Monday, September 18, 2017

"I knew that he looked at me"

I really don’t listen much, these days, to show recordings. Especially new recordings of my beloved older shows. Those, in particular, having no surprises to spring as to exciting discoveries, are inevitably unpleasant. Pretentious. Stuffy. And overcast or miscast…  I mean, an operatic contralto as Letty Lind in The Geisha? What a w*** …
So, I just don’t listen to them. 

For me, there isn’t a wholly satisfying recording, even, of the super-well-known works of the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire, which has been made in the last hundred years…

This week, however, I got caught by surprise. I was sitting quietly in my seaside bolthole, researching Pauline Markham, burlesque princess, and Charles Lyall of the Carl Rosa, when a CD arrived at my theoretically unknown hideaway address. A double CD even. It sat for a few days, but I had to unwrap it. Because it was Tom Jones. Not the Green Green Grass of Delilah. The real Tom, as in Henry Fielding and Edward German. And one of the very, very first shows I ever saw. Directed by my father circa 1953 in Wellington, NZ.

I still remember that eightish year-old feeling: ‘I knew that he looked, I knew that he looked, I knew that he looked at me’. I was in love.

I’d listened to the existing recordings of the show when writing my Musical Theatre on Record, and thrilled (as one must) to Frederick Harvey’s Tom. Then June Bronhill and Joan Sutherland. How could a new recording equal that?

Well, lay me down with a rolling pin. This one did.

This is, without any question, the best 21st century recording of a classic English musical cum light opera that I have heard. I sat, waiting (as I do) to find something to dislike and … it just didn’t happen. The whole two discs were nigh on perfectly in line with my conceptions as an historian and my very narrow preconceptions as a casting director.

Number one. Orchestra and chorus. How often is THAT number one? Delicious. Full-bodied but light, with a bright-and-sparkling feeling that G&S choruses inevitably fail to find. They gave the tone to the whole affair … ‘Don’t you find the weather charming…’

I knew I’d get snooty about the soloists. I always do. But … here comes Squire Western … woofy bass? No! Deliciously clear baritone! Like, like, like hugely. Then Tom. Rich-voiced Frederick Harvey? A sylphic Hayden Coffin? No! A zingy crystal clear high baritone … Wow! Like, like, like huuuu….gely. Well, Sophia will surely be a graunchy prima donna robusta. Groan. No!!!!!! A splendid voice of just the right weight, and even when the music tempts her to go wooooooo she manages (sometimes just!) to keep it bright, light and sprightly. This is, after all, Sophia Western and not Lady Macbeth! My teensy disappointment came with a mezzo soubrette. ‘I knew that he looked..’. But she certainly added shape to the ensembles and hey, maybe I was, 60 years on, still in love with Dad’s teenage Honour.

All I can say, in summary, is that this grumpy old hidebound critic and ex-caster says yayyy! And whoever cast this recording, and whoever produced it (eight years ago, I gather), are my soulmates. This is how it should be done. This company and these soloists should be immediately signed up by Britain’s Arts Council (if they have one) to record the whole 19th-early 20th century repertoire of English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish theatre music – G&S included. That is, if said Arts Council has any money left from sponsoring trendy American musicals at the National Theatre.

I’m off to bed. Feeling joyous. Thanks, folks, for giving me so much enjoyment …

More, more, more ….

Monday, September 11, 2017

Camera and I ...


My shelves are testament to the fact that my father loved photography. My Nana too. Her sister had a photographic studio for a dozen years in Vienna (Hietzinger Hauptstrasse 34B) in the 1920s and 1930s in conjunction with a lady named Berta Schönikel. The family took some very lovely pictures, mostly of mountains (afterwards, they would quarrel about which mountain was which), family, and of their various European travels and, well, I haven’t had the heart to throw them out …

Great-grandmother Marie and Onkel Max in Silesia
The camera with which dad took his photos survives too. It’s a lozenge shaped case which opens to display bellows and a square wire viewfinder …

I didn’t follow the hobby. I looked at Dad’s photos, and oh heavens … slides (those grim fifth-time-round slide evenings!) and mostly left the box brownie I’d been given in the cupboard. The old Remington typewriter with its üs and äs (what were they for?) was much more my style…

I travelled several time around the world. Alison took photos, Barry and Rosie took photos, but I … well, I just got photographed. When we lived in France, Ian took the odd photo …

Pacific Night on the 'Northern Star'
I was in my fifties when I bought my first racehorse. Davey Crockett. And suddenly, I wanted a camera. Digitals had just become popular. So I Bought one. And started taking horse pictures like other people do babies and cats.

The Soldier Fritz at 10 weeks
Then little Minnie arrived in our life…

And so I became a confirmed old photographer and likely to remain so.

When, after Ian’s death, I returned solo to ship-travel and to Europe, my trusty camera went with me, and gave me hours of enjoyment. Nights aboard the Bank Line Ships swapping USB sticks of the day’s adventures with my fellow passengers. Now that you didn’t have to take a reel of film to the chemist, this was enormous fun …

Kurt in Tahiti
And then, just as I left Europe to return to New Zealand, my camera died. Distress! Where should I find another? When we changed planes at Singapore I wandered desultorily through the duty free (huh!) shop to see what the new trends in camera were. No, I told an anxious little assistant, I’m not buying. Just surveying the field. Half an hour later I walked away with a nice little Fuji apparatus and more (free) accessories than I could carry. Most of which are still in a drawer.

Fuji and I travelled the world together for five or six years. We photographed all the pictures of this blog and thousands more. We photographed more horses (and now we have the same queries as Dad did with the mountains) and the kitties and our vast family of peacocks.

I noticed Fuji’s age showing a bit. He didn’t zoom as he used to. He had to be shaken a bit to open his lens. And one day everything went magenta. Last week we visited Woody Head, NSW, one of the prettiest spots I’ve discovered in years, and Fuji went diligently to work … some lovely shots of .. oh a pelican flying across the sun! And the wonderful solider crabs carrying blue meringues on their backs…

Back at The Cove I plugged Fuji in, and … WHERE ARE MY SOLDIER CRABS? The pelican and the sunstar …? I guess Fuji’s days of direct-into-the-sun photos were gone. His little heart just gave out. I nearly wept.

Fuji's last foto. And he missed the pelican!
Paul diagnosed the cure as an instant remarriage, and the next day we headed for Yamba’s little photoshop. How on earth would I chose a new camera with out the aid of an Asiatic assistant? It was easy. Yamba is little. The shop is very little. It had two cameras, the cheap version and then the more expensive version with a 25x zoom.

Yesterday, Paul and I took Canon SX620HS (‘Canon’ for short) for a walk .. Main Beach, Pippi’s café, Pippi Beach … and gave him his first lessons. And here are the results … not bad for a first collaboration!

Renee teaches Paul how to drown on land
Gosh .. it's so unweighty. Hard to hold steady!
This ocean is COLD!
Dog, have you got centrally-heated testicles? 
How to train your dragon 
Mia's best 'Butter wouldn't..' expression
Noah's 'Not-Impressed Till the Chips Come' Expression

The Pacific isn't terrific?

See? No shark....
Kurt, ten years after Tahiti ...
Canon, young feller, I think we're going to get on just fine together...