Mostly Vivaldi…

After a few months of having to concentrate on the day job I finally have time to turn more attention to upcoming concerts. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but its difficult to practice on the 7.25 from Luton Parkway to London Bridge!

It has been mostly Vivaldi for a while, and the Gloria is one of my favourite works.  Wirksworth Community Choir are holding their annual choral day this  Saturday in St Mary’s church in the heart of Wirksworth, and the Gloria is the main event.  It has been interesting learning the shorter versions of the solos, as we are using the Ricordi Casella score, but they aren’t as much fun.  I find some of the edits a bit harsh, and the underlay for Domine Deus doesn’t flow as well as other versions, but that was the brief so I set to and learned ’em!

We rehearse with the orchestra for the first time tonight – the moment of truth!st marys

We are also doing other music including Montiverdi’s Beatus Vir (with one of the best Amens ever) and Tavener’s Song for Athene.  The Community Choir learned this, but we don’t have the numbers to get the full effect of the 12 part harmony on the last page, so I’m really looking forward to hearing it from a large ensemble. If you don’t know this piece, listen – it is electrifying.  Those of you of a certain age may remember it was used at the end of Princess Diana’s funeral.  (I’ve just watched the Youtube clip again and it still gives me goosebumps).



And after Saturday?  Its full steam ahead to finish learning exciting new music by Nottingham composer Colin Wolfe for the Armistice Day weekend, but that will be another post…




Camembert & cider!

After a break of a couple of years I was again able to take part in one of the Advanced Performance courses run by the inspirational Lynne Wayman LRAM ARCM which take place in Normandy each July. A group of singers come together to take part in workshops  over 4 days, culminating in two concerts, Friday night is the Soirée, hosted by a local family, and on the Saturday morning a ‘Concert Sacré’ is held in the local church. The setting is the small commune of Aubry le Panthou in the beautiful Pays D’Auge region, near the town of Vimoutiers and close to Camembert.

Norman house

It is a land of rolling green countryside, traditional half-timbered buildings and orchards for the calvados and cider for which the region is famous.  Unfortunately both alcohol and cheese are not recommended for singers, and we had to wait until after the last performance to indulge properly!

There were 8 of us on the course,  from the UK, France, Holland and Italy, singing a wide variety of musical styles.  The repertoire ranged from Bach and Pergolesi to Mahler and Duparc, as well as Cindi Lauper and a selection of Disney princess songs!  it was an intensive week, so much to learn and take in, as each singer received mini master classes on their selected pieces, with all of us being able to benefit from the tips and advice as well as gaining a greater understanding of the mechanics of singing and the psychology of performance.  Our skilled accompanist also happened to be a musical director working in the West End, so we benefited from her additional insights.

I chose a contrasting set for the Friday night, the haunting ‘Chanson Triste’ by Duparc, and then a complete change of mood with two Cole Porter songs.  For the church concert I offered ‘Domine Deus’ from Vivaldi’s Gloria and ‘Ah Belinda’ from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.

The beautiful 18th Century church is now sadly in need of some restoration, and proceeds from our Saturday morning concert went to the church fund.  It is a delightful place to sing in, with good acoustics, well suited to the Vivaldi.

The Saturday concert was followed by a ‘Vin D’Honneur’, a chance to share a drink and nibbles with the audience, and in the afternoon we converged on a local award winning ‘cidrerie’  to taste and buy cider, calvados and delicious home produced honey.  The day was rounded off with a celebratory meal at a restaurant offering regional dishes, and we enjoyed good food, good company and, of course, plenty of cheese!


A summer wedding

June dawns and it is wedding season.  The Old Lodge Hotel in Malton was the beautiful setting for the wedding of my brother in law Steve to his long-time partner Julie and a select band of family and friends enjoyed a weekend there.

Julie had favoured something from The Sound of Music but Steve is an opera fan and we spend ages discussing options and repertoire.  At last the choice was made, and I was delighted to have the chance to prepare a duet with myself!  The choice was the Flower Duet from Lakme by Delibes,  beautiful interweaving melodies, which I had only sung previously with a flautist taking the second part.  It was a great excuse to get in the studio and play around.    Once I had a backing track with piano and voice it then took a lot of practice to get the timing absolutely spot on, but it was worth it on the day.

The ceremony was very moving, the bride and groom looked happy, and despite a couple of technical hitches the duet worked and was well received.  And the sun came out later!



Whilst preparing for the concert on 20th April I was also helping my son and lovely daughter in law prepare for their wedding on 14th April, and for my own on 4th May!   And as if I didn’t have enough on my plate I conspired with  the band we had booked for our evening reception, for me to sing at my own wedding.  It was fairly easy to slip in a few ‘extra’ rehearsal dates, but instead of opera in a church it was Motown numbers in a cold room at the end of a pub car park!

We stumbled on ‘‘The Northern Line’ by chance, when looking for entertainment for the wedding, and we were lucky to find such a fantastic band so close to home.  They specialise in Motown and Northern soul, and have a great sound.  But the best thing is the atmosphere they create, they are having such a fun time and it’s infectious.  I loved the chance to rehearse, laugh and sing with them.  They learned several numbers especially for us, including a beautiful rendition of ‘Falling in love again’ by Imelda May for our first dance.


The secret was well kept, and I think my better half was suitably suprised when I joined the band half way through the evening.  I warmed up with a power ballad duet with Dawn, the lead singer, followed by a cheeky ‘Big bad handsome man’ dedicated to my new husband.  I think he liked it!


We finished with getting the audience up to dance to ‘My Guy’.

I sang with a band for a few years, and didn’t realise how much I missed it, just jamming and making music and having a laugh with my boys.  Still, there are only so many rehearsal nights in a week, and there is so much more music to explore!

Many thanks to Dawn and the boys in the band for all  they did for us, and allowing me to join the line-up for that evening. (And thanks to Steven Bradshaw for some great photos).

We relaxed after the wedding with a week in Venice, and had the chance to hear some Vivaldi in the church where he worked.  We also caught a concert of early music – sublime unaccompanied singing of sacred songs by Monteverdi, Palestrina,  and Gabrieli among others,  in the beautiful church of  San Rocco.  Combine that with sunshine, plenty of ‘gelato’ and a romantic gondola ride, and it was a perfect week!


So how come it has taken so long to report back on Dido?  I can only claim extreme business, and the excuse of two family weddings!  The evening exceeded all expectations, and everyone gave their best.  We gave the first ever performance of ‘Dover Beach’ by our own Colin Wolfe, enhanced by the beautiful oboe playing, and talented soloists. As for Dido – I was frustrated by a shaky start, by the fact that performance nerves can trip you up, however well things can go in performance.  But the show must go on, and I’m pleased to say the hiccup was quickly overcome and we went on to produce a most acceptable performance.

It was physically and mentally draining, and I’m glad I had spent so much time improving my fitness as well as practising the music.  After the death scene, it was easy to lie still under a shower of rose petals – I was exhausted!  And the enormity of what we had achieved only dawned on me when I heard the silence, then the applause.  It took a few minutes to come round, a fact that briefly worried the conductor!

We had really good feedback from the audience, dare I say rave reviews, with people coming up in tears, explaining how moved they had been.  I think the most gratifying quote was ‘sustained and intense’, and getting praise for the acting – such a new thing for me.  It was a wonderful experience, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with such talented and lovely people.

Singing and moving…

Another staging rehearsal for Dido, and finally it feels like it is coming together.  I haven’t done much acting before, I don’t think 5th brother in a Lark Hill school production of ‘Joseph’ counts really, and my contribution to the world of pantomime (Dick Whittington with Sherwood Methodist in the 90s) was not brilliant.  There are only so many times you can slap your thigh and fold your arms!

But this process is such a revelation.  I don’t feel I’m ‘acting’ , but Dido has inhabited my head for so long, or I hers, that I just feel her emotions, and it happens.  Now I know more or less where I need to be on the stage, and in relation to the others, I enter another world, hear the musical cues and sing.  We’re still a bit wooden, and there are bits to work out, but it feels like real opera now.

It’s so wierd to somehow be very aware of the performance, noticing the conductor’s baton out of the corner of my eye, thinking ahead to the next phrase,  but also giving in to the emotion.  The duet with ‘Aeneas’ was so intense, I really did feel furious with him, and spat the words out at poor Stephen.  It was easy to physically push him away at the end, I hope I don’t push him over on the night!

It wasn’t the most technically perfect or polished performance, but as an experiment in just ‘letting go’ it worked well.  There are quite a few places where I need to revisit the score and do some more work, but I’m inspired for this last push.  Only 10 days now!


I’m happy to report the anniversary party went well, and I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the celebrations for such a lovely couple.  I was made to feel very welcome, and it was gratifying to see people swaying, singing along and even a bit of dancing to my selection of songs.

It was one of those kick off your heels and boogie on down discos, perfectly judged for the audience, and we did just that!   And how could I refuse the invitation to a bit of karaoke to finish off the night?  I think I showed my mispent youth by knowing every word to to Meatloaf’s ‘Bat out of hell’ (the long version, and someone else’s choice I hasten to add), but my bit of Motown was fun too.

Some enchanted evening…

In the past couple of weeks I have been taking a break from tragedy and heartbreak (much as I love Dido it can get a bit exhausting),  to prepare for a 50th wedding anniversary party.  It’s been fun researching the hits of the early 60s and matching up with songs in my repertoire.

I’m also pulling in some of their favourites, a bit of the Sound of Music and West Side Story, as well as the above mentioned classic from South Pacific.  I’ve not sung this before, as it is generally a man’s song, but it works well, and a bit of work with the score and backing track should have it ready by a week tomorrow!

I like doing this sort of party, and as I know the couple already, and several of their friends, I’ll be able to mingle and enjoy it too.  And hopefully get someone to save a plate of food from the buffet for me!

Incanto II

The second rehearsal last night gave us a sense of how the performance of Dido and Aeneas will work.  And ‘Belinda’ and I have agreed that we need to be ‘off-book’ by the next rehearsal if possible – it’s too hard to sing, move, make gestures and turn pages all at once!  It was quite intense for the principals, working till almost 10pm in a cold church, but absorbing and enjoyable.

My next homework is working to keep the regular time of the declamatory passages.  Only then will I be able to  look at where I feel the need to pull back a little and where to move on, without losing the instrumentalists.  And  more stamina exercises!

But first I’m looking forward to reading essays by Imogen Holst and Robert Donington in a book on Purcell borrowed last night.  Sometimes I wish there wasn’t a day job to distract me – I could happily fill my days with study!

Dido – queen of Carthage

Work moves on apace in preparation for a performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in April.  The members of Incanto II met late in January in a cold church to talk through the forthcoming season and run through the music.  (Our little group is now in it’s second incarnation with some of the original members, but with some exciting new additions in the form of talented singers).

Dido is a fascinating role to play, full of complexity and I’ve been steeping myself in the myths and stories of this strong but ultimately tragic queen of Carthage.  I’ve also been building stamina in the gym to bring a little more ‘weight’ to the role!

I love Purcell’s music; I can get absorbed in dissecting just a few bars and find that an hour has gone by.  The current challenge is to find the four emotions for the repetitions in Dido’s first entry – ‘Ah Belinda’, act them out in rehearsals and finally assimilate them into a streamlined performance.  It is  tiring work, difficult at times as you draw on your own experiences and emotions, but it will be worth it.