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And rest…

ClaphamCommonBandstand2The 2022 Clapham Book Festival is all but over. It began on a gloriously sunny autumn day on 9th October, walking around the Common on the Literary Trail, something which was repeated this Saturday last. It was a lovely day again, but, as the walk neared its end, the sky grew black. People dispersed and I headed for home to change for my afternoon session when the heavens opened. I got soaked through.

Undaunted, I dried, changed and strode off for Omnibus Theatre where the team had already gathered. Books were laid out for sale, mainly those written by Abir Mukherjee, with a few of mine too. This was the first afternoon session, which began at 3 pm. Abir wasAbir20221 tremendous, a joy to interview, in that he has a huge fund of anecdotes and amusing tales which makes life very easy for the interviewer. He grew up in Hamilton, just outside Glasgow to Bengali parents and talked about schooldays tribalism – ‘Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?’ ‘I’m a Hindu.’ Silence, followed by, ‘Yes, but are you a Catholic Hindu or a Protestant Hindu?’. The hour flew by and there was little time for questions, but everyone was entertained and impressed. The books practically flew off the counter, all signed by Abir.

Given that I had been working since ten o’clock that morning, I took a rest and didn’t go in to see Dame Jenni Murray, in conversation with Elizabeth Buchan, but members of the sizeable audience seemed very appreciative as I took in flowers and chocolates for the participants. The contents of the book table, meanwhile, had been swapped over, to hold Dame Jenni’s and Elizabeth’s books, which were being bought with enthusiasm.

Bookstand2The cafe/bar at Omnibus had been packed all afternoon, not just with Festival goers, but also a ‘New Mums n’ Dads’ club meeting, but this ended by about five thirty, which was a relief, as we knew we had a completely full house that evening for Sir Antony Beevor and Dr Piers Brendon. The Cafe/bar is a super space, but it would be creaking at the seams with eighty Festival folk, let alone the new parents. We need not have worried. Although crowded, this leant the whole evening an excited buzz.

Ably steered by Dr Piers, Sir Antony exhibited a comprehensive knowledge of all things Russian and the remarkable ability to render the very complicated accessible and easy to understand. Why did the ‘Reds’L to R Beevor, Sir Antony and Brendon, Dr Piers signing2 win the Russian Civil War? What did he think would happen in Ukraine? Why was the Russian Civil War so full of atrocities and were we seeing a repetition in Ukraine? The hour, as with Abir Mukherjee, flew past, though for different reasons, this was intellectual engagement of a high order.  Afterwards the queue for both presenters was long, with people anxious to get their books signed before the evening closed.

But that wasn’t the end.  Last night (Monday 17th October) the first of our online events took place. West Camel CBF TLHosted by Lucy Kane from media partners Time & Leisure Magazine, I was ‘In Conversation’ with West Camel, a local novelist. West’s first novel was listed for the Polari Debut Prize and long listed for The Guardian’s ‘Not the Booker Prize’ Prize. We had a very enjoyable time chatting about his latest novel ‘Fall’ set in Deptford, brutalist architecture, magic realism and twins.

There’s one more online event, on 22nd November, when the conversation is with local, award-winning travel writer Shafik Meghji about his book ‘Crossed Off the Map; Travels in Bolivia’.  Tickets are only a fiver and I can guarantee the quality of the discussion.

If you want to listen to last night’s broadcast click here.

Clapham Book Festival has begun!

Clapham Book Festival Logo2017The first event of 2022’s Clapham Book Festival took place yesterday on a gloriously sunny, autumn day on Clapham Common. Starting at Omnibus Theatre on the Northside a small but determined group of walkers spent two hours discovering and discussing Clapham’s literary connections, past and present. From Roger L’Estrange, the ‘Bloodhound of the Press’ to Malorie Blackman, Children’s Laureate, via novelists, biographers, historians, poets and Nobel prize-winners we had fun seeing where they lived and worked in Clapham.

So, we move on to next Saturday, our Showcase Day, which begins with a reprise of the walk (tickets are selling out fast) in the morning. In the afternoon we have Abir Mukherjee, author of the award-winningClapham Book Festival 2022V2 Wyndham and Bannerjee series of murder mysteries set in 1920s Calcutta, which begins with ‘A Rising Man‘ and runs to the most recent, ‘The Shadows of Men‘. Our intrepid heroes navigate the slums of ‘Black Town’, the genteel villas of Alipor, Chinese opium dens, the high politics of the Lieutenant Governor’s mansion and the low machinations of the secret service. Pre-independence India’s politics, religious and secular, feature in all the books which adds to their fascination.

Then at 5pm Elizabeth Buchan, local, best-selling novelist interviews Dame Jenni Murray. The veteran broadcaster – thirty years presenting Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour – and campaigner, discusses remarkable women through history, a life in the radio booth and her engagement with a number of high-profile causes. Never someone to shy away from a debate, this should be fascinating!

Antony Beevor at home cr Artemis Cooper (1)In the evening we have a real treat for history lovers and all those interested in today’s Russia and how it got to where it is now. The eminent and much garlanded Sir Antony Beevor discusses his latest book on Russia – ‘Russia: Revolution and Civil War 1917 – 1921′ – with Cambridge historian Dr Piers Brendon. Tickets for this are selling quickly, so I anticipate a full theatre and I’m not surprised, Sir Antony is always knowledgeable and insightful and Piers Brendon is the perfect person to draw out the historical parallels. Expect a treat.

But the Festival doesn’t end there. After our successful ‘hybrid’ festival of 2021 we have decided to continue with our zoom events (in partnership with Time & Leisure magazine). On Monday 17th October at 7pm I’ll be speaking with novelist West Camel. His debut novel ‘Attend‘ was listed for the Polari Prize and the Guardian’s ‘Not the Booker’, his second, ‘Fall‘ has recently been published. Then, on 22ndCBFBookTable1 November another online event, discussing ‘Crossed Off the Map: Travels in Bolivia’ with prize-winning travel writer Shafik Meghji. I know very little about Bolivia, so this will be new and interesting for me. Both the zoom events cost only £5.

Omnibus Theatre is at No. 1, Northside, Clapham Common, closest tube station is Clapham Common. The walk starts from outside it at 10.30 am and should take two hours, wear walking shoes, ending at Clapham Common station. Lunch can be had at a variety of excellent establishments in the Old Town and then prepare to enjoy our events in the afternoon and evening. An All-Afternoon ticket is available at £45 (£35 concessions). Tickets at https://payhip.com/claphambookfestival See you there!

Opera on Tour

PembrokePathOperasNow ‘Opera’, having been well and truly launched, seems to be off on tour. In part with me, visiting real and virtual locations to promote it, but also with new owners to all parts of the globe.

First to Pembroke and its wonderfully scenic Coastal Path. Two copies accompanied their owners by train to Tenby and thereafter along the coast and came to rest at The Old Point House in Angle, alongside two pints of Gower Gold (left).  You can’t quite see it in that pic, but one of them had even acquired an Ivor the Engine bookmark.

In the meanwhile, an author friend from Connecticut was running a competition in which people were asked to identify something in his photograph which did not come from the United States. The answer was the copy of ‘Opera’ sitting atopOperaConnecticut the pile of books on the lamplit table.  I confess, I did not see it and (forgive me, Steve) I tuned out when the entries began discussing Robertson Screws.  (No, me neither.) Then he confessed and I saw it.  So did all the people who had tried to guess. But this was not the furthest flown ‘Oracle’. That must, at time of writing, be the copy in California, pictured by another friend, as it perched, with its siblings, on a rock above the blue sea of the bay.  Not so autumnal there, as yet.

Closer to home, an ‘Opera’ went to Covent Garden, to be pictured in front of a costume from another opera, this time Verdi’s ‘Aida’. I particularly liked the fierce cats on the cloak which was worn by the King of Egypt in an earlier ROH production. But ‘Opera’ has also visited Harrogate, albeit after the Theakston’s Crime Festival has finished, but nestling next to a pint of Wainwright Ale.

OperaCalifornia  I am promised pictures from Mexico and Australia, when their owners get there and I will certainly be posting some pics of ‘Opera’ in Spain. In the UK I have taken it, virtually, to Exeter (my talk for Devon Libraries) and Tamworth (Tamworth Book Club) and it will be going, live, to various parts of south London in the near future and, it is planned, eventually to Newcastle too. It has already been pictured on an LNER express, hurtling through the countryside.

Its next appearance will be at the Clapham Book Festival on 15th October in my own little corner of southwest London, where I, too, willOperainHarrogate be appearing. I can’t, in all conscience, mention it on the Literary Walks I’ll be leading, alongside luminaries like Graham Greene, Angela Carter and Kazuo Ishiguro, but it may get a mention during my interview with Abir Mukherjee, award-winning author of the Wyndham and Bannerjee crime fiction series, set in 1920s India.  The walks take place on the afternoon of 9th October and morning of 15th. Abir is the first interviewee in an afternoon and evening of live author events. There are still tickets available for all three and much else besides, including Dame Jenni Murray talking with Elizabeth Buchan and Sir Anthony Beevor speaking about Russia with Dr Piers Brendon. So maybe I, and ‘Opera’ will see you there.

A Special Occasion

LaunchPic4The low, autumnal sunlight slanted across the churchyard of St Paul’s Church in Clapham on a beautiful September evening one week ago. Cars drew up to the church’s railings, people walked down the winding path to the heavy church doors and inside there was a buzz of anticipation of good entertainment to come. They were there to celebrate the launch of ‘Opera‘ the third in the Cassandra Fortune series of murder mysteries, together with the music of Puccini and Tosca in particular (the opera in ‘Opera‘). I was at the door to greet them.

Everything was prepared. The lighting was in place (it would be dark during the second half of theLaunchPic5 evening’s entertainment), the sound system was set up, the bar was stocked, staffed and ready to dispense and the Claret Press table was ready with signed books for sale. Programmes were handed out at the door. The church filled, gradually, with local friends, of the author or of the opera company, and with those from farther afield who had come to help celebrate. About a third of the crowd were probably also writers, many of them writers of crime fiction (see Anne Coates, author of the Hannah Weybridge mysteries, with Katie Isbester of Claret Press and myself, right). Other Claret authors, Steve Sheppard and Sylvia Vetta were there as well as reknown Clapham authors like Elizabeth Buchan. Clapham Book Festival friends were out in force, as were the members of the Clapham Writers Circle. In total there were between seventy and eight people in the beautiful church.

LaunchPic12 LaunchPic11    LaunchPic19

The evening began with an introduction, to Tosca and how it fits with ‘Opera‘, as well as reminiscences of his time in Rome, by Reverend Canon Jonathan Boardman, Vicar of St Paul’s. This led into two sublime arias sung by two young, but remarkable singers from St Paul’s Opera, accompanied by SPO Director of Music, Panaretos Kyriatzidis. First Vissi d’arte, sung by soprano Fiona Hymns, then El Lucevan le stelle sung by Latvian tenor, Martins Smaukstelis. I sat in the choir pews beside the altar and watched the faces of the audience. They were rapt. One could have heard a pin drop.

LaunchPic13Grand opera is always intense and these two arias especially so, so a lightening of the mood was required before the interval. This was provided by an ‘interruption’ by a police constable, PC Willis, who had just arrived from the Houses of Parliament (although dressed in pink). Bass baritone Masimba Ushe delivered the sentry’s song from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe ‘When all night long, a chap remains…’ in sonorous and amusing fashion. Laughter heralded the interval, when everyone headed to the bar (where the barkeepers were kept very busy).

The second half of the evening was music-less, consisting of a Q & A session between Elizabeth Bergstone, former music broadcaster and Hollywood actress (and narrator of my first audiobook) and myself. Liz and I had prepared a broad outlineLaunchPic8 beforehand and I kept my answers short (as she had told me to, I tend to ramble). People seemed to enjoy it and, after questions from the floor, we ended to loud applause.

The bar stayed open (though it shifted into the church hall) and people stayed to drink wine, chat and buy books. There was quite a queue at the signing table for me to inscribe dedications and sign copies of the earlier books in the trilogy. We had, earlier, decorated the hall with LaunchPic1bunting made of the posters and other images of Tosca which I had been collecting for months before the book was published.

Eventually, folk started to drift away and a small army of helpers swung into action clearing up and returning church and hall to their earlier state. By nine fifteen it was as if we had never been there and everyone was ready for a pint and a curry. We repaired to Clapham High Street and the ever-dependable Maharani restaurant.

It was a tremendous evening – though an awful lot of work – and with very special support from TriciaLaunchPic9 Ninian and the singers of St Paul’s Opera, which made it unique. Many of those who attended spoke or wrote to me, telling me how much they enjoyed it. Plus, my publisher sold lots of my books. It was a spectacular way to launch a title and a very special occasion.

I, and others, will be back at St Paul’s on 14th October for the SPO Autumn Gala ‘Musical Mirth’ which kicks off the Clapham cultural weekend, as the Book Festival follows. on Saturday 15th. But I’ll be blogging about that soon enough.

‘Opera’ is on sale from Amazon at https://tinyurl.com/4u8twmz5 and all good book shops.

Publication Day for ‘Opera’

OperatabletbookcasesToday’s the day and ‘Opera’ is let loose upon the world.  There are, already, plenty of posts on social media – Twitter mainly, but Insta and old favourite, Facebook, too – I haven’t ventured into the unknown territory of Book-Tok or the dragon-lands of Twitch and Discord ( no, me neither ). Kelly Lacey at LoveBooksTours has organised the virtual book tour, which started today on Instagram.  Lots of lovely book bloggers, Bookstagrammers and Goodreads users are tweeting and retweeting about it, mainly congratulations, for which many thanks.

So far, people are saying very good things about the book and getting it’s title out there, something which is especially important to writers with no, or very small, publishers. Print reviews so far are limited to theClapSocNewletter Clapham Society Newsletter (circulation about 1,400) though I know there are a number of print critics who will be reviewing the book. These are in the regional press, or in literary publications, no national dailies ( without a prize listing or a shed load of publisher’s support, i.e. money, that is unlikely ). There are regional and local broadcast interviews lined up too, starting with Radio Tamworth ( Tamworth Books ) on Wednesday and following up with local radio here in south London.

Julie Anderson September 2022 Author Event INSTA & FACEBOOK STORY 1There are plenty of online events arranged and ‘Opera’ and I should be reaching audiences from Devon to the north of England, through regional library networks, like Devon or Staffordshire Libraries. I’ll also be doing some Festivals, live as well as virtual, not just the Clapham Book Fest, which takes place in October, but also Newcastle Noir ( 9th – 11th December ) as well, as, potentially, a number next year. Indeed my diary for 2023 is already being filled with online talks and discussions and live events, some of them for societies and clubs which I have visited before with ‘Plague’ or ‘Oracle’. I never imagined I would be doing quite so much.

Quotes from bloggers reviews include ‘If you are interested in political crime thrillers, this is a series you do not want to miss.’ and ‘I was going to read a bit of this book before I went to bed and ended up staying awake and finishing it.’ Both very good recommendations. A number also ask whether or not there will be a Cassandra Fortune Book IV. If you have enjoyed the series so far I can tell you that I have already mapped out the likely storyline for the next book, but there is something else I will be working on first ( watch this space for more news when it’s ready for the world ).

So, time to thank individuals, from Katie Isbester at Claret Press to my trusty beta readers, Miv, Annette,claretpress Helen and Sue ( they know who they are ). Also to my fellow authors who have been kind enough to wish me well on this Publication Day and to the bloggers and supporters, who, unpaid, contribute so much to the life of books. Finally thank you to my longsuffering husband, who cooks the meals and makes the tea while I am away in my head concocting yet another mystery.

Onwards and upwards!

Artists of Tosca

ToscaPremiereIn April of this year I posted a piece about images of Tosca ( see ‘The opera…‘) ranging from the first performances of Sardou’s play, through to modern productions of Puccini’s opera. Six months later, I have amassed quite a collection of images, posters mostly, for the opera, films of both opera and play and some ‘souvenir postcards’ of both too. I’ll be using them during the launch of ‘Opera’ in a couple of weeks time. The story has inspired some unusual art works from varied artists.

Tosca-PosterSprucePeakArtsThe artist most associated with Tosca, partly because he designed many posters for the Comedie Francais, where Bernhardt performed, and partly because his style is such a good example of Art Nouveau is probably Alphonse Mucha. Even the Hohenstein poster for the opera’s premiere in Rome in 1900 owed much to Mucha’s style. But his is not the only style which was copied and often other artist’s works were rifled for use on the posters. See the use of the Gustav Klimt’s ‘Judith’ in the poster for Middlebury Opera’s production (right) .

Tosca-puccini-polish-opera-posterI found a very striking poster from Poland, probably for a production by the opera company of the city of Bydgoszcz which was very reminiscent of the style of Frieda Kahlo (see left). It drew many comments on social media and divided people, they either loved or hated it.

Another Pole, surrealist artist and illustrator Rafal Olbinski, created a poster for the Cincinnatti Opera production (see below). He produced a series of posters of operas in the U.S. where he lives, often influenced by the works of Magritte. An American acquaintance pointed out that the Cincinnatti baseball team is called the Cincinnatti Reds and red is the dominantToscaRafal colour in the poster. I’m not sure if this was a sneaky subliminal message, but it is certainly surreal and I do not pretend to understand it, though it seems to be trying for an analysis of the opera at a subconscious level – Tosca pulling Cavaradossi’s strings.

Red, and black, are the colours most often used and Tosca herself is the character who appears most often. The film posters tend towards a rather more lurid style, but then they had to compete with other film posters of the time, which aimed to shock and entice an audience into the cinema. Predictably, they tend to focus on the scene in which Baron Scarpia persuades Tosca to agree to his physical demands in return for her lover’s ToscaMovieRossanoBrazzilife, so there are plenty of leering Scarpias and retreating, suffering Toscas, though often clutching a dagger. The Italian ones are even more lurid than the Hollywood ones ( I suspect because Hollywood treated it as ‘high art’ ), but here is a more restrained offering – ‘The tragic love of Floria Tosca and Mario Cavaradossi commemorated in the immortal melodies of G. Puccini’. The director, ‘Carlo Koch’ is actually the noted German art historian and film director, Karl Koch, who undertook the film in 1939, jointly with Jean Renoir, at Mussolini’s invitation. Koch was Renoir’s assistant on Le Regle de JeuTosacEchoChernikConnecticut and Renoir was instrumental in getting Koch out of Germany in 1936. Renoir eventually withdrew from the film, but Koch completed it, together with his assistant, one Luchino Visconti. Incidentally Koch and his wife  settled in Barnet, north London once the war ended.

More modern posters reference the dagger, blood, sex, Castel Sant’Angelo and the twin candles at the head of Scarpia’s body as well as the main three characters. One of the more recent posters turns us back, full circle, to the style of Alphonse Mucha. This is by Echo Chernik, a noted commerical artist and illustrator who regularly adopts Mucha’s style. She created this poster (right) for Connecticut Opera’s 66th Anniversary performance of the opera.

More on Tosca images in a later post.

Tosca Variations

The publication day of ‘Opera’ grows ever closer (5th September) and so does the date of the launch. InToscaPerfumeCasamorati preparation I’ve been collecting and sharing images relating to Tosca for some months and I plan to use them at the launch event. These range from copies of the original posters for the premieres of both the play by Victorien Sardou, in Paris in 1887 and Puccini’s opera in Rome in 1900, through to film posters of the 1970s and modern posters for productions of the opera. In the course of searching for these images, however, I have discovered that ‘Tosca’ is also the name given, presumably in honour of the diva and Puccini, to a number of other items, including several types of perfume, at least two cars and a cocktail.

ToscaPerfume4711The Tosca Eau de Parfum can still be bought today for £16.74 and accompanied by shower gel, deodorant and moisturiser in the same fragrance. There is also an extremely expensive version by Xerjoff Casamorati, available from Harrods – a snip at £81.95 for 30ml (see above). It seems that the original perfume was created by Farina 4711 and vintage bottles are now  traded on ebay and etsy (see left).  The very expensive, bright pink/purple bottle of the Xerjoff is much less attractive, to my eye, but it is certainly distinctive. I have yet to discover why it was designed as it was.

As regards the cars – the Lamborghini Tosca is just what you’d expect, something sleek, elegant andToscaCar1 fast ( and, in most of the images I could find, red, which continues a colour theme found in the Tosca opera posters. More of a surprise is that it is a hybrid with a traditional V10 engine, as well as electric batteries. Even Italian super cars are going green these days. Just as surprising is the La Tosca, a 1955 concept car from Ford. It was designed to be remote controlled, so is driverless and in that is very modern, but it has the sort of design which owes much to aircraft and was thought to ToscaCarV2be ‘space age’ at the time. The pictures of it that I have seen show a car which seems to float above the ground with huge wing fins, a plexi-glass bubble over the passenger compartment and an exhaust which looks like a jet engine. The car is often a bubblegum pink, which makes me think of a sort of very sporty version of Lady Penelope’s Rolls Royce from Thunderbirds.  This was the Ford La Tosca, an actual car, though it was never put into production.

The Tosca cocktail might prove easier to afford, even than the lower cost perfume. It was designed for theTosca-cocktail 2019 production of Tosca at La Scala, Milan and was served in Il Foyer bar there. It is made with the south American spirit, Mezcal, two types of Martini (we are in Italy after all) elderflower foam and, to dress, tomato powder and chilli pepper. If it appeals you can find the recipe here.

I have, however, invented my own cocktail, mainly for the launch event, but also because I rather prefer fizz-based cocktails. It is also more representative, for me, of opera in general. My Tosca themed drink contains 70% fizz (Champagne, Prosecco or Cava, depending on the depth of your pocket), 30% fresh blood orange juice, a sprig of fresh rosemary and a slice of blood orange. The rosemary gives it an aroma and a slightly perfumed taste. Try it.

Reframed: The Woman in the Window

…is the title of a current exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery which looks at the ‘window portraits’ ofTheWomanin6 women through the ages. I went along yesterday and found it informative and interesting. It’s a small exhibition which considers an enduring subject, the presentation of a female likeness looking out of a window, sometimes directly at the viewer, sometimes not. Women have often been represented like this, usually by men, for various purposes, the sacred, the profane, the decorative or the titillating. I was hard pressed to think of more than one or two examples where men were represented in this way.

The exhibition begins in ancient Greece with a tiny, ancient sculpture of a female head (no sign of a body) in what we are told is a temple window. Beside it a Greek wine krator shows a rather inebriated-looking TheWomanin5man climbing a ladder to present apples to a woman in a window, probably a hetaira or courtesan. The fun times in the ancient world give way during the medieval period to the discouraging of looking at women, in the window or elsewhere, for fear of arousal and sin.  In this period the ‘woman’ is the Madonna (see by Dirk Bouts left) in her role as the ‘window to heaven’, a symbolic window at her back. Or the saint suffering for her faith (a striking and slightly unsettling stone bas relief/sculpture of an incarcerated woman pressing her face against the bars of her cell). Moving on to the Renaissance and non-divine women are the subjects again – I was particularly struck by the Botticelli (his ‘line’ is always mesmerising). Through the Dutch interiors, showing women if not through windows then beside them, playing instruments, reading letters; then to the wonderful Rembrandt of an un-named young  woman who leans out of the canvas in all her human glory (see above right).

There was an English interior ‘The Kitchen’ by Isabel Codrington (right) and a  square-jawed Rossetti woman, aTheWomanin4 Degas and a Sickert, but the exhibition didn’t follow a linear timeline, interspersing modern works with the old. Some of these were more successful than others. Some were interesting – the ‘swap’ of poses and locations, between a female photographer and a female prostitute (I cannot remember the name of the photographer, which is annoying). Both women looked very much at home in their new personas.

There was David Hockney’s Rapunzel – the only element visible at the window being the hair, a Whiteread window cast and a real  Bourgeois window frame, looking out onto an abstract view (the viewer looking out, being the substitute for the ‘woman’ in this one). I liked ‘Hand’ by Andrew Jackson (2017) a very paintily photograph with soft, muted, pastel tones in the background, showing a woman, sharply focused, The Womanin1being beckoned forward by a faceless man in a car and rejecting his summons by holding up her palm.  This, like the Codrington, with its dead hen and half drunk bottle of what looks like vodka, was a story in a picture, or many possible stories. There were some beautifully staged photographs, the woman reading a letter (an eviction notice, it is mounted in a frame next to the photograph) which echoed those Dutch interiors and a super Australian piece ‘The Apartment’ showing two women in a domestic scene overlooking an industrial harbour – its perspective was remarkable.

Definitely worth a visit, the exhibition runs until 4th September, so get in quick! It costs £15 (£8 concessions).

City of Music

20220727_212725I know that there is always music to be found in Jerez de la Frontera. Usually it’s of the flamenco variety, but I have, in the past, happened across 13th century song cycles, jazz, classical, modern tribute bands (hearing ‘Radio Gaga’ resounding from the walls of the ancient Alcazar some years ago was quite something) and world music. This summer is no exception with a range of concerts, sometimes free, sometimes charged for, in some spectacular locations. July saw ‘Baile’ a series of flamenco dance performances in the 13th century Claustros de Santo Domingo and ‘Mima’ or Musicas Improvisadas En El Museo Arquelogico in the eponymous  museum. I caught the wonderful jazz trio Nocturno on a sultry Wednesday night playing their own compositions, inspired by the night and Frankenstein. The music was stupendous. I wondered what Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley would have made20220727_223311 of it, I’d like to think that, free thinker as she was, she would have enjoyed it as much as the audience did. Afterwards, given the temperature, musicians and audience spent the next hour or so in the Plaza Mercado (the old Moorish market place, which features in my novel Reconquista ) drinking excellent wine.

Two other series continue into August – ‘Viernes Flamenco’, with some tremendous musicians, David Carpio and Manuel Valencia to name but two, again in the Claustros and ‘Noches de Bohemia’, likewise. I was annoyed to have missed the sublime-voiced David Lagos in the latter, but I did catch the Raul Rodriguez Trio with special guest kora player, Sirifo Kouyate. On Saturday evening the set included music 20220730_215349part-flamenco-part-arabian (you could say the first comes from the second anyway), modern rock-style electric guitar and the wonderfully fluid arpeggios of the kora.  These concerts run into the 55th Fiesta de la Buleria de Jerez, a stunning series of gala concerts with the cream of flamenco performers – Manuel Lignan, Gema Moneo, David Carpio, Antonio El Pipa, Manuela Carrasco and more. The buleria was invented in Jerez, it is very rapid and complex, with demanding changes in rhythm for all performers. Guitarists consider it possibly the most virtuosic of the soleas.  Lively and intense, it is also great fun, often performed at parties and as a dance at the end of a show, when all the performers (not just the dancers) join in. With origins in the nineteenth century it was popularised outside of Jerez and other corners of Andalucia in the twentieth century by ‘cross-over’ artists like the guitarist Paco de Lucia and singer Camaron. Still going strong, it is celebrated annually in Jerez, just before the beginning of the vendimia, the wine harvest. This, and the other series of concerts have been augmented by free concerts and dance performances in Plaza Ascuncion, in front of the 13th century church of San Dionysio and the neo-classical town hall.

Then, of course, from September there is the Autumn programme at the Teatro Villamarta. No matter what time of year song, dance and melodies are always to be found in Jerez, city of music. Here is a snatch of a buleria played by a master… watch those fingers.

There’s something fishy going on…

in the village of Loxford, as the village prepares for the annual May Day celebrations and the election ofAlbert_Herring_Flyer_Front_07.06 the May Queen. But there’s not a virtuous maid to be found. Shock, horror! Too many have erred ( being seen ‘out after dusk’, or ‘wearing short skirts’ ). So a King of the May is preferred, the virtuous (and virginal) Albert Herring.

Benjamin Britten’s satirical comic opera ‘Albert Herring’ finds its latest incarnation as St Paul’s Opera Summer opera festival which opened last night at St Paul’s Church, Clapham.  It was great fun.

The church and grounds were pretty in pink, reflecting the opera staging and design ( by Petya Tsankova, the graphic designer who also designs the covers for my books ). It was a gorgeous summer’s evening and the grounds were full with opera-going picnickers.

AlbertHerringPerf3We filed inside, carrying cushions ( those pews can be unforgiving  to the rear end ) to find the colour scheme continued. The musical director and conductor, Panaretos Kyriadzidis took up his position, with pianist Francesca Lauri and the story began.  Florence Pike (mezzo, Natasha Elliott), housekeeper to Lady Billows (soprano, Charlotte Brosnan) was preparing milady’s parlour for the meeting of the May Day committee – Miss Wordsworth (soprano, Anna Marmion), mayor Mr Gedge (baritone, Adam Brown), vicar Upfold (tenor, Peder Holterman) and Superintendent Budd (bass, Masimba Ushe) to choose the May Queen.

Mr G, it is clear, rather fancies Miss W, whereas the vicar has other ideas entirely. The policemen isAlbertHerringPerf1 sensible, if ponderous and all defer to milady, who is ‘overbearingly enthusiastic’ (as described by Britten and his librettist, Eric Crozier). Yet Albert (tenor, Hugh Benson) is decided not upper class, being the greengrocer’s son and neither are his friends, Sid, the butcher’s boy (baritone, Alfred Mitchell) and Nancy, his girlfriend (mezzo, Megan Baker). One of the delights of this opera is the demotic, everyday language which Britten insisted upon. It is used well and wittily – after his night of debauchery which the May King prize money affords him, Albert thanks the shocked villagers ‘And I’d like to thank you all, for giving me the wherewithal.’

AlbertHerringProg1The opera is funny and this production is full of energy, verve and wit. The audience become participants, urged, at specific moments to rise for Lady Billows (as if in church) or to applaud.  There are ‘Missing Person’ handbills circulated and beach balls thrown. Throughout, however, the music is spikily superb. Another great success for St Paul’s Opera and a triumphant excursion outside their usual repertoire. The auditorium was almost full last night and the next two night’s are sold out completely.

The performance was also special because it allowed those young singers who were understudying a part to take centre stage (although some of the singers would be appearing through out). This is all of a piece with St Paul’s stated aim to give the opportunity to perform to as many young singers as they can. They were excellent, as, I’m sure, the others will be too. If you can get hold of a ticket, I urge you to do so.

N.B. Some of the photographs attached to this article are taken from the St Pauls’ website and do not necessarily represent those performing last night. I must also declare an interest – as a supporter of SPO – you can see the cover of Opera in the programme above.