Tales From Backstage Podcasts for 2018

clare mccaldin podcastThroughout 2016 I spoke with a number of my colleagues about their work. Initially speaking with people wrangling various animals at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, I quickly opened the discussion up to other musicians and artistic practitioners that I know. These discussions, edited down to 10-15 min podcasts – which I called Tales From Backstage – were good fun and full of interesting stories and insights.

Then, at the beginning of this year, I appeared on Soho Radio with some other artists (I had come on to talk about my show Over My Shoulder, concerning a famous daughter of Soho, Jessie Matthews). The experience of talking with other artists reminded me how stimulating and revealing these discussions can be. Consequently, I decided to revisit the podcast series and to try and think of other colleagues who might want to talk about their work and experiences. I’m really pleased that my first few emails were replied to with enthusiasm!

Here, then, is a new series of podcasts. I have already started, by talking to the irrepressible soprano Natalie Raybould the day before her performance of Pierrot Lunaire at the Guards Chapel on 27 February. The podcast I’m publishing today is a chat with the artistic polymath Kerry Andrew a week or two ahead of the release of her new album with her band You Are Wolf.

All podcasts can be heard via claremccaldin.com/podcast, or on iTunes, Mixcloud, or any other podcast player (like PlayerFM) with a good RSS feed. 

Kerry Andrew

clare mccaldin podcast

I work on all kinds of great projects, some of which I’m invited to join and some which I have developed myself with colleagues. However, because all the preliminary work goes on behind the scenes you won’t always get to hear about this process. So, armed with my trusty iPhone, I’ve taken to capturing conversations with friends and colleagues about all sorts of interesting projects, to share with you, the interested listener.

In this episode I talk to Kerry Andrew, a composer, performer, broadcaster, writer and cartoon character (!) about her many creative outlets and influences. We recorded this interview in a lively South London café, so the sound can get a bit cluttered sometimes; we’ve tried to clean it up a bit so you can hear everything that Kerry has to say!

Natalie Raybould on Pierrot Lunaire

clare mccaldin podcast

I work on all kinds of great projects, some of which I’m invited to join and some which I have developed myself with colleagues. However, because all the preliminary work goes on behind the scenes you won’t always get to hear about this process. So, armed with my trusty iPhone, I’ve taken to capturing conversations with friends and colleagues about all sorts of interesting projects, to share with you, the interested listener.

In this podcast I talk to soprano Natalie Raybould, who is preparing to perform Arnold Schönberg’s celebrated Pierrot Lunaire, a 20th century masterpiece she has tackled more than thirty times. Bunkered in a busy South London café during snowfall, Natalie and I discuss Pierrot, Sprechstimme, and her other current work .

Over My Shoulder – London performance

Born in a Soho slum, Jessie Matthews rose to become a superstar of stage and screen throughout the 1930s, and was often described as “the English Ginger Rogers”Elisabeth Schumann was a German opera and song specialist whose popularity with British audiences remained undimmed even after Germany and England had fought a war. Both women were hugely famous in their day, and yet their names are hardly recognised now by younger generations of music-lovers.

Over My Shoulder sets out to remedy this by weaving together the stories of these two singers around their unexpected intersection here in London. In a strange twist of fate, Jessie and Elisabeth now lie buried on opposite sides of the same West London churchyard. Could they also have met years earlier in Covent Garden at the height of their fame? Might there be some connection between the two women?

Paul Turner (piano) & Clare McCaldin (mezzo)

Clare McCaldin (mezzo-soprano) and Paul Turner (piano) combine story-telling and singing to celebrate the lives and work of Jessie and Elisabeth. Tales of romantic scandal, tragedy, falls from grace and triumphant come-backs are inseparable from the remarkable artistic contribution of these two women.

The performance includes music by Felix Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Hugo Wolf, Johannes Brahms, Otto Klemperer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Noël Coward, Harry Woods and Rodgers & Hart.

15th February 2018, 7.30pm
St Paul’s Church, 32a Wilton Place, London, SW1X 8SH

Tickets £25, £15, £10. Interval drinks will be served (donation requested).
Click here to book in advance or buy a ticket on the door. 

The Future of Knowledge

I’m delighted to have been invited to speak at the Future of Knowledge conference at the British Museum on Monday 12 February 2018. The conference is organised by the Knowledge Quarter to mark its third year of promoting productive partnerships, fruitful networks and creative interaction between its member organisations.

I will talking about McCaldin Arts’ project Mary’s Hand, which is in development for performances in 2018. In dealing with historical issues around the life of Queen Mary I, the show considers how her reputation was posthumously manipulated by her half-sister Elizabeth I, and the partial treatment of important facts and truths. As it turns out, fake news and PR spin are not a recent invention.

The Complete Heroine

Paul Turner’s impressive Swindon Recital Series has been running for over twenty years, and I was delighted to return to give a recital as part of the Complete season – a programming strand which has included Paul’s performance of the complete Chopin Nocturnes.

Paul and I created a song programme around the idea of heroine and anti-heroines, whose associated repertoire seemed to divide naturally into two kinds of character: those women in charge of their own destiny (Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, Rosalind and Hermia, Sheherazade, Eliza Doolittle and Harriet Green) and those whose lives are directly affected by Fate in a way that they can’t, or choose not to, resist (The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary Queen of Scots, Goethe’s Mignon and Julie Jordan). One final heroine is the nameless narrator of Jeremy Nicholas’ charming song, Usherette’s Blues.

Royal Society of Musicians

I’m delighted to have been elected to the Royal Society of Musicians. The RSM is Britain’s oldest music charity, established to provide immediate financial assistance to musicians unable to work due to accident, illness or old age. Here I am with my proposer and long-standing colleague, George Vass, following his confirmation as the organisation’s new Treasurer.

For more information on the RSM click here.

Over My Shoulder

Last night Paul Turner and I gave the first performance of Over My Shoulder at the church in whose graveyard are buried Elisabeth Schumann and Jessie Matthews, the subjects of our entertainment. We were delighted to be joined by Elisabeth Schumann’s grandchildren, who grew up in England after their parents settled here after the Second World War. I am especially grateful to Joy, who was very helpful when I was researching and writing  Over My Shoulder.

(Above L to R: Jean and Rupert Puritz, Christian Puritz, Paul Turner, CMcC, Joy Puritz).

You can read more about Over My Shoulder on the McCaldin Arts website here. The next performance will be on Thursday 15 February 2018 at 7.30pm at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge.


BYO’s Don Giovanni

Photo: Robert Workman via The Stage

Having only become a singer relatively late in life, I didn’t work with organisations such as British Youth Opera, but I am always pleased to support colleagues who can still qualify as young(!). To this end I was at a recent performance of BYO’s Don Giovanni, applauding a friend’s immaculate (electronic) mandolin in the Serenade and his classy continuo playing. I only recognised one of the cast but it struck me that there is a lot of musical talent out there and I hope our industry can provide for them all.

The Peacock Theatre is a good location in many ways for such a night – spacious, centrally-located with a decent bar and big enough pit for an opera orchestra. It’s less good because it can feel like a bit of a bunker. I’ve never been on-stage there so I don’t know how much wing-space there is, but the time it took to change the scenes in this show suggests that there may not be very much. We’re so used to seeing shows move uninterrupted from one scene to another that it felt slightly old-fashioned to have the curtain repeatedly come in and stop the action dead. At the other end of the spectrum is Richard Jones’ new Bohème for the Royal Opera, where the front-cloth is out for the whole show and the scenery for each Act is hauled into place in full view of the audience by an army of stage-crew, all the while snow gently falling on them.

It’s also interesting to observe how an interesting idea can sometimes become a bit of a handicap; quite literally if your character gets shot in the leg a good half hour before the end of the show and still has a lot of stage business to execute.



Follies at the National Theatre

Photo: Johan Persson via TheUpcoming.co.uk

I’m a fan of Sondheim. He writes in Finishing The Hat that his favourite of his own lyrics are those that are simplest and most direct; but, like many of his fans, I just can’t resist his virtuosic linguistic twists and turns, when he’s at his most showy. Even A Little Priest, the mountain of a duet at the end of Act I of Sweeney Todd, turns out to be less of a learning challenge than I feared because Sondheim is having so much fun testing the song’s idea to destruction that his enjoyment is infectious.

Follies is a show I didn’t know until last week and it presses all my Sondheim buttons as well as satisfying my love of sequins. The composer is writing on one of his favourite themes, unfulfillment, and how we may deal with our disappointment. If we have made a poor choice we can try to change it but we may have to live with it and it needn’t be all bad – we will survive. I enjoyed the typically complex Sondheim structure involving characters doubled with their younger selves, but the revelation for me in Follies was in discovering the intended context of songs that I have known for years as stand-alone numbers (In Buddy’s Eyes, Losing My Mind, I’m Still Here). If a song is great it will bear separation from its environment but it’s always exciting to discover a whole other world of meaning when it’s heard within the show.

Of course the same goes for opera – Nessun Dorma is less about football and more about hoping to avoid execution when heard in the context of Turandot – and it’s a great reminder of why we should always take the time to go back to the source and not just be seduced by the best tunes in isolation.