the church picnic. At the picnic, Sporting Life sings about his own brand of religion (“It ain’t necessarily so”). All are getting ready to leave when Crown, hidden in the bushes, calls out to Bess. She tells him she’s Porgy’s woman now, but he won’t let her go. (“What you want wid Bess?”). He pushes her off into the thicket as the boat leaves without her.

Some time later, the fishermen are getting ready to leave as Bess raves, still delirious after Crown’s attack. Peter wants to send her to the hospital, but Serena would rather pray over her. The street fills with vendors, and eventually Bess emerges, and explains to Porgy that she wants to stay with him but that when Crown comes she’ll have to go with him. Porgy tells her that she doesn’t have to go with him (“I loves you, Porgy”). A hurricane begins to rise, and Clara, frightened for her husband, calls out his name.

Everyone, gathered in Clara’s room, prays for shelter from the storm. There is a knock at the door; Crown enters and tries to take Bess away; he laughs at the frightened townspeople and sings a bawdy song to counteract their prayers (“A red-headed woman”). Clara sees Jake’s boat and runs out to find him. Bess calls for a man to go after her; Crown goes, after taunting Porgy and asking him why he won’t go.

After the storm, the women are crying for their men; Sporting Life teases them and Bess. Crown enters; he and Porgy fight, and Porgy kills him.

The police and the coroner come to Catfish Row the next morning; they want to take Porgy down to identify Crown’s body. Sportin’ Life tells him that when he looks at him Crown’t wound will begin to bleed. Telling Bess that Porgy will be locked up for sure, Sportin’ Life forces some dope on her, and leaves more outside her door as he leaves.

Porgy returns; while he tries to distribute the gifts he bought with the money he made playing craps in jail, he discovers Bess is gone (“Oh, Bess, oh where’s my Bess”). He learns that she has gone off with Sportin’ Life to New York; he gets in his goat-cart and prepares to follow her as the curtain falls.

This was a very moving afternoon at the London Coliseum as the Cape Town Opera brought their own unique style to Porgy and Bess. There were wonderful performances from Xolela Sixaba as Porgy and Tsakane Valentine Maswanganwi as Bess. The music fron the Orchestra of the Welsh National Opera conducted by Albert Horne was outstanding and complemented the great singing on stage. The Cape Town Opera can be proud of their performance as they brought a true sense of the South African people to the heart of London.

Sunday 29 July 2012

BBC Philharmonic at the BBC Proms - Prom 5

After my visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington I made my way to the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 17th July 2012 for the BBC Proms. This was for Prom 5 with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Juanjo Mena with soprano Anne Schwanewilms. I was exciting looked forward to the concert from my seat in the Circle front row.

The programme consisted of Also sprach Zarathustra - R Strauss, Four Last Songs - R Strauss, Laterna magica - Kaija Saariaho and Symphony No.7 - Sibelius. This was the Proms debut for Basque conductor Juanjo Mena as Chief Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic.

The concert opened with two works from Richard Strauss. The first being his Nietzche inspired tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra which explores the relationship between nature and mankind. This was followed by Four Last Songs which was famously evoked by a monumental opening sunrise. This piece reflects the lyrical, nostalgic vein of the composer's final year.

This was the UK Premiere of Kaija Saariaho's Laterna magica (Magic Lantern) which is inspired by the autobiography of film director Ingmar Bergman, the piece explores the effect of motifs played at different speeds, as a musical parallel to the film world's moving images created from a rapid succession of stills.

The concert ended with Sibelius's final completed symphony which brought with it a radical continuous approach to form that challenged the very essence of the genre. Symphony No.7 first appeared in 1924 as Fantasia sinfonica but after the success of the first performance he was soon referring to it as the Seventh Symphony.

This was a wonderful evening at the Royal Albert Hall with brilliant performances from the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Juanjo Mena and soprano Anne Schwanewilms on Four Last Songs. It is always special to attend the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall with it's amazing atmosphere.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Ballgowns at the Victoria and Albert Museum

On Tuesday 17th July 2012 I made my way to South Kensington on the way to the BBC Proms at The Royal Albert Hall. Before the evening's concert there was no better place to spend the afternoon then at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

While at this wonderful museum I attended the Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 Exhibition. From debutantes and royalty to charity balls and the red carpet this celebration of fashion highlights 60 years of stylish evening wear. Sponsored by Coutts this event was to mark the opening of the newly renovated Fashion galleries. With pieces by Victor Stiebel, Zandra Rhodes, Alexander McQueen, Erdem and Giles Deacon this was truly a great showcase for British design.

The Victoria and Albert Museum is one of my favourite places in London and this was a great exhibition at the world's greatest museum of art and design. On display were a selection of royal ballgowns including a Norman Hartnell gown designed for Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Princess Diana’s ‘Elvis Dress’ designed by Catherine Walker and gowns worn by today’s young royals.

The exhibition also include dresses worn by actresses and celebrities including Elizabeth Hurley, Bianca Jagger and Sandra Bullock, and a stunning metallic leather dress created especially for the exhibition by innovative designer Gareth Pugh. Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 is at the Victoria and Albert Museum until 6th January 2013. 

Tuesday 24 July 2012

The Tempest at Norwich Cathedral

I was back at Norwich Cathedral on Thursday 12th July 2012 for the GB Theatre Company performance of William Shakespeare's The Tempest. Once again we were entertained by the peregrine falcons flying overhead on another exciting evening at the Cathedral's 2012 Shakespeare Festival.

Prospero, (who is both the Duke of Milan and a magician), was usurped by his brother Antonio 12 years ago, helped by Alonso the King of Naples, and the King’s brother Sebastian. Prospero was then put to sea with his baby daughter Miranda, after being given some aid by faithful Lord, Gonzalo, who remained in service to the new Duke, Antonio.

Prospero and Miranda land on a distant island and by the time the play begins, Prospero has been ruling it by using his magic art for the previous 12 years.

Already living on the island were Ariel, an aery spirit, trapped in a tree by dead witch Sycorax until Prospero rescued him, and the savage Caliban, son of Sycorax. He was a free servant until he tried to rape Miranda. Now he is Prospero’s slave and naturally he resents his bondage.

Prospero uses his magic and the help of Ariel to raise a storm, (the tempest), when he divines his enemies to passing by the island by ship as they return from the wedding of King Alonso’s daughter. King Alonso, his son Ferdinand, Antonio, Sebastian, Gonzalo, Stephano and Trinculo are all shipwrecked onto the island.

Alonso and Ferdinand are separated in the wreck and Alonso searches for his son who he fears is drowned. Encouraged by Antonio, Sebastian is urged to plot against his brother, King Alonso, to seize the crown.

A drunken butler Stephano and a jester Trinculo meet the half-man/half-beast Caliban who persuades them that they should kill Prospero and rule the island. Ferdinand is lured by Ariel’s music to meet Miranda and they fall instantly in love. Prospero tests Ferdinand by enslaving him to make sure that his feelings for his daughter Miranda are real and true. Eventually satisfied, he presents the young couple with a betrothal masque.

Drawing his enemies into his circle, Prospero finally confronts and forgives them. Having done this he can drown his books of magic, pardon Caliban, break his magical staff, set Ariel free and leave the island for Milan where he will resume his rule as Duke.

This production of The Tempest was directed by Jack Shepherd who became more widely known for his performance as Wycliffe in the nineties. This performance delighted with Daniel Dingsdale as Ariel and Sarah Middleton as Miranda. I enjoyed my two evenings at the 2012 Shakespeare Festival and I was very impressed with the shows that the GB Theatre Company put on, which gave great entertainment to those in attendance.

Sunday 22 July 2012

The Taming of the Shrew at Norwich Cathedral

On the evening of Wednesday 11th July 2012 I attended the GB Theatre Company performance of William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew at Norwich Cathedral as part of their Shakespeare Festival 2012. This was an open air theatre production in the cathedral cloister. Their were dark clouds and peregrine falcons flying overhead but no rain on the night.

A tinker, Christopher Sly passes out drunk and is thrown out of the local tavern. A local Lord takes him to his house and decides to play a practical joke on him. He and his household convince Sly that he is in fact the Lord of the house. They inform him that a group of players have arrived to perform The Taming of the Shrew for him. This then becomes not only the play presented to Sly but also the main play presented to the audience.

Hortensio who seeks his fortune, the rich and elderly Gremio and the romantic Lucentio all arrive at the house of Baptista to woo his beautiful daughter Bianca. However, Baptista insists that Bianca cannot be wed until his older daughter, the shrewish Katherine is married, but with her violent temper and reputation for shrewishness who will marry her?

Meanwhile Lucentio has gained the upper hand with Bianca. His servant Tranio convinces a travelling school teacher to pretend to be Lucentio’s father, Vincentio. Baptista wants to meet Vincentio to discuss details of the marriage. When the real Vincentio turns up there is great confusion, but eventually the match of Lucentio and Bianca is settled.

In the meantime, Hortensio has found a wealthy widow to wed. Petruchio and Katherine return to attend the wedding. Everyone is surprised at what appears to be a tamed Katherine. The men hold a wager to see whose wife is most attentive to their wishes and call for them, but only Katherine answers and she makes a speech in homage to her husband’s wishes whilst he watches on dotingly. The only question is: ‘Who has tamed whom?’

This was a wonderful evening at Norwich Cathedral as the GB Theatre Company put on a splendid show with amazing performances from Lucia McAnespie as Katherine and David Davies as Petruchio. This production was directed by Jenny Stephens who previously directed The Merry Wives of Windsor for them in 2010.

Monday 16 July 2012

You couldn't ask for more from Oliver!

On Saturday 7th July 2012 I attended the matinee performance of Cameron Mackintosh's spectacular new production of Oliver! at Norwich Theatre Royal. Lionel Bart's musical masterpiece based on Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist premiered in the West End in 1960. This performance starred Brian Conley as Fagin, Cat Simmons as Nancy and Iain Fletcher as Bill Sikes.

Oliver Twist is a young boy who lives in a workhouse with other orphaned boys. When Oliver disrupts a meal by asking for more, he is sold to a local undertaker and his family. They treat Oliver horribly and make him sleep under the coffins. Oliver escapes and runs off to Paddington Green, where he quickly befriends another young boy, the Artful Dodger. Dodger takes him to his home, an academy for orphans who learn how to be pick-pockets run by a kind, yet slightly sinister, old gentleman named Fagin. Oliver is also introduced to Nancy Sikes, a lovable young woman, and Bet, Nancy's best friend.

When Oliver goes on his first pick-pocketing job, he is caught by the police. The man that Oliver thieved, Mr. Brownlow, learns of Oliver's sad past and brings him into his own home. Meanwhile, Nancy's husband (the villainous Bill Sikes) worries that Oliver will tell Mr. Brownlow and the police where the thieves live. He forces Nancy and Bet to snatch Oliver from Mr. Brownlow's house and take him back to Fagin's. Nancy does everything her husband tells her to but plans on secretly taking Oliver back to Mr. Brownlow. Before she can do so, Bill finds out of his wife's plans, and murders her. He then goes after Oliver, but is shot and killed. Oliver and Mr. Brownlow, who turns out to be Oliver's grandfather, return safely home.

It was like the West End had transferred to the Fine City with the brilliant atmosphere at a packed Norwich Theatre Royal along with the brilliant performances on stage. Wonderful songs including Food Glorious Food, Consider Yourself, You've Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two, I'd  Do Anything, Oom Pah Pah and As Long As He Needs Me made this an experience to cherish. At the end of the show we all considered ourselves as part of the family on an afternoon of fun and laughs.

Sunday 15 July 2012

Musica Missouri Summer Recital

On Saturday 7th July 2012 I attended the Musica Missouri Summer Recital at St. Peter Mancroft Church, Norwich. The choir were directed by Philip Barnes with pianist Matthew Chapman.

The Musica Missouri was founded in 1998 by a group of singers based in St. Louis, Missouri. It's purpose was to present concerts celebrating some of Missouri's most accomplished choral composers, contrasted with music from a particular region of Europe.

For this recital, early settlers’ hymns arranged by Virgil Thomson, and works by more recent Missouri composers Howard Helvey and Martha Shaffer, were contrasted with music of the Norwich Renaissance composers Thomas Morley and Osbert Parsley. Pianist Matthew Chapman  also performed works by another composer associated with Missouri, Scott Joplin.

This was a wonderful lunchtime recital at St. Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich City Centre as Mancroft Music brought us another splendid musical celebration with this amazing choir from Missouri. Musica Missouri showed their joy for music and gave a performance that will be remembered with great fondness at this historic church in the Fine City.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

The Alchemist going for gold!

On the evening of Saturday 30th June 2012 I attended the Norwich Players performance of Ben Jonson's The Alchemist at the Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich. Ben Jonson had a liking for craziness, whereas Shakespeare had a horror for it. For Shakespeare, madness is frightening; for Jonson it's funny. In Shakespeare, there's nothing to live for if anarchy reigns, whereas for Jonson that's where life really had its foundations.

With his master Lovewit resting in the country to avoid an outbreak of plague in London, a clever servant named Face develops a scheme to make money and amuse himself. He gives Subtle, a charlatan, and a prostitute named Dol Common access to the house. Subtle disguises himself as an alchemist, with Face as his servant; Doll disguises herself as a zealous Puritan. Together, the three of them gull and cheat an assortment of foolish clients. These include Sir Epicure Mammon, a wealthy sensualist looking for the philosopher's stone; two greedy Puritans, Tribulation Wholesome and Ananias, who hope to counterfeit Dutch money; Drugger, a "tobacco man" hoping to marry the wealthy widow Dame Pliant; Dapper, an incredibly suave, fashionable, good-looking 17th century gentleman, and other minor figures looking for a short-cut to success in gambling or in business.

The play takes place over the course of one day in the house of Face's master. The three rogues are forced to increasingly frenetic manoeuvres first to manage all of their simultaneous scams, and then to fend off the suspicious Kestrel, Dame Pliant's brother. At last, Lovewit returns; quickly perceiving what Face has done in his absence, he devises a scheme of his own to allow all to end well. Doll and Subtle escape unpunished but empty-handed; Mammon's goods are restored to him, but the Puritans' are not. The smaller victims either flee or are driven from the stage. Lovewit himself pledges troth to Dame Pliant, with Kestrel's approval. Face is restored without punishment to his original place as Jeremy Lovewit's butler.'

This was a wonderful evening at the Maddermarket Theatre as the Norwich Players brought us the genius of Ben Jonson. The Alchemist is unflinching in its satire, very much a play for our own straitened times. It was a night for going for gold but knowing that not everything that glitters is gold.

Sunday 8 July 2012

Giselle at Norwich Theatre Royal

On the afternoon of Saturday 30th June 2012 I attended the English Youth Ballet's matinee performance of Giselle at Norwich Theatre Royal. The English Youth Ballet was set up in 1998 as a pilot project at the Octagon Theatre, Somerset to give young dancers in the regions of England more opportunities to perform classical ballet within a professional setting.

Adolphe Adam's Giselle was first produced at the Paris Opera in 1841. The ballet is based on the legend of the Wilis, spirits of dance loving brides who have died tragically before their wedding day. Led by Queen Myrtha they perform their ghostly rites and seek revenge on any man who crosses their path. This production from Janet Lewis was adapted by adding extra music composed by Adolphe Adam and setting it on an English country estate in 1912 where Prince Albert is an army officer preparing for the First World War.

This was a wonderful afternoon to be at Norwich Theatre Royal with amazing dancing complete with costumes designed by Keith Bish which had been beautifully updated. English Youth Ballet have injected new life into this ballet from the Romantic Ballet period with the upstairs, downstairs theme. Performances like this give a great opportunity to young dancers. Well done to The English Youth Ballet and Norwich Theatre Royal for helping the development and enthusiasm for classical ballet.

Friday 6 July 2012

Celebrate at St. Peter Mancroft Church

On Saturday 30th June 2012 I attended the Julian Haggett Organ Recital at St. Peter Mancroft Church, Norwich in the Mancroft Music Summer Recital series. Celebrate was a recital marking the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The music chosen included works by Walton and Elgar to mark this special year.

The programme consisted of Praeludium in F BuxWV 145 - Buxtehude, Crown Imperial - Walton, Nimrod - Elgar, Nun danket alle Gott BWV 657 - Bach, Chorale Prelude on Eventide - Parry, Chorale Prelude on Croft's 136th - Parry, Voluntary in A - Prelleur and Toccata from Symphony No.V - Widor.

This was a wonderful Summer Recital at St. Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich City Centre with a programme of music which celebrated the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in splendid style. Julian Haggett put on a delightful performance with Crown Imperial and Nimrod especially putting us all in a Jubilee mood.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Stop In The Name Of Love!

On Tuesday 26th June 2012 I attended The Sounds Of The Supremes concert at Norwich Theatre Royal. Led by 70s and 80s Supreme Kaaren Ragland, this energy packed show celebrated the music of Motown's golden girl group The Supremes.

Kaaren Ragland joined by Kathy Merrick and Althea Burkhalter put on a night to remember as they brought us hits like Baby Love, You Can't Hurry Love, Nathan Jones, I'm Gonna Make You Love Me and Stop In The Name Of Love. The Sounds Of The Supremes are endorsed by Motown.

This was a fun night to be at Norwich Theatre Royal as the enthusiastic audience along with dancing in the aisles enjoyed a night of pure Motown tunes. The Sounds Of The Supremes put on a brilliant show with Stop In The Name Of Love being the defining moment of magic.