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My Dad and two brothers have always been keen football fans. When we are all home for Christmas it is a tradition for us to all go and watch a match together.  It is something we used to do quite a lot when we were younger and living at home but now it takes a lot more organising.  One of the things I enjoy about Christmas is that you can inject a tiny little bit of glitz and glamour into any occasion. It was great way to spend the afternoon with my brothers especially as Manchester City won.

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Here in the northern hemisphere the 21st December brings with it the shortest day of the year. This marks the mid-way point of the winter months; with the promise of a new year and with it the beauty of spring and the warmth of the summer.

If this is the shortest day, I wondered why the mornings did not start to get brighter. My brothers explained that this was due to the tilt in the earth’s axis and the gravitational effect of the sun on the speed at which our planet rotates. Apparently we spin faster when we are closer to the sun and slower when we are further away. This causes our clocks to appear to be slightly out of sync with the solar day and so the mornings still seem to get darker as we play catch up.

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Anyway enough of the science, I wanted the reason to be all mystical and magical. Perhaps with a princess or two somewhere in there and maybe a dragon who was stealing the suns powers, trust science to bring that all crashing to a full stop.

The solstice has always intrigued people over the centuries and the strong emotional feelings that it provokes have made this date an important date throughout history.  For many people over the generations the winter has marked a period when little could be done as the weather worsened, the days grew shorter.

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Sunlight On Earth, During The Winter Solstice

There are many legends surrounding this time of year. The Norsemen who saw the sun as giant wheel whose rotation changed the seasons would light bonfires and gather around in the warmth to tell stories and drink sweet ale.

The ancient Romans celebrated this time year as the birth of the new year in their festival Saturnalia which ran for seven days from the 17th December. Which coincidently is my dad’s birthday! Spooky! During the festival it was common to turn convention on its head with men dressing as women, masters dressing as servants, the giving of gifts or presents and houses being decorated with greenery to celebrate the arrival of the new year.

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Our Yule Log “Colin The Caterpillar”

The Druids who are understood to have started the tradition of the Yule log did so as they believed that each year at this time the sun stood still for 12 days.  To overcome the darkness they would select a log and set it alight to banish evil spirits and welcome in the new year with the hope that it would bring with it good fortune.

It really is amazing to see just how many of these older traditions have been incorporated into our celebration of Christmas.  This is a special time of year to so many people of different faiths and cultures from all corners of the world. This festive season I believe that whatever you celebrate, do it with love in your heart and kindness in your thoughts.

 

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One of the driving forces in Opera, well in the world really, is ‘love’.  From broken hearts to soaring expressions of true love. Whether returned or unrequited, we sing a wide range of emotions.  When I looked at the fifteen songs I’d recorded I decided the theme of the album was songs of love, “Canzoni D’Amore” in Italian, a journey of love and all its facets.

One of the most popular songs from the collection is Ernesto’s aria ‘Per la Gloria D’adorarvi’ from the opera ‘Griselda’.

‘Griselda’ is a three act opera called a drama per musica that was composed by Giovanni Bononcini.  He was an Italian baroque composer, cellist, singer and teacher.     Bononcini’s story is quite sad he was orphaned at eight, he was celebrated in London and compared to Handel but he left France in disgrace after being prosecuted for plagiarism, he died aged 77 in poverty.

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Giovanni Bononcini

 

Ernesto, is a ‘trouser role’ in the opera which used to be performed by a castrati ( a male singer in the 17th and 18th century who underwent a surgical procedure in order to preserve the boy treble range of their voices).  As the popularity for this type of singer faded, female singers took over the roles and now is often performed by a soprano.

The main cast roles in Griselda are:

Gualtiero, a contralto, the King of Thessaly

Griselda, a contralto, the wife of Gualtiero

Almirena, a soprano, the missing daughter of Griselda and Gualtiero

Ernesto, a soprano (previously a castrato) the lover of Almirena

Rambaldo, a bass, a Sicilian nobleman.

Griselda is the wife of King Gualtiero, she was a peasant woman of great beauty who had been the Kings long term mistress, they’d a child together Almirena who mysteriously went missing.  The King is worried that Griselda will never be accepted by the nobility and sets her a series of tests to prove her worth.   The King announces he is to marry another woman that has caught his eye Almirena (his missing daughter) but Almirena is in love with Ernesto.

With her infant son Griselda is banished to her peasant cottage where she is wooed by Rambaldo a Sicilian nobleman, he threatens to kill her child if she doesn’t marry him.  She flees back to the palace.  As a final test the King orders Griselda to marry Rambaldo but she refuses and having passed her test is restored to her wifely place at the Kings side.

This is my performance of the aria from August 2013 accompanied by Russell Lomas

You can listen to me singing with Danielle DiDonato accompanying on Soundcloud.

And you can listen to a preview on Amazon or iTunes from my Album “Canzoni D’Amour”,  I’d love to know which is your favourite track so far?

Following my concert on Friday with Les Sirenes at the Mackintosh Church in Glasgow, I had the pleasure of performing alongside Troon chorus at their Christmas concert yesterday.

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Troon Old Parish Church

The concert took place at Troon Old Parish Church which the audience filled with Christmas spirit. Troon is just a 45 minute train journey from Glasgow, I had been asked to perform the Benedictus solo in the Haydn mass along with three Christmas songs by my friend Sam Prescott who is the conductor in residence.

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I Loved The Christmas Spirit

I love this time of year! Christmas spirit and sparkling lights illuminate Glasgow in the evening.  I love walking around the city with the happy bustling crowds and Christmas decorations.

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Glasgow has plenty to do and see this time of year including the Christmas market on Argyle Street which brings a wide selection of gifts, themed bars and fast food outlets bringing a European feel to the Scottish streets.

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George Square comes alive as darkness falls and the Christmas lights sparkle and twinkle. You can even put on a pair of skates and take a spin on the temporary outdoor skating rink. All the music and laughter that you hear in the square this time of year fills you with joy and hope for the New year despite the cold temperatures.

 

One of the songs that I have been working on this year is “Endless Pleasure, Endless Love” from Handel’s opera Semele.   It is an English opera, from the Baroque period first performed in Covent Garden in 1743.  George Frideric Handel turned to Greek mythology for this opera using a libretto written by William Congreve, who was the author of the famous phrase “Music has charms to soothe the savage beast”

It was first presented as an oratorio (in concert form rather than fully staged).  The audience was confused, more used to sacred works by Handel the nature of Semele’s story was too much for them.

The main cast roles are:

Semele – Soprano

Jupiter/Apollo – Tenor

Athamas (Prince of Boeotia) – Contralto

Iris – Soprano

Cadmus/High Priest/Somnus – Bass

Juno/Ino (wife of Jupiter/sister of Semele)– mezzo soprano

Somnus – Bass

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Jupiter ( Zeus )

 

Act I

Semele, the daughter of the King of Thebes, is to marry Prince Athamus.  Her family have travelled to the Temple of Juno to solemnise the marriage.  Semele has been delaying the ceremony because she is secretly in love with Jupiter.  She pleads with Jupiter for his help and his thunder interrupts the ceremony extinguishing the sacred flames on the altar of Juno (his wife).  The Priests advice everyone to leave but Athamus and Semele’s sister Ino remain.  Ino reveals to Athamus that she loves him who is astonished at the revelation.  Cadmus interrupts them with the news that Semele has been abducted by a giant eagle, the priests identify this purple winged eagle as Jupiter and Semele is heard to announce that “Endless Pleasure, Endless Love, Semele enjoys above“.

Act II

Juno, is angry at her husband Jupiter’s adultery and orders her messenger Iris to discover where Jupiter and Semele are.  Juno reports that they are in a dragon-guarded palace.  Juno swears to destroy her rival, she finds Somus the God of sleep to obtain his help.  Waking in her bedroom Semele awaits the return of Jupiter, he appears and reassures her of his love.  She tells him she is uneasy when she compares her mortality to his godliness, he is alarmed by her ambition.  Rather than honestly tell her that she can never attain immortality he decides to divert her.  He brings her sister Ino from Earth to her for company they both wonder at the beauty of the heavens.

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From The Royal Opera House Production Of Semele

 

Act III

Juno and Iris arrive in Somus’ cave, Juno offers him his favourite nymph ‘Pasithea’ if he agrees to help her, he is keen to help and is even prepared to lend her his magic, sleep-inducing wand, which Juno will need to quieten the dragon guard.  Juno disguises herself as Semele’s sister Ino she gives her ‘sister’ a magic mirror which causes Semele to fall in love with her own image ‘Myself I shall adore’.  Juno then advises Semele how to obtain the immortality she desires.  Jupiter must be tricked into making love to her in his true god-like form rather than his mortal form.  Jupiter returns inflamed with desire, Semele rejects him ‘I am ever granting, you always complain’ until he swears to give her what she wants’ No, no I’ll take no less’.  She asks him to appear in his godly splendour he is horrified and warns her of the danger she is in.  She refuses to listen and he laments his part in her inevitable destruction.   Juno gloats of her triumph,  Semele realises too late the consequences of her request; as she approaches Jupiter his flames burn her and she dies.

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From My Performance At The Llangollen International Eisteddfod 2014

 

Writing About The Arts

December 7, 2014 — 47 Comments
Creative-Writing

Creative Writing

 

In my third year at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland I chose to take a module called ‘Writing about the Arts’.

I really enjoy writing for my blog and using it as a portal for reflection. One of the reasons I chose the module, was because I read last year, whilst studying German Lied, that Robert Schumann was a critic as well as a composer. Which made me wonder whether I could work on my writing skills and rather than it just be a hobby I could challenge myself to improve and so that maybe it could become one of the strings in my employment bow :)

Last Monday, 1st of December, we had a guest speaker lead our session called Gareth Williams. Gareth is a composer who studied his Masters of Composition at the RCS (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), formally the RSAMD (Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama). He has composed pieces for groups such as the Hebrides Ensemble, Scottish Opera, the Paragon Ensemble, Symposia, the Black hair Ensemble, and the London Sinfonietta.

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Gareth Williams

 

The focus of the lecture was on ‘Writing a Libretto’. A libretto is a story written for a musical work such as an Opera, operetta, oratorio, cantata or musical. In our seminar we focused on Libretto for Opera so he showed us a clip from his site-specific promenade opera: “Sloan’s Project”.

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Outside Sloans Bar – Opened 1797

The musical drama takes place at Sloan’s Bar in Glasgow and the audience move around Glasgow’s oldest pub to watch a chain of true stories involving love, vengeance, grief and forgiveness. I have actually been to Sloans Pub for an incredible Ceilidh, (traditional Scottish dancing), it was held in their beautiful ballroom last year and I must go again! :)

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The Ballroom In Sloans Bar

Gareth finds it very bizarre when people just sing without need in an opera so for this composition he tries to create a realistic reason for the characters to sing.

In the following clip the characters begin to sing stimulated by hearing playing on the jukebox the favourite song of a recently deceased friend which had been played at his funeral.

In another scene, the wake takes part in an upstairs room. The characters have to carry their dead friend up without the coffin as it was too heavy. This was taken from a true story!

David Brock wrote the libretto for the ‘Sloans Project’. Brock and Williams decided to include the Glaswegian accent to emphasise the culture and the sound of Glasgow in the piece.

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David Brock

 

Gareth then created a short task for us to do. We had to write a small story using 140 characters only, the same length as a tweet. For inspiration he showed us a poem by Ernest Hemingway an American author and journalist –

“For Sale
Baby Shoes
Never Worn”

The focus of the story is that Person A wants something from Person B. Here are a couple of examples, why not give it a go, it would be great to see what you come up with!

Here is my attempt;

A: I’m really sorry to have to ask this Mrs Grey.
But I am going to need you to identify the body now .
B: …
B: Yes, that’s Darrel Grey.

This from my Dad

A Did you see what happened?
B No, he is pointing to the floor, I can’t watch.
A Goaaaaaal

When you visit Glasgow you see the influence of Charles Rennie Mackintosh everywhere. He was a local architect, artist and designer, whose reputation was quick to spread way beyond his home city.  He was born in Glasgow in 1868 and was apprenticed to an architect.  As well as this he enrolled for evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art .

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Charles Rennie Mackintosh

 

He went on to design the new home for the Glasgow School of Art which is an iconic example of his work. It was such a shock when in May this year the building was quite badly damaged in a fire.

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The Glasgow School Of Art

My Mum has always loved his designs and has several pieces from mugs to pictures at home but I hadn’t realised he was so famous and was such an important figure in Scotland.  We’ve visited the tea rooms he designed which are filled with examples of his work, a fabulous place with gorgeous food :)

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Charlotte-And-Tom-Willow-Tea-Rooms

The church that Les Sirenes female chamber choir from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland will be performing in on Friday 12th December was also designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and is just a wonderful place to perform. The  Mackintosh Church is a beautiful building which provides a fantastic backdrop for our Christmas concert.

Mackintosh-Church

I am so excited to be singing alongside my friends and fellow students in the choir, the Christmas concerts that our music director, Andrew Nunn, puts together are always so uplifting and full of fabulous music just right to put you in the Christmas spirit.

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It’s been a sold out event for the past two years so if you’re in Glasgow and need a jump start to your Christmas we’d love to see you there next Friday.  You can book tickets at the RCS box office.

Only ten minutes from Glasgow City Centre I’ve discovered the House for an Art Lover’, in 1989 a team of architects led by Professor Andy MacMilan, then head of architecture at Glasgow School of Art, had the idea to build the house interpreting Mackintosh’s drawings from a competition entry Mackintosh made to a German magazine in the winter of 1901.  House for an Art Lover is a charitable company whose primary purpose is the stimulation of public interest in Art, Design and Architecture.

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The Music room, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife provided detailed interior designs for the double-height Entrance Hall, Dining room, Oval Room and Music room you can see below.  There is a café, gallery and shop and it’s open all year around..

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

 

Vedrai, Carino is sung by the character Zerlina, a peasant girl and the fiancée of Masetto.  It is from Act II, scene 1 of the two act Italian opera ‘Don Giovanni’ the music by the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who composed over 600 works, and the libretto was created by the Venetian Lorenzo da Ponte, who wrote the libretto for 28 operas including three of Mozart’s greatest operas, Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Cosi fan tutte.

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The Original Poster/Bill For The Premier In Prague, 1787.

 

The opera ‘Don Giovanni’ premièred in 1787 it was billed as drama giocoso a mixture of serious and comic action.

The main character roles are:

Don Giovanni, a young, promiscuous nobleman; performed by a baritone

Leporello, Don Giovanni’s servant; bass

Il Commendoratore (Don Pedro); bass

Donna Anna, the Commendatore’s daughter, betrothed to Don Ottavio; soprano

Don Ottavio; tenor

Donna Elvira, a lady abandoned by Don Giovanni; soprano

Masetto, a peasant; bass

Zerlina, Masetto’s fiancée; soprano

In a very brief synopsis in the first act during Masetto and Zerlina’s marriage procession Don Giovanni having admired several of the girls in the party is immediately attracted to Zerlina and he tries to remove the jealous Masetto by offering to host the wedding celebrations at his castle, Masetto is forced to leave on a pretext by Leporello and Don Giovanni’s seductive wooing of Zerlina is foiled when Elvira arrives and warns the girl against the rake, Elvira leaves with Zerlina.  In a garden outside Don Giovanni’s palace Zerlina tries to pacify Masetto singing Batti, Batti” to him (beat me beat me, handsome Masetto as long as we make up) she manages to persuade her husband of her innocence but just then Don Giovanni from off-stage frightens her, Masetto hides to watch how they are together.  Don Giovanni renews his flirtation and tries to take Zerlina aside but goes to the place Masetto is hiding, he recovers quickly and persuades Masetto that Zerlina was just missing him.

Don Giovanni

 

Later that evening when all the guests dance Don Giovanni continues his advances to Zerlina, he tries to drag her away, when her screams are heard Don Giovanni tried to blame Leporello but Don Ottavio, Donna Anna and Donna Elvira threaten Don Giovanni and reveal the truth.

In the second Act Don Giovanni (disguised as Leporello) is trying to seduce Elvira’s maid serenading her with his mandolin.  Before he can complete his seduction Masetto and his friends arrive searching for Don Giovanni intent on killing him.  Don Giovanni still in disguise convinces the gang that he also hates Don Giovanni and joins in the hunt. He then cunningly gets rid of Masetto’s friends and manages to take Masetto’s weapons away, he then beats him and runs off laughing.

The scene is a dark courtyard in front of an Inn, Masetto has been badly bruised and beaten when Zerlina finds him and asks what happened.  He explains and Zerlina promises to heal him with her love if he’s good (Vedrai, Carino), lovingly tending his bruises, admonishing him for his jealousy and takes him home to comfort him.

If you want to know what happens to the young, arrogant Don Giovanni who abuses and outrages everyone else in the cast then I don’t want to spoil it for you, you’ll have to go to watch. :)

This video was recorded on Valentines Day 2014 in Bury, Lancashire and is also the second track on my album Canzoni D’Amore .

Since recording this video I have done quite a lot of work on understanding and interpreting an aria not only through my vocal performance but also by using acting, gestures and working with a partner. This term in performance practice Nathan Jenkins, a tenor from my year lay down on the floor whilst I sang this aria to him and it helped me to visualise the performance of the scene much better and I hope this will help me to portray the characterisation in future performances.

It is always hard to know exactly how much acting,movement and gesturing to use whilst performing operatic arias in a recital, it is a balance that I am developing as I don’t think that dropping down to my knees and singing this aria would have the same impact in a church recital :)