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.

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.

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.

Not a red herring…

Albert_Herring_Insight_Event_Flyer_Front_D3… but rather Albert Herring, by Benjamin Britten. This year’s Summer Opera from St Paul’s Opera Company, Clapham. Last night was the ‘Insight’ evening, designed to introduce the opera to those who may not know it and to stimulate discussion among those who did. I learned a lot.

Our guide was Christopher Wintle, emeritus member of King’s College, London and one of the leading authorities on the works of Benjamin Britten. He talked us through the genesis of the opera and it’s journey to full performance at Glyndebourne on 20 June 1947. It was the librettist, Eric Crozier who suggested to Britten that he base his new work on a Guy de Maupassant story Le Rosier de Madam Husson, but set it in the Suffolk which Britten knew well. Britten had already decided to write a comedy, after having written hischristopherwintle serious piece The Rape of Lucretia. Albert Herring a chamber opera in three acts, was the result.

The opera examines the social attitudes and foibles in a small Suffolk village as Albert is crowned King of the May ( the village having failed to find a May Queen, because of an apparent lack of virtuous maidens ). Characters range from Lady Billows, lady of the manor, to her housekeeper Florence Pike. The obviously virginal Albert works at the greengrocer’s and is befriended by butcher Sid and his girlfriend, Nancy. The language is colloquial and sometimes earthy, as the hen-pecked Albert, permanently under the thumb of his mother, decides to kick over the traces ( with a little help from a nip of something strong slipped into his drink by Sid ). Off he heads, with his prize money, for a night of drink and debauchery.

BBrittenThe following morning, with Albert missing, the villagers discover his May crown in the well and everyone is thrown into mourning. In its midst Albert turns up, rather the worse for wear and thanks the village committee for funding his night of pleasure. All are, needless to say, outraged, but Albert carries it off, standing up to his mother in the process.  The opera was an immediate success, receiving performances in the U.S., Copenhagen, Oslo and Moscow. It has since been performed all over the world.

The subject is humorous and light-hearted, but the music is complex and Britten includes references to various other works, including Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. We were treated to a selection of songs, sung by Natasha Elliott (Florence), Rosalind O’Dowd (Lady Billows), Megan Baker (Nancy) and Hugh Benson (Albert Herring) and then a very interesting round table discussion between ChristopherStPauls Wintle, Panaretos Kyriatzidis (musical director of St Paul’s Opera) and Annemiek van Elst (Director of Albert Herring) facilitated by Jonathan Boardman. The evening closed with questions from the audience (which could have gone on for far longer ). Sadly, dusk had well and truly fallen and the evening drew to a close.

St Paul’s Opera Summer performances of Albert Herring will take place at St Paul’s, Clapham from 7 – 9th July. Come along and picnic first in the delightful grounds. Opera tickets £18 – £30, picnic tables £5 – £10.

The opera…

… is Tosca, by Giacomo Puccini.In my forthcoming thriller, Opera, characters go to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, to a Gala performance. So, not only have I been seeking out performances of Tosca (see Shivering in the Park with Tosca  ) but also imagesTosacSarahBernhardt2 connected with it.

To begin with the original play, La Tosca, by Victorien Sardou, which premiered in 1887, starring Sarah Bernhardt as the diva. Bernhardt often appeared in Sardou’s historical dramas and they were always promoted using posters by Alphonse Mucha, usually depicting Bernhardt herself. But here she is (left) standing over the prone body of the evil chief of the secret police, Baron Scarpia, on a postcard. Postcards like these were relatively recent innovations and very popular at the time.

Bernhardt toured with La Tosca, across Europe and the Americas, to great acclaim, but today the play has largely been forgotten, other than as the original upon whichTosca_poster(1899) Puccini’s opera was based. The first performance of the opera was in 1900 in Rome and the poster was by Adolfo Hohenstein who also designed the stage sets. It is very much in the Art Noveau style of Mucha and features the same scene as the Bernhardt postcard, a scene which was to feature again and again in images of the opera. The pious Tosca sets candles at the head of the Baron, whom she has just killed ( in self-defence, as he has just tried to rape her ) and places a crucifix on his chest.

When Tosca was first performed it wasn’t that well received by the critics, although the public loved, and continues to love, it. This divergence has continued, to an extent, with the American musicologist Joseph Kerman calling it a ‘shabby little shocker’ in the 1950s. Its continuing success with audiences, conductors and performers has, to an extent silenced the nay-sayers, but it is sometimes still regarded as too florid, melodramatic and insufficiently high-minded.

ToscaNakedMany of the more modern images are explicit about the subject matter and the link the opera makes between sex and death (see left). The dagger is a recurring motif, as is blood – red is the most popular colour. The Castel Sant’Angelo appears too. Tosca herself, as in Bernhardt’s time, is often the the central image, although other posters prefer to concentrate on Scarpia, like that for Florida State Opera (right). Only a few depict Cavaradossi, the hero. Ordinarily one might say that this is an example of ToscaFloridaState ‘the devil has all the best tunes’, except that in the opera itself, it is the tenor arias, belonging to Cavaradossi, which are most memorable.

So, aside from a performance occurring in Opera what else does Tosca have in common with my book? First, the action of it, like the opera is set in close to ‘real time’ and in ‘real places’. Tosca was unusual for an opera in that it was set on specific days, the afternoon and evening of 17th and the morning of 18th of June, 1800. In it, the forces of repression, including Baron Scarpia, believe that Napoleon has been defeated at the battle of Marengo, on June 14th, only for news to arrive that, in fact, there was a rearguard action and Napoleon prevailed. Good news for Cavarodossi, the democrat and his lover, Floria Tosca. There is an ongoing battle in Opera, but it isn’t of the traditional sort.

Opera is also about democracy under attack and it too involves the world of spies and secret police. My heroine, Cassandra has to confront her own Baron Scarpia. More on the parallels in a later post.

Opera will be published by Claret Press on 5th September 2022.

The Language of Music

David_Butt_Philip_Masterclass_Flyer_FrontIn particular the language we use when we talk about singing.

On Thursday night in south London there was a singing Masterclass at St Paul’s Opera, given by David Butt Philip (Royal Opera House, ENO, New York Metropolitan, the Vienna Statsoper) to five young singers, the opera stars of tomorrow. Hector Bloggs (baritone), Alex Akhurst (tenor), Anna Marmion (soprano), Fiona Hymns (soprano) and Martins Smaukstelis (tenor) have all begun their performing careers, at St Paul’s Opera, among other places. They sang, respectively, Donizetti ( Come Paride Vezzoso from L’elisir d’amore ) Bizet (Je croix entendre encore from Les Pecheur de Perles), Mozart (the first Queen of the Night aria from Die Zauberflote) and Puccini (Mi chiamano Mimi from La Boheme – Fiona and Parigi e la citta from La Rondine – Martins ).

DBP apologised from the outset because he was suffering from laryngitis and would be singing less than was his usual practice, nonetheless he was able to demonstrate – in every register – how improvements could be made. They most certainly were, each singer adapting their original performance as DBP took them through each piece, sometimes line by line (and not letting them get away with anything). It was fascinating to watch and listen to.

He was equally interesting afterwards, talking about singing. During the Masterclass he had encouraged one singer to ‘almost forget the text’ and to ‘sing through the words’ – this singer had a history in choral music and had been taught to enunciate every word clearly, which wasn’t necessarily the right thing to do in opera. The next singer, of Bizet, he encouraged to ‘use the vowels’ to add resonance and drama – this was Bizet after all ‘it’s romantic music’. The next he encouraged to shorten the vowels and stress the consonants, using a more glottal sound to create slight breaks in emphasis, this was in the Mozart. On more than one occasion he added ‘Sing on the body.’

So how far does the language in which the singer was singing impacted upon the sung presentation – the glottal German, the liquid Italian and so on – and how far it was technique, regardless of language? DBP replied that it was a balance, of course the language impacted, but it was also about the degree of legato (singing in a smooth, even style, without any noticeable break between the notes) most suited to any particular piece or phrase within a piece. He defined ‘singing on the body’ as always having the sound produced supported by the diaphragm.

So this led to a brief discussion about how we  describe singing. A teacher of the violin can suggest a student holds the bow differently, or places their hand higher up the neck of the violin. A teacher of guitar might ask her student to play higher up the frets. But a singing teacher can’t tell their student to ‘raise their larynx’, the human body isn’t quite the same sort of instrument. The beginner can be told about posture and learn how to control their breathing when singing, but, at this level that has already been mastered. So instead we use metaphor. More diminuendo on a long held high note, then returningDavid_Butt_Philip _Fundraising_Gala_Image_Eventbrite to the crescendo, was described as the ‘luxury version’. ‘Don’t be polite, don’t apologise for the note’ signified not to sing it lightly, not giving it due sound, but to sing it loudly, the quality of loudness being needed in a theatre. Also, ‘complete the note’, indicated holding it for as long as necessary. Easily understood, though less easy to define.

It was such an interesting and enjoyable evening. David Butt Philip will be returning to St Paul’s in a Gala concert on 24th March raising funds for the Opera, to enable them to fund young artist’s bursaries and reach out to local schools. At £30 a ticket, to see four remarkable singers, it’s a snip.

For myself, I move onto a different type of performance next Monday, at the first Live Brixton Book Jam since COVID.bookjam-banner-7-mar-22 It’s at the Hootananny, 95 Effra Road, Brixton, SW2 1DF and doors open at 7.30 pm on 7th March, where I’ll be appearing alongside William Ryan, Ashley Hickson-Lovence, Leo Moynihan, West Camel, Paul Bassett Davies and Paul Eccentric. It’s free to attend and there’s booze and books on sale. If you’re in south London why not come along?

Post-Festival blues (or greys)

FlamencoTeatroIt will take a while for the complex rhythms of flamenco to leave my head. The interlacing of voice with the clapping of hands, the stamping of feet and various musical accompaniments, but especially the guitar, has been ubiquitous for me over the past nine days. From wonderful professional performances by masters of their art to the joyous dancing of the students of the schools of flamenco on Plaza Belen before an appreciative, local crowd, it has been a delight. This morning’s grey south London has nothing to compare with the vibrancy and colour of Jerez de la Frontera, where the scent of orange blossom is already in the air.

FlamencoDanielCasaresTwo amazing guitarists were the bookends to our festival this year. We began with Salvador Gutierrez in the converted 16th century church of the Sala Compania. He played a loose and fluid form of flamenco guitar, often varying completely from the melodic into atonality and jazz, only to return to the melody later with supreme artistry. Our festival was closed by Daniel Casares, (left) whose recordings I will seek out. His playing was more traditional in style but he too ranged widely, interweaving with the light and liquid flute of a flautist whose name I didn’t catch and who isn’t credited on the official programme. This was a very informal type of show, with people climbing up on to the stage from the audience to join in. I’ve attached a clip below (starts after five seconds).

FlamencoManuelLinanIn between we were treated to some remarkable dancing. Manuel Linan, darling of the Festival, was back at Teatro Villamarta with a new show Pie de Hierro. Named for and dedicated to his father, who was injured in a road traffic accident which curtailed his career as a bull fighter, but who placed his own heavy expectations on his youngest son, Linan; this complex and difficult relationship is explored in terms of conformity and rebellion, tradition and personal expression. Linan likens this to his relationship with flamenco. There’s a full interview in Lavozdelsur here. It was a highly personal show and very different to the wonderful ensemble work in Viva! or the clever Reversible. The dancing was, as ever, exquisite and powerful at the same time and David Carpio, a long time collaborator with Linan, admirably represented the father/tradition figure in song. A duet between two guitars, one electric, one flamenco, extended the metaphor of duel and dialogue. It was wonderful too.

Javier Fergo

Less personal, but also excellent, was Alfonso Losa, dancing at the same venue with Concha Jareno. The stage pictures of them dancing separately, but in absolute unison, will stay in the memory for a long time. The sensuality on show, with minimal physical contact, was remarkable and totally unlike another pairing, that of Olga Pericet and Daniel Abreu at the Atalaya Museum. That was born out of flamenco but had moved a long way away from it, into the realm of modern dance, atonal white noise and strobe lighting. The artistry was breathtaking, though sexy it wasn’t. This was the second part of an ongoing work which Pericet began developing some years ago and which she aims to complete in 2023, inspired by the famous guitarist Antonio De Torres.

FlamencoPlazaBelen1Much more laid back (though probably not for the participants) was our Andalucia Day morning in Plaza Belen watching the students of the various flamenco schools strutting their stuff. Everyone got their turn in the spotlight and everyone received applause from the predominantly local crowd sitting in the amphitheatre and standing near the stage (proud relatives included). Then we all went off to eat venison at an open air cinema. Perfect.

Official photography is by Javier Fergo (unofficial by me and Helen Hughes). Here’s a bit of very fine guitar to send you away happy.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/683044321?h=3ccd97151c

Festival de Jerez 2022

FestivaldeJerez2022In 2020 I managed to get to the wonderful flamenco Festival de Jerez, two weeks before Spain locked down for the first time in the pandemic. Before vaccines, before masks, before all the mayhem and death. The UK locked down about three weeks later. In 2021 it was a low key, local affair, rescheduled to May and I missed it – the first time for over a decade – because travel was still difficult. Now Festival 2022 is up and running and I’m going.

There is so much to look forward to. There’s a new venue, the Palacio de Atalaya, which houses the poetically named Museum of Time. That’s a museum you really want to be in at midday when the massive clock collection (and there are some truly exquisite timepieces) chimes twelve. We’re seeing the fabulous Olga Pericet, a dancer who I have wanted to see for years but who we’ve always managed to miss,Museo-de-los-Relojes-Jerez-1 before heading off for gourmet tapas. Then to the Sala Compania, a 16th century church converted into a performance space, in the evening for Angel Rojas Dance Project, the Madrileno’s latest show. Sunday and it must be Miguel Linan, an old favourite, in the Teatro Villamarta with his latest show Pie de Hierro. Another of our favourites, Jerezano singer David Carpio, is appearing with Linan as an invited guest. I booked tickets in November, shortly after they were put on sale and the only ones available were up in the gods, which is where we are, but at least we got some.  Linan is becoming a noticias-nacionales_olgapericet-ojocriticosuperstar of the Festival and of flamenco in general and he regularly collaborates with Carpio, good news for both. Then on Monday to the Sala Compania again for a more intimate performance and the Malagan guitarist Daniel Casares. It’s with the guitar that we begin, in the same venue on Wednesday with Salvador Gutierrez.

There’ll be more besides; meeting up with old friends, convivial food and drink (given daytime temperatures of 22 degrees quite a lot of this might be done outside in the blossoming tree-lined squares of the old town). No Carnaval this year, either in Jerez or its more famous Carnaval cousin, Cadiz, as both events have been moved to June, mainly because of COVID. These are street events, drawing huge crowds so itjereztower makes sense to hold them when it’s hotter and the virus less pervasive, though it will be a strange experience, especially in Cadiz, where the Carnaval has been held in February for as long as I can remember. But that’s something else to look forward to later in the year.

The Festival has already begun and friends there tell me that the city is still relatively quiet. Usually the whole place resounds with music and crowds of flamenco lovers from around the world fill the bars and restaurants day and night (and the performance venues). This year might be a little different and maybe restaurant tables will be easier to come by. Every cloud…

I’ll be posting pics in my Insta account. For more on the Festival de Jerez go to The Story Bazaar website and use the Tag Festival de Jerez.