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"The Language of Song" (Elementary and Intermediate)

The Language of Song, Intermediate, High voice The Language of Song, Intermediate, Low voice
The Language of Song, Elementary, High voice
The Language of Song, Elementary, Low voice

Due for publication by Faber Music - April 2006

A series of volumes designed to help both students and teachers develop the skills required to sing in a foreign language. The repertoire is designed to complement the requirements for all the Examination Boards and will include word-for-word translations, pronunciation guides and a CD with accompaniments and song texts spoken by our leading language coaches from the Royal Opera House.

Download the full page from Faber's catalogue: Fabe catalogue page (1.1M)

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Hard Day's Night

Account of standing in for a first night at the Holland Park Opera Festival
June 21 2000

Published in Classical Music Magazine - July 2000

21 June 2000 The Longest Day of the Year

I had just come back from Paris the night before. It had been a long day. In the stifling heat, I had walked to a studio to warm up the voice, trekked across Paris for an audition, trekked back to lodgings, and finally crossed Paris again to catch the (hour delayed) Eurostar home.

The next day, I was up at a reasonable hour to teach at St Paul’s Girls’ School. At 11.30am, there was a call on the mobile. What was I up to at the moment? There was an emergency at the Holland Park Festival. They were opening that night with a revival of an unknown Classical, Portuguese opera, written in Italian - L’Amore Industrioso (by João de Sousa Carvalho). The lead soprano had lost her voice and they had rung several agencies to try to find someone who would be prepared to sight-read the role from the side of the stage as they knew no-one would know it. The role was similar to “Susanna” in The Marriage of Figaro. My name had been put forward. Was I prepared to do it?

I thought of yesterday’s gruelling audition - both “Queen of the Night” arias and the “Lakmé” Bell Song. This role was not exactly my voice type and I might be tired from the day before. Still - at least I had the notes and it wasn”t Verdi!

Was the score in a modern edition? - Yes
How much is there? - 3 arias, 5 duets, 3 finales (a three-act opera) and one opening quartet, plus mountains of recitative.
Gulp! “Let me talk to my agent” - I played for time.

Two phone calls later and the deal was done.

12.00 midday: leave “post - it” note on timetable board for stranded singing pupils and grab quick (free) lunch from school canteen. I guessed (rightly) that this would probably be the last decent food I would have today.

12.15: fighting through Hammersmith traffic to get to Streatham.

1.15: after six phone calls, finally found taxi to take me to the conductor’s house in Hackney. 10 minutes to grab three (!) black concert outfits and make-up (plus pashmina scarf - the opera is in the open air and it is very windy) and I am on my way.

1.30: make several phone calls to cancel private singing pupil and dinner party engagement.

2.30: arrive in Hackney. Conductor seems cool and we get to work.

4.30: have only got through two acts out of three and still have recitative to work through. I grab a highlighter pen and we jump in a taxi to the theatre. I am still trying to highlight and speak through my recits. The driver has strong Indian accent and drives as if in Calcutta! My highlighting is a little wonky!

5.00: the recit call with the rest of the cast has started but we are still stuck on the Marylebone Road. I get a phone call from my friend over from Germany who wants to meet up for breakfast before her flight back tomorrow. In the stationery cab, I catch the conductor’s eye. We are thinking the inconceivable. I just might have to do all this again tomorrow! Sadly, the breakfast is cancelled.

5.30: walk into the end of the recit call. People are grateful and pleased to see me but the tension is palpable. It is an opening night, the critics are in and while they know I will do my best, everyone is clearly unnerved and concentrating hard on what they have to do.

6.45: I am working with the continuo player (happily an old friend), still trying to get through all the recits. We both know that we will be working through the interval.

7.00: conductor puts a sandwich and bottle of water in front of me. I have a quarter of an hour to select my outfit (the sexy, backless, chiffon number will have to go - too cold), roughly tie my hair back out of the wind and make a last phone call.

7.15: the producer of the festival makes the announcement “...couldn’t find anyone who knew the role, this opera hasn’t been sung for 200 years, but we didn’t want to cancel ...etc. Very lucky to find ...” and we’re off!
I lose track of time. Every moment between singing, I am scouring the score. What was that tricky bit? Where was that impossible recit? I have made hasty pencil markings...she’s fast and angry...slow and sarcastic ...sweet ...cute ... bruising for a fight...breathless etc. I pray that I will remember them.

8.15: first interval. My continuo friend brings me a cup of hot water. I have been singing almost non-stop since 2.30 and I am now vocally very tired but I still have the heaviest sing ahead. We hastily scramble through the remaining recits and I check that I have them all highlighted. We can do a final check in the next interval, between Acts 2 and 3.

8.30: Act 2 begins. The audience seems warm and receptive. They are laughing at the jokes - thank goodness for the surtitles. I make slightly more fluffs - mainly in the Italian - that recit goes so fast, I don’t have time to think. I realise as the light fades that the score is more difficult to read and that I am very cold. The wind blows in my face, my eyes are watering and the pages are blowing over. “Concentrate, concentrate” I repeat to myself - nearly through the next act.

9.45: end of Act 2. To my horror, the orchestra stays in their seats and it is apparent that there is no further interval. In the rapidly deepening gloom, I realise that I haven’t yet read through the Act 3 finale. I use the only available blue stage light and hastily scrabble through the enormous score to squint at text and dots I haven’t yet read. I remember my continuo friend’s soothing advice. “Don’t worry” she cooed “It’s all fairly predictable. There are no surprises”. This act goes much faster and before I know it, I am reading the unknown dots. I am on the top line and there can be no mistakes. I am flying by instinct - no time to think. End of the opera and applause.

10.30: somehow I am up on stage taking applause with the cast. I am dazed and relieved that it is all over. Backstage the cast is grateful and exhausted. Two of them are old friends but we have little time or energy for more than an exchange of new telephone numbers and promises to be in touch. The production team brings out the champagne. It goes straight to my head. I am promised a taxi home but by now, the park is shut. I am led through the park and to the final "cadenza" - climbing over the park gates to get out to the main road. As one well known middle-aged director was quoted as saying when he had had to follow the same routine a few weeks earlier - "They don’t expect us to do this at Glyndebourne!"


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