Saturday, May 19, 2007

Irrepressibly Good News

Here's a thing. I've tried to keep these web-pages entirely work-based - just informing readers of my professional news, forthcoming productions, broadcasts and pieces of writing - but recently something wonderful happened and I'm afraid I have to share the good news. I'm sure the photograph of Mr and Mrs Kerley (above) will speak for itself!

Royal Philharmonic Society Awards News - Sadly, We Didn't Make the Shortlist!

Sad to report, my production of THE LONG CHRISTMAS DINNER by Paul Hindemith and THE DINNER ENGAGEMENT by Lennox Berkeley at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama didn't make the shortlist for the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards...

But the production was a triumph thanks to the amazing efforts of all company members...

To read Hilary Finch's review of the production from The Times follow this link:

  • The Times review of Guildhall Double bill 2006

  • and here's a review of the production from Opera Now:

    "This was a spectacular achievement by the Guildhall’s Opera department. Hindemith’s THE LONG CHRISTMAS DINNER was written in 1960 in collaboration with playwright Thornton Wilder. It poignantly charts the births, lives and deaths of several generations of a single family, spanning a century.

    This cogent staging beguiled the eye immediately, thanks to a subtle and sophisticated set from Tom Rogers. A snow-covered walkway doubled as a laid-up dining table, out of which - awesomely - a grave slab opened, into which the next members of the family harvested by the grim reaper descended. The surreal imagery was starkly powerful, especially when several more graves sprang up amid the dinner mats, ghoulishly to reveal the dead. Silently opening doorways and ominous props contributed to the fateful aura permeating the opera.

    William Kerley directed, exacting sly, stylish moves from an impressively polished cast. American Tania Mandzy as the grandmother figure soon revealed a particularly rich, mature and rewarding voice. Nicholas Merryweather brought a well-supported, Figaroish baritone and forceful presence; and the young Icelander Bragi Bergthorsson produced an attractive and flexible tenor, all three effortlessly negotiating Hindemith trickier intervals. Philip Gerrard added neat comic touches, Emily Rowley Jones was an angst-ridden, uxorious spouse, and actress Seija Knight shone as the Nurse who doubles as the winged angel of death. You could hear every world: this cast’s enunciation was near-perfect, which spoke reams for the Guildhall’s painstaking voice coaches.

    Lennox Berkeley’s comedy A Dinner Engagement (1954), about a well-to-do family down on its luck and obliged to entertain in its own kitchen, made a delicious follow-up (Hindemith having never completed his own planned comic second-half). Unreasonable to expect both operas to be equally finessed, yet the Berkeley provided a further triumph. Rogers served up a glorious pastiche 1940/50s décor for the forlorn kitchen, full of apt, well-observed detail, with wittily dreamed-up costumes.

    Marc Scoffini and Katrina Broderick were entertainingly cast as the hapless aristos reducled to scullery work in their own kitchen. The Lithuanian Milda Smalakyte made a nicely huffy job of the young daughter, blossoming near the close as love unexpectedly blossoms. The ensembles were first-rate, abetted by the character presence of Chloe de Becker as the charlady, Mrs Kneebone. Both visitors were first-rate: Gareth Huw John shone vocally as the amorous Prince Phillipe, who falls for the daughter; and mezzo Rebecca Raffell dominated the stage effortlessly as the ample Grand Duchess. A top-nothc evening, lit admirably by Matthew Eagland and with an alert, lively instrumental ensemble, incisively conducted by Alexander Ingram."

    (Roderic Dunnett - Opera Now March/April 2007)

    A few simple questions for someone else called.... William Kerley (1895-1967)

    My uncle found this photograph in a dusty box quite recently. The young soldier on the left is my paternal grandfather, in 1914. He was a territorial army boy-soldier, under-age he enlisted in the regular army and fought in the First World War. My dad, his son, says he saw the horrors of Churchill’s deathly debacle at Gallipoli, and was, apparently, invalided out of the dugouts when a trench-periscope exploded in his eye. This picture was taken when he was posted to Alexandria; but the details are sketchy - somewhere I have a mysterious certificate saying he passed a Camp Cook’s Examination there – and whilst in Egypt, he and his mates used to teach the locals to repeat nonsensical English doggerel like: ‘Queen Victoria, Him Very Bad Man’. Far from home, the soldiers of every generation get up to no good. With paraffin they’d make a little ring of fire in the sand outside their tents, place a petrified scorpion in the centre: all for the sport of watching the deadly arachnid sting itself to suicide, to escape the flames.

    I have another photograph of him at the other end of his life, terminally ill with emphysema, but happily entertaining a small boy in the back garden of his Blackpool home, the toddler mesmerized by the ticking of a shiny pocket-watch he kept on a handsome chain. The small boy in question grew up to be me - but sadly my grandfather didn’t live long enough to tell me, first-hand, any of his numerous stories. Who are the other chaps in this picture? Despite your obvious cultural differences, you look a pretty chummy threesome. Who’s the soldier on the right? Why does he get to wear the long trousers? Who’s the tall chap in the fez, grandad, is he Egyptian dignitary or Alexandrian interpreter? Oh, and what happened next?