Friday, June 17, 2011

London- once again.


Castellain Mansions Maida Vale .

Little Venice -Maida Vale
Neil rented a big 3 bedroom apartment in Castellain Mansions in  Maida Vale  London . it was on the top floor, It was a very nice neighborhood .Sir Alec Guinness was born here, and the poet Robert Browning also lived here. The BBC Radio studios were also situated in this area.Victoria Woods ,the English comedian lived in Castellain Mansions and later the guitarist of Iron Maiden
I was thankful to had a place to stay and this made my live so much easier.
When we  entered the UK , I was given a 6 month  visa , but Neil had no problem as he had a study visa for 3 years. This visa situation started to rule my life!


I met another South African guy at South Africa House and he mentioned the name of an agency that would employ foreigners -that had not working permits. I  went to see them and found a job .
We were mostly South Africans and Australians and we worked for a Insurance Company sorting out their filing system. t was rather strange that most of us working in the filing office had degrees and were very well educated-but we had no work  permits. Most of the other guys  there  used the money to go skiing or go on vacations to Europe, and get a new 6 month visa  when hey came back into the UK. After a while I decided continue my education ."The Tailor and Cutter Academy" was the school where all the bespoke tailors came to study. It was very popular with Asian students that were tailors in their own countries but wanted to get some International experience and knowledge.
I started studying there as well as doing odd jobs through the agency.
I had a wonderful time there -
We were taught how to draft patterns straight onto the material as tailors mostly do.
Here Prince Charles views a suit pattern drafted on the material for one of his bespoke suits.

I was trained in women's wear so I found it strange that were so many rules when it came to men's tailoring  .The collars, pockets all  had set measurements for a day suit but changed for an evening suit. I met many students from all over the world and I was amazed how the Asian sat cross legged on the tables and had their work in their laps sewing away by hand. We were given drafts for Ladies Riding Jackets and Ladies Riding Skirts that was part of the work a bespoke tailor in London would have to be able to do, if his male customer brought in his wife for her riding habit. For a riding skirt the skirt had to be straight once the woman sat on the horse so tailors would have special chair that looked like a horse .The customer would sit on this to straighten the hem.
 found this interesting but rather old fashioned. I did learn a lot about tailoring and it was worth it for me later in my career.

 With Beth  in Coventry
Henry in Hampstead

Steph ,Tineke and Henry visiting London.
Another wonderful part of life in London was Covent Garden or the Royal Opera House.
This was during the reign of Sir David Webster.

Covent Garden

Interior of the Royal Opera House.

The early 70' had wonderful opera singers around and I felt so blessed to have the opportunity to hear so many of the great singers of that period.  Neil was a great opera lover as well- so we started going to a lot of opera. We sat upstairs in the cheap seats and had one great experience after the other.

Leontyne Price

Neil was a big fan of Leontyne Price. I did not know her that well but fell in love with her voice.
When we heard she was coming to do "Aida" we slept overnight on the street outside the box office  to get tickets. After the performance we went backstage and we spoke about her Strauss recordings that she was doing in  London the same as performing at the ROH. She was very reserved and a real lady. She was dressed in a brown knit dress, brown mink coat and brown turban- looking every inch like the diva she was. We left a  salmon rose at the stage door before the performance  and when she came out she had the rose with her....
In New York I now live in the same neighborhood as Miss Price .A couple of years ago I bumped into her at the grocery store and I spoke to her and told her about seeing her in London for the first time- "Those were the good years" she said. I saw her many times later in her career but that was the first time I heard her live.

Dame Joan Sutherland.

We saw Joan  Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti in "Lucia di Lammermoor".Our friend Elsa came over from Amsterdam to join us for this. I was so hooked on the female voices those years that is was years later that I only  realized that Pavarotti was the tenor in this performance.When we met her backstage she was very friendly but I felt she was uncomfortable with strangers and wanted us all to go away.She was dressed in a floral chiffon gown with a diamond pin halfway between her shoulder and bust.I found that very strange and wanted to pin it higher on her shoulder.
Neil, Elsa +Henry


Birgit Nilsson

Miss Nilsson we saw in Beethoven's "Fidelio".That was an enormous voice but more like a laser. I wanted to put my fingers in my ears at the end when she drowned out the chorus and orchestra.
Years later in New York I attended a Master Class that she gave .Like many great singers it was difficult for her to teach-and she got very irritated if the students did not understand her- but I enjoyed watching her. She was very short and square and wore a very bright colored floral  suit and a wig. This was after she stopped singing.

Montserrat Caballe

The first time I saw Monserat Caballe -she came to the Festival Hall with Fiorenza Cosotto and they both brought their husband Ivo Vinco and Bernabe Marti so help them perform "Norma".
Caballe was on crutches for this concert performance .She took it is her stride and with her sense of humor handled it just great.. I did not have a ticket and stood outside waving a  pound note -but to no avail .Just as the concert was about to begin and man dressed in a chauffeur's uniform handed me a ticket for free and told me to hurry and make the performance. When I got to my seat I was next to a very grand lady. She told me that she gave her husbands ticket the her driver and told him to give the tickets to a student .Her husband was busy in the House of Lords and could not make the performance. Lady X and  I had a lovely evening but she said she was there to hear Cosotto and not that "Spanish Woman ".Every time we all had to wait for Madame Caballe to come in on her crutches- Lady X sighed.....Later when Caballe came to South Africa, I also heard her as "Norma". I bought 3 tickets knowing about her record of cancellations. The first night we heard the first two acts and the second night all the 3 acts but the third   performance she cancelled and the South African soprano Mimi Coertse took over. She made for it a week later when she sang the most wonderful concert after she got used to the altitude of Johannesburg.

Shirley Verrett

Miss Verrett was scheduled to sing the role of Amneris in "Aida".
Because she sang the role so many time in Covent Garden she arrived a few days before her performances and did not attend rehearsals.When we saw the opera  opening night she had the shock of her life when the singer that was singing "Aida" was so good that she overshadowed Miss Verrett completely.The soprano was a Eastern European singer that nobody heard of .
Verrett were on her knees dragging her nails over the stage floor and sang for all she was worth.
At the end she won that round but it was one of the most exciting performances I ever saw in an opera house.

Fiorenza Cosotto.
Great Italian dramatic mezzo that sang with all the great sopranos of her time.
Backstage she was very grand and just as big a diva as the sopranos she sang with-
 She made sure you knew that. She sang in South Africa many years later where I heard  her in "Cavelleria Rusticana."

Grace Bumbry

I did hear Grace Bumbry before in "Salome"  but this time she was back in London to sing "Tosca" with Carlo Bergonzi.Backstage one guy was telling her not to sing with Bergonzi as he was too old. She answered him "Honey I just turn up and sing.I have no say about  who I sing with. "She was dressed in a pink gown with long white gloves. The only problem was that the dress looked if she spilled some soup on it. She was a grand diva and she  played the backstage crowd.


Jessye Norman.

We saw Jessye Norman's  debut at the ROH in Wagner's "Lohengrin".
People took note that this was a beautiful voice from one of the younger singers.

Renata Tebaldi

It was announced that Renata Tebaldi and  Franco Corelli would perform in  a recital at the Royal Albert Hall.  She was 51 at this at stage and over her prime- as she retired from the stage all together 4 years later. I never saw Tebaldi in a opera so I was so pleased to have the opportunity to hear her and Corelli together in a farewell concert. Her voice was in much better shape than Maria Callas was at that age.She wore a beautiful coral gown and when we went backstage she had slipped her matching satin pumps off and were wearing orthopedic shoes. I remembered that she has polio as a child and this must have been the reason. This was the only time that I heard her or Corelli and they were at the end of their careers but it was still a thrill. Their accompanist was Gordon Jephtas the South African musician.

There was a lot said and written about the Tebaldi/Callas feud. They sang very different roles and when Callas went to la Scala -Tebaldi went to New York and became the star of the Metropolitan Opera. On September 16, 1968 in New York- Callas went backstage to see Tebaldi after her performance in "Adrianna Lecouvreur" and they kissed and showed the world that they were friends while Rudolph Bing of the Met looked on....
Some of the other great singers we heard during this time was Maria Callas Gwyneth Jones, Amy Shuard, Marie Collier, Pilar Lorengar, Theresa Berganza, Jose Carerras ,Placido Domingo, Alfredo Krauss, Kiri te Kananwa,Helga Dernesch,. amongst many other wonderful and talented singers.

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