Monday, 31 August 2009

Travelog conclusion

7:42AM. (Blogging on New Zealand time still.) About to launch, suspending.

7:52AM. Pushback.

8:09AM. Takeoff.

8:21AM. At altitude, able to blog. Long long monologue about entering Australia, all about what needs to be declared and such.

8:45AM. There's a fault with the in-flight entertainment. Before takeoff we were told that the safety video couldn't be played, ergo they went for live demos by cabin crew; now we learn that fast-forward and rewind may be problematic. I'd love to know more about the architecture of this setup and how these things are worked.

8:59AM. Entertainment system is rebooted. All screens go black. In five minutes it'll all be turned on again; apparently it'll take 15 mins to get back to the welcome screen after that. Fairly slow boot process. Oh well, good thing I'm not depending on the provided entertainment!

9:31AM. Switching to Melbourne time in readiness for home. It's 7:31AM.

9:38AM. Uneventful flight. Will shortly be beginning descent to MEL - have had stiff headwinds (>100km/h!) most of the way across the Tasman, so we're behind schedule. (Were timetabled to arrive MEL 9:40AM, but current estimate is 10:05ish.) Sound of engines has just changed; we should soon see some familiar land!

9:41AM. Land ahoy! Oooohooh! Dirty big land ahoy!

10:30AM. We're down, have baggage, and are just going through Customs. Wow, it's so easy for returning Aussies - they hardly even bothered to check things. If the computer accepts that our passports were the genuine Australian article, we're through.

Time not recorded: HOME!! YAY!!! Hugs from parents and siblings. Ahhh, it's good to be home!

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Safety vs Rules

Airlines have numerous rules which are there to ensure safety. This is well and good, but when the rules are applied without thought, they can work against their intended purpose. Northwest Airlines today gave me a perfect demonstration of this.

Rule: For takeoff and landing, all items must be stowed either in the overhead lockers or under the seat in front of you.

Rationale: Loose items might fly around (if not during a normal takeoff, then in an abnormal one), which would be dangerous.

Specific instance: Traal, my laptop computer. (Regular readers of my blog will understand that I refer to my laptop as "he", and with a name.)

Traal and I have flown together a number of times; I believe this is the fifteenth takeoff and landing we've made. The very first time he flew, the seat beside me was free, and he sat there with his own seatbelt. Every time since, he has ridden the takeoff on my lap, held as securely by my hands as any infant in his mother's arms. Every time, that is, until now. A flight attendant insisted that everything go under the seat; I responded by placing Traal between my feet, anchored, in such a way that he would definitely not fly around, but I wasn't too happy about his own comfort. But that wasn't good enough. He had to be flat on the floor! This is absolutely insane, because Traal is low enough (lid closed of course) to fit underneath the structure of the seat, and thus fly around the cabin, should anything untoward happen. Pointing this out was to no avail; the rule had to be followed, that was that. As a slight sop to safety, I placed my foot next to Traal, anchoring him against the seat foot (that is, my foot was between Traal and the aisle), but there wasn't much I could do to stop him shooting forward if we'd had a sudden deceleration.

As this was a direct instruction from a flight attendant, I complied, but felt I was compromising safety in doing so. The same flight attendant (Brenda Kaczanowski) insisted on my putting him under my feet for landing, so this time, as a sharp deceleration is normal, I placed one foot in front of the laptop and one foot behind - awkward but somewhat effective. It was still significantly less effective than a good pair of hands; that under-seat area is simply not designed to house an object 25mm tall (that's about an inch tall, if you speak feet and inches), but a person's lap is.

Since this time, I have been asked by two other FAs on two other flights to again place Traal under the seat. Neither time, however, was the command given as discourteously as it was the first time. Perhaps if the first request had been more polite, I would not have been so irked by it, but the fact still remains that it is safer for all concerned to keep a laptop securely in its owner's hands.

If it is Northwest Airlines' policy that rules are more important than safety, then I have nothing further to say; clearly everything is functioning as designed. However, if this is not the case, I invite Northwest to post an official statement, using the blog comment feature. (Anyone else is of course equally welcome to post their views, as is always the case on this blog.) I'd love to hear from you!

Travelog part X

28/8/09 8:07AM. Been awake for the past hour or so, am now up and mooching around. Keep hearing cars and thinking it's Anth but it's not. 8:14 - here he is! Seems there was nobody at the office. Odd.

8:19AM. Check out of motel and go to meet Anth's family. Lovely people :)

1:30PM. Head off to lunch and airport.

2:15PM. Over to the airport, farewell to Anthson. Check in and then fly to Denver and thence to Los Angeles.

9:09PM. Change timezones again, now blogging on Pacific Daylight Time. It is now 7:09PM, and I'm standing here waiting for our baggage. The landing announcement said that we were twenty minutes ahead of schedule, and she asked us to please remember this next time they were twenty minutes behind! (I applauded but it wasn't taken up by the other pax. :( ) So far, not much baggage has arrived. Passengers are beginning to gather, the carousel is turning, the incoming conveyer belt is stationary. Come on, bring on the bags; we have three hours till the next flight, I want to spend as much as possible of it on external power!

8:20PM. We hunted down Air NZ's checkin. Couldn't find them, so we asked an airport official. He pulls out a little reference card and informs us that they're in Terminal 2 - handy information! We're told that that's some distance away and round the corner... so off we go. Turns out it is a LOOOOONG way from Terminal 5 (where we were) to Terminal 2... ahh well. We arrive, and Air New Zealand move our things through at some efficiency. I like. Through customs much quicker than I was expecting, so we make our way to Gate 28 and, hooray, discover an open GPO. Wifi is all secured or hl-secured, but I have power. Yay!

10:05PM. We board Queenie. Stairs in an aircraft.... wheeee! We're not upstairs though. Incidentally, there's what looks like a private compartment underneath the stairs - for those passengers for whom "First Class" just isn't exclusive enough.

10:11PM. There's wifi on this plane!! It says "Sorry, the Gogo Inflight Internet service is currently down. Please try again later", so I will - specifically, when we're at altitude. I don't see any power outlets here though; I think I'll ask the crew - maybe they can do what Emirates did and take a laptop (or battery) to be charged in their station. It'd be more than a little cool to be blogging live from altitude - and sending pigeons home!

10:32PM. Pushback 10:42PM. Takeoff! Ooooh da power....

10:47PM. The usual PA announcement about what's happening. Today, the flight crew supervisor informs us that Air NZ is committed to the environment, and consequently would request that people retain and reuse their plastic cups; and also, that they'll be happy to fill people's water bottles. M: Yay!

10:53PM. No wifi detectable. Hmm.

Mmm. Dinner. They served the same cheese as last time, so now I know the name of it: Egmont.

1:27AM. (Still blogging on PDT.) Amazing that we've only been flying for three hours. Feels so lovely and at home here. I'm beginning to think that international flying is just way more fun than US domestic - the service is far better, the comfort levels are excellent, and you're on a plane with some real size to it - for instance, my backpack (Mont 40L, specifically specced to be within airline carry-on dimensions) fits in the overhead locker, not guaranteed on all the small craft that flit around the US. With Air NZ, I feel completely comfortable, but with Frontier I didn't, even though there was nothing specifically wrong with the service. There's something fun and lovely about this flight that calls to mind our days with Amtrak - sure, the cabin (in this case, seat) is small, but it's not a problem.

1:32AM. Having finished the above paragraph, I feel like a little sleep. You probably feel the same, now that you've read it. No wifi btw, so no sending pigeons down fram altitude. Guess what I found on the ground was actually from another aircraft parked next to us.

9:30AM. Changing to Auckland time, which is GMT+12 (no DST now, we're nearly home!). It is now 4:30AM. Breakfast has been served. Only a couple hours till we land in Auckland; and last time we came through, we had ethernet available but no wifi, so this time we've brought some cat 5 in hand luggage. After Auckland, two more timezones to cross and we're home... so it's now 2:30AM at home. (Actually, I'm not so sure now. Windows tells me NZ is on daylight time. This may and may not be correct - I've known Windows to be wrong on these things - but either way, it's 2:30AM at home, I'm pretty sure of that.)

6:28AM. Landed in Auckland, have come through security, and with an hour before our next flight, we park ourselves here. Unfortunately the wired ethernet isn't working; nobody knows who's in charge of it. Fortunately, though, I still have a login at the paid wifi that I used last time, so I can get online with that. Yay!

Travelog part IX

I'm still blogging on GMT+1 (British Daylight Time) for the moment. It's now 1:30PM and we've had lunch; M and I are watching simultaneous Star Trek, complete with the usual fiddliness of sync.

27/8/09 1:37PM. Captain reports we're passing Greenland. Meh. Can't see a thing, as it's on the opposite side.

5:00PM. Changing timezone, it's now 12:00 EDT. Captain estimates we'll be on the ground in 35 mins, if we get the nearer runway, or 40 mins if we get assigned the other. Incidentally, the far runway means we'll overfly a couple more US states. The Yanks don't seem to understand that states are allowed to be fairly large...

12:25PM. Landing shortly, suspending.

2:11PM. We've landed and collected baggage. Thanks to the Traal battery crash mentioned earlier, I have no information as to where we need to head next. After several failed attempts to get wifi to load emails, I get to an information desk which sells us 7 minutes' internet access (on their public-access computer) for a few bucks. Not cheap but we need this. Now at least we know the flight number and departure time, so we can happily kill the next hour - the flight isn't even on the boards yet. We poke around, looking for three things: a GPO (vital), a place to sit (vital), an internet connection (highly desired), and food to eat (pretty vital). Err, FOUR of our ... I'll come in again. NOBODY expects the Highly Esteemed Goon Show! Ha ha ha ha! Ahem. Anyhow. We got three of the above, so I'm typing this all up offline.

2:44PM. Michael goes off to look for wifi, flight info, and maybe a place called "The Lounge". I tell him that I'll swap SIMs in my phone and get onto the US number. And then, just what I always wanted to see. The pocket in which I'd placed both the AT&T and the usual Optus SIMs had been umop... and the Optus one was there, the AT&T not. Great. So not only am I unable to charge my phone here (charger takes 240V and won't take 110 - unlike, for instance, IBM laptop chargers), but my SIM card is loose in my backpack. No WAY am I tipping the whole backpack out looking for it - not here. In fact, I can't think of any time when I WOULD be happy to tip my backpack out, until maybe we crash in a hotel room... twelve hours from now. No thank you. Phone is bricked till we get home, I think.

2:51PM. M returns with news of our gate, so they're probably taking checkins. Let's go.

4:16PM. We're on the plane, it's due to depart, but we haven't gone yet. Meh. So what else is new.

4:22PM. Pushback. At last.

4:58PM. Takeoff... that was one slow taxi. (Wing congestion. Also fuselage congestion.)

5:44PM. For random reasons I begin contemplating takeoffs and landings. Traal and I have done quite a few of them so far. I counted fifteen, in fact; however, it has been noted that one of the goals of aviation is to maintain approximately equal numbers of takeoffs and landings, and at the moment, there is an imbalance in favour of takeoffs. Hopefully we'll be able to rectify this within the hour.

5:48PM. Ah! Me public. (No particular reason, just felt like saying that.)

5:52PM. I ask Michael, "Got a screwdriver?". My armrest has three screws in its underside, all of them extremely loose. Do Northwest Airlines not care about these things? Guess not.

7:40PM. Landed, transferred, and taken off again, all in somewhat of a hurry. Michael has the details of a couple of spiffy things we saw in Detroit Airport, so I'll be brief: They have two-lane travelators, and an express tram (works sorta like a monorail or maybe cable tram) for moving large numbers of passengers around the terminal efficiently. The tram is also very effective at moving two people backwards and forwards while they examine the tram itself... fortunately we weren't the last to board our connecting flight!

7:45PM. Changing to Texas time - it's now 6:45PM. We have two hours and some of flight, so we'll be down about on schedule.

2:11AM. Been a while since I wrote anything down, mainly for lack of GPO. Landed, met Anthson, found our baggage (yes, in that order), and went with him to a Tex-Mex eatery where his parents were waiting for us. Had dinner together. Went off to an Irish bar and chatted for a while. Now M and I are crashing in a little motel, Anth's gone home; he'll meet us in the morning at 8AM, so we have a nice five and a bit hours' sleep before we have to wake up. Time to crash, I think. Been quite a day, especially considering that we picked up six extra timezone hours along the way and called them all part of Thursday!

Departing England

Having made everything completely ready the previous day, we had nothing to do all night... well, okay, we weren't THAT organized. I stayed up all night, cleaning up my room, sorting out what was to go in hand luggage and what into the hold, and Threshing. (What a surprise.) Lots of stuff gets thrown out, of course, but the stuff we're taking takes all available space. As everyone knows, the primary purpose of clothing is to do the job that trucks or bubble wrap do in mundane packages - cushioning the important stuff, in this case DVDs and books and stuff.

Michael's alarm was set for 3:45, but at 3:30 he was up already. I'd already nipped down to the office and found out that, contrary to our previous thinking, we would be able to leave our keys there in the office; so at 4:05, we headed down, towing all our luggage (two trundlies, two backpacks, two things-in-hand) down the flights of stairs. Fortunately it wasn't raining, so it was a pleasant stroll. Unfortunately, we were heading to upper Buxton, the market square, so we had a bit of a climb.

Sharp to 4:30AM, the bus arrives. Two one-way to the airport - L8.80. Not too bad. Friendly driver. Surprisingly, quite a few other passengers, even at this hour! Seventy minutes' journey later, we arrive at the airport, having gone through some territory familiar to both of us, although we hadn't seen most of it for two years. Heaps of time before our flight, so we made our way through customs etcetera, and then looked for breakfast. Not many options unfortunately; I figure a "breakfast hot bacon roll" for L3.35 should be passable (everything's overpriced in airports, so that's no surprise). It's not. The bacon was hot, but that was all. I think they just have bacon constantly hot, and just pull out a few rashers, drop 'em on a bread roll, and call it done. Not impressed.

When finally our flight is given a gate, we make our way down there. According to the boarding passes, the gate CLOSES at 7:30 (for an 8:00 flight); but owing, we suspect, to some other flights being late departing, this flight didn't get a gate till nearly that time, and loading started (with one wheelchair) at 7:27. Primary loading wasn't for another ten minutes, but once it happened, was efficient enough that pushback was able to happen at 7:59. (How? Largely because we all walked out onto the tarmac and then mounted stairs into the aircraft... using two doors. Two doors doubles throughput through all those highly-congested aisles!) Bit of delay getting moving after that; lots of planes taking off. We launched at 8:16.

Uneventful flight to Dublin. Landed 8:52AM; boarding passes for the connecting flight to JFK said gate closes 9:15. Having seen what happened on the first, I was prepared for a change to that, but still didn't want to risk it. We burn it through the walking parts of the transfer, then cool our heels queueing up to go through customs and stuff. Takes ages at some of the steps. And here it is, 10:35, flight scheduled to depart 10:30, and I'm sitting in seat 14A (funny, I think a Puffing Billy loco cab is a tad bigger than this) waiting for the crew to finish pre-departure checks. Traal's battery crashed out on me in Manchester, so I lost all my loaded tabs, including vital info about our US domestic flights; hopefully we will be able to get onto wifi in JFK!

The first airliner flight I went on, I was able to charge my laptop on the plane. Since then... never duplicated the luxury - why not? Is it that hard to provide 110V to every seat, or every pair? Oh well. Yay, pushback - 10:39AM. Traal suspend.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Pirates of Penzance (G&S Opera Company)

We couldn't get seats for the show, but managed to get, not a private box, but a private suite - to be precise, the Paxton Suite. The video link was provided, but oddly, we were the only two people there. As when we saw the Irish Gondoliers, the view was far from perfect, but enormously better than missing out on the show altogether.

The show opened with a slightly modified overture - a few bars of Away Away and Cat-like Tread were attached to the start. Then the curtain went up on an impressive set: we were not in a rocky cove, but actually on board the pirates' ship. After the Pirate King's song, there was a brief blackout, a little bit of music to cover the transition, and then we saw Frederic on the beach, no more ship, and Ruth chasing after him. Worked splendidly.

Both choruses (I suppose I should say all three; the men were pirates, then police, then split, as is often done) demonstrated remarkable precision, moving in near-perfect synchronization - even in dialogue (all the pirates move simultaneously to look at the time). The off-stage chorus of girls (before "False one") worked perfectly - no raggedness - and again when the pirates sang about penalties.

The principals were of equally high standard. Frederic (James Elliot) demonstrated strong emotion in his duets, both with Ruth and with Mabel, and kept everything moving along. Ruth (Jill Pert) brought her own particular take to the dialogue with Frederic, and sang with feeling but without losing clarity and diction. The Pirate King (James Cleverton) commanded his crew and the stage with equal ease, as a pirate king should do; all three of the above were absolutely over the top hams, making an enormously fun trio scene in the second act. (Is it really believable that the PK and Ruth can so totally "not get it" as Fred tells them that Stanley - is - no - orphan? Hardly. Is it fun, when played that way? Undoubtedly!) The Major General (Richard Suart) had exceptional dialogue and patter skills, although his acting sometimes left a little to be desired - on the other hand, competent direction meant that this was seldom an issue. When he appeared, we knew at once why the girls were so precise in their movement - he clearly drills them regularly, leading his troops through footwork almost on par with the knighthood scene from The Court Jester. Mabel (Victoria Joyce) was very operatic, and definitely wanted the downstage center position as much as possible - which fits Mabel completely. During Poor Wand'ring One, Edith and Kate took Frederic aside when she began the "chook bit" (all the Ab, Eb, Db "Ah ah ah"s); they seemed to have almost persuaded him that they were as eligible as she, until she started on the cadenza. For some weird reason, Fred liked the idea of marrying someone who could sing like that... doesn't he know how irritating it'd be to wake up to that every morning? Although Mabel did sing it very well; as did Edith (Victoria Byron), in the finale, where they sing the chook duet. Most of the Stanleys looked plausibly sisters, but it was amusing to see Kate (Sioned Ellis) dancing with the Major General in the finale; she looked like she could possibly have been his wife. At the other extreme, Isabel was clearly the youngest - she had a funny, although slightly affected, "It's the vewwy pwace for mermaids" voice. Samuel (Michael Kerry) had an excellent tenor voice, taking the higher notes in "Take your file, and your skeletonic key" with ease. Rounding off a competent cast, the Sergeant of Police (Bruce Graham) has the same command of his troops as the Major General, leading his men through some pretty complicated footwork, through which they followed him perfectly.

Throughout the show, the entire cast showed energy and interest in what was going on. I'm glad to have had a chance to see this show, and will await eagerly the arrival of the DVD. Congratulations, all!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Gondoliers (Festival Productions, Ireland)

The opera house was entirely sold out for the Irish production of Gondoliers. Apparently, the winner of two consecutive festival championships is expected to produce a good show... in any case, we couldn't get seats in the house, and watched the show from the Paxton, where the projector screen was put to good use. The video link was a good thing, but nothing like actually being there; it felt more like watching a recording than attending a live show, but that's still orders of magnitude better than missing the show altogether.

And what a show. Now that the awards have been announced, I can cite them as proof of what practically everyone who was there will agree; ten nominations and five wins, including the championship itself, making this their third consecutive win at this festival.

Unlike the previous Gondoliers, this opened with the familiar overture, with all the usual skill of the festival orchestra. The curtain lifted and we were treated to an incredibly active chorus - never flagging throughout the show, too. Chorus movements had noteworthy precision, which is something I love to see. Then the Plaza Toros arrived, bringing with them the sounds of Spain - at least, a rather amusing version of a Spanish accent. (It got in the way of their singing and diction at a few points, but it was definitely funny.)

The lighting was less than stellar, unfortunately, leaving the edges of the stage and, often, the downstage area in a not-very-congenial gloom, although the middle of the stage was always brightly lit. The performers would have done well to hang around in the light, but they went all over the stage, and sometimes had only the follow spots to keep them from being in complete darkness. But in the middle, where most of the action was, it was an appropriate blaze of light.

Quite a good round-up of principals, with one notable exception. The Duke of Plaza-Toro (Wilfred Pyper), Her Grace the Duchess (Jackie Curren-Olohan), and their beautiful-voiced daughter Casilda (Nicola Mulligan) - I say, their beautiful daughter Casilda - had energy, enthusiasm, and comic Spanish accents. Casilda could be loving, but she could also be quite nasty if she wanted to be - she was quite rightly described as having a naughty temper! Luiz (Barry McGonagle) had her love, though, and he knew it. He moved around the stage as though it were his own, and when he and Casilda were alone together, their duets were lovely. But if Luiz owned the stage, Don Alhambra (Adam Lawlor) certainly knew how to take command of it - in two words, he had everyone's attention. (He did it in the Festival Club, too. A low "Buenos noches" and everyone laughed, and gave him their attention.) The two kings and two queens sat up and took notice of him, even though they were adamant they didn't need anyone to take their unders today. Marco (Brian Gilligan) and Giuseppe (Jamie Rock) made a great pair of kings, and Brian's TAPOSE had real feeling to it. Their energy kept everything moving, and both had good clear diction, sending their lines to the gallery and beyond. Tessa (Rachel Kelly) and Gianetta (Emma Walsh) scored well in these men, even without becoming queen! Both ladies also had lively energy, bouncing through the show, but were able to be sympathetic too (it's strange how "I'll pinch her and scratch her" and "make her to shake in her aristocratical shoes" turn into the softer tones when they actually meet Casilda - jealousy is merged in misery, I suppose). "When a merry maiden marries" and "Kind sir, you cannot have the heart" were both sung beautifully, and the quintet "Here is a case unprecedented" was full of its own kind of energy and movement. Finally... Inez was played by Toni Morgan... actually, by Tony Finnegan (who also played Annibale). Yes - a man. I'll say no more.

Based on the show, the cabaret afterwards, and above all the awards ceremony, I have to say that the people of Festival Productions, Ireland are incredibly full of energy and enjoy what they're doing. If we saw a mediocre performance by people who had as much fun as the Irish did here, we would have fun too; how much more when the show itself is of this standard!

Yeomen (Peak Opera)

Of all the Savoy operas, Yeomen of the Guard is the most tragic and least comic - but it still has its comedy, and most of it doesn't come from the one character who claims to be funny. Yeomen has beautiful arias, strong emotions, and real characters. It can be performed superbly, but it can also fail in a most spectacular disaster.

Tonight's show took neither extreme. There were a number of points at which things threatened to come undone, but it came together again. Some unusual pieces of business, which is a good thing; some of them worked, but others definitely did not.

The set had numerous entrances and exits, always a good thing when dealing with the inevitable issue of wing congestion, but one of them puzzled me. An open portcullis led to the prompt-side wing; was this leading out of the Tower, to the street beyond? to an inner protected area? to something else? Shadbolt, Leonard, Fairfax, and the chorus of villagers all used it, so it doesn't make perfect sense any which way. Still, it did its job of getting large numbers of people on and off stage efficiently.

Musically, the show was a little mixed too. Most of the difficult sections (such as the counterpoint in "Tower Warders") held together just fine, but while people were rushing on stage, milling around, and so on, things got messier - perfect proof of why everyone needs to watch the conductor. Ensemble harmony was reasonably good, although the altos and basses could have done with augmentation at a few places; Strange Adventure sounded excellent.

Richard Miller had been slated to play Fairfax, but at the last moment had to withdraw, and Chris Diffey stepped in. He could claim one of Julia Jellicoe's lines: "I flatter myself I can do justice to any part on the very shortest notice". His performance stood out magnificently; of all those on the stage, he was the most consistently audible in his singing, and the most believable in his acting. Such an absolute cad of a character, though - not only does he steal Elsie away from Jack, he even hires an assassin (the Second Citizen (Stuart Pinel)) to, I kid you not, murder the hapless Point with a dagger. That was a rather odd ending; the audience didn't really know what to make of it, and the applause was rather dodgy for a while.

Looking at the rest of the cast: A very operatic Elsie Maynard (Alexandra Saunders) sang beautifully, but being paired up with such an excellent Fairfax made her acting appear poor. Jack Point (Liam Geoghegan) truly loved her, although his character had few other sides to it that were as well fleshed out. Kimmo Eriksson, who played Leonard Meryll (the REAL Leonard, the other is butter-substitute), was barely recognizable when he appeared with the chorus. (I've seen it when Leonard was instantly obvious in his other part, and it was quite confusing. Much safer to not double up at all, of course, as long as your Leonard is happy to sit idle a lot.) In his second act scene, he gave a genuine hug to Phoebe, who seemed to have learned to appreciate him - in the first act, she was almost cold towards him, which he hardly deserved, even though he had no reprieve for the Colonel! Phoebe (Lucy Appleyard) had a lovely voice, with a good low register for "tears that bliiiiiiiiister" in "When a wooer goes a wooing". The Lieutenant of the Tower (William Revels) brought his very own brand of fun and energy to the show, which was not unwelcome. The First and Second Yeoman (Stuart Bull and Joe Lowe) also sang the Third and Fourth Yeomen parts, respectively, which I suppose turns them from bit parts into two-bit parts. The other tiny part, Kate (Karen Richmond), was also somewhat enhanced; in the dialogue before Strange Adventure, she was quite clearly interested in "Leonard" (the Margarine). In the song, also, she sang with distinction. Dame Carruthers (Angela Lowe) was unfortunately a little hard to hear in Strange Adventure, but for the rest of the show she was more audible. She and Sgt Meryll (David Lovell) had a constant by-play going on, making his line about shunning her like the plague quite believable. And, saving the best for last: Wilfred Shadbolt (Gareth Edwards). He was nominated for Best Male Performer, and deservedly; he was probably the best performer in the entire company. He had a rather peculiar habit of keeping one hand on his leather vest as much as he possibly could, as though he had to hold it in place lest it blow away; it was noticeable during his first scene with Phoebe, and then maintained consistently right through till the final curtain. A good voice, too, when he got a chance to sing; he would have done justice to Jealous Torments, had it been included, but it was not.

A few pieces of stage business deserve extra mention. Just before Elsie was to be blinded and taken off to meet her doom (err, I mean, her husband), Shadbolt entered - blowing his nose. On the same handkerchief that was used on Elsie's eyes! Ewww! (Of course, for the sake of the stage he was only pretending, but poor Elsie...) Later on, when Fairfax was trying to convince Elsie to ignore her husband and elope with him (just before "Hark, what was that sir"), she slapped him on the face, which almost made up for the disappointingly crude gunshot that followed it. And Phoebe, though unremarkable for a lot of the show, did do a good job of Were I Thy Bride, with her fingers wandering for a long time over Wilfred's noisy keys, and at the end of the song, her father sent them back to her via halberd, which worked well.

I have to be honest and say that the show did not really live up to my expectations; Yeomen can be done really really well. But it was not the worst show I've ever seen, either. It received nominations for Best Male Performer (for Shadbolt) and Best Concerted Number (for Strange Adventure), which were appropriate, but was hardly in the running for the overall championship.

Gilbert and Sullivan Festival Awards

Just attended the awards ceremony, and these were the results, in the order presented.

Four people were thanked with flowers:
* Dawn (Peter's wife) - setting up Paxton
* Pat & Peter Holland (Portacabin)
* John & Judith Savournin
* Unseen in Octagon with sewing machines: Sandra Vamplew (accepted by Sarah)

And the actual awards were:

Adjudicator's Award
Entry of Peers' Chorus, Iolanthe, South Anglia

Youth Awards
Best Female Performer: Freya Palmer, Lady Angela, Patience (Youth)
Best Male Performer: Henry Smith, Bunthorne, Patience (Youth)

Best Duet
Winner: Iolanthe, South Anglia, None Shall Part Us
Sorcerer, Bournemouth, Welcome Joy
Gondoliers, Derby, There Was A Time
Ruddigore, Trent, There Grew Little Flower

Best Animated Chorus
Gondoliers, Derby
Gondoliers, Festival Ireland
Iolanthe, South Anglia
Winner: Sorcerer, Bournemouth

Best Concerted Item
Winner: Ruddigore, Trent, Madrigal
Yeomen, Peak, Strange Adventure

Best Male Voice
Ian Walton, Cox, Cox & Box, Avon
Brian Gilligan, Marco, Gondoliers, Festival Ireland
Winner: Roderick Hunt, Sir Roderic, Trent
Rossano Saltfleet, Alexis, Bournemouth

Best Female Voice
Jemma Truss, Aline, Bournemouth
Nicola Mulligan, Casilda, Ireland
Charli Clement, Rose, Trent
Winner: Sasha Liebich-Tait, Mabel, Toronto

Best Chorus
Iolanthe, South Anglia
Winner: Gondoliers, Ireland
Pirates, Toronto
Gondoliers, Derby

Best Character Actor
Stephen Godward, Old Adam, Trent
Gareth Edwards, Ko-Ko, Abbots Langley
Winner: Adam Lawlor, Don Alhambra, Ireland
Roy Schatz, Major General, Toronto

Best Character Actress
Winner: Angela Lowe, Baroness, Savoynet
Jackie Curren-Olohan, Duchess, Ireland
Joan Self, Mad Margaret, Trent

Most Traditional Opera
Ruddigore, Trent
Mikado, Abbots Langley
Winner: Iolanthe, South Anglia
Pirates, Toronto

Best Supporting Actor
Colin Dawes, Giuseppe, Derby
John Harrison, Usher, Western Australian
Winner: Ian Henderson, Prince of MC, Savoynet
Thomas West?, Paramount?, Oxford

Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Jane Brendler Buchi, Julia, Savoynet
Sara Clark, Lisa, Savoynet
Jessica Nicklin, Iolanthe, Festival Prod

Best Male Performer
Wilfred Pyper, Duke PT, Ireland
Simon Theobold, Despard, Trent
Winner: John Gerken, JWWells, Bournemouth
Gareth Edwards, Shadbolt, Peak

Best Female Performer
Cherrill Ashford, Lady Sangaz, Bournemouth
Winner: Zena Bradley, Dame Hannah, Trent
Zena Bradley, FQ, Festival Prod

Best Musical Director
Jean Holt, Sorcerer, Bournemouth
Andrew Nicklin, Gondoliers, Derby
Stephan Kenna, Iolanthe, South Anglia
Winner: Aidan Faughey, Gondoliers, Ireland

Best Director
Shane Collins, Iolanthe, South Anglia
Winner: Vivian Coates, Gondoliers, Ireland
Alan Spencer, Sorcerer, Bournemouth
Andrew Nicklin, Gondoliers, Derby

International Champions: Gondoliers, Ireland
1st Runners Up: Sorcerer, Bournemouth
2nd Runners Up: Iolanthe, South Anglia

The Irish sent a large and enthusiastic contingent, and every time they won an award, the place erupted with cheers!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

HMS Pinafore Pot-luck

Tonight was a pot-luck Pinafore, and like all pot-lucks, it was rollicking fun without any sort of pressure to perform well. So in keeping with that, I'm not going to do a full review, but just to report on its occurrence.

Cast, in the order they were written on my notes:
Conducting: John Howells
Sir Joseph: Gordon Smethurst
Ralph Rackstraw: Anthony Mahon
Bosun's Mate: Matthew Plunkett
Dick Deadeye: Stuart Pinel
Capt Corcoran: Chris Hall
Carpenter: Geoffrey Brocklehurst
Buttercup: Gennie Plunkett
Josephine: Sarah Vamplew
Hebe: Sarah-Jane Hall

Great fun Deadeye, absolutely over the top at every possible opportunity. Fun ad-libs from everyone (Chris Hall: "I shall never be untrue to thee - well, hardly ever", and looked over at Sarah-Jane, his wife).

I hope you folks approve of Google, because I'm augmenting this Blogspot blog with some Picasa stills and Youtube videos. :)



Iolanthe (Festival Productions)

Tonight's show was one of the several that are rehearsed during the festival, competing for people's attention, trying to put on as good a show as can possibly be done while economizing on rehearsal hours. It's amazing how many people can be found to do each of these shows; tonight we had twenty peers (including Tollollerat), and they almost didn't fit on the stage.

The show opened with great energy, a chorus of very active fairies. They were enjoying themselves, and we couldn't but enjoy ourselves watching them. Iolanthe's arrival brought its own joy, enhanced excellently by the other fairies' interest in what was happening, and by an appropriate build in the lighting. (I half expected Iolanthe to appear from underneath the bridge, but that was not to be.) The entrance of the Peers was suitably impressive, too. Everyone loves singing through the Peers' March (we've had it several times in the Festival Club, and each time the stage is crammed with men... and a few ladies come up too!), but the colorful robes and stately march make the scene even more grand. There were, as always, the few who weren't quite in time (when have you EVER seen a men's chorus that was perfectly synchronized?), but for the most part, it worked.

Several of the songs received encores. "If You Go In" even received the honour of a double encore, with appropriate stage business.

The show exhibited a fairly strong cast. Strephon (John Hurst) had energy, ease of movement, and smoothness, and although he could at times be a little too quiet to hear up in the gallery, his diction was clear. Phyllis (Penny Daw) was excellent, especially in the second act, where she plainly was not at all enjoy the company of her two noblemen. (She slipped off while they were conversing and had a drink - in fact, had quite a few drinks - kindly provided by one of the other peers. Of course, the two earls were far too busy discussing which of them would slay the other, or they might have been a bit jealous of this!) Mountararat (Stephen Godward) and Tolloller (Mark Hurford) played off each other well, and both typified snobbishness as though they had been born sneering.
We had a delightfully spry Tolloller for "If you go in", too! The Lord Chancellor (David Craig) was also quite energetic, and also had the diction and projection necessary for an audible Nightmare Song. His scene with Iolanthe (Jessica Nicklin) had real emotion to it; it's a beautiful scene when performed well. The off-stage chorus had trouble seeing the conductor, though, which somewhat spoiled the effect (there was a lighting change as they sang their "Willaloo", and then it changed back to the prosaic world of the Chancellor every time they fell silent); these are the sorts of problems that normally would be solved during Tech Week, but when there's only one dress rehearsal before the performance, it's practically impossible to get everything like that to work. Rounding off the cast, Private Willis (Paul Thompson) didn't need a peerage to be impressive on the stage; the Fairy Queen (Zena Bradley) didn't even need to be a person to be impressive! Both had excellent voices. Zena we've seen in quite a few productions this festival, and she's quite competent to the roles, but one must wonder how much rehearsal time she was able to give to each show. Celia, Leila, and Fleta (Shorelle Hepkins, Holly Strawson, and Pauline Hepkin respectively) were not just three members of a uniform chorus who happened to deliver solo lines; they were individual characters, maintained consistently throughout the show. Fleta was forever trying to get a wand - or her Queen's spear, even - but was constantly denied one. Leila wanted to lead (and, in fact, conducted the finale, in the "This word is French" section), but it seems Celia was always the one who actually led. And finally, one who's never named or addressed... the Lord Chancellor's trainbearer. He was very much a part of the action (especially in the final encore to If You Go In), and at the very end, he got paired off with Fleta for his trip to fairyland, where presumably he will go on serving the Chancellor for the rest of their lives (which, if Leila is correct, might last a rather long time).

The most important characters in any G&S are of course the choruses. Without the chorus, what would the Peers' March be? Without a chorus of duchesses, marchionesses, etcetera, who would save Iolanthe's life? Without that huge altercation between peers and fairies, what would keep the first act finale from utter yawndom? The choruses today were a bit mixed, but fairly energetic, and definitely taking some interest in what was going on; and when that happens, we the audience are also interested, and the show works. Tonight, things may not have been perfect, but they were definitely enjoyable.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Ruddigore (Trent Opera)

I approach Ruddigore with high hopes and expectations. It's a show that can be really spectacular, but at the other extreme, it can fall really badly flat. Tonight's show may not have been tremendous, but it was definitely far from dull.

The chorus (villagers and bridesmaids both) were extremely attentive during Dame Hannah's song, taking a real interest in what was being said. A balance has to be struck - you don't want to upstage the song itself, but should have enough movement and reaction to keep the audience's attention where it should be. Tonight did well at that, at several other points as well (notably during the Act I Finale). It really lifts the show when all those on stage are aware of the action.

There will always be the odd slip-up in a full-length show, and unfortunately this was no different; I fear the stage crew will have had a fair job sweeping up all the dropped lines. However, the show was always picked up on again, and the pauses weren't the end of the world. As David Turner acknowledged earlier in the festival, it feels awful to be the one to lose a line, but it's not the ultimate disaster, and the show WILL go on. The same when the singing loses track of the orchestra... and the conductor can (and must) always bring things back together.

On the subject of music, though... The Act I madrigal was pure delight. Superbly sung, and well handled. All vocal parts were audibly represented, and Sullivan's music was heard to good effect. What more need I say!

In naming the principals, I am completely at the mercy of the programme, so I'm not sure that all these names are correct. Please let me know where I go astray! Whoever played Ruth lucked out completely, as her name is not even listed - granted, the part exists only for one scene, but she's an important part of the chorus all the rest of the time! So whoever you are, thank you for your performance tonight, and apologies that I cannot grace you with a name.

Everyone else, though, I can give a name to (hopefully the right one!). Robin (Andy McPhee) brought life and enthusiasm to the stage, maintaining energy even while being reserved and timid around Rose in the first act. With his devoted Old Adam (Stephen Godward), he opened the second act in a manner suitably creepy, and their dialogue was clear and crisp. Rose Maybud (Charli Clement) had such a sweet voice that I would have been sorely disappointed if Bygone Days had been left at just one verse - was delighted to be given both! Dame Hannah (Zena Bradley) performed well, although she could perhaps have used some more rehearsal time. Nonetheless, the Melodrame worked well, as did the transition to the duet with Sir Roddy Doddy; and she got rapt attention from the bridesmaids during her first song. Speaking of whom, it must have been inevitable that Roderick Hunt was cast as the newest ghost - as well as sharing the name Roderic, he fitted the role AND the voice superbly. (His painting, at the end of the hallway, really did have a bad light, too - it came on whenever the ghosts started doing their agonies, which was rather odd. That was the only time the lighting ever grabbed the audience's attention, though, normally far more subtlely supportive.) I thought Joan Self's Margaret had some peculiar facets to her, such as her doll (in pram), which she mistreated at every possible opportunity (why did she have it? What strange mad fancy led her to do this?); an amusing character, though a little hard to believe at times. She and Despard (Simon Theobold) had an amusing scene in their second act entrance, bringing on a bed and demonstrating their morning exercises and the very English notion of tea first thing in the morning - they had two cups waiting for them under the pillows! Dick Dauntless (Joseph Shovelton, not John Tyler as per programme) performed a very simple hornpipe and got everyone on stage involved - bridesmaids AND villagers. The girls were all over him, and he enjoyed every minute of it. Zorah (Jean Krzeminski) had to make sure she grabbed him before someone else got him!

The show deserved all the applause it was awarded.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Grand Duke (Savoynet) - David Turner adjudication

The Festival Adjudicator, Mr David Turner.

Grand Duke is probably more theatrical than you expect it to be, if you don't know it at all. And it was a very theatrical opening tonight, for theatrical people were singing what it is, a pretty wedding, with true theatrical insincerity. It's a very tricky opening scene, but they cleverly filled it tonight with lots of colourful theatrical types - carpenters, wardrobe staff, dressers, chorus girls, etcetera, etcetera - and each little group made their own input. Then we get the introduction of the principals, and this was very skilfully done. We don't ever talk in rehearsal cos we never have time about the construction of the piece. The Mousetrap is something I've been connected with for a very long time, and I always have to be careful when I say to the two actors which open the play, "Right, okay. Christopher comes on and he lifts the whole thing". Which is absolutely true, and they think oh! are we so awful? No, we're not, it's the way it's written. And it's the same with Grand Duke - the principals come on and they lift the whole thing, and how cleverly they did tonight. The chamberlains' entrance is difficult to do but we left, very sensibly, Rudolph to develop the scene. There's not a lot you can do except really come on and stand. We gave him all the work to do, and effective it was

The chorus work tonight I thought was always secure. Some of the acting was perhaps a little basic but musically they were absolutely solid and very very effective - and what good listeners they were. Terribly important. A spectacular opening to act two - well sung, well choreogreaphed, very effective - and then the welcome arrival of the Monte-Carlos, together with that strange bunch of supernumeraries and an irritating costumier. But it brings that life to the second act.

Musically it's such an attractive overture, and it leads in to some very strong chorus work. I found tonight there were no hesitant entries, and all those four parts were coming through; this chorus worked hard. Obvious attention too to the principals - I thought particularly impressive were the quintets early in act one. The tricky act one finale, with its many moves, again I thought was handled skilfully. The attack of the opening of act two was very well achieved. But amongst all this are some lovely arias and duets, and none more lovely than "So Ends My Dream", Julia Jellicoe's solo which comes and it was really a joy, but a joy not because it was skilfully sung - and it was skilfully sung - but its sensitive interpretation was spot on.

Lighting was okay tonight, it was effective, it gave emphasis to main acting areas; it had a few odd moments. Costumes were a mixture of styles and periods; I couldn't make out what time we were in - I thought it was 1930 once and then I thought must have been around 1900 - but whenever it was, it was okay. Props were very few. There aren't a lot of props, but what a lovely roulette wheel - they must have pinched it from somewhere.

Let's look at the characters. The Grand Duke Rudolph. He wasn't given a very good first entrance cos he is officially the leading role and he should have been given a bit better entrance. But he quickly established himself. Lots of over the top gestures and expressions that were always effective. I thought his work with the Baroness Krakenfeldt was very entertaining; I think anyone who worked with her would be entertaining! And we saw again another aspect of his character. There's a lot of difficult dialogue and it comes thick and fast, and he did splendid job with it. It was assured and it was secure.

Ernest Dummkopf. Energy and attack is what this character must have, and this is what he did have, and in abundance. He immediately took charge. It's necessary for the plot that we have this change of pace, and this enthusiasm which has to dominate and he did, and did a splendid job.

Ludwig - a heck of a role, and demands an awful lot. He reminded me very much of some of those old Viennese characters in the old MGM musicals; there was a wonderful one called SZ Sakall - Cuddles he was called, and I thought of dear old Cuddles tonight. He brought that lovely bubbly energy and charm. Very good stage presence, lovely light touch; held the stage always; I hope he thinks this is a nice comment cos it is - a good poser.

Dr Tannhauser, the Notary. An obvious clerical figure, always looking the part, excellent diction whether in dialogue or music. I hope he's not worried about having a little hiccup - cos we all do, and if he doesn't know the plot, how the hell are we going to! (laughter and applause, lengthy) It does happen, it does happen. Years ago when I was in Arsenic and Old Lace, I remember the dress rehearsals - I was always pretty solid - and I stopped in the middle of the dress rehearsal and I said to the director, "I'm sorry, what act are we in?". The irony of it is I was playing opposite his wife who, on the first night, came on in act one and said act three dialogue. Which he blamed me for! But it does happen, and to you it feels like end of world. But it ain't, cos it happens to us all.

Prince of Monte-Carlo. What a scene stealer of a performance! (applause) I think if I were asked to appear in a production and saw his name on the list, I would say "not available", because to overcome that charm is pretty nearly impossible. He didn't ooze charm - it flooded out of him. But it should overwhelm, and this he did with such skill, and that roulette song was a success because it was in his hands.

Princess of Monte-Carlo. Attractive - had some saucy moments - gentle charm. Lovely style.

Baronness von Krakenfeldt. Well, an actress of some experience I'm pretty sure, a character she established from the moment she walked on stage, and how she works, and how she gives. It's what we give to one another on the stage that makes us good. She enjoyed what she doing, and so did we. Again, lovely style, nice bearing, very good sense of timing, lovely contralto, and such fun when pickled. (laughter, scattered applause)

Julia Jellicoe - the English actress with a mid-European accent; a determined, purposeful interpretation. I audition, over a year, I suppose hundreds of young actors and actresses, and when I'm back in London in two weeks time I've got two whole days when I will be sitting, auditioning new youngsters into the business. But you not only assess their acting ability, you assess the person too - cos you think, "Do I want this person in the company?". I wouldn't want her! Very much the leading lady - you know, she's the sort that greets you, she hasn't seen you for six months, and she comes up to you and says "DAHling I've missed you so much", not a shred of sincerity there at all. Very terrific stage presence, lots of purpose, lovely theatrical figure, grabbed the part and relished every moment. I think if she is such a temperamental leading lady, she might have insisted on a better costume for the first act - I would never put someone with that colour hair in that colour dress!

Lisa - lovely energy, bright sparkly performance, and all the more effective when you put it alongside the drama in finale of act one. Pretty voice, pretty girl. What I appreciated were her dramatic moments, and especially her spiteful ones. I thought the bitchiness toward Julia had a reality one should avoid!

I'm a Midlander by birth, and recall alas the war years, and I remember with great - with great fear I suppose - the night Coventry was bombed. We were not able to go to bed all night, and the sky was red. And in the morning, all that was left of the cathedral was the spire - everything else had gone. We thought it would never be rebuilt, but it was. And I remember going inside for first time and being... I think shocked is the word, with the Graham Sutherland tapestry which hangs at the back of the altar there, like an enormous green beetle. It took me a long time to relate to it, so much so I realised at the base of it there is a long wooden seat - probably still there - and I sat and I looked at it, and sitting almost next to me was a very old lady. We obviously had the same thoughts because - we didn't share them, but then very quietly she said, "The eyes are really kind", and they were, and I hadn't noticed. And you know it's like that with The Grand Duke. There's much in it that's lovely, that's attractive, and tonight has entertained us. So let's absorb the whole thing and say to this company tonight, "Well, we don't know The Grand Duke very well, but tonight you really introduced us to it.".

Exit David Turner. Applause.

Mis(s)Trial By Jury (Light Opera Of Derbyshire)

The program is divided into two parts: the auditions (set 10:00 this morning), and the performance (set 3:00 this afternoon, which coincides with the stated time for this entertainment). The first half scarily accurately depicts what has happened on many occasions in real auditions, with auditionees having no idea what show they're here for, or unavailable for the performance date(s), or just totally unsuited to any role... or, as is far far too common, there just aren't enough auditionees at all. As the end of the list of names is reached, the producers despair of casting the show at all, leaving us to an interval while they try to concoct a cast out of this strange collection... of course, anyone who's read the programme will know what happens, when you have a large number of excellent female auditionees and no men except for one of the producers!

Some excellent singing so far. Sharon Cutworth (last night's Tessa) gave a lovely rendition of The Lost Chord (along with many comments about its being obscure - I wonder if there was a single person in the audience unfamiliar with it!); William Revels' audition was as pleasant on our ears as on the producers' (pity for their sake that he couldn't make the performance - too busy rehearsing Peak Opera!); Jane Buchi slipped into her Grand Duchess pseudo-German accent to tell the panel that she was NOT going to do chorus!

Miss-Trial itself is rollicking fun. For the most part, all male roles are played by women, and the few female roles (namely, the Plaintiff and the Bridesmaids) are men (are men stuck in her throat). The words needed very little alteration most of the time, and even "O'er the season vernal" was untouched (although the bridesmaids - or whatever they were now - had a completely different verse). There were almost as many changes "just for fun" as there were gender changes (for instance, the Defendant had all the latest electronics, and had Facebook and Twitter contacts).

For the most part, people sang according to their character roles, with octave shifts as appropriate. During the "chaos bits", though, people sang as per the original score, which was I think a wise move. Vocal balance was alright, although (unsurprisingly) a bit light on the basses; alto/soprano balance worked well.

This was definitely not your regular Trial By Jury. But it was never meant to be. It was meant to be fun, and it absolutely was.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Gondoliers (Derby G&S Company)

We got to the theatre tonight, as usual, after 7pm. Normally it's possible for us still to get seats at that point, but this show was so popular that even the gallery was sold out! Fortunately for us, there were two ladies each seeking to return one ticket, so we were still able to see the show.

Rather than the well known overture, the show opened with a new one written by Andrew Nicklin, the musical director. (Thanks to the anonymous commenter who confirmed this!) I'd love to be able to hear it again a few times. Performing a different overture is a daring move, as the orchestra will be unfamiliar with it, but it seemed to work quite well here, and gave us a different look at the music.

The singing was of a high standard. Balance between vocal lines was mostly good, although at a few points there was a lack of basses; and diction was absolutely superb - I could hear every word that was sung, except during "Small titles and orders", where laughter - my own included - drowned out the song! There were some changed lyrics, but they were so funny that we missed out on some.

But even more notable than the singing was the attention paid by those on stage to what was happening. The chorus took an interest in what the principals were doing, and reacted appropriately. This was consistent throughout the entire show, but was especially notable in the opening chorus and some of the work with the two kings and two queens. Excellent!

Above all else, the show was fun. Everyone on stage had fun, and we had fun. There were some peculiar touches added to the show, such as Luiz being asked for a demonstration of his ability to imitate a farmyard - which he gave, but it was deemed unsuitable. It was even less suitable later on, when he re-entered - his series of farm animal noises led to the Duke's firm conviction that he needs to travel with a full band! (My quirky brain wondered why Luiz, since he had this skill, didn't obey when Casilda said "Neigh, Luiz"!) Another change that worked well was the mention of "The Duke Of Plaza Toro Dot Com" - it got a laugh, and another laugh in the second act (where it comes up again). And then for "Small titles and orders", as mentioned above, the laughter drowned out the words... the number was performed with a data projector and a screen flown in, absolutely fitting for the demonstration of the value of a dot-com company!

I've said a lot, so I'll take only a quick look at the main characters. Luiz (Ollie Metcalfe) and Casilda (Alex Saunders) were completely believable in their duets. Casilda made plenty of the coldness, even brusqueness, toward Luiz, and then as the Duke and Duchess left, you could see them watch the moment approach when they could embrace. Casilda made good use of her riding crop when Don Alhambra harassed her, too. The Duke (Simon Theobald) carried himself with all the nobility of a Duke, even when his Duchess (Joan Self) was telling their daughter what an effort it was to love him (and how she tamed him, complete with bullfight antics). Giuseppe (Colin Dawes) missed a couple of musical entrances early on, but settled into things and gave an excellent performance. Marco (Paul Bailey) gave a simple and clear rendition of TAPOSE (Take A Pair Of Sparkling Eyes), and both of them made extremely awkward kings (trying to shake hands with the Duke and with Casilda, and each time ending up shaking hands with each other rather than look complete fools). Their wives Tessa (Sharon Cutworth) and Gianetta (Charlotte Clement) have lovely voices (Sharon also demonstrated excellent diction with some patter work in the cabaret), and their post-wedding dialogue was delivered full of energy, as it should be. Don Alhambra (Stephen Godward) acted very suitably offended when addressed in such a familiar way as "My man" (to the extent that Marco backed off on "But which is it") - recall what I said earlier about reactions. His full voice carried well. Inez (Zena Bradley) entered in glittering array for her "moment", which was a bit of a surprise - apparently these brigands know how to make piracy pay! Her voice was plenty strong enough to command the stage, as Inez needs to.

One piece, if you'll excuse the pun, of stage business bear mentioning. The opening of Act II was dominated by a chess game, which would have been distracting if there had been any other business happening, but once you realise that this IS the primary business (and once you realise that the two kings are... the kings), it becomes of significant interest. I wish I had had my usual seat in the gallery, rather than down in the stalls, as I couldn't see the game very well; but the game ended with what appeared to be a classic queen-rook mate on the edge of the board, although I'm told the rook was adjacent to the king and not protected, which would have meant the king could simply take it to get out of check. But that aside, it was an interesting way to handle the opening, with the kings being pushed around by the two chess players.

All involved showed enthusiasm and energy, making a very fun night.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Sorcerer (Bournemouth)

After seeing Opera della Luna's Sorcerer, I was hoping for a more traditional production. This fulfilled excellently, keeping all Gilbert's words and Sullivan's music, and having excellent direction to support them.

The curtain rose during the overture, leaving the scrim in, with some action in front. This seemed to center on four strangely mobile trees, which shifted around several times during the production - like the bush in the Looney Tunes short "Don't Give Up the Sheep", if anyone else is as sad a cartoon geek as I am. The scrim was put to excellent use, with front and back lighting used in turn to hide or reveal what was happening. Lighting states during the full stage scenes were a little simplistic, perhaps, but the follow spots were wielded so expertly that the principals were always hilighted; the one time that two spots couldn't manage alone was the quintet, in which two couples took the sides of the stage, and the vicar sat on the rostrum in the center; and for that, there were three orange specials, hilighting in colour excellently. The vicar's one could have done with being a little brighter, as the stronger background light there overshadowed it a bit, but it was still visible.

The singing was generally good; although some of the principals seemed stuck upstage at some points, and thus less audible, they were much clearer when they came down; and the chorus always gave us well balanced harmony. A few songs were taken rather slowly, such as the end of the Incantation scene, but the show never really dragged. Speaking of the Incantation, though - we got some REAL pyrotechnics! No cheating with a puff of smoke and a bit of a lighting effect, this was a real bang. Actually, there were five bangs; one in JWWells's opening (which was also enhanced by some traditional magician's tricks), three in the incantation of course, and finally (I don't think I'm spoiling the plot for anyone here!) at Wells's death. The death worked extremely well. He stepped behind a curtain, then poked his head out for "Be happy all", and finally disappeared behind it, with a pyrotechnic flash. The curtain opened instantly - and he was gone!

A strong cast kept the show moving along at a good pace. Mrs Partlet (Cathy Murray) and her daughter Constance (Charlotte Deverill) set the scene of rustic village life, and when Dr Daly (Ian Metcalfe) came on, they hid behind the trees (which had conveniently brought themselves up near the steps) to watch and listen. The scene between the three of them was well directed, with the conversation using most of the space downstage, and the upstage areas having a few other people scattered around, taking an interest in the proceedings. Lady Sangazure (Cherrill Ashford) carried herself in perfect style, clearly a fitting mother-in-law for a great Pointdextre. Aline (Jemma Truss) looked and sounded lovely - any tenor would do well to win her for his bride, such a pity she had to go to such a bounder as Alexis... but as tenors go, he (Rossano Saltfleet) certainly earned his right to woo the lead soprano. Their duets sounded lovely. Sir Marmaduke (Mike Griffiths) had the voice and presence to take command of the stage, calling people to his mansion for a feast, courteous but not afraid to make himself heard in a crowd. John Wellington Wells (John Gerken) also took complete command of the stage, though in a different way; one does not ignore the man who, while he may not turn you into a guinea pig, would be likely to blow you to pieces - not maliciously, but just by mispositioning one of his explosive charges! (As he laid some on the steps, during his opening explanations, one fell down onto the next step. Fortunately it wasn't fused, or the story would have been cut quite short... hmm, that would be an interesting plot twist!)

A most enjoyable evening. Well done to all involved.

Monday, 10 August 2009

University Challenge: Savoynet

Tonight's cabaret included a University Challenge contest involving Savoynet. I'm not sure what it proved, save perhaps that Savoynetters don't know much about the 20th Century D'Oyly Carters. It was hilariously funny, though, with randomness coming through from both teams, and the emcee awarding negative points whenever he felt like it. The two teams (the Flowers of Progress, and the Savoynutters) scored almost equally in the final tally, and the audience was scored at an impressive negative ten.

The teams consisted of four Savoynetters each, and everyone was asked to introduce themselves before the game began. Nobody used their real names, and I think nobody used their email addresses either. Captaining the Flowers of Progress was a Scotsman named McCranky, and with him were Gretchen and two others whose names I forget; captaining the Savoynutters was Elise Curran, but I didn't catch what name she gave (I was totally expecting her to call herself Mabel, but she didn't), with whom were three proofs of why I should write these things down at the time, instead of trusting to memory.

Some of the questions were quite hard, although others were just a bit tricky. Where, for instance, do you find a barcarolle in the G&S canon? There are several. A few were easy because there are so many right answers - like, name a monarch mentioned in a G&S. Sometimes a team would scupper themselves completely by hitting the buzzer before the question has even been asked, and then make a totally stupid guess like "South Kensington" or "Mornington Crescent" before handing the question over as a total gift to the other team.

I wish I had a record of the entire thing, but in absence of such, I call for audience assistance. What do you remember of the quiz that I've omitted? Add a comment!

Utopia Ltd (Oxford University)

I was most enthusiastic about tonight's show, as I've never seen Utopia before except once on video. It's not an easy show to put on, and has a reputation for drawing a small audience - although that seems to have little effect at the Festival, as the auditorium was mostly full, with only the gallery having much empty space.

The curtain rose during the overture, revealing a scatterment of Utopian maidens, all languid and motionless as could be expected from the hot sun and opiates. Actually, the lighting seemed to show a dawn - as the curtain went up, the stage was blue, and then orange light filled in. (I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, but it seemed appropriate.)

The chorus generally had good balance between parts. Sullivan wrote some lovely alto lines, and it's great to hear them clearly. There were several points where the orchestra got out of sync with them (there, Gary, have fun), but beyond that, it was well done.

Oddly, Calynx's lines in the opening were handed over to Tarara (Jonathan Davies), and Tarara's entire swearing-in-Utopian sequence was cut. There were a few other casualties in the dialogue, including the whole semi-transparent being speech; in that instance, I can't say that we truly missed it, but on the other hand, Scaphio's (Jordan Bell) completely indeterminate ideal makes it impossible for Phantis (Sheridan Edward) to call him out for loving the opaque Zara. It could do with some kind of alternative, although that's really a job for Gilbert himself.

Speaking of the Wise Men, they must surely have been sweltering in those elaborate robes, under the hot Utopian sun. Everyone else had sensible clothing, and there they were with something better suited to the England that they hated! Although on this particular day, the hot sun seemed to be behind a cloud a lot of the time - the stage had quite a few dark patches - so perhaps it would have worked out alright.

Two distinctly modern touches added amusement to the first act. When the two princesses were showing themselves off in the marketplace, the Kodak used was a digital one - we saw the LCD as it was shown around the chorus; and then, totally stealing the show, Mr Goldbury (Robert Hazle) had a laptop and a projector, using a graphical presentation to enhance his Limited Liability proposition, to great and hilarious effect.

The marketplace performance by the two princesses Nekaya (Verity Thomas) and Kalyba (Halka Kucznyska) was enhanced, almost upstaged, by the "Bold Fac'd Ranger" (Matthew Hosty), who demonstrated great agility in his dancing around the stage. The Lady Sophy (Zosia Kuczynska) was constantly on duty, and from the number of times she had to nudge her charges to keep them in check, I think she was earning her pay!

King Paramount (Thomas West) took charge of his entrance scene, and then did an excellent transition to the subservient monarch when the Wise Men came in. It must be hard for the poor guy - to maintain the appearance, to his people, of being in charge, and yet to have to remember to doff his crown when in the presence of his superiors. Capt Fitzbattleaxe (Nick Pritchard), on the other hand, could be completely honest with everyone, making no secret of his affection for Zara (Anna Sideris), which alas could not be realised in the first act due to his breastplate, or perhaps breastwok, and of course the slight problem of Scaphio and Phantis. By the second act he had disposed of both problems with equal ease, and his love had strengthened, he claimed, to the point of disrupting his singing voice - not that that stopped him from singing a beautiful duet with her, which they both sang so sweetly. (I could have wished for it to be a little less "low" in volume, however, or alternatively for the orchestra to back down a little.)

There were a few things that disappointed me. "Society has quite forsaken" seemed rather static, with almost no movement from anyone except right at the end; and on the brief movement that the Flowers did, they lost touch with the conductor and had a pretty train-wreck for a while. Also, there were several places where someone desperately needed a spotlight, and it just didn't happen. Had the stage been sufficiently bright, it would have been alright, but at points like Zara's entrance, I was expecting the follow spot to come into play.

However, in spite of these, the show was definitely a success. Tarara evidently overcame his diffidence and natural timidity enough to set off a decent batch of TNT behind the king's throne (during the entrance of the chorus in rebellion), although his earlier crackers didn't seem to have much bang in them. Paramount and Zara were quite scared by the angry throng, so it was a good thing Zara remembered the last and most crucial bit of English lifestyle to bring in, before they both got belaboured bodily!

Both choruses were fairly consistently energetic, well balanced harmonically, and in sync, although there was in evidence the one person who got it wrong every time (I don't think it was the SAME person each time). The harmonies were equally in evidence during their cabaret, which featured some unaccompanied singing by the full company. Lovely. Definitely enjoyed tonight.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

G&S in 3/4 Time (Elise Curran)

Introduced to us as the "Florida Foghorn" (followed by some strange noise from backstage, can't imagine who), Elise Curran gave a recital of various pieces of Gilbert and Sullivan (and some other) music, all in 3/4 time, but covering quite a variety of styles. Each piece was introduced and explained in Elise's particular style, full of fascinating little details and obscure oddments (I'd never thought of "I built upon a rock" as a march, for instance), and then sung, either by Elise alone, or with her guest assistants (her page-turner stepped up to sing alto, and then two men who'd been sitting in the audience were suddenly called upon to complete a quartet), or by the entire audience, in the case of songs with a chorus.

Michael and I had to be apologies for half a Savoynet rehearsal to attend this, but it was totally worthwhile (especially since our involvement in the S'net show is fairly slight). Each half of the programme included one number from Grand Duke, and from the lack of strong voices joining in on the chorus, it was clear we were the only ones who'd wagged rehearsal! Fortunately the audience's contribution was more firm in such numbers as "Thank you, gallant gondolieri" (hey, we mostly just have to sing a whole lot of "tra la") and Elise's signature tune "Poor wand'ring one"... there's nothing like a good audience chorus.

Of course, as well as the familiar pieces, there were some that were more obscure; Gilbert's "Princess Toto" and Sullivan's "The Chieftain" each contributed a song. This is likely the only airtime either opera will get in the entire festival, so those songs should feel privileged that they were written in 3/4! It is fun to get the odd song that we've seldom, perhaps never, heard before. (And who knows - might give someone a reason to look up the whole show, and find something they might never have seen else.)

It was, as hoped for, a fun and informative afternoon. Many thanks to Elise, the page-turner-and-alto (Jo Savournin), and the two men who joined them (John Savournin, and Richard Cotton, who was called in at the last moment!), and of course to the pianist, John Howells. Much enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Holy Trinity Handbell Ringers

The performance was billed as "Ring Forth Ye Bells", but the first number played was "There Grew A Little Flower" (yes, they did do the Sorcerer opening, but later). Handling two or three bells each, a small company filled the room with beautiful resonance. The music must of course be arranged specifically for bells; of the G&S pieces played today, this work had been done well.

As well as demonstrating the full-on bells, the Ringers introduced us to bell-plates, what might be called the economy class handbells. Instead of several thousand quid for a set of bells, the bell-plates are a few hundred - and they sound *mostly* as good, but not quite. They lack the resonant beauty of the bells, but are played the same way and produce a reasonable tone.

One thing that can't be done with bell-plates, though, is holding two in one hand. It's the bell equivalent of playing a piano with both hands, I suppose; handling four bells and knowing which one to ring at any given moment is something that calls for some serious skill. We were treated to a three person four-in-hand number - twelve bells between three players - including their conductor, who in most of the other numbers wasn't able to himself play.

My biggest regret about this afternoon is that it was not recorded for DVD. The playing was excellent, the music lovely. There were a few numbers that seemed to have a lot of mistakes in the playing... oh wait, those were the ones where the experts stepped aside and invited audience members to come up and play! Yes, we got to try playing through a couple ourselves - pick up a couple of bells and swing them when the music calls for it.

Great fun afternoon, a pity it was so ill-attended.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Iolanthe (Charles Court Opera)

An excellent production! Like last night's show, this Iolanthe had no chorus. And again, it worked quite well. Rather than a full orchestra, this used cut-down orchestrations, using roughly half the number of players to achieve nearly as good a result. It almost never sounded "thin", although there were some slight balance issues, mainly with the brass section dominating the single flute.

The opening was most effective. Curtain went up on a stage with a number of semi-transparent flats (filled with an inorganic jelly... wait, wrong opera), behind which the fairies were concealed. The lighting kept them invisible. As the lights came up, we could see them - perfectly stationery, with a precise yawn at the appropriate points in the music.

Instead of three leads and a nearly-mute chorus, we had four named fairies (Celia (Lydia Jenkins), Leila (Rosie Strobel), Fleta (Charlotte Wooll-Rivers), and one named Lettie (Sarah Sharkey)) who all shared the dialogue. In spite of being, presumably, a couple of centuries old, they all behaved as though they were about eight years old - is that one of the advantages of being immortal, that they never grow up? But these fairies have some real power behind them, as we find out when they face off against the Lord Chancellor (Giles Davies) and the Peers (the two leads (Sebastian Valentine (Mountararat) and David Menezes (Tolloller)) and three nameless chorus members (Robin Bailey, Michael Webborn, and Matt Kellett)) - the peers are lutes in their hands, they play on them whatever tune they wish.

The Fairy Queen (Jill Pert) is a loved and loving mother to all the fairies, and of all of them most shows her age (with white hair reaching past her waist). Her daughter and tutor Iolanthe (Anne-Marie Cullum) seems to have been permanently stained by the green water at the bottom of her stream-home, but it hasn't harmed her voice at all (Anne-Marie has just entertained us in the cabaret, with a song of her own composition). Strephon (John Savournin) and Phyllis (Georgia Ginsberg) made a lovely couple, and also reacted superbly to what was going on elsewhere on the stage (most notably during the Act I Finale). Private Willis (Martin Lamb) was so entirely motionless that when he spoke, the fairies were taken completely aback.

All worked with extreme precision. The five peers (with flowing coffers) made their entrance without the usual fanfare and splash of colorful robes, but with such perfection of movement that it was just as impressive. The Act I Finale showcased everyone's ability to maintain stasis and reaction, and characterisations were clear and accurately maintained. Phyllis seemed to spend a lot of time looking to us, the audience, instead of the person she was speaking to, but apart from that, it was a completely believable show. The insane chaos of "Young Strephon is the kind of lout" totally worked; the softer, sadder moments worked too.

I admire the CCO people for performing twice in one day, and the cabaret afterwards as well, and presumably rehearsing in the morning. A full-on day's work and a great day of entertainment for us.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Sorcerer (Opera della Luna)

"It is obvious that this is no ordinary sorcerer." -- Wile E Coyote. The elimination of the chorus necessitates some changes, but there were quite a lot of changes besides. Some were good, some perhaps less so... most drew plentiful laughter and applause from the audience.

The overture included business on stage involving Dr Daly and handbells, with the good vicar working hard to get people organized so things could be played in some semblance of order. His eventual success shows him as a better organizer than most vicars I've met! The bells featured at various points in the music, with the musicians (one piano and a reduced orchestra) pausing and letting a bell take the moment.

There were a number of points where something in the show was gone over a second time, to good effect. Dr Daly's blessing was echoed back by Marmaduke and Alexis, complete with full business, and taken to the length of hilighting the piece's inherent ridiculousness. Similarly the signing of the wedding contract ("They deliver it, they deliver it") was done over, because the camera wasn't turned on. Part way into the second rendition, Daly gestured to the musicians to hurry it up a bit, which they did.

I was slightly disappointed at the loss of the whole filter/philtre joke, although with all the additions, something had to be removed. Oddly, the word "philtre" still occurred during the song, and once during the discussion of its effect on married persons.

What was worse, though, was the interpolation of The Lost Chord into the finale. Was it not this particular piece that was specifically requested by its composer not to be burlesqued? Hrm. I found it hard to applaud that, even though the rest of the show was largely quite funny and well done.

The second act opened with an unsurprisingly thin chorus. The scene hardly works with only two people on stage, so most of it was cut. ("If you marry me" came back as a reprise, though, once the entire company was there to sing it.) Another major change: Instead of Alexis insisting on Aline drinking the philtre, it was Aline who required it of Alexis. I don't know that Gilbert would have approved of Alexis and Dr Daly falling in love, even under the influence of sorcery.

That said, however, the show was well rehearsed and well received. Philip Cox as Dr Daly held things together with a well-brewed pot of tea (there was even some left at the end of the show - cold tea, anyone?); Gareth Jones made a surprisingly spry Notary; Ian Belsey as Sir Marmaduke paired off well with Sylvia Clark's Sangazure, although the latter seemed to have some trouble with the lower notes. I was fully expecting a top-notch performance from Simon Butteriss (especially having seen him earlier in the day - see previous post), and was not disappointed. A completely classical Aline (Emma Morwood) contrasted a 60s hippy Alexis (Oliver White) to great comedic effect. Mrs Partlett and Constance (Susan Moore and Claire Watkins) handled the opening cleanly, but then were almost completely relegated to the chorus (although, there being no other chorus, this was vital to the plot). All held their own strongly, and were well balanced against the orchestra (although in some of the places where words were changed, I could have wished for a little more volume from the singers).

The set was simple, but effective. One large tent, with several entrances (including one past the piano, used only occasionally), and a large central pole that seemed to keep on getting in someone's way or being leaned on (it almost deserved to be credited as another member of the cast!). Skilful lighting spared the need for a chorus in the Incantation, as well as setting the mood perfectly in each scene. Lighting by its nature is designed to draw attention away from itself, and one usually only notices it when it's bad or inadequate. This was not one of those cases - the lighting dramatically highlighted every piece of funny business and kept our attention rivetted on the stage.

This is a new production which is to be taken touring. In a sense, that makes tonight's show the beta test... and a reasonably successful one. The show sat fairly happily with me, apart from the mangling of The Lost Chord; although as Teresa says in The Mountebanks, "I'm only one, and possibly I'm wrong"... most of the audience seemed to quite enjoy that interpolation, finding it most amusing to hear "It may be that only in heaven I shall drink such tea again". The audience definitely enjoyed the show (myself included), and ultimately, that's what really matters.

Nightmare Songs (Opera della Luna)

First Opera House show of the festival is a two-man piece called "Nightmare Songs". Like "A Song To Sing, O", it is a compilation of songs (mainly patter but not exclusively) from nearly all the G&Ses, woven together with a plot. The plot is entirely fictional, and apart from mentions of Rupert D'Oyly Carte and Martyn Green, has no historical people in it, but the production "is dedicated to all those performers who could have been stars, but, through no fault of their own, never were", and I have no doubt there's a number of real people who make up this patter man. (Set 'em to simmer and take off the scum...)

Simon Butteriss is discovered in bed, tossing and turning, and it would have been too easy to have him sit up and start singing the Nightmare Song. Actually, he sings a few snippets, but, as we find throughout the show, he's having trouble remembering the words. His noise wakes up a fellow lodger (Jeff Clarke), who comes in, and sits down at what to us looks like a piano, but isn't. Between them they sing and play songs from all the G&S operas, omitting only Thespis, Utopia and Grand Duke (and barely touching on Trial), with some rather clever medleys as well. It's not all patter; "I Built Upon A Rock" comes through, to good effect.

For most of the first half, and part of the second, the audience is not permitted to applaud - songs cut off abruptly with another line of dialogue, which fits the mood of the scene rather better than stopping for applause would.

The show concludes on a rather sad note, but after the bows, both men come back on stage again and finally manage to get through the entire nightmare song without losing the words.

I can't talk of this show without making some mention of the lighting. This was done well, synchronizing with the bedside lamp, and giving snap changes of color to indicate different operas (requiring precise timing in some of the medleys). There were one or two places where it would have been smoother to have an actual follow spot, rather than just turning out one light and turning up another, and one point where I thought the stage was a bit too dark to see what was going on, but it was made up for by the excellent window. Not only could you see moonlight through it (which was put to great effect when the poor patter man was completely indecisive about whether to get up (turning on his lamp) or go to sleep (turning it off), but it gave a good rendition of the coming day by brightening and becoming yellower. (I'm not sure what performers did in those days, but it seems to me he may have overslept a bit. The sunlight was streaming in rather strongly by the time he decided to get up!)

A fun show, and skilfully put together. Both men did an excellent job of delivering their words all the way to the gallery (where I was seated). Very much enjoyed it.


Well, we're now here in Buxton. Things are settling down a bit. Had dinner with a few other S'netters who got here early, including Angie who had the Savoynet tshirts (yay! no luggage but now I have another thing to wear). The Festival has officially begun, now, with the first day's activities begun. We're staying in the High Peak Halls, same as we did two years ago, and it's completely satisfactory. Incidentally, there's a couple of other Aussies in the same wing - Perthites, here for "Cinderella" on the 5th. Unfortunately they can't hang around for much else of the Festival, but hopefully we'll see them there.

There's plenty of shows available to be seen, and I expect there'll be plenty to blog about.