Friday, July 16, 2010

Sir Charles Mackerras RIP



It is with much sadness that I learned today of the death of  Sir Charles Mackerras or 'Charlie Boy' as we the children in the first production of 'Noyes Fludde' called him in Aldeburgh in 1958. He was such fun and the hours we spent howling with laughter as Charlie Boy tried to get a young and hilarious Michael Crawford to bang his hammer on the right beat I shall never forget.

Charles became my favorite opera conductor.  I was chosen at 15 to sing 'Flora' for the iconic first television production of Britten's 'Turn of the Screw' and Charles helped me and guided this tiny inexperienced ballet dancer through the whole daunting experience. He was a conductor that never forgot the singers. During the six weeks of rehearsal opera conductors have nothing to do except concentrate on the singers. They give you every entry and exit and get quite cross if you make your own. You get to rely on them.

Then four days before performance the orchestra arrives and all hell lets loose as the conductor fights to get the orchestra into some sort of order if it is a difficult score. Singers are forgotten and after six weeks have to look after themselves. Charles never ever forgot me! I was so grateful. In my case the opera was live and the orchestra in a different studio so we watched for him on monitors.

To my disappointment Charles did not dress up. He was good at this and arrived for the 'Fludde'
performance in full morning dress. He had rung the Archbishop find out. For this 'Screw' he looked awful and conducted with a broken baton and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. After he threw the baton away and I picked it up. I still have it.

I have been working on 'Elsa's Dream' from Lohengrin. It has taken many years for me to be able to sing this and I was saving it for my friends for Christmas but maybe this is a suitable occasion. Charles Mackerras was my 'Knight in Shining Armour' during my Aldeburgh Days when as a girl I was very much alone.

He took me out for lunch  at an expensive restaurant once after a particularly fraught session when I could not get the time right for 'I'm here oh I'm here'. When the bill came he discovered he had run out of money and I had to pay. My mother had given me £5 which was a fortune at the time and it all went on that lunch. Outside as he walked me to the Tube he discovered 2/6 in his pocket and hopped into a taxi leaving me to tube it alone.He never paid me back!

So for you Charles here is 'Elsa's Dream without you I should never have been able to sing this!

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