December 2018 Posts
Remembering John and Margery Styles, founder members of Smith’s Academy.
The opera was planned, written, learned, rehearsed and staged within the space of twenty four days. The Barber is not in this respect exceptional; Rossini claimed to have written L’Italiana in eighteen days and La Cenerentola in four weeks. Rossini’s facility and fluency as a composer were famous. One of his most popular arias.’Di tanti palpiti’ from Tancredi, was supposedly written in the time it took him to boil rice for his supper, hence its title :’L’Aria del Riso’
Rossini composed much of his music in bed. It’s said that if the manuscript of a theme he was writing should fall on the floor, he’d write another to spare himself the effort of getting out of bed to retrieve it. All composers of the period were under pressure to compose at speed. When Donizetti was told how long Rossini had taken in composing The Barber, he is said to have replied: ‘ Ah, but then he always was a slow composer’.
Extracts from; “Rossini, his life and times”, by Nicholas Till, Midas Books 1983. From Smith's Academy Informer SAI 85
01 December 2018
THE PREMIERE OF THE BARBER
Despite the fine line-up of singers for the first performance, the opening was a monumental fiasco, and ‘Il Barbiere’ joined the ranks of those operas which, like Traviata and Carmen later, were condemned at their first performance before being accepted as masterpieces.
The audience contained two factions hostile to the opera; the supporters of Paisello (composer of an already popular version of The Barber) and the regulars of the Teatro Valle, annoyed at having to move from their haunt to the Argentina. Into this hostile atmosphere stepped Rossini, wearing a curious Spanish-style outfit with gold buttons, which attracted instant derision from the crowd. Things went from bad to worse: Rosina, Gertrude Righetti-Giorgi, was whistled at her first entrance, and it is from her account that we know what happened next.
The singer playing Bartolo tripped over a trap door as he entered, and spent the whole of the first aria trying to staunch the flow of blood from his nose; as if this was not enough, a cat appeared on stage during the superb finale, mixing amongst the performers. The excellent Figaro, Zamboni, chased it off one side; it returned from the other, and hurled itself into the arms of Bartolo; the audience called out to it, imitated its miaowing, and encouraged it by voice and gesture to proceed with its improvised role.
The reports of Rossini’s reactions to the events are conflicting. Some say that he went home and took to his bed because he was so upset; whilst Righetti-Giorgi says he simply went to bed because he was quite indifferent to the reception that his works had received. Several reports confirm that at the end of the performance Rossini, as if in defiance of the audience, very ostentatiously stood and applauded his performers amidst the catcalls and whistling.
Whatever Rossini’s reaction, he did not have to suffer long, for on the second performance the audience changed its mind and recognised the true worth of the new opera.
02 December 2018
Not in a nostalgic way, though, as from the first notes it was clear that here was a brand-new Orchestra - colourful and joyous, bright and energetic, cohesive at its core and yet unusual and uncommon, with both experienced and younger musicians together taking advantage of their diverse musical backgrounds. And joining them tonight were two guests of high talent and charisma such as Phil Minton and Dominique Pifarely, deeply involved in Westbrook operations past and present. The concert had tremendous impact – music new and old, well-loved classics with brand new arrangements, hymns, dreams, intense poetry, ballads, The Bebop, The Blues, The Blake… Mike must have worked hard at selecting pieces and themes from his vast repertoire for the occasion, conceiving and crafting the right juxtapositions of soloists and ensemble, emphasising their affinities and fine skills while keeping the music flow intact. And he did so successfully!
Special attention is paid to Italy each time the Westbrooks come here to play, and this time wouldn’t be any different: a thrilling orchestral sequence was offered with brio and cinematic gusto (Italian Graffitti) while the highly emotional homage to dear friend trombonist Danilo Terenzi (DTTM, also dedicated to Tony Marsh) nearly brought the house to tears. And before then, a challenging venture into the deep local tradition, recouping an old Sicilian folk song that was at the heart of the 1985 Westbrook Music Theatre production of The Ass, based on a poem of D. H. Lawrence. Impeccably announced in Italian by Kate, and sustained throughout by Pete Whyman’s enthralling clarinet, Lu me sceccu caught many by surprise making them sing along and laugh and bray aloud, with half the audience readdressing to the band the same words that the song’s protagonist devotes to his beloved donkey: na musica ca megghiu non ci n'à (no music is better than this).
Many luminous examples could be singled out from the evening’s cornucopia of music treasures. But gold was everywhere, really: golden the smiles of twenty-plus musicians greeted by rapturous applause, golden the sparkle and the glitter radiating from the ever-charming singers, golden the Lennon/McCartney-esque encore (Golden Slumbers) still ringing in the air as Mike - Chief Alchemist for a night - prompted the ultimate act of art and magic: blend even the most consummate brass into the loveliest of metals (The Topers’ Rant). Pure Gold. Sicilian Gold.
Note: Such is the ability of this Orchestra that for their Italian trip they were able to carry a second, completely different programme in their trolleys and cases, to be unloaded in full Rossini fashion - and consonant clothing - two days later, in Pesaro.
The audience gathering at the ABC theatre in Catania, slowly but in great numbers, knew in their hearts that they were in for a special evening - this being the inaugural event of the new concert season promoted by the Association Catania Jazz, marking its own glorious 35th anniversary with the return of The Mike Westbrook Orchestra as in 1992, thanks once again to the efforts of the indefatigable Pompeo Benincasa. This happy coincidence was sufficient to justify the palpable aura of excitement and celebration among the crowd. In the lobby, served on a golden plate, a wealth of B&W photographs by Guy Le Querrec and fresh copies of the double album Catania clearly inviting us to revive that unforgettable Festival.
Sergio Amadori - Italy
On stage in Catania, Kate Westbrook, Billie Bottle, Martine Waltier, Phil Minton, photo Sergio Amadori.
05 December 2018
CAUGHT ON STAGE
Rossini Re-Loaded in Pesaro
Photographs by Alessandro Eusebi.