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 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.