Comparing Cinderellas

Over the past few weeks I’ve been comparing two versions of a ballet – Prokofiev’s Cinderella.  One was a traditional version from Amsterdam, Dutch National Ballet, one a recording of the Matthew Bourne version set during the war, which I saw recently at Sadlers Wells but which was also on TV over Christmas.

The music doesn’t directly correlate as you switch between the two, but I’ve certainly become very familiar with bits of it.  I don’t know if I could say which of the productions I preferred, probably the more traditional one, but only by a bit, and both had interesting scenes and ideas.  For example in the Dutch version I particularly loved the groups of four seasons dancers, in different colours, bright green for spring, yellow for summer, red for autumn, then blue/white for winter, with the trees reflecting the same colours, so pretty.  And also how the trying on of the shoe was done, with a whole row of dancers moving forward by one on a row of chairs, with each one doing something slightly different or comical when it came to their turn.  And in the Matthew Bourne I liked particular moments, like the angel all in silver suddenly appearing on a mantelpiece, and the way the stepmother and family do a funny walk together in the hospital scene, so evocative and so cleverly matching the music.

I’m only just starting to bear to be able to listen to emotional classical music again.  The music of the final scene – I’ve just watched the ending of both versions, not an actual proper dance between the couple but a staged happy ending – when it comes in is SO affecting and emotional, it’s like the Rosenkavalier duet at the end, just magical, all ‘twinkly’, stunning how a piece of music can bring out such feelings in your heart you can hardly express, well done Prokofiev!

Just another musical comment.  It’s a well known thing in classical music and opera for example, that the tempo at which things were taken used to be slower in the past and in modern productions can be faster.  John and I used to discuss this a lot, he had an amazing feel for tempo and we both tended to agree about a preferred tempo.  In general, personally, I often prefer the more ‘old fashioned’ speed, and sometimes find things taken much too fast (many examples I could give in opera).  But listening to the main Cinderella theme repeated at the end of these two ballets – in the traditional one it was played over the credits, in the Bourne there was a wonderful danced curtain call – I really felt the traditional tempo was just that bit too slow and laborious, whereas it was much better, to my ears ‘right’, in the more modern version.

I felt so so sad that my partner that I used to be able to talk to about this sort of thing was gone – and so so sure that he would have agreed with me about the tempo, and about the astonishing musical beauty of the ending.

HMS Pinafore, Brighton – Review


  • Wow! How amazing to have found so many men who are young and attractive and physically hunky, who can sing (albeit with light/show and not operatic voices), dance and have the good British English Gilbert & Sullivan needs.
  • Interesting to hear different male voice types, from low voices through light tenor to falsetto/countertenor.
  • The guy doing Buttercup stood out as very confident and with such perfect diction.
  • I found the idea at the end of people shedding their ‘camp’ accessories and rubbing off their make-up – sort of going back to the real world – strangely moving.


  • Considering the ticket price, disappointed it was only with piano and not orchestra – a bit amateurish.
  • Not even an attempt to vary the set eg after the interval – pretty basic.
  • Two people holding a rope to portray a ship’s rail is a nice simple production idea and is clever once – but boring repeatedly.
  • The falsetto voices don’t really work in chorus – the mixed ensembles seemed weak.
  • I was expecting a touch of the traditional updating of words to reflect current affairs, especially in the current climate, but it didn’t happen. Maybe it’s only done in The Mikado.

Overall really enjoyed it and would recommend the show.

Scratch Messiah


I sang chorus in a Scratch Messiah before Christmas, and found another one just before Easter, so went to that also.  It’s about occupying my mind, and being drawn to familiar things.

I found an amazing website for choral singers that plays you all the parts separately, to help you learn them.  How times have changed – what a wonderful resource.  Easier than trying to pick out all the notes on a keyboard yourself (especially when you no longer have any sort of keyboard).

Some bits of it are so beautiful – I was struck by some of the wonderful answering phrases between the parts.

It’s a long time since I’ve sung in choirs, but these recent experiences have reminded me that the absolutely vital thing is to COUNT to yourself as you follow the music – it’s the key to cracking it.  Now I’m sure everyone who sings in a choir would say; er yes, of course, how else to do it?  But I’ve rediscovered the importance of counting, and what I mean is – as opposed to trying to follow another line and get your cue from that (confusing when the music is so often syncopated), and also as opposed to trying to picture a conductor’s beat, ie beating time with a down beat on the bar (I was doing this at first in my head but kept losing the pattern).

My tip is just to really concentrate, look at each bar as it goes along and count the beat in your head really strictly – one two three four, or one two three.  You need to be absolutely sure of where you are, then you can be confident of coming in correctly.  (Easier said than done of course.)

My personal objective each time was to sing the thing through and be 100% accurate, ie not get any notes wrong or miss anything out.  I reckon both times I was around 95% right.

One thing made me laugh to myself on the train home.  There’s a chorus which goes ‘Great was the company of the preachers…’ and I was so tired in the evening after rehearsing since noon, that once I sang ‘Great was the company of the creatures…’  Mental image of a vast number of camels, cows, deer, rabbits etc standing on a hillside.

Handel’s Messiah meets The Animals of Farthing Wood!

St John’s Passion

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Went to a performance of St John’s Passion in a lovely big church in Kensington recently.  The choir was very good, well worth listening to, with a lovely rich sound.  I wasn’t that impressed with the tenor though; I thought his diction wasn’t clear enough, and also there was no engagement with the audience.  It’s such a central role, ‘The Evangelist’, such a focal point for the piece, I would have thought it was an opportunity to really make your presence felt, and deliver it in a way that keeps the audience’s attention on you and on the story.  Basically, I don’t think the Evangelist was Evangelical enough.

I enjoyed it all though.  The penultimate chorus is a piece that, rather morbidly, I sometimes have to stop myself singing because I’ve always thought I’d have it played at my funeral.  I sung it years ago at school and it’s got itself deep in my soul.  I’ve always known it as ‘Lie still… (oh sacred limbs lie sleeping, and I will lay aside my weeping…)’.  But in this translation it was ‘Sleep well’.  Oh dear.  I don’t think ‘Sleep well’ has anything like the power of ‘Lie still’ in that context.

I went on my own and of course it was impossible not to think about my partner (and his absence) the whole time.  When I go to things like this I’m experiencing what they say about how people can be lonely in a crowd.  There were loads of people there who were all obviously interested enough to listen to a serious classical piece like that, and I felt like I had something in common with them, and I belonged.  At yet of course everyone is in couples or family groups, and though you sort of look at people with a smile on your face in the hope of striking up a conversation, no-one spoke to me at all.

In fact the whole of that day, my only attempt at interacting with someone was to make a comment to a guy walking a little white dog just like the one that’s recently won Crufts.  I said something like, ‘Oh look, it’s the Crufts winner!  Any relation?’  He didn’t really respond and the dog just pooed right in front of me.