White Horse Opera do ‘The Magic Flute’

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On Wednesday I went to the opening night of White Horse Opera’s much anticipated run of ‘The Magic Flute’, directed by Chrissie Higgs, at Lavington School.

Mozart’s ‘singspiel’ style opera, with libretto by his friend Emanuel Shikaneder, was first performed in Vienna in 1791.  It’s a classic fairy tale and love story in which boy gets girl, baddies get their comeuppance, and everyone else lives happily ever after.  It is also a profound and potted lesson in the initiatory processes and philosopy of the Freemasons, the brotherhood to which both Mozart and his librettist belonged, and the symbols of which permeate the work.

Prince Tamino, a fine upstanding lad of good character, and his flighty friend Papageno, the bird-catcher, having escaped the clutches of a serpent, are given a flute and a set of magical bells by three strange ladies and guided by three spirits (threes being a recurring theme throughout) to the castle and temples of Sarastro, High Priest of the Sun, in order to rescue the Queen of the Night’s daughter Pamina, with whom Tamino has fallen in love.  Along the way it becomes clear that all is not as it appears to be, and that they and the wholesome Pamina will have to undergo certain trials (of silence, fire, and water) in order to achieve (with differing degrees of success) true love and enlightenment.

‘The Magic Flute’ has a complex and varied musical score that showcases the genius of Mozart himself and the ability of any orchestra or company that performs it.  Musical Director Roland Melia’s superb nine-piece orchestra handled the material faultlessly from the wonderful overture (with all its hints of things to come) through numerous changes of mood and musical style to the end.  There’s real talent among the singers in this company, and great praises on this occasion are certainly due to the imperious Queen of the Night, Barbara Gompels, who hit the high Fs in her challenging coloratura soprano aria without a hint of screech; also to Lisa House as Pamina, for the consistent quality of her sweet and powerful voice in her duets and aria; talented young tenor Matthew Bawden (especially in the light of the fact that he only stepped in to Tamino’s shoes a couple of weeks ago); the ever-reliable Jonathan Paget for his feckless but loveable Papageno; and Charles Leeming as Mayor and High Priest Sarastro, for his imposing presence, low F, and booming bass.

The whole cast stepped up to the mark vocally, individually and in chorus (if there was a bum note I certainly didn’t hear it), and in the main (wake up a bit, you lads at the back!) the acting was good.   The trios of ladies and spirits were lively and amusing (great character acting from Chrissie Higgs and others), good support was given by ‘Councillor’ Ian Diddams, Stephen Grimshaw as the dodgy Monostratos was suitably creepy, and Papagena (Bryony Cox) and Papageno’s vibrant and unexpected little duet at the end of Act Two was a sheer delight.

Also to be commended was the use of lighting (Simon Stockley) with simple backdrops to create a variety of (at times genuinely spooky) atmospheres and surprises.

‘The Magic Flute’ is a peculiar thing.  The more you look at it the deeper and more uncomfortable and controversial it gets, and the more you try to place it in the present day the less it belongs here.  I’ve never seen it before, but I suspect that White Horse Opera’s quality production was an excellent introduction to its peculiar mysteries.  It certainly went down well with the audience, and whilst the subject matter left me feeling a bit disconcerted (‘It’s not a feminist opera’ someone remarked in the interval) and wondering whether Mozart got so carried away that he forgot or didn’t think it necessary to veil his allegory, the music is undeniably sublime and I enjoyed the performance very much.

‘Outstanding!’ someone else said afterwards, and I, albeit from a layman’s viewpoint, can only agree.

Well done, White Horse Opera!

Jolly good show.

© Gail Foster 13th October

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Demeter and the Poet

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A sonnet for the Autumn Equinox

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‘He’s taken her away!’  The woman cried

He sighed, and put aside his poetry

And sat beneath the tree, and she beside

And listened to her grief. ‘Persephone

Has gone to Hades!’  How the woman wept

‘He took her last year, didn’t he?’ he said

‘Here, have a handkerchief’ he said – she kept

On weeping – ‘Look, it’s not as if she’s dead

She’s only sleeping.’  ‘It’s alright for you’

She said, ‘you’re just a poet.  You can write

About how black the berries are, how blue

The sloes, how hazel brown and apple bright

And beautiful it is.’  ‘You don’t look bad

Yourself’ he said.  That poet – what a lad.

*

© Gail Foster 21st September 2018

Brexit Backstab Bitchfest

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There once was a government who

Were divided and hadn’t a clue

How to manage the exit

From Europe and Brexit

You first. Oh no, after you.

There once was a government who

Were at war.  It was blue upon blue

As they edged down the halls

With their backs to the walls

You first.  Oh no, after you.

There once was a government who

Were divided and nobody knew

What to do, so they bitched

And they backstabbed and stitched

Up each other.  You first.  After you.

*

© Gail Foster 12th September 2018

‘The Blacksmith’s Craft’; John Girvan at Wiltshire Museum

 

‘The Blacksmith’s Craft’ exhibition; a review

John Girvan.  He’s the ghost walk guy, the man who has the Canal Forge, the bloke who writes about the dungeons, prisons, and tunnels of Devizes.  He might have made your gate.  You might have been to his forge with your school.  You might have spotted him dressed as a Norman and wielding his massive weapon on the Market Cross.  You might have seen him on the telly with Derek Acorah.  You might have one of his books on your shelf.

What you may not know about him is that he once worked for Burtons, that he trained as a blacksmith under Laurence Love, that he has been a member of The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society since he was a boy, and that until September 23rd you can see a selection of his work in ‘The Blacksmith’s Craft’ exhibition at Wiltshire Museum on Long Street, Devizes.

I went to a short talk that John gave before looking at his pieces.  He’s full of quips and anecdotes, and his delivery is gently camp and self-deprecating.  He showed some old photos of himself at work in the forge (he had that Angela Rippon in there once, don’t you know).  He taught us why a blacksmith’s apron has a fringe at the bottom (it’s for sweeping the anvil).  He showed a video of himself hot forging a scroll.   He told us that he made the bunker door at Browfort, the gates of St. Andrew’s, and the seat above the White Horse, and that he’s made a handful of chastity belts, and more weather-vanes than you can shake one of his finely forged pokers at.  He spoke animatedly about his workshops with children over the years, and enthusiastically about repoussé.  ‘Strike while the iron’s hot!’ he said, sparkily.

The Wiltshire Museum describes his exhibition as ‘rural traditional art’.  To me John’s work falls in to four categories; practical objects / folk art (pokers, gates, metal flowers), fun stuff for kids (what child doesn’t like a cheerful robot or a cheeky spider?), experimental works, and Very Beautiful Things.

Recent experimental works include various ladies made out of chicken wire, ‘The Three Graces’ (mixed metals), and ‘Aphrodite’, the face of a woman made of mesh with metal eyes and lips.  I could take or leave the lively chicken wire ladies, but ‘Aphrodite’ got better the longer you looked at her (many people did, and it was The Mayor’s favourite piece), ‘The Three Graces’ had a certain elegance to them, and the shadows cast by the sculptures on the wall greatly enhanced the effect of both works.

By Very Beautiful Things I mean the glorious sconces, the acanthus leaf, the flora and flourishes, the ‘King’s Chair’ with its delicate ironwork, the beaten copper leaves, ‘The Hand of the Smith’, the hot forged horses’ heads, the tiny fronds and spirals spinning from things, the witty little metal snakes and snails.

I’m not sure all these things belong in the same room in an ideal world, but the juxtaposition of the ‘Iron Mask’, one of the few nods to John’s interest in the macabre, with the humorous robot was interesting.

I asked John about his favourite piece.  ‘You’ll laugh’ he said.  Bet I don’t, I thought.  ‘It’s this’ he said, and pointed to ‘Juncture’, which is ‘two dissimilar weights of steel requiring different temperatures of heat to bring them together, set in oak’.

It’s heavy.  It’s light.  It’s simple, complex, angular, fluid, and stark.  And Very Beautiful.

John is winding down the Canal Forge these days.  He’s been there since 1980.  I asked him why.  ‘You can’t go on forever’ he said, with a twinkle in his eye.  He has a forge in his garden now, and you just know that he is going to carry on making beautiful interesting humorous things and striking while the iron’s hot until the day his fire goes out.

‘I’ve had to show people what I can do’ he said in his talk earlier.

John Girvan.  Blacksmith, artist, historian, humorist.

Go and see what he can do.

© Gail Foster 30th July 2018

Rain Dance

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Waiting for thunder, waiting for rain
Waiting for lightning to strike on the plain

When will it come, when will it come?
The heat of the sun on the skin of a drum

Watching horizons, watching the hills
Watching the widening cracks in the rills

When will it come, when will it come?
One drop of rain on the skin of a drum

Dreaming of rivers, dreaming of seas
Dreaming of streams and delirious trees

When will it come, when will it come?
Two drops of rain on the skin of a drum

Thinking of doomsday, thinking of drought
Thinking of reservoirs all drying out

When will it come, when will it come?
Three drops of rain on the skin of a drum

Dying for water, dying of thirst
Dying of waiting for heaven to burst

When will it come, when will it come?
Four drops of rain on the skin of a drum

Crying for mercy, crying for men
Cry for the rain to come falling again!

Hearing it come, hearing it come
The beat of the rain on the skin of a drum

Waiting for thunder, waiting for rain
Waiting for lightning to strike on the plain

*

© Gail Foster 27th July 2018

Our Jerusalem

– on Donald Trump’s visit to the United Kingdom

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And in the heat of summer time

Walking by England’s fountains seen

A man who thought he was a God

And King of England’s pastures green

We did not countenance his crime

Drew lines upon our crowded hills

And sang Jerusalem, Trump is here

Among us – dark Satanic chills

Bring me balloons of tan and gold

Bring me cartoons and bold satire

Bring tea and beer; Oh, clowns untold!

Bring me the jokes that will not tire!

I will bring cheese to fuel the fight

Or something silly in my hand

This isn’t Trump’s Jerusalem

And we don’t want him in our land

*

© Gail Foster 12th July 2018

Gareth Southgate

I remember nineteen ninety six
like it was yesterday – the penalty
the way that Gareth kicked the ball and missed
I bet he never thought that day that he
would ever be back in the game again
his name engraved in Lions’ hearts, their
lips aflame with songs of praise, and men
in waistcoat shops, and women swooning where
he might have been. You’ve got to love a man
who wears his pride so modestly, who’s cute
who wears a new suit stylishly, who can
(if dream we dare) bring home the Cup to boot
If on that fateful day he’d walked away
we wouldn’t be here, would we. Let us play.

© Gail Foster 11th July 2018