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Edward Seckerson

Writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson is chief classical music and opera critic for The Independent. He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio 3 series Stage & Screen, in which he interviewed many of the most prominent writers and stars of musical theatre. He appears regularly on BBC Radio 3 and 4. On television, he has commentated a number of times at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He has published books on Mahler and the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and has been on Gramophone Magazine's review panel for many years. Edward presented the 2007 series of the Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint. He has interviewed everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Liza Minelli; from Paul McCartney to Pavarotti: from Julie Andrews to Jessye Norman.

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No, it's not at all what it sounds. Not on Radio 3.

Did you know that live entertainment - especially Opera - was transmitted down telephone lines in the late 1880s? Neither did I. During the course of preparing "The Pleasure Telephone" - the Sunday feature on R3 16 May at 9.30pm - I traveled to Paris and all over London to discover exactly how it happened. Families dressed for the occasion would congregate around their Electrophone Table for the very latest relay from Covent Garden. The headsets were specially designed to sit under the chin so's not to violate the ladies' hair. Plays were transmitted from theatres. Microphones disguised as bibles would relay church services. And if your maiden aunt called during the broadcast the operator could deflect the call if required.

After the telephone, before radio... this is how it was.

Join me and a cast of boffins for the whole amazing untold story, next Sunday and, of course, on "Listen Again".

The diva directing the diva playing the diva

Posted by Edward Seckerson
  • Monday, 10 May 2010 at 07:41 pm
A close encounter with Catherine Malfitano whose LIVE in-real-time TV Tosca back in 1992 was the operatic "24" of its day...

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/features/opera-podcast-catherine-malfitano-1970437.html?

Julie's "sprechstimme"

Posted by Edward Seckerson
  • Sunday, 9 May 2010 at 03:28 pm
Oh, why, oh, why, was she ever persuaded to do it? I chose not to venture to the 02 last night for Julie Andrews' much-publicised return to the London stage (if that humongous arena can be characterised as such) but the rash of reports now filtering through speak of mass walk-outs and demands for refunds. She was never really going to sing, was she? Not in the accepted sense. The minute I heard the word "sprechstimme" (that's German for a mode of singing called speech-song, folks) I feared the worst. I mean she wouldn't be singing Schoenberg, would she?

We know the long and harrowing tale of her vocal cysts and the disastrous surgery that followed and when I last interviewed her (the fourth occasion) the husky legacy was there for all to hear. She was even willing to talk about it. So, laser treatment or not, why risk the disappointment of those, like me, who idolised her? At very best, this "personal appearance" was misrepresented as some kind of come-back and even if it wasn't it must have been known that that's how people would read it? I'm guessing money is at the root of it but me, I'm going to hang on to the memory of being present (and involved, as in writing the interview-cum-liner notes) when she recorded what turned out to be a pretty sensational Richard Rodgers album back in 1994. The voice had changed, the tessitura had dropped, but the artistry was incomparable and there were fabulous new notes hitherto hidden a long way beneath that pristine upper register we knew and loved so well.

Finishing the Heats....again

Posted by Edward Seckerson
  • Monday, 26 April 2010 at 09:46 am
Sunday was a day of Sondheim songs (how appropriate) - 49 of them, to be precise - one for each entrant in this year's Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year Competition. The 12 finalists are now chosen and I'm hoping my instincts have served me well...

I am chairman of a Jury which this year features Maureen Lipman, Sally Anne Triplet, Martin Koch, David Grindrod. The luscious Hannah Waddingham presents.

Mark your calendar - QUEENS THEATRE, 3PM, SUNDAY 6TH JUNE 2010

In Conversation - Dame Margaret Price

Posted by Edward Seckerson
  • Sunday, 18 April 2010 at 01:59 pm
Worth sharing, I think - me and one of great voices of our time in a close encounter at Wigmore Hall

http://www.classicaltv.com/v943/dame-margaret-price-in-conversation/newest/12

Abba's Swedish Folk Opera

Posted by Edward Seckerson
  • Friday, 16 April 2010 at 10:16 am
They tried to sneak in unnoticed but adoring fans had engaged their Abba-spotting radar and a prolonged ovation was inevitable. Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus are, of course, pop legends but it's good to be reminded of the right stuff that made them so. Andersson, in particular, is a composer/melodist of startling distinction - a truly individual voice who is just as eager to wrong-foot you as to embrace you. The Abba song catalogue is up there with all the great pop originals. And their "problematic" musical Chess (problematic only on account of its book) boasts one of the best musical theatre scores of the last 30 years.

Then there is Kristina - their much-loved "folk opera" (for want of a better description) - which one suspects is more personal and more important to them both than the rest of their creative catalogue put together. If ever a piece sung a nation's pride, this is it. There's a lot of it - some four hours in its entirety - and this one-off concert performance (in English at the Royal Albert Hall) presented only its bare bones, a series of musical snapshots from a much larger whole. Snatches of narration and a few cursory captions were as close as we got to narrative coherence - or rather from one immigrant crisis, one miscarriage, to the next. So dramatically sketchy, musically sumptuous. But Andersson's gorgeous folk-sourced melodies (like a Swedish Grieg) spirited us forward from one accordian-flecked knees-up and effusive ballad to the next.

A better conductor than Paul Gemignani might have conveyed a better sense of development and wholeness but the voices soared when and where the material demanded it (which was often and earnestly): Russell Watson in more registers than any one voice should possess (how false those "tenorial" affectations sound) and Kevin Odekirk with charismatic aplomb.

The show's beloved heroine, Kristina - as created and lovingly nurtured by Helen Sjoholm - has the score's most memorable music and Sjoholm reasserted her ownership. It's a lovely honest voice, effortlessly produced, and she alone held back on emotional and vocal overload until her moment of truth - the show's stonking eleven o'clock number "You Have To Be There" where Kristina calls upon her God to help her through one last pregnancy. But her faith is fractured and the sheer desperation of the number reflects that. Sjoholm was blistering. How could her entreaty have fallen upon deaf ears? I imagine these final scenes are unspeakably moving in the theatre (will we ever see a staging?) and certainly that final moment of togetherness for Kristina and the love of her life - "I'll be Waiting There" - brought yet another musical phrase or two of unforgettable rightness.

Let the Sunshine In

Posted by Edward Seckerson
  • Thursday, 15 April 2010 at 08:51 am
You could probably feel the good vibrations all the way down Shaftesbury Avenue. The entire New York “tribe” which made Diane Paulus’ revival of Hair such a Tony Award winning triumph on the other side of the pond is now oversexed, overjoyed, and over here...at the Gielgud Theatre. For the youth of our nations still at war there’s now every chance we won’t be hearing so much of the hard-to-fathom words (for those of us of a certain age) “Hair? What’s Hair?” It’s only the defining musical for social change in the 1960s and this is the only production in subsequent decades that hasn’t placed the show in “inverted commas”. It’s a blast – from the past – but it’s still a wake-up call for the future. And the way this exhilarating staging and its wonderful cast comes at you in delirious waves of intensity is beyond irresistible.

Galt MacDermot’s gloriously rocky off-kilter score and Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s wacky big-hearted book and lyrics are astonishingly durable and to hear a singer like Caissie Levy feel the love with a song (perhaps the greatest in the score) like “Easy to be Hard” was in a word “scorching”. It’s joy that has been missing from previous revivals of Hair and whilst the days are just as dark in far off conflicts there is something about the hopefulness and, yes, love of this revival that makes it indelible. The little old lady that joined the on-stage dance-in at the close was still as vociferous as any of us to “Let the Sunshine In”…. and the chorus of affirmation just kept building and building and building…..
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