We are delighted to hear that Stephen McNeff & Andy Rashleigh’s dramatic song cycle Vivienne is to be performed for the first time in the United States of America. A small new company, the St. Louis Opera Collective, will give performances of Vivienne on 18-20 October in the city in which – rather wonderfully – T. S. Eliot was brought up. We wish STL Opera Collective all the best as they bring this fine cycle to an American audience. More info via stloperacollective.org
Yesterday we brought Mary’s Hand to the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester. Our performance was in a late night slot at the recently refurbished St. Mary-de-Crypt in the centre of the City, just 5 mins walk from the cathedral. This wonderful space posed some interesting issues for our production – but any obstacles to an original staging are also opportunities for inventive variations on the way we tell Mary’s story. Director Di Sherlock introduced a podium in the centre of space and a splendid recess in the choir offered interesting variations in which to imagine fresh stage pictures of the drama and Mary’s dress (above).
We were happy to be able to perform to a full house at St. Mary-de-Crypt. The following morning we attended a talk from Dr Linda Porter about the life of Queen Mary I. This informed and sympathetic dissection of the first Queen Regnant’s life provided absorbing context to the mid-16th century Tudor court. We had time to visit the nearby memorial to John Hooper, the Bishop of Gloucester, a Protestant burned at the stake under Mary’s regime.
It was a super experience to bring our work to Gloucester with its history and audience and we’re grateful to the Three Choirs staff for helping us feel so welcome!
On Sunday a group of us from McCaldin Arts will travel to Aldeburgh to spend a week developing some ideas for a new performance work. At Aldeburgh we will be guests of Snape Residencies, a project based at Snape Maltings, the epicentre of the Aldeburgh Festival set up by composer Benjamin Britten in 1948. We’re really grateful to Snape Residencies for their help in bringing us all to Suffolk and for the support that will help us to make the most of a week of artistic & professional exploration.
You can read more about our initial ideas for A New Poly-Olbion, based on Michael Drayton’s 17th century Poly-Olbion on this page. Clare McCaldin, the producer-performer of McCaldin Arts will be joined by the writer Di Sherlock, the composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad, pianist Libby Burgess and the spoken-word performer John Constable. Though the week will be an extended workshop with a final showing to a local audience we hope we can keep you up to date with our experience via social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Last night we were part of a very special event. We had been invited to return to the Society of Antiquaries of London to give a abbreviated performance of Mary’s Hand next to the portrait of Queen Mary I on which Andie Scott and Sophie Meyer (pictured, below) had based their performative costume for the show. The historian Dr John Cooper, a fellow of the Society, gave a talk on the history behind the eponymous Queen and, after the performance, Clare stayed in the costume to chat with the audience and pose for pictures.
It was terrific that the original instrumental ensemble from the summer shows in London (‘Mary’s Band’) were all available to play and that Martin Bussey had time in a particularly busy week to come and hear his music played live for the first time since then. Di Sherlock directed the condensed version of her drama for the space – as she has done each time, as demanded by a site-specific show – which was a surprisingly responsive room for musicians, allowing the words of the story their full bloom.
This event was something of a first for the Society who are trying new things to open up their institution and encourage interest in their collection. To that end, the museum collections manager, Kate Bagnall had curated a small but directly pertinent exhibition in the hall, including royal seals depicting Queen Mary & King Philip II of Spain, a book of Fees & Offices recording Mary’s accession, a copy of a Holbein etching of ‘Lady Mary’ (before she was crowned) and a pair of proclamations for Lady Jane Grey and then Mary, who succeeded her, famously after only nine days. This exhibition remains open over the next week for those who would like to take a look – perhaps if you’re on your way to see the performance at St. Paul’s Wilton Place? (visit sal.org.uk for their opening times). There was also the chance to buy a Marian tea towel! Our thanks to Danielle Wilson Higgins and her predecessor Lucy Ellis for bringing this project to fruition.
The Spring tour of Mary’s Hand now begins in earnest with a complete performance at St. Paul’s, Wilton Place on Tuesday before the show goes North for the rest of the week. As ever, all the details, including booking links, are available via mccaldinarts.com/MaryHand
In one month from today, we will begin a short tour, performing Mary’s Hand in London and the North of England.
This begins with a unique event, in which we’ll perform extracts from the show in front of the portrait which inspired the wonderful costume, the centrepiece of the show’s design. Andie Scott and Sophie Meyer researched and constructed Mary’s post-coronation dress from a 1554 portrait by Hans Eworth which hangs in The Society of Antiquaries of London, in Piccadilly. Clare will sing parts of Mary’s Hand and the historian John Cooper will give a talk on the history around the period.
A few days later we will give a full performance of Mary’s Hand at St. Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge – the venue in which our striking publicity photographs were taken by celebrated arts photographer Robert Workman. From there we travel to Hexham in Northumberland, where Clare’s father helps to run the annual Abbey Arts Festival, for a performance in the Queen’s Hall, and then across the Pennines for another at Lancaster Priory.
Finally, the tour comes to an official conclusion with a performance at Music In Pinner, a popular music festival in north London.
At each event there is an opportunity to buy a copy of the detailed souvenir programme which has many more photographs, essays and information about the history of the period and the making of the show.
For dates, times and tickets for all these events, please click on this link. We hope to see you there!
This week Clare sent out her quarterly Newsletter. In it you’ll find news and information about her forthcoming performances, new projects beginning in the new year and how to get hold of tickets for the Spring tour of Mary’s Hand, one of the stand-out successes of 2018’s Summer opera festivals in London.
If you’d like to get Clare & McCaldin Arts’ Newsletter then you can sign up here.
Ahead of her appearance at this year’s Oxford Lieder Festival, we sat down for a chat with Clare McCaldin about the artform. Clare is the director of McCaldin Arts.
What does ‘Lieder’ mean to you?
I think of landscape and drama – internal drama as well as the external. Sometimes it can be something simple like a tree that precipitates the poet’s responding to it. There’s this intimate connection between landscape and sentiment, and an internal or external narrative depending on whether the poet intends that.
What’s your first memory of Lieder?
I remember learning Die Forelle to sing at a music competition, or something. I guess I was about eight. That’s the first thing I mastered in German.
So the song being in German is important to Lieder?
Yes, Lieder is German song. It’s such an integral part of what the song is. Performing the song in translation cannot be the same.
When did you discover that this is the importance of Lieder? Did it coincide with studying modern languages at University?
No, it was when I started taking singing seriously. Obviously, studying the language meant I wanted to speak it properly, to understand the phonetics, but their relationship with song only began to matter when I became interested in singing.
So has the appeal of singing German poetry always been about the words or did you come to Lieder through this landscape, or abstract, connection?
I do know a lot of people who have a particular image for a particular song, that’s one way of working with music. That’s principally not how it works for me because I’m lucky enough to work in languages that I understand more or less well, because I speak French German and Italian, enough to understand what’s going on. I feel I have a detailed enough grasp of the text, that actually the text is the thing that takes me into the song. If images do come along then they have come from the text.
What Lieder recital has made the biggest impression on you?
I went to hear John Tomlinson singing, I think, his first Winterreise in public. I confess to having gone along a little bit out of curiosity as he’s not latterly done a great deal of Lieder, so I thought it would be an interesting thing to hear. It’s fascinating that it has stuck in my mind far more than recitals given by famous singers-of-Lieder, because it was an extremely powerfully felt story. Perhaps it was a natural choice, Winterreise, for someone who has done Wotan a lot. It felt that there was an enormous amount of direct experience in the songs. All of that was really distinctive and convincing and I just really liked how much it felt as if it came not just from him as an artist but through him, from a tradition. A different tradition perhaps, from the Lieder tradition, but a tradition nonetheless.
That’s idea of tradition is interesting. What then is the most ‘authentic’ Lieder performance you’ve heard?
Well in some ways, if that idea of tradition follows, then it needs to be a German native singer. One would hope they have the most direct, thorough understanding of the tradition. It needn’t be – it’s hard to say. We strive to get close to the tradition in terms of performing stuff that’s not ‘our own’. I mean, I’ve heard Holzmair and Gerhaher both of whom were tremendous, not just because they’re native speakers but something bound up with that. Oh… I don’t know whether it’s fair to say that Lieder feels most comfortable in the baritone range? It’s something about it being in the speaking range, somehow there’s a kind of intimacy to it. It’s interesting that I’ve named two baritones who I think excel in it. I don’t know if that favours me too as a mezzo-soprano!
You’re singing Röntgen, Brahms and Schumann. Do you like them?
Yes! The Brahms are quite finely wrought. There’s a lot of weaving with the viola, which requires a lot of control that’s really fun. Less so in the Röntgen which is more about passing the baton backwards and forwards. I’m really looking forward to them!
Clare performs at the Holywell Music Room at 5.30pm on Thursday 25 October as part of the Oxford Lieder Festival, with Simon Tandree (viola) and Libby Burgess (piano).
Clare returns the next day, Friday 26 October, for a song workshop at the Shulman Auditorium in Queen’s College at 10am, and then performs new songs, settings of Whitman by composer Ross Griffey, also in the Shulman Auditorium at 3.45pm.
This Autumn, our musical show Vivienne (on the life of TS Eliot’s first wife) is being revived for two performances. Clare will sing Stephen McNeff’s dramatic cycle of songs in its original version at the Poetry Swindon Festival on 4 October (at 12pm), with pianist Paul Turner.
Then on the following Saturday 6 October (at 7.30pm), Clare will perform Vivienne once again but in a new, orchestrated version for the Little Venice Music Festival in London’s Maida Vale. The evocative musical styles of Stephen McNeff’s witty score cry out for instrumentation. Stephen has created his own orchestration to make the most of the character of the work, which is the first half of an evening concert also featuring Olivier Messiaen’s transcendental Quartet for the End of Time.
Vivienne was first performed at Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival in 2013 to a five star review in the Evening Standard. You can watch the original production of Vivienne as recorded by Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival, here:
She has been over a year in the making. Now Mary’s Hand, our new operatic monologue for Queen Mary I is about to arrive in London (following its premiere in Chester 5 weeks ago). Mary’s Hand is part of this year’s Tête-à-Tête the Opera Festival. We’re really pleased to have been able to secure Holy Cross Church, 5 mins walk from the British Library in King’s Cross, as our venue for the two performances on 1 & 2 August.
Queen Mary has been ill-served by history and Mary’s Hand is an opportunity to, if not redress that perspective, then to refresh it, investigating the circumstances of her life and decisions through lyric drama. It’s good to be able to do this in a Roman Catholic church. As a site-specific piece, Mary’s Hand always absorbs the character of its venue, colouring (if not changing) the nature of its performance. For example, when Mary first arrives here on stage at Holy Cross she sits in front of the altar in the sanctuary, the resolutely Catholic Queen Regnant, defender of a faith under assault from the Reformation. The images that we had taken at St. Paul’s Knightsbridge are not only separated from the altar by a screen but also incorporate a chequered dais, perhaps re-positioning Mary in the Tudor court.
Yet, these are just the readings of one or two images from a continually moving stage picture, conceived by writer-director Di Sherlock as a response to the available space. We hope that you’ll be able to come and experience Mary first-hand at Holy Cross and – through that classic operatic triumvirate of song, staging and storytelling – make up your own mind about her. There is a video trailer below:
Next week we perform Mary’s Hand for the first time. We have already run the piece in an early form for friends, colleagues and supporters. This performance at St. Mary’s Creative Space will be the premiere of the finished version. We’d like to share more about the opera and its creation ahead of this performance. Here is a short video introducing you to the team and their work. You can also read an interview with the composer Martin Bussey, published here today on composer Robert Hugill’s popular blog Planet Hugill. In addition, we’re publishing Di Sherlock’s libretto for the opera on this site – you can download and read it here.