Tuesday, December 31, 2013

BBC Death Comes to Pemberley or how to ruin a good Novel by PD James

Enjoyed BBC's Death Comes to Pemberley so I decided to read the PD James's book and compare I first did this exercise when I was ten when I compared Olivier's film of Richard III with the Bard's. I was very precocious. Both adaptations were miles from the originals and I wonder just what PD James thought when she visited the BBC set. Was she aware of the hatchet job? 

For an Xmas murder mystery I suppose the BBC felt they needed the hanging and the arrival of the King's messenger  in the form of Elizabeth Bennett as Miss Marple and indeed the series did prompt me to read the original book which I loved but I cannot see the justification to reduce a well known author's work to such a major and unfortunate re-write. The confidence of the BBC Drama Department to be able to do this and get away with it amazes me. No on second thoughts it doesn't. The BBC have always been arrogant.

Ms James has penned a delightful tongue in cheek parody of Ms Austen and the book is cleverly braided to amuse lovers of the original. Mary, the plain daughter gets married leaving the more attractive Kitty on the shelf, Mrs Bennett is left at home and just when the novel is ending Ms James offers another touch of genius. The solution in the book as to who is to look after the unwanted child which in the TV series Mr Darcy accepts to meet today's politically correct standards, is  given to a Miss Harriet Smith of Highbury and comes highly recommended by a Mrs Knightly. No happy ending for the child!

The court case in the book is tried in London at the Old Bailey. Louisa, the mother of the child does not recognise Wickham at the inquest. Colonel Fitzwilliam is not the bastard he is made out to be,  quite the opposite and if I were him I should sue and Mrs Darcy knows her place and plays no part in the denouement. The adaptation is a travesty. Why the BBC did not stick to the original novel I shall never know as PD James is much better than hack screenwriters. It is lucky I did not read the book before seeing the BBC's version as I should be so furious my Xmas would have been ruined.

 So congratulations PD James, pity your publishers and agents did not get script control. I hope many more are now encouraged to read your book. At US$6.50  on Kindle it is a great read.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Pandora Bracelets an Unhappy Pandora Experience

Last week I tried to buy a Pandora Bracelet!  This is a worldwide company and they pride themselves on offering the Pandora Experience but like the Pandora of Greek Legend opening the Pandora box can lead to a nightmare.

The Pandora advertising is lush and inviting, the web experience is all that can be asked for. The new products for Xmas are gorgeous and are displayed enticingly so after a evenings deliberation all that is needed is one's credit card and a visit to the local Pandora agent.

Simple? Well no! For me trying to buy one of these bracelets was very difficult indeed.

And this is where the experience turns to custard, for me anyway for Essence the product that is heavily marketed on the web site is not so easy to buy unless you live near certain Pandora stockists. In the strange world of Pandora marketing certain stockists come first, the rest second and the poor customer who actually wants to buy that which is extensively marketed last.

I do not live near a favoured store, the store has to pay Pandora for the privilege and I found that my local stockist although they do all the donkey work of showing me the initial range cannot sell me the advertised items. Initially I found this unbelievable. To buy these precious  mass produced objects I have to travel many kilometers through traffic to parts of the town I usually do not visit or wait until well after Xmas when Pandora may let my local stockist sell them or may not.

When I complained to the Marketing Division in Australia I was given plausible explanations of why it was impossible for Pandora to help me like sending the wanted articles to my local stockist.

It seems it is all my fault. I did not read the small print at the end of the scroll down saying that this major collection could only be bought at selected stores. Silly me as I though as they had advertised it so widely they wanted to sell it to me. It seems that the only place these bracelets can be bought is in a few stores in Australia and New Zealand as it is an experiment so poor old New Yorkers who are featured cannot buy these either.

It is my fault I do not live near a franchise and there is nothing that the customer services can do to help! This was a first for me. Never before have I met a marketing PR  department who turned away business. Usually customer services  fall over backwards to help. Not at Pandora.

It seems although Pandora rules the waves when it comes to who can sell what but when it comes to special offers that it supports, the stockist is responsible. I missed on one by three days as when I bought my bracelet the assistant who knew of the offer did not tell me until after I had purchased and when I asked Pandora later could my purchase be considered for a gift  was firmly put in my place. Not their responsibility. Pandora has nothing to do with stockists except  to arrange special offers and have the power to not let them stock what the customer wants.

After a week of trying I came to the conclusion that Pandora does not want customers that actually buy what the customer wants. It is all for the retailers. My local stockist only has outdated goods.

It is no surprise that Pandora's many imitators have such an easy ride as in desperation one turns to them. Once one makes the change to another brand one is unlikely to change as the idea is to make a collection.

So that was my Pandora Experience for what it is worth. I write this in the scant hope that the Pandora bosses will take on board that all is not well in their world. Customer satisfaction used to be number one priority not with Pandora.

Now every time I look at the bracelet I  managed to buy I remember what grief it has caused me. I am even writing about it now! But this is the last as I am cured and no doubt my bank balance will be much improved by the experience.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Big warning if Google asks you to 'delink' don't. I lost my DIYTVMovies YouTube Channel!

Big warning if Google asks you to 'delink' don't.

When Google instructs you to delink when trying to link to a Google+ page that won't work don't do it because if you do you will lose your legacy YouTube Channel.  Delink ought to read DELETE. Once you have delinked  your YouTube Channel is in limbo. It is enough to make one cry and I did. Eight years of work gone in a puff.

Last night was perhaps one of the most most challenging of my life. My YouTube Channel DIYTVMovies which I started in 2008 and had over 70 original videos and I think 54,000 views has all my precious Book Binding videos, and my DIYTV Movies was removed permanently on one click which Google told me to do and it looks as if it is gone forever.  Google+ is a pain. I had to move to it and Google promised I would lose nothing and my videos were safe.

Google are trying to retrieve it. I had a comforting email from Stephanie with a load of click here instructions which I did to the letter. I got the temp page back but not DIYTVMovies which confidently tells me that this Channel has been removed permanently. And I really have not done anything to deserve this.

I keep my personal videos separate from my work as I don't want to bore my friends stiff. I did cry! It was like coming home and finding your house burnt down. I have some up on my personal channel but now many are missing. The ones on my garden have two versions one which I show to you and one short director's commentary showing how I did It. Those have gone.

So has my CV!! Never bore my friends with that so it was never up on my personal channel and now it never will be. It was the first video I ever made for a major job I could not take and it took hours of compiling. You going to get these too if I can find them.

I felt like death but I am a careful 'little thing' and I did back up! Today I spent hours trolling through old tapes, I still have a tape machine bought at huge expense when tape went out of fashion but today has been worth every penny. Then I have been able to download from the net and I shall backup everything. Take weeks but hey.......

It is a nightmare but every cloud has a silver lining and I found some nice shots of my late husband  Miles playing The Organ Grinder which I can use. So fingers crossed that Google can get it head around this.

Big warning if Google asks you to 'delink' don't. I am not alone a glance at the forum and there are hundreds in the same boat. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Kiri Te Kanawa at 70 on This Week TVNZ One

Kiri Te Kanawa New Zealand's opera diva gave a very frank interview on NZTV on the approach of her 70th birthday. In my 20's Te Kanawa was one of my peers that I truly admired. She attained a standard of excellence and position that I strived to achieve. True I had London at my feet and my own dressing room at the Palace Theatre Shaftesbury Ave but it was a  comedy lead in a musical and not at Covent Garden!

All my life I had envied Te Kanawa. She seemed to have that silver spoon of door opening that was not given to the rest of us. For her first performance of the Countess in Figaro at Covent Garden  which  I was lucky enough to attended she was given a year and a young conductor, James Robertson, to prepare. I was given two days to learn my part and no dress rehearsal!

Her career went from strength to strength while the rest of us had to struggle although it must be admitted that my career has been exceptional and not without its rewards. Modestly I shall admit that in 1982 Auckland made me Women the Year for services to Opera and Ballet. I had stood up to the Council in a manner that would have made Joan of Arc proud!

So it was with some trepidation that a friend thought I should be introduced to the Diva. I have suffered at the hands of divas before as my introduction to Margot Fonteyn had proved a warning to meeting one's idols. She was horrible to a little 13 year old and later regretted it and apologised. I knew Kiri had repaid James Robertson by getting him sacked.

This took place on the night that Te Kanawa was made a Doctor of Music at Auckland University. The occasion was not one of the most memorable of my life. Like Madame Du Barry at the hands of  petulant Marie Antoinette my introduction to Te Kanawa proved to be an embarrassment for all concerned except the Diva.

I was introduced as the woman who had done so much for opera in Auckland.  Madam Te Kanawa was not impressed. The Diva turned, looked me in the eyes and turned away and continued talking as though I had never existed. Not a word was said. I was cut, dismissed, put in my place. I was definitely not getting my name on her Christmas Card list. Consequently I gave Madam Te Kanawa a wide birth.

Sadly this sort of behaviour has not been a one off. It is written about in some detail in Kiri - The Unofficial Biography. It appears after forcing the City Council to build her an opera house her behaviour was so outrageous when asked to sing in it that she was banned from singing there again and has had her statue removed. The place is now empty for most of the year. A white elephant to a diva.

Even news reporters were intimidated by her until last night when a very chastened yet still feisty Kiri gave what could be her last major interview on NZ TV. But Kiri has soldiered on in spite of her reputation.

She looked tired and sad in spite of some classy dresses. She gave the impression of well was it worth it? She appeared to be trying to justify her lack of self control and her rudeness to a country that gave her everything. Kiri had everything, money, fame, publicity, help when other singers equally good like our Dame Malvina Major had to struggle for any recognition and funding at all. She complained that she had had it hard! We know she didn't. Kiri has been treated all her life like a princess.

Kiri and I are of a similar age but at this moment I do not envy her. In fact I felt sorry for her. Maybe I did not hit the heights but I certainly did not leave a trail of rudeness behind me.

But she soldiers on. Her rudeness was still visible as she bullied young singers in a recording studio which is not the way to get the best out of young inexperienced singers. She does not know the secret of when to stop. We all have to stop one day.

Divas whether balletic or operatic can be extremely unpleasant to deal with. Katherine Battle a delicious coloratura soprano had the reputation of Battle by name and Battle by nature till at last no opera house would take the chance and employ her. I had a run in with a current USA Diva in Wellington when this said madonna refused to go on one night and had the president of the opera down begging on his knees before she would condescend to sing.

Unwisely this terrifying woman was still employed by the company in opera I was directing and turned up singing a different translation which with copyright being so litigious these days was a breach of contract and then when given the direction to stand still as she was jiggling about poured out a stream of bad language the like of which I have never heard before or since.

It was a case of she goes or I went and she went. I hope that she has changed. I doubt it.

So take care to be very nice on the way up and down. It is advisable  to leave an attractive legacy. These days with the growth of the internet your sins will find you out. One or two are bouts of bad behaviour  are allowable, none of us is perfect but years of rudeness will reap a grim reward.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

R.I.P Platitude Of The Day the complete answer to Thought for The Day

Sadly Platitude of The Day  is at an end. After seven years of providing an alternative version to BBC's Radio's  Thought for the Day a daily four minute puff for Belief Systems with no right of reply allowed ever the Rev. Peter Hearty has hung up his dog collar.

I must admit I saw it coming as the Rev. missed the monthly Clemmie Award for the most platitudinous item that month, nevertheless when it happened this morning I was shocked. No more POTD! I feel devastated. It is like a death in the family.

I only discovered Peter Hearty a couple of years ago. I have never been able to understand sermons although I have heard thousands. I get lost. I really tried to keep up with the priest/preacher/whoever but always lost them half way through so it was with delight that I read the wit and brilliance of Peter Hearty who cut through the waffle and showed the contents up for the rubbish that it is.

I used to perform in satirical revues in London in the 1970's and I know just how hard it is to write satire. Oh if only we had had Peter Hearty and ditched the Lord Chamberlain who used to censor each sketch. I have so enjoyed waking each morning to Peter's contribution. He should be working for the BBC.

Everyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of Belief Systems. I experienced three different varieties of the Abrahamic religion and these actually ruined my education, (I didn't get one) and gave me nightmares and guilt complexes from which I have never truly recovered. I feel guilty writing this!

Peter Hearty is able to cut through the humbug in a funny, witty and acceptable way. He was nominated for Secularist of the Year by the National Secular Society and I think should have won and still ought to be a winner for his contribution to common sense. As long as the BBC and The House of Lords allows these faith systems to go unchallenged the masses will never learn reality. I mean if it is good enough for the BBC to believe in fairies it must be true.  Well perhaps not!

Peter Hearty wrote on brilliant ironic spoof on the difference between a faith school sex education and a secular school sex education and I asked if I could make a YouTube video of it. He agreed and you can see it below. I know it is true because this is the sex education I would have received at my faith school if sex and science had been mentioned which it wasn't.

I did ask if Peter would write me another script about Adam & Eve but he never obliged but you never know he might now!

So thank you Peter and all your fans. I really, really shall miss you.  I shall  miss Dinah especially who is just so sensible and educated. Oh to have had Dinah as a friend! Matt I shall miss you too and everybody else. End of an era.

A few weeks ago I might have demurred from adding this video but hey, with the NSA and the UK version it is not possible to expect privacy anymore.

Just checked  back and it seems that the site will be kept up for daily comments and the Rev has promised us the best Worst Platitude next Sunday!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Guardian's The Book That Changed My Life is Marcel Proust

 The UK Guardian is running a series of articles on Books that Changed Your Life and I wanted to contribute but with no success. I think I am fairly competent with computers but I could not make their Blue Button work for me so I commented in another section which is naughty but anyone who knows me realises that for all my conventional appearance I have always been a rebel. Here is my contribution. 

Sorry to have to use this comments section but I should love to contribute to The Books that Changed my Life but I am unable to do so. Every time I click the blue button which states Add your contribution here so enticingly I get taken to a page that states You are already signed in and suggests I GO Back which takes me straight to the Guardian Home Page!

What do I do? Maybe I should add my contribution here? Why not because it is not going to be added anywhere else.

I did enjoy Fraser's choice. Stratchey is fun and naughty in  juvenile way but it is a pity she did not explore a bit further on her parent's secret bookshelf as she might have come across a book or a set of books that is far more juicy and exciting and I think should be compulsory reading for every 16 year old convent educated school girl.

You will have guessed by now that I am talking of A la recherche du temps perdu Remembrance of Time Past and the magnificent Marcel Proust.

I did not read it when I was 16 and that is a pity because when I did it changed my life. I tried it when I was 28 with no success. This is a book that should not be read from the beginning.

Later in my 40's on hot summer afternoon's in New Zealand I delved into it again and life has never been the same again. I have lived my life in the theatre and I have never understood my gay friends as being a woman I was never included. It was obvious gays had more fun and Marcel being very gay himself describes just what it is like to be a gay man and he does it with sympathy and brilliantly.

I understood my gay friends at last. They were just like me! I now treat them like my girl friends and they do have more fun only I am a rival for the love of a man. I have what they never can achieve or so Marcel says.

But that was just one tiny section. The way Proust describes the demise of  The French Society at the turn of the century in three parties and a train journey. The breath taking brilliance of his wit. I can never decide what to do ...it is always the question of the summer dress! I have a Monet' said the Duke 'It hangs in my wife's bedroom so I never see it!' or words to the effect. The long sentences that go on forever but you never notice unless you look.

So Lady Antonia would have found that Proust is superb commentator on European history and a superb example of a fine writer. The night in Paris in 1918 is not to be missed!

So there you are. If you haven't read Proust don't be scared. It is the thinking man's Coronation Street and is not meant to be read in one go.

Sorry to have to put this here but what else can one do?

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Bolshoi's 2013 London reputation held to ransom by young British Dancers? Possibly!

I adore ballet. I live in Auckland New Zealand so I get all my ballet fixes curtesy of YouTube. At the moment I am into a Russian Ballet binge as over the years I have lost track of their dancers. Both ballet companies the Maryinsky and the Bolshoi have most of their productions up on YouTube and the standard of dancing and production is out of this world. For traditional classical ballet there is nothing that can beat them at the moment if one allows for the fact that the Russian taste in scenery and over the top opulence may not be to everyone's taste. It is the overall standard of dancing that is so spectacular.

To my delight the Bolshoi is visiting London as I write to I have devoured the papers for reviews and comments on their performances as I am unable to go myself to see exactly what my countrymen think of this fabulous company. I was especially interested to find out if my favourite ballerina of the moment, they change over the years as newer ballerinas emerge, Evgenia Obraztsova faired.

Regretfully she was not featured in the reviewed performances but I was astonished that the whole of the Bolshoi's reputation seemed to hang on the performance of Blackamores dance  by a troup of children. This apparently was appalling and one commentator said it had ruined the entire evening.

I have to say, though, those children were really not cute. The idea of resurrecting blacked up piccaninnies is absurd in this day and age (though maybe not in non-PC Russia....), but rather more offensive in my view was to put those two little girsl en pointe for the jug dance. With he best will in the world, their little feet looked like pigs trotters. They probably would have been OK on demi-pointe.. Matilda 21
The blacked-up children capering around in Bayadère manage to be both offensive and dull, and – along with the parades of parrot-bearing slaves, drummers and fakirs – crowd out the details of the storytelling. 
I agree that the children with brown tights and lightly blacked-up faces were embarrassing and the two little girls fearlessly hobbling around on point was downright right criminal, even though I did enjoy how they threw themselves in their dance with such enthusiasm! Dida Mitchell
 I attended the Saturday Matinee and found the whole thing a totally dispiriting experience. As a casual balletomane I take it on trust that in this repertory the Bolshoi are non pareill but the production was beyond Kitsch.Was it necessary to have so many blacked up characters? Not only most of the male corp but the children? Blacked up young girls portraying piccaninny boys? Would the Royal Ballet dare? Why were the female corp and the principals pristinely white compared with what could be construed as a 'coon' show in the portrayal of a large part of the supporting dancers? (Sorry but I can't think of any other way to put it.
This was my first and will certainly be my last attendance at the Bolshoi.
So the reputation of the Bolshoi in London rested solely on the performance of this group of children which the audience perceived as Russian children, in bad taste and very badly trained. One commentator said he could not appreciate the rest of the brilliance of the company and soloists as it offended him so.

I am doubly disppointed that you eny me for something that left me so totally cold. My loss I feel.
I was amazed as I have seen this ballet by both Russian companies and the thing that impressed me was the competence and professionalism of their young dancers. Then it hit me. The Russians had probably picked up this troupe of child dancers in the UK for the three performances. Sadly it was UK British dancers that have blighted the reputation of this magnificent company.

I had a very interesting chat session with the reviewer Dida Mitchell as you can read. She filled me in as to exactly where these young dancers were trained and to my horror but not surprise they came from the Royal Ballet School and Sue Robinson School? Mitchell thinks and I agree, that the Bolshoi did not audition them but trusted these two institutions to come up with the goods. Sadly it appears they didn't and appear to have ruined the performance for many by being inadequate. I feel so ashamed of our ballet institutions for allowing this to happen.

I have felt for many years that the UK does not supply the level of training necessary to achieve greatness for our young and potentially brilliant dancers. The Royal Academy of Dancing is years out on its sell by date. It is known in the trade as the Royal
Academy of exercises. It used to be cruel as it failed many young dancers mainly on their body type. This I am told has changed but the lack of pointe work at an early age means that young dancers are not at home en pointe as was shown in when two young dancers gave an inadequate rendition of the famous Jug Dance from La Bayadere  which can be a delight as can be seen  at the first solo performance by the now ballerina Evgenie Obraztsova.

Ninette de Valois founder of the Royal Ballet School seems to have had a problem with children appearing in ballets and refused to let any children appear at Covent Garden. She herself danced as a child for Diagliev and may have had a bad experience so it is understandable.

I got my chance because two children were required for Petrushka in 1957.  I was the solution as I trained at Arts Educational which had no such hang ups. I am forever in Dame Ninette's debt for this. The Royal Ballet School seems to think that theatrical experience is unnecessary when young and that it can be supplied at a later date when I think the opposite is the case. The theatres are huge and the audiences vast so it is better to get used to this early while mistakes are allowed than later. I could never have managed as I did without this experience. By 14 I could take 2000/3000 audiences and huge vast barns in my stride. They felt like my drawing room or kitchen. I was at home.

The young UK dancers hurled en pointe to which they were possibly not accustomed and faced with an audience of over 2000 in a colossal theatre with little or no rehearsal must have been petrified. In Russia the children chosen would have been old hands as it were.

That the Bolshoi has suffered is a disgrace and it has suffered for not many in the audience realised that the young dancers were not Bolshoi trained but UK trained  and I hope it prompts UK ballet's powers that be to take a serious fresh look at the training of British dancers so they can at least reach the standard attained by the Russian schools.

Dancers need to be ready early, according to body shape and as some mature later these too should not be discarded as they are at the moment. The Vaganova method seems the best at the moment and have the chance to be attached to a working resident company to gain experience young. Everything else is playing at it and a waste of time. Competitions too are a false training as they concentrate on a few variations but not the entire repertoire.

My ballet school training and fact convent schooling was a disgrace. The educational schooling has got better over the half century but it appears ballet training in UK is still stuck in the 1950's. It is such a pity a our dancers deserve better.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Meta data lost! The Sad Tale of a lost TV Programme.

Dance Tales Story Ballets. Take a look at the two buttons!
I coded those myself in Flash!
May not look much but they work but not on this still image!
Our governments, it seems, are now spying on all of us on a daily basis that Stalin, Hitler and the Stasi could only have dreamed about, All our meta data is up for grabs it appears and as Cardinal Richelieu once remarked:

Give me five lines in anyone's hand and I can find enough to hang him. 

Or that was the gist of what he said!

The only glimmer of hope is that IT moves so fast these days that  data may be held but is impossible to get at. Retrieval of even year old data is now getting very difficult indeed.  I found this out yesterday  when I wanted to re-edit a new version of one part of a Children's  TV series Dance Tales Story Ballets I made in 1986. It was my favourite and it was a finalist in the LA Monitor Awards for technical excellence. To my delight it was shown on BBC.

The Princess and the Pea was made on one inch tape but I had digitised it back in 2009 and min DVD tape is still the archival method of choice as it lasts so I had two fairly safe options! Think again. The computer operating systems have changed at least four times since 2009 and so have all the plugs on the computers so I could not plug the old hard drive in even if it did work which I found later it didn't.

I do have an old professional mini tape deck that still works but on this mini DVD tape the time code had become corrupted. Taking it off a DVD is not possible as the data is compressed. All VHS tapes are over 30 years old and although I do still have them they are possibly covered in mould and would ruin the VHS head.

I thought my programme had gone forever and then I remembered I had an old version of iMovie 6.0.7 on an ancient lap top if I could find it. iMovie used to be magic until it was upgraded. The new version is useless. This version is as good as any professional app which is possibly why it was removed as it was free and it worked. Didn't need 15 seconds of run up just went straight in and recorded it and at 10pm I got my four minutes to edit into the data I had managed to retrieve. I have never felt so relieved  in my life   when I saw those pictures that I had spent four years of my life getting, live again.

So governments may store data today but getting at it in a year's time maybe tricky. Their Operating Systems are up graded too and so are their plugs and old machines go mouldy fast.

Unless films and TV programmes are used and updated they will disappear. Dance Tales is a great idea and if I live long enough I can turn it into E Books that is why I do not put them up on YouTube. Now  I shall, as YouTube is a great way to store image data as YouTube updates constantly.  I shall put it up privately so the world will still not be able to see them but then I can download at will at any time the electricity is on. If the web collapses I still have the data at home.

I was pretty proud of myself last night. If I had had to pay to do it, it would have cost thousands in time and effort which I could not afford. Thank goodness for Lynda.com who taught me how to do all this. To my surprise I am really good with a computer although my friends never take my advice until their Windows Machines go wrong and then they are on the phone faster than one can say Windows 7!

I cannot help them! I have Applecare when things go wrong but yesterday not even Applecare could have helped me.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Nocturne DVD Tony Palmer, Belsen, Britten's Dark Side and mine!

Tony Palmer  Documentary
In my blog of Glyndebourne's Ariadne auf Naxos I said that I had experienced two life changing events in my life and that Adriadne was one but there was another and I would relate it.  From the age of four this event has haunted my life. I thought that I had got over it but life has ensured that I never do, even at my age it has returned in a way that has surpassed even my imagination.

In George Orwell's novel 1984 the hero has to confront his greatest horror which for him it is being set upon by rats. Most people have such a fear and can overcome it by ignoring it or taking care that they never have to confront it. My fear is Concentration Camps.

In 1947, my grandfather Henry Thorpe who was the chief accountant at Wembley Stadium was given one of the highly sort after televisions that had just been introduced. Very few were available but my grandfather had one and at four I was an avid fan.  One night without warning on the BBC News the opening of the Belsen Concentration Camp was shown. I watched in horror as I saw for the first time those now familiar  images of the bulldozer moving the corpses into the pit in relentless back and white. The living skeleton figures the horror of the place became indelibly printed on my mind.

I was four and I knew what I was seeing. The unthinkable. I grew up at that moment. I knew that whatever I was taught there was no loving God. God would not allow such horrors. I said nothing to my parents but my childhood slipped from me that night. Although I never saw those pictures again for many years I can remember them in minute detail. They are always fresh in my mind. Today since the internet these pictures are commonplace and even I have been so conditioned that I can watch with impunity. I am not proud of this.

I felt isolated at my convent school because I was the only child who had seen them. The film was considered so horrific that it was only shown in cinemas where children were not admitted. My teachers young Irish Catholic Nuns had not seen them either so in a way I was older and more experienced than them. I could not take their belief in a loving God.

If one really wants to know and understand someone one really has to know a bit about their past. It is no good waiting until the funeral and the eulogy to find out. It is better to know while your friend is living. Many times in my life I have found out too late and prior knowledge would have made life easier to understand.

I never discussed this with anyone. As I said the images were not well known but I did discuss them on one notable occasion. I was playing Flora in The Turn o the Screw for Benjamin Britten in Aldeburgh in the summer of 1961. I did not enjoy Aldeburgh as I was a girl and I went completely unnoticed as everyone wished Henry James had not bothered to add a girl to the story except Britten himself who knew just how important a young Flora is to the tale. In fact he had put The Screw back on the shelf until he found a young Flora and I was it but that is another story.

Britten had watched me grow up and he knew and liked me a lot. I was 19 very beautiful and intelligent and he invited me to swim every day in his pool and talk. Britten was writing The War Requiem. I told him of my experience with Belsen and he listened and questioned me about it, the corpses, the bulldozer. He was surprised that I had seen it and he knew I had seen it because of my answers. I said how it had effected my life, that I grew up when I was four and like the child Flora I was an old, old woman from that moment. I saw the world through different eyes from my peers. Britten only said 'I know what you mean' and then we turned to a happier subject Schubert Songs, Die Schöne Müllerin which we both loved.

Britten never told me he had been to Belsen. He sat there and listened to me and said nothing! I only found out in 1996 when I first read Humphrey Carpenter's biography and I felt annoyed. How could he? Britten had visited Belsen a few days after it had opened, obviously it was a bit better than the images but it still must have been horrific and like me it must have coloured his world so why didn't he tell me? He quizzed me about it and how I felt and said nothing.

This year 2013, the Kea biography notes that Britten would never talk about his feelings or the experience and I can vouchsafe for this. I now realise as I did not at the time  that he possibly felt guilty being confronted by the results of something that he had chosen not to fight for.

My father, a Major who had fought through North Africa to Trieste and had had to clean up the Italian version of the German concentration camps was not unsurprisingly a fan of Britten's USA sojourn.  I  found out years later after my father's death from my sort of sister that Britten had rung my father and asked if he could get to know me better as I was an employee. Britten was the perfect English gentleman. What my father said went unrecorded but one can imagine. The only thing I remember is when I was leaving for Rosehill the last thing my father said at the station was For God sake be careful or you'll end up as Mrs. Britten! I did not know where to look I was so embarrassed.

These concentration camps are a horrific reminder for me of man's inhumanity so it is a strange coincidence that images of my greatest fear, Britten and I should feature in Tony Palmer's powerful DVD Nocturne which deals in a moving way with Britten's obsession with a hatred of war. I am proud to do so.

Tony Palmer knew Britten too. You can tell just by watching the DVD. His assessment of this side of Britten's character is very astute. His documentary is not easy viewing but says more about the horrors of war in a couple of hours than years of United Nations deliberations.

Britten hated war and was not afraid to say so but I think sometimes one must fight even if one doesn't want to do so to stop tyranny. Sadly the liquidation of millions was only discovered at the end of World War II's hostilities otherwise many objectors might have thought again about their position. One should never say never but I think and I only think, this may have worried Britten when confronted in person by the results of what he had refused to fight for. It was almost too much for him to bare.

So there you have it. Those pictures I saw in 1947 at the age of four, Britten and Flora have haunted me all my life and will be my passport to posterity. What a way to go!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Aridane at Glyndebourne What went wrong for me.

A few days ago I watched the live streamed performance of the  Glyndebourne's new production of Ariadne Auf Naxos by Richard Strauss directed by Katharina Thoma. This is one of my favourite operettas. It meant much to me as it was the first opera my soon to be husband took me to see at the ENO in 1971 and we saw it at Glyndebourne that summer in a delightful haze of love and champagne. I have produced scenes from it in Auckland even if I did not manage the whole opera as I could never find a Bacchus. Ariadne could definitely be classed as our tune!

So it was with a mixed anticipation that I awaited this web cast. I had read the reviews that were highly critical but as I have been on the receiving end of many an adverse reviews I was not unduly worried and indeed Act I although quirky, gave me no cause for alarm but then came Act II.

Sometimes in life one can say three words too many! Let me explain. As a director I have to deal with sensitive performers. Opera singers are their own instrument and you have to be careful when you criticise as they are sensitive. As a director I have to ensure they give a good performance so it is no good destroying their confidence. However careful one is sometimes one just says that three words too many and the relationship is all over. The trust is lost and there is nothing you can do about it. The relationship is gone forever. One might just as well pack it in at that moment.

Life is like that too. Sometimes an event or a performance can be life changing and life is never the same afterwards. It usually happens by accident and it never intended to ruin one's life but it happens and it does. As a director and a producer one has a responsibility to ensure that what you present to the public does not become three words too many. If you do you may be guilty of alienating not only this audience but many audiences to come.  I feel that Glyndebourne and Ms Thoma are guilty on this occasion. It ruined Glyndebourne for me and I suspect for many more too. I feel I can no longer trust their judgment.

I have had two events that have haunted me for all my life. Curiously both events have haunted me during the last week. There is nothing I can do about it. They just happened. One happened when I was four. I am still living with that today and will post about that tomorrow and one was this production of Ariadne - not quite so devastating way but still unfortunate.

Now for Ariadne. Normally I can forgive a production that I find distasteful. Maybe this rant will get it out of my system so here goes because this production has ruined Ariadne for me. Every time I see Ariadne or hear it in the future I shall think of its dark side and feel cheated.

There is a fashion in opera these days of reinterpreting works of art in a modern way. It is felt that giving a new slant brings the work into the present and gives it a second life. It is done all the time  with Shakespeare and with costume drama as it is cheaper to mount and costume for the present time and lack of finance can be excused by being relevant.

It is the fashion especially in Germany to look for the Dark Side of works of art and this is what Katarina Thoma has done with Strauss's Ariadne. It must have sounded a wonderful idea. Stage this 18th century opera which is normally  expensive to costume and set it in a small country house in wartime England in 1941 with the Blitz approaching. It could be construed that this was Glyndebourne that was being bombed. It is actually an innovative concept and maybe that is where is should have remained but in the staging of it something went horribly wrong.


The first big error was to mistake  Ariadne auf Naxos for a grand opera. An opera of any sort it is not! It is an operetta, a musical, a fluff of nonsense. Richard Strauss underneath a swathe of orchestration is really a composer of operettas. Even his dark works like Salome and Electra  heard without orchestration on a piano sound like second rate Johann Strauss. Sorry but they do!

Even thinking about presenting its dark side was a colossal mistake. It is like showing the dark side of The Sound of Music or The Desert Song. Everything in life has a dark side if you look for it and this operetta like Die Fledermaus can have one as Hitler trotted it out with constant regularity to encourage the troops. Fine to give it this interpretation in a regular opera house but perhaps not at Glyndebourne.

Why not?

Because Glyndebourne has a very particular atmosphere. It was built by a very upper class Englishman for his wife and it embodies all the worst aspects of the breed. Visiting the old Glyndebourne became the thing to do socially. Tickets were restricted to those in the loop and if by accident a member of the ordinary public  happened to be given one they could not only watch the opera but be entertained by the British upper classes enjoying themselves in the interval sitting in the car park by the Rolls Royce with champers and smoked salmon. They never ventured onto the lawn.

Glyndebourne became the place for romantic evenings such as I enjoyed with Miles. We picnicked on the lawn alone as the upper classes were in the car park! The operas chosen were definitely safe and beautifully produced. One did not go to Glyndebourne to have moments of discomfort  as Peter Hall required in his productions of that time in the 70's one went to be seen!

From the age of 10 until I left Britain in 1975 I went to Covent Garden and ENO practically on a weekly basis but I only got to Glyndebourne twice and once was for Ariadne. It was magical. An evening I shall never forget. One should never go back and I should not have watched this current Ariadne. That was my mistake. I was expecting a comedy and I got a statement about the horrors of the 2nd World War that I had almost lived through. I was in for a grim evening.  I felt cheated.

So where did the production go wrong?

Comedy does not travel well. What is funny in Germany is not funny in UK. We have a very different take on the Second World War and employing a German to make fun of the bombing of Britain was hardly tactful. There is a palm tree that droops in Act I like a floppy penis. Evidently Germans find this hilarious. In UK this went down like a cup of cold sick  as UK actors say of a joke that fails to amuse.

Ariadne is a comedy! Yes it is a comedy. In comedies it is essential that the audience likes the characters. The characters can be unfortunate, murderous tyrants, like the horrid Spode in Jeeves   but they have to be loved and that takes brilliant stagecraft to pull  this off. Comedy needs a lightness of touch and a sense of fun. Ariadne is a comedy.  The cast needs to be superb and this cast looked like amateurs in this area. In the first Act they almost got away with it. Act I deals with the fact that the two opposing companies of serious art and musical comedy find it difficult enough to have to appear together on the same programme  but the shock and horror of having to do  it simultaneously because of the fireworks at 9 pm is too much to bear. It is a truly funny situation and does not need any help from a ultra clever interpretation.

Act II is the performance when the audience watches to find out how these two differing art styles work together in practice. Actually in a traditional production  this happens extremely well because they are all characters are professionals and realists and make the best of the situation. There are some good tunes, a ravishing coloratura show stopping aria and a wonderful ending. One goes away feeling elated and uplifted, even with no champers, that life is worth living, the evening and the expense was worth the effort of dressing up, traveling to Brighton and picnicking in the rain.

We didn't get a performance we got a parade of the horrors of war and shell shock. This production dragged out every dramatic war cliche that one could imagine in a depressing hour of embarrassment. Haven't I been so clever to think of this screamed out as the next cliche was served up.

It was not helped that the cast were past their prime. Comedy is the realm of the young. They can get away with saying the unthinkable with a twinkle in the eye and the excuse that they are young. Out of the mouth of babes! I have done this myself.

The Ariadne may look like the back of a bus diva in Act I, many diva's are, but in the second she has to become and sound like the ravishing young maiden who captivates a God. This poor lady was about as sexy as a 60 year old bus conductor. Having her make love behind a transparent curtain on her back with her legs in the air and a man on top as the final coup de theatre was excruciatingly bad taste for her and the audience. Cringe time.

The soubrette Zerbinetta, who should charm the audience out of their seats, was portrayed as an ageing scrubber with  nymphomaniac tendencies. The poor soprano was much too old and although she did her best nobody could have got away with being tied up in a straight jacked and masturbating at the same time. This was not hinted at but graphically portrayed. Zerbinetta has to be sexy. She can be naughty and like sex but she has to captivate every man in the audience who wants to sleep with her and every woman who would give her eye teeth to be like her. Marilyn Monroe did this perfectly.  No applause at all. This must be a first for this aria but no one could applaud. It was too horrible.  Fancy have a show stopping aria and being directed to do it like this.

Not a hint of comedy was allowed in the entire Act. The horrors of war were laid on with a sledge hammer. The operetta Ariadne  didn't stand  chance. It is a marsh mallow not a charging rogue elephant!

The final insult was that although the horrors of wartime Britain was being depicted with the Luft Waffe bombing Sussex and little Union Jacks pathetically displayed the whole thing was sung in German. It was obvious that Ms Thoma had a very German vision of how the British coped with her countrymen's unsuccessful invasion of our land. That anyone could find this remotely funny or credible is beyond my ken. In fact it was a bit insulting. None of us were playing about producing home made operas at that time as we were all sitting in the dark waiting for an invasion. My father was down on Brighton beach with a rifle and ten rounds of ammunition that did not fit to fight Hitler's Blitz Krieg!

The audience was given the impression that the unpleasant characters deserved their fate and that somehow they were responsible for what happened to them. Fiddling while Rome burned. Anyway by the end of the hour I was drained. It was not so much a moment of discomfort but a century of discomfort.  It was for me truly bad taste. Being English I feel guilty about this!

Sadly I don't think I can ever enjoy this opera again. I am just so cross at what has been done to it. Anyone seeing this for the first time will be put off for life. It might have been intended to make one think but it made me furious. If that is the outcome that was desired it certainly hit the mark.

I always knew that going to Glyndebourne was a mistake for me, I just did not belong but for one night in 1971 it held me under its spell. Now I know I was wrong to go there! It is the epitome of what I dislike about the old class ridden Britain some of whom would have welcomed Hitler. For once it showed the whited sepulchre of class and money that has bought the UK to where it is today. The greed and ostentation of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is alive and well and living in Sussex.

I wonder if anyone will be brave enough to ask for their money back? Ariadne Auf Naxos and Glyndebourne will never be the same for me  again.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Ariadne Glyndebourne and The Shock of the New

I have just watched Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss streamed live from Glyndebourne which is part of their 2013 Summer Opera Season. It is a work I know and love well.

Wow! Courageous and memorable! I suppose someone had to have to do the dark side of Ariadne. Zerbinetta as an real old slapper with graphic masturbation on the top notes sure knows how to kill off the applause. Must be first time ever that this aria did not bring the house down. I realise it was intentional.

 I am glad that this was not the performance I saw in 1971 with Miles. He might not have married me after that! So having got it out of the system we can all take a deep breath and be truly  original and daring and have the next Ariadne on the brighter side. 

I enjoy this opera, well its really an operetta, but really not like this. I go to Benjamin Britten or Fidelio for the dark side. Now there's an idea for young directors, Fidelio in a holiday camp with the guards as red coats and the prisoners as happy campers! Not nasty in sight. It is all a joke!

However I do enjoy seeing  courageous  performances and one should never be afraid of The shock of the new. It must have taken a lot of thought although a party like this could never have been held in the blackout in say 1940 so one must congratulate the director on being brave and original. Strauss is still very much in copyright and the trustees guard it with their lives. I tried to get the rights for a full orchestral midi of September  Four Last Songs with not one note changed and was refused as it was considered an arrangement. They must be turning in their graves with this and I will no doubt have the rights for every September Midi because they consider my work Original in 7 years time!

I live too far away ever to return to Glyndebourne again so it is wonderful to see the operas. The last time I went was off season in 1996. I was staying in Brighton and I took my aunt for a drive so I could at least see the new opera house from the outside.  We drove up only to be shooed off by a most unpleasant woman who treated me like an intruder and told me to Go away, we're not open in a most unfriendly upper class manner. I had travelled from New Zealand and I felt so embarrassed. My English aunt did not know where to look, the woman was so rude.  I mean even to think of it! She certainly put me in my place!

Glyndebourne had and perhaps still has this reputation for being rude and unapproachable. Britten for one hated it and all my dealings, like trying to buy tickets have been unfortunate. It could be relied upon for a good night out  because even if the opera was mediocre the champagne, picnic and setting could always be relied upon. It was amusing so see the upper classes showing off to the rest of us.

The rude lady I met was typical and was not a good advertisement for Glyndebourne which is a shame but the streaming makes me forget and forgive.

So onto the next Falstaff week of 17 June 2013 so watch out. Looks as if this might be in the same mould. I await with anticipation.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Red Hot Pokers the Stars of my May Garden in Auckland

May Stars - the Red Hot Pokers

 OK it's Chelsea Flower Showtime again with all it's fabulous gardens. When I lived in London 38 years ago my mother and later my husband took me to Chelsea every year in May where I could drool and dream of having a garden like that. I never thought it was possible to have a garden like the ones I saw at Chelsea in real life but to my delight and surprise in Auckland you can and I have.

I love gardens and gardening but how my Auckland garden  happened is still something of a mystery. I have never spent much time or money on it. I think it is  just 38 years of being in the same place. I have found out what grows over the years and what to avoid. To begin I started noting down what flowered in different months and planted accordingly and in May in Auckland it is Red Hot Pokers. I have lots of Red Hot Pokers.

April is my problem month as I have yet to find the Star.  Every month a garden needs a Star that shouts look at me! At the end of April I was in despair. My garden just did not have IT. There had been little rain for the first four months of 2013 and the grass was brown and patchy. My garden looked unloved and then as if by magic it happened

Overnight it seemed the Red Hot Pokers did their thing thing and like mushrooms exploded into bloom. I have but seven plants and suddenly I had over 100 of the gorgeous, sensuous blooms. The colour is bold and brazen. They shout look at me and I do. They last too so this display will give me a good month of enjoyment. They are the May Stars of my tiny garden.

The native birds love them too. For a few weeks I get to see the Tuis or parson birds as they have a clerical white collar. They are nectar drinkers and they perch and swing like acrobats and drink in all they can. I have a loo with a view and I have a most enjoyable time watching them on many occasions! The flowers also attract the native golden eye and I get what passes for a swarm of these tiny birds fluttering around in bliss.

My May garden does have a few jewels too that is less showy flowers but add interest. You have to look for them as they don't scream at you. When in Devon I used to love the wild cyclamen that grew under the trees in spring. To my delight I found I could do this in Auckland in the autumn. They are so pretty as they nestle by a fern frond under the olive. Like Chelsea I too have a gnome, a garden duck that my daughter won and I have not the heart to banish it to oblivion.

Next gem the Gardenia, these I used to dream off when I saw them in the window of a West End florist. They were imported from France and cost £12 each in 1957 as they were flown in from the South of France. They only last a day but smell of heaven.

Last gem the Bird of Paradise. This has taken 38 years to achieve maturity. It was the first plant I bought in 1975 because it was exotic and I so wanted one. For the first 8 years it languished. I moved it. It didn't flower in it's current spot either and I despaired of it. After 16 years I gave it a talking to and told it if it didn't flower this year it was out. I must have heard because it did. Now it is truly magnificent. I have planted two more for my daughter. I shall not live long enough but hopefully they will. One has to plant ahead.

My garden in May is gorgeous. Quite up to Chelsea!  Each month for this year I shall feature my garden stars for you to enjoy too. My garden has brought me so much pleasure. It has remained constant and the only thing I have been allowed to persist in doing over a period of time and make mistakes.  I am proud of my garden.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jonathan Miller vs Stephen Sacker Hard Talk

BBC World's HARDtalk is a daunting challenge to even the most hardened interviewee. Jonathan Miller faced up to the current incumbent Stephen Sachur safe in the knowledge that they both went to Cambridge. I am not sure Miller felt quite so confident at the end of the encounter as it was refreshingly frank. Stephen Sackur did what he usually does so well and fronted up with some searching questions.

Miller is a renowned media personality, comedian, Establishment Opera and theatre director and celebrated science TV presenter. He has been given all that life has to offer by society and yet Miller is not a happy man and this came over today in waves.

Miller it appears is very sensitive to criticism. Being a performing artist is not the best place to have a thin skin but I can attest that I have suffered at the hands of various critics and it is not nice. He feels that only those who have achieved what he has achieved is allowed to have an opinion about him and as most of the London critics have not produced as much as a CD let alone an opera they should shut up. So what about me?

Well I have directed Schoenberg's Erwartung! and if that is not enough I sang Flora at Aldeburgh for Britten in his Turn of the Screw. 

The interview was very enlightening. It seems Miller fell into his artistic career by accident. He pointed out he really doesn't like the theatre, he never goes to the theatre, and would much rather have stayed in medicine and that I think is the trouble with his work. Miller's dislike of  arts production shows  through. Yes Miller can do it all extremely well, he thinks about it and talks extremely well on the subject but he doesn't love it. For the artist to succeed you have to love it, you have to have passion and want to do it even when all sorts of obstacles are it the way. Miller will tolerate rehearsals but he goes home at 4.30 pm. His productions are clever, academic but lack passion. Peter Brooke is a director of passion and his productions wreak of it, that is why he will be remembered.

Miller is torn between his major love which is medicine which he feels he should have followed and the arts which fell into his lap. Maybe he feels like a dutiful son that he has let his parents down by slumming in the arts.

Miller's ambition seems to amount to getting actors to act. Today this is a rather old fashioned concept as the film and TV media really demand type casting. Britten knew this and when allowed to cast his operas he type cast. Peter Pears was not amused on occasions. However I do agree with Miller operatic star soprano's and tenors should be given the widest birth if anything ensemble is to be attempted.

It is no good saying to Miller that he was fortunate to be given the opportunities that were denied others and should be happy with his lot. Miller isn't. It happens to most of us I wanted to be a ballet dancer and Britten put a stop to that but the world he opened up for me was magic. Yes I didn't dance Swan Lake but I produced Erwartung!

We don't get what we want out of life and it can be so unfair. Miller wants to author a brilliant scientific paper that will be remembered. By accident I had one of those insights that come only once in a lifetime and have a short YouTube Video on the best of Science YouTube list which will be remembered. I would have given my eye teeth to have produced my Bluebeard's Castle at The Royal Opera House but not my luck. Miller did direct operas at major houses and was not grateful just bitter at his lost science opportunity.

Sackur did not let up, hard question after hard question till at last it ended. It was a greatly chastened Mr Miller who murmured a reluctant  thank you. I felt sorry for the man. I actually felt sorry for him. 

PS In about 1963 ITV were looking for a young woman to join Jonathan Miller on a chat show and teenagers of my age were encouraged to write a short article on any subject on the front of any paper on the 23 April. I wrote about the date! I wrote well even at 17 and was shortlisted. Of course when I turned up Mr Miller must have had  a fit. I was not the OxBridge student that was expected. In fact I think they thought that I hadn't actually written my article but I had.
I should have got Miller on to Britten and 'The Turn of the Screw' and he might have been impressed.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Singer's Revenge Garageband

Pity the poor professional singer.  Theirs is an unhappy lot and although instrumentalists, composers, accompanists are given every help possible the singer is left to make the best of a very difficult job. In the musicial stakes the ordinary professional singer comes off worst.

Since the advent of new modern instruments the orchestral tuning has got higher and higher. If Mozart, Bach and Beethoven were alive today they would never believe their ears as the pitch of the modern orchestra has gone up and Up and UP. Modern steel frames and strings have made this possible. Also some instruments do not like certain keys and pitches and all tuning revolves around the oboe.

Consequently the keys that singers are expected to sing in has gone up and Up and UP too. Unfortunately when they invented  modern strings and frames they did not invent steel human vocal chords as well. In Mozart's time a choir of sopranos would not be expected to sing above a G above the stave (G4 in Midi terms) but today the poor things have to reach for a top B Flat below top C. A Queen of the Night in Mozart's Day would have sung a Top C (C5) but today modern sopranos have to sing a top E (E5). Sopranos who can do this are as rare as a Unicorn.

For most of my professional life I have been at the mercy of instrumental musicians,composers and producers who never keep their word. I know how high I can sing . I have a breathtaking top B (B4) and a non existent Top C. Whenever I went for a job I would tell the management that and all promised to have the part taken down. On this provision I accepted the jobs only to find the producers broke their word. Even Benjamin Britten broke his word. I had to sing the Top C and I can just about make it but not in the way It ought to have been sung. I would have been sensational with a Top B preferably flat for those not so brilliant days that all singers have and the audience would never have known. It would have sounded glorious.

The reason was expense. The producers found that writing the re-orchestration and copying  was a just too expensive or the key that it had to be transposed into was difficult for the orchestral players to cope with. I missed out to my detriment.

Then the orchestra's are mean and  will not rehearse with the singers. They want to be paid a performance fee if a singer wants to rehearse and obviously the management won't stand for it. Many a time my first sing through with the orchestra was on the first night. I used to go to their rehearsals and sometimes I was appalled at what I was supposed to sing to.

Composers and pianists look after themselves. There are certain keys they find difficult and so instead of modulating into a difficult key the song is just left to languish in one ordinary key for convenience. Even if you ask for a semitone modulation if it hits a difficult key like B Major with lots of sharps and double sharps you can forget it. Many pianist can only play from music and cannot transpose at sight so one has to sing songs in uncomfortable keys for the singer but easy for the pianist. Life is just not fair.

Wrong notes are a singer's nightmare too because it is the singer who takes the blame. A poor pianist can wreck a singer's performance with a handful of wrong notes.

All pianists are the same. Some like Benjamin Britten who actually played for me at a huge concert hated rehearsing. He left it too late to have a complete run through. He also would not transpose a part for me although he knew it was too high and he had promised to do so. My husband could only play from sheet music and I had to sing Schubert in some horrible keys for me but OK for him. He could, bless him, play a handful of wrong notes in the difficult bits but we never sang in public which is just as well. When he died I lost my accompanist and I resigned myself to never singing again.

Six years after his death it happened. I had played with Garageband on and off and I wanted a certain tune. I discovered I could write it out quite easily and then I had an idea. Why not write out my accompaniments? It was a revelation. Not only could I write out my accompaniments but I could choose my key and eventually I learned to orchestrate and now even do four part Harmony. My lessons of 50 years ago have come in useful.

I could sing every day with a sympathetic accompanist. No wrong notes, tempo of choice and best of all key of choice even if it is C Sharp minor. For the first time I learned to sing as I like to sing. From hating my voice I now started to like it. To my surprise I like the way I sing and my voice improved by not being forced. I enjoy recording. I don't have to shout to fill a 3000 seater theatre. That I still have a voice is a miracle. 

I can also sing music that no pianist wants to play as it is too hard like Cantaloupe's Songs of the Auvergne. Tried unsuccessfully to get a pianist to play this for years.

So singers learn a Midi programme like Garageband and give yourself the chance you deserve. No more expensive pianists, no more worrying about rehearsals, sing anything you want with a full orchestra and enjoy.