Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Monday, August 26, 2013
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
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
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?
Labels: a la recherche du temps perdu. Remembrance of Time Past. Antonia Fraser, Guardian, Marcel Proust
Monday, August 12, 2013
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.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.
This was my first and will certainly be my last attendance at the Bolshoi. Kurwenal
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.