As I think I’ve mentioned, I’m planning (hoping?) to do my ATCL singing exam this year, and got all excited about creating a Shakespeare / Renaissance-themed programme, with just a little baroque to spice things up (because I cannot resist baroque music). Only my programme has been blowing out to a ridiculous length, and is full of depressing Italian arias, which is not ideal.
Then, last week, I found a whole series of John Donne sonnets set to music by an Australian composer, Dorian Le Gallienne. They are all horribly atonal, which is a pity, and of course, I don’t exactly need *more* repertoire (says she who accidentally downloaded a whole book of 50 songs inspired by Shakespeare last night, including a truly appalling Victorian attempt to make Desdemona’s Willow Song in English scan to the Rossini Italian), but singing through them last night brought me a brainwave – if I take all the arias gleefully out of context, but stay true to the textual and emotional content, I can have a recital not merely with a theme, but with a plot! Of sorts. Assuming I can find that top D flat for the Lady Macbeth. And assuming that Trinity isn’t so appalled at my operatic blasphemy that they fail me on the spot.
Anyway, here’s the opening of my story…
Isn’t it gorgeous? The lyrics (which come from Linley’s incidental music for the Tempest) are suitably overture-like for my purposes:
Come unto these yellow sands,
And there take hands;
Foot it featly here and there,
And let the rest the chorus bear.
OK, I just went looking for information about Thomas Linley the younger, and discovered that he was much more interesting than anything else I was going to say about my program, especially since my brain does this thing where anyone artistic who died young and unexpectedly was probably either taken by the fairies or was faking his own death for monster-and-magic related reasons (as opposed to artists who died young of wasting diseases, where the explanation is clearly vampires). Linley, as it happens, drowned in a boating accident at the age of 22, and don’t think I don’t have Shelley-related conspiracy theories about this one. Back in the real world, Linley was the brother-in-law of Richard Sheridan, a contemporary and friend of Mozart – they were fellow child prodigies who met at the age of 14, when Linley was in Florence, studying the violin.
And, oh yes, he wrote beautiful music. Mozart apparently said after Linley’s death that he had been ‘a true genius, who, had he lived, would have been one of the greatest ornaments of the musical world’. For once, Mozart and I are in agreement.
I suppose it would be obnoxious to start off by enthusing about my programme ideas and then not tell you what they actually are. But I keep rearranging the order of things, so it’s a bit difficult. At present, I’m following my Linleyesque overture with The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation (Purcell), which is about the feared loss of a child. I’ll follow this with Fear No More the Heat o’the Sun (Quilter), which is more or less spoken over the grave, and then descend into madness and despair with Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking aria (Verdi). This gets followed up by a suitable suicide aria, probable Romeo’s one from Vaccai, though Desdemona’s Willow Song (Rossini) would be more fun. We’ll see. Then Juliet’s Je Veux Vivre aria (Gounod), turning away from despair and towards life, followed by Death be not Proud, which is Donne’s triumphant defiance of death (ending ‘One short sleep past, we wake eternally / and Death shall be no more – death, thou shalt die!’). And then I’ll end with Let the Bright Seraphim, which fits in both as a suitably triumphal ending to the story, a suitable finale to the music, and which also harks back nicely to the first lines of the Purcell: Tell me, tell me, some pitying angel…
(so maybe it really was all about Mary after all)
And it *might* even fit into 40 minutes…