27 March, 2023
James Bowman, the best of all counter-tenors (6 November 1941 - 27 March 2023)
RIP a one-off. It was the virility of his sound and his stage presence which electrified me when I first saw James sing at a concert of The Early Music Consort of London with David Munrow in about 1970. By then he had also electrified Benjamin Britten who had found his perfect Oberon, and for whom he wrote more music – including Apollo in his last opera Death in Venice and his setting of T S Eliot's poem The Journey of the Magi. And when I was getting going as a singer, James was extraordinarily generous to me. I owe him immeasurably. We sang together quite a lot, for recordings and concerts – never a dull moment, as you would expect. On and off stage banter and brilliant spontaneous quips were the background to seat-of-your pants performances of Sound the Trumpet and other competitive duets. I remember one of our first joint outings on a Sunday morning in the Wigmore Hall for a “Coffee Concert”. We advanced to the front of the platform, took our bows, during which he remarked “I don’t know a soul here, do you”, as if it were a Drinks party. And then, just as I took my first breath to start, probably Sound the Trumpet, he turned and whispered - actually he never whispered, he was fearless – “You are the weakest link. Goodbye” and off we went. It was fun, exhilarating, and of course, frequently heart-stoppingly beautiful on his part. He could turn a phrase like no other. He was a god in France. Many of us (CTs) assembled to herald his last stage appearance in Théâtre Grévin in Paris a few years ago. Laughter and tears in equal measure. We all loved him.
21 December, 2021
December 2021 update
Most of my time these days is devoted to The Grange Festival. This was created in 2015, with the first performances at The Grange in 2017. 2022 will celebrate the 5th full festival, with a bit of a blip in 2020, when indoor performances were not possible, when we put together an outdoor sequence, using the many natural stages of the mansion at The Grange, including the roof, terraces, parapets, ceremonial steps, porticoes, and the full extent of the surrounding park. This one-off al fresco production was called “Precipice”: not inappropriate for how we in the performing arts then felt, and still do to a certain extent.
The summer of 2021 was sort of back to normal, except pretty severe restrictions were still in place, both for audience and performers. Rehearsals were still precipitous, with regular absences from performers and stage personnel right through the whole period. One of our operas, originally planned for 2020 (to coincide with its 60th anniversary), was A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Britten/Shakespeare). The largest part in the opera is that of the rustic/mechanical, Nick Bottom, the weaver. On the evening before the opening performance day, also the opening of the festival, Bottom number 3 reported proximity to a positive tester and so had to get up at dawn (having only joined the company the day before) and get a Covid test with a rapid turn-around so both that he could sing that evening and the festival could actually begin. When it comes to commissioning our opera about the whole Covid experience, I think a good title might be “Our Bottom is negative.”
So far, the Festival has staged 15 operas, together with Verdi’s Requiem, Bernstein’s Candide and Lerner and Lowe’s My Fair Lady in concert, as well as numerous other events including masterclasses, recitals and 2 international singing competitions.
I continue to teach the counter-tenors and other voices at The Royal Academy of Music, and am thrilled to be invited to give public master-classes around the world, most recently in Hong-Kong, Mexico, Shanghai, Curitiba (Brazil) and Toronto, as well as the RCM and Guildhall in London. After nearly 20 years of giving one-to-one lessons and devising and running projects at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, I now go once a year for an operatic project, involving many singers on the Early Music course as well as including some from the classical course. This year (February 2022) we will stage as fully as possible what is probably the first opera written by a woman – La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola di Alcina by Francesca Caccini (1625). It will be the first sizeable project for the Conservatorium in their enormous new home, Amare in the centre of The Hague.
We plan to revive, after a 2-year break due to Covid, SienAgosto in August, the residential late-summer course in one of the world’s most magical cities which I started with the Director of the Siena School for Liberal Arts, Miriam Grotanelli de Santi. I think we have so far held 6 of these, having welcomed over 150 students from some 30 or more countries.
As for singing, opportunities are not so many these days. I sometimes meet up with the lutenist Paul Beier to make recordings of English lute songs in exquisite little churches around Lake Como. It is really a case of having crossed the threshold which separates performer from festival director. One either does one or the other; hard to have the headspace, not to mention the muscle flexibility, to do both.
Michael Chance, December 2021
Photo by Annelies van der Vegt
01 December, 2019
Advent Sunday. Tomorrow we audition children in Perins School in Alresford to be fairies in our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream next summer. Oh, and perhaps you might like to see this recent item from the BBC website about bullying made by teachers from Perins School.
Last Monday we completed our auditions for our 2020 festival chorus, and invitations have gone out. It’s always a difficult process this: the successful ones have probably also received offers from Glyndebourne and Garsington and other summer festivals all happening at roughly the same time. We try and offer some understudy positions as well, with a little more money. But getting the best people is hard when we aren’t the biggest player in the field (yet), but many of them seem to want to come to us anyway. It must be the food or something.
Our ticket sales to Friends and Founders are going well - well up on this time last year. We always want to improve, so looking ok at this stage. Public booking opens March 10th. That’s always a frantic day in the office - a bit like some of the mad trading days I remember when working in the Stock Exchange: total bedlam really.