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This is not a concert reviewSuzanne Pinkerton
In writing this, I'm inspired by René Magritte's famous surrealist painting of a pipe, called "Ceci n'est pas une pipe", but those were my instructions. Perhaps my musical inspiration will come from hearing one of the French children next door (a nice family but I hardly ever see them) playing a song from my childhood "Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman" a lot of times on a rather wobbly recorder. And if you don't know the song, what the child is going to tell Mummy is that Daddy expects them to be grown up, and they would rather have sweeties. And if it was good enough for Mozart to use it for a set of variations, it's good enough for me!
But enough of these digressions. We were in trouble. As the poster, complete with the gentlemen's new photo, told us, Nicholas Mogg was to sing Schubert's "Schwanengesang" accompanied by that key member of Team Mogg, Jâms Coleman.
I would like to stress that, in the five years or more I've known Nicholas I've only ever heard of one example of his having to cancel an appearance before. He's missed the odd class or coaching session, with a cold now and then, but that is all. And on that occasion the bonds of Cambridge held firm, and instead of Nicholas Mogg, late of Clare, the audience in Germany got Henry Neill, late of John's, who providentially had popped over to see his Austrian soprano girlfriend, who happened to be there, and he could ride to the rescue. And a fine singer he is, too.
This time, Nicholas had a chest infection which got worse and the concert was upon us. What to do? We were very fortunate that Aidan Coburn, our regular tenor, was willing, on top of a dress rehearsal for "The Barber of Seville" in which he's playing the tenor lead, to come and sing for us.*
And here, we were the more confused. Aidan was accompanied by Matt Fletcher. Now Jeremy and Julia have two sons. The elder, Nick, not to be confused with our singer, is a musician, and at present a Jette Parker Young Artist as a répétiteur at the Royal Opera. Their younger son is called Matthew. But he isn't a musician. Till this Matthew Fletcher walked out to play, I wasn't the only puzzled person.
Aidan has always been strong in English song. The first half consisted of music I have heard him sing before, which was no surprise. He started with "Silent Noon" by Vaughan Williams - a quintessential English song which Aidan sings well. He then moved on to Gerald Finzi's "A Young Man's Exhortation" which I have also heard him sing. Finzi had a short life, dying of complications from chickenpox when he was only 55, and without suggesting he was a sort of forerunner of Britten, as their lives overlapped to some extent, he was very much part of the stream of English song composers of the earlier 20th century. He also taught at the RAM. Aidan has these songs well bedded in to his voice, so he could call on them at short notice.
After the interval we got on to opera and I pricked up my ears. I have never seen Aidan in an opera - he is busy all round the country, but that is the problem. As far as I know, he hasn't done any in London. Matthew also works as a répétiteur - please don't see above or it gets even more confusing! Mozart's "Il Seraglio" provides an aria for Belmonte, our hero, who wouldn't be let off without some technical challenges, any more than Osmin, the splendid bass role, or Konstanze, the soprano heroine. An attractive feature of Mozart's opera is that he gives both tenors and baritones good roles to sing.
Here was Aidan singing one of his party pieces from "The Barber of Seville" - "Ecco ridente in cielo" sung when Count Almaviva is out early. It's becoming obvious that Aidan will probably head mostly toward opera in his career, the way he's going now. And Rossini is always obliging with an orchestral flourish to attract applause! We then passed on to "Una furtiva lagrima" from "L'Elisir d'Amore". This is another party piece for Nemorino and when he finally gets the girl, you feel it's only fair!
I was pleased to hear Aidan sing an aria I didn't know - Macduff's aria from Verdi's "Macbeth" which showed it as one more younger tenors could and should tackle. I've never seen "Macbeth" on stage, so thank you, Aidan. Matt gave us a complete contrast - and Aidan a rest - by playing "Daisies" by Rachmaninov before we were up and away with something from Aidan's time as the Duke in "Rigoletto" in Wexford - and with otherwise, he told me, an almost all-Italian cast, which certainly says something. He chose the one piece where the Duke departs from his Bad Boy persona, and shows he might have some feelings after all. On to Federico's Lament from "Adriana Lecouvreur" by Cilea, and as a final piece the tenor's last joyful aria of love from "The Barber of Seville" in English, ready for Swansea City Opera. Rossini merrily ignores Mozart's setting of "The Marriage of Figaro" where the romance has worn off - and the Count is a baritone. Tosti's "Ideale" one of his popular, if sentimental Neapolitan songs, sent us off slightly overwhelmed at what Aidan and Matt had managed to put together in barely two days.
I've just said the Count in "The Marriage of Figaro" is a baritone. I thought I'd mention, while he's recovering, that that was the first opera role in which I saw Nicholas when he was only 23. I've seen a few since! And at least he has help to get better. About two weeks ago, at time of writing, he announced his engagement to the charming, in both senses, soprano Iúnó Connolly. And to slightly adjust Jane Austen's "Emma", "the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of all their friends, should be fully announced in the perfect happiness of the union".
*Swansea City Opera dates can be found at
http://www.swanseacityopera.com/productions/ - just in case you find yourself in Winchester, Harrogate, Bury St Edmunds, Abergavenny or any of the other sixteen venues it tours to between now and mid-May.