The 'complete' Heroine
Saturday, December 9, 2017
7:30pm - All Ages
Swindon Arts Centre (map)
Swindon SN1 4BJ
An eclectic programme extolling the virtues and compelling stories of the Heroine, with dramatic entrances and quirky humour. Lady Macbeth, Ophelia, Salome, Mignon, and even Jessie Matthews are all ready for their close up….
Clare McCaldin mezzo soprano with Paul Turner piano
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.
Over My Shoulder - Jessie and Elisabeth
Saturday, September 16, 2017
7:30pm - All Ages
St Martin's, Ruislip (map)
Ruislip HA4 8DG
An evening of story and song, charting the extraordinary lives of two huge stars of the twentieth century, Jessie Matthews and Elizabeth Schumann. These two singers, both achieved international fame and fortune but had to cope with great private sadness and difficulty. In a strange twist of fate, they now lie in the same churchyard in Ruislip.
With Paul Turner (piano)
This concert kindly supported by Edmission UK.
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.
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.
Clare McCaldin’s fine delivery of Hugh Wood’s new song cycle ‘Beginnings’