My first opera was an obscure, for want of a better word, opera written by Nikolai Rimsky- Korsakov at Sadlers Wells in London back in 1948-49. The only part of the opera that I can recall is the “Dance of the tumblers” probably because it seemed so fast and furious. Too the only music I recall is the music for this dance.
I went with Uncle Charlie, he wasn’t really my uncle but he was my dads best friend and back then children weren’t so familiar with grown ups like todays children. Well here in Australia at least; There are times when my children call me dad, but those times are few and far between, no nephew niece from the extended family call me anything other than my given name; and that’s how it should be I think. I like that.
Anyway back to Uncle Charlie, he was an industrial chemist with a love of the opera and classical music. He always came by on a Tuesday night to play darts against my dad and the neighbour from next door but one, Mr Harris. I’ll probably get around to telling you some stories about Mr Harris another time but this isn’t the right place for them.
I was considered a bit odd by my parents (and most of my school chums come to think of it), because I liked and enjoyed music. I only really had one close chum at school; that was Turner (John Turner). He was an excellent musician, played the piano beautifully and excelled on the clarinet. Like me he enjoyed the once a term visit by what was commonly called “The Quintet”, sometimes when they arrived they’d be a quartet other times a sextet, but always referred to as “The Quintet”
Turner was allowed free access to the glorious concert grand; a Blüthner, in the school hall, whenever he felt like playing or just tinkling with the keys, he was that good. He taught me to play a few bars of a sweet little piece and it was not until several years later I found that the piece was Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”..
I’m getting away from the subject again, back to the “Snow Maiden”, Uncle Charlie had bought two seats to the performance, there was only to be the one, and tried to persuade my dad to go with him. This tickled my father no end, Bolshie that he was; the only song he knew and that I ever heard him sing was “Comrades” :-). anyway I piped up and said I’d like to go, and so it was. I went.
Uncle Charlie took me up to London on the Underground;(we never ever referred to the Underground as the “tube”), don’t ask me which trains we took I can’t remember the route except we went to The Angel Islington, there Uncle Charlie took me to tea at a Lyons Corner House I think it was called. It was my first ever experience of eating in a restaurant and I’ve no idea what we had to eat because I was too excited.
After we’d finished eating we toddled off to the theatre, I didn’t realize it at the time but we had very good seats in the dress circle. Four rows from the balcony, and Uncle Charlie pointed out a man and woman two rows closer in and directly in front of us and told me that it was the Earl of Harewood and Marion Stein the concert pianist. The Earl was the eldest grandson of the late King George V and nephew of the King; George VI.
The Earl was regarded by George V as a bit odd (welcome to the club) as he was not the least bit interested in riding horses and shooting, the proper pass time for a young man with royal blood coursing through his veins; but in music and the arts. By the bye, the Earl’s name was George also; his full name was George Henry Hubert Lascelles. He served with the Grenadier Guards during WWII and was captured by the Germans and imprisoned at Colditz. (There was a film made about an escape from Colditz some years ago)
This castle prison was used to house high ranking captured British and allied servicemen as it was thought to be escape proof. Douglas Bader was sent there after making one too many escapes or escape attempts. Sir Douglas Bader as he became was a renowned hero. He’d lost both legs in a motor cycle accident some years before the war but refused to give up flying and became a Spitfire pilot. Known as Tin Legs Bader he was shot down over Germany or it may have been France and captured by the Germans who didn’t believe that he was the pilot of the plane they’d shot down,
Why? Because Bader’s tin legs were trapped in the cockpit so he unstrapped them and escaped from the doomed aircraft. The German captors to their credit sent a radio message to England saying that they had captured Bader and would you be so good as to send a new pair of legs as his had gone down with the aircraft. A new pair were parachuted in, I believe that the aircraft that took them was given a right of passage by the Germans. If true that has to be one of the good stories to come out of WWII.
Now where the hell was I, I’ll have to read back. Ah yes, the Earl of Harewood; Hitler signed a death warrant for the earl back in March 1945, but the commandant at the camp wouldn’t carry out the execution and assisted in the earls escape to Switzerland.
As usual I’ve digressed more than I intended so I’ll give this blog a bit of a rest and finish by saying that I remember little about my first opera except for the dance of the tumblers. I will write something more of my opera experience later and I promise to stick to the subject, at least I’ll try 🙂 .