Saturday, September 23, 2017

Easter in the Tirol. 1936.

Some things don't change. Mountains for one.

I'm on another big cleanout. Family boxes that have rarely been opened in 50 or 60 years ... who will want these things when John and I are gone? So I'm slimming. But also finding some lovely things. Such as this set of photographs, labelled 'Easter 1936'. My father and his Austrian girlfriend, Edith, clearly took a holiday in the Tirol. A last holiday before Father left Austria forever ...
I wonder why he didn't marry Edith. But he didn't ... they remained good friends until his death and my parents visited her in Melbourne ... yes, she fled too, so I guess she also was Jewish ... but, luckily for us, Fritz Eduard Gänzl married the young Agnes Ada Welsh ...  Voila us.              

Anyway, Easter 1936 must have been the end of youth for Fritz and Edith ... and, by the photos they took, it must have been a grand Easter.

I have been to Salzburg very briefly. I had an unforgettable moment at the Naturfreundhaus (of which I now discover my great grandfather may have had a hand in the establishment), but of the Tirol I know little. Looking at Father and Edith's photos, I'm sorry I never went there ...

But enough chat. The pictures speak for themselves.

Thurnerkamp and Möseler from the Schwarzenstein



 Pieterskirche, Salzburg

Please, eighty years on, in spite of Multinationals and The Sound of Music, these things are still unspoiled.

Monday, September 18, 2017

"I knew that he looked at me"

I really don’t listen much, these days, to show recordings. Especially new recordings of my beloved older shows. Those, in particular, having no surprises to spring as to exciting discoveries, are inevitably unpleasant. Pretentious. Stuffy. And overcast or miscast…  I mean, an operatic contralto as Letty Lind in The Geisha? What a w*** …
So, I just don’t listen to them. 

For me, there isn’t a wholly satisfying recording, even, of the super-well-known works of the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire, which has been made in the last hundred years…

This week, however, I got caught by surprise. I was sitting quietly in my seaside bolthole, researching Pauline Markham, burlesque princess, and Charles Lyall of the Carl Rosa, when a CD arrived at my theoretically unknown hideaway address. A double CD even. It sat for a few days, but I had to unwrap it. Because it was Tom Jones. Not the Green Green Grass of Delilah. The real Tom, as in Henry Fielding and Edward German. And one of the very, very first shows I ever saw. Directed by my father circa 1953 in Wellington, NZ.

I still remember that eightish year-old feeling: ‘I knew that he looked, I knew that he looked, I knew that he looked at me’. I was in love.

I’d listened to the existing recordings of the show when writing my Musical Theatre on Record, and thrilled (as one must) to Frederick Harvey’s Tom. Then June Bronhill and Joan Sutherland. How could a new recording equal that?

Well, lay me down with a rolling pin. This one did.

This is, without any question, the best 21st century recording of a classic English musical cum light opera that I have heard. I sat, waiting (as I do) to find something to dislike and … it just didn’t happen. The whole two discs were nigh on perfectly in line with my conceptions as an historian and my very narrow preconceptions as a casting director.

Number one. Orchestra and chorus. How often is THAT number one? Delicious. Full-bodied but light, with a bright-and-sparkling feeling that G&S choruses inevitably fail to find. They gave the tone to the whole affair … ‘Don’t you find the weather charming…’

I knew I’d get snooty about the soloists. I always do. But … here comes Squire Western … woofy bass? No! Deliciously clear baritone! Like, like, like hugely. Then Tom. Rich-voiced Frederick Harvey? A sylphic Hayden Coffin? No! A zingy crystal clear high baritone … Wow! Like, like, like huuuu….gely. Well, Sophia will surely be a graunchy prima donna robusta. Groan. No!!!!!! A splendid voice of just the right weight, and even when the music tempts her to go wooooooo she manages (sometimes just!) to keep it bright, light and sprightly. This is, after all, Sophia Western and not Lady Macbeth! My teensy disappointment came with a mezzo soubrette. ‘I knew that he looked..’. But she certainly added shape to the ensembles and hey, maybe I was, 60 years on, still in love with Dad’s teenage Honour.

All I can say, in summary, is that this grumpy old hidebound critic and ex-caster says yayyy! And whoever cast this recording, and whoever produced it (eight years ago, I gather), are my soulmates. This is how it should be done. This company and these soloists should be immediately signed up by Britain’s Arts Council (if they have one) to record the whole 19th-early 20th century repertoire of English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish theatre music – G&S included. That is, if said Arts Council has any money left from sponsoring trendy American musicals at the National Theatre.

I’m off to bed. Feeling joyous. Thanks, folks, for giving me so much enjoyment …

More, more, more ….

Monday, September 11, 2017

Camera and I ...


My shelves are testament to the fact that my father loved photography. My Nana too. Her sister had a photographic studio for a dozen years in Vienna (Hietzinger Hauptstrasse 34B) in the 1920s and 1930s in conjunction with a lady named Berta Schönikel. The family took some very lovely pictures, mostly of mountains (afterwards, they would quarrel about which mountain was which), family, and of their various European travels and, well, I haven’t had the heart to throw them out …

Great-grandmother Marie and Onkel Max in Silesia
The camera with which dad took his photos survives too. It’s a lozenge shaped case which opens to display bellows and a square wire viewfinder …

I didn’t follow the hobby. I looked at Dad’s photos, and oh heavens … slides (those grim fifth-time-round slide evenings!) and mostly left the box brownie I’d been given in the cupboard. The old Remington typewriter with its üs and äs (what were they for?) was much more my style…

I travelled several time around the world. Alison took photos, Barry and Rosie took photos, but I … well, I just got photographed. When we lived in France, Ian took the odd photo …

Pacific Night on the 'Northern Star'
I was in my fifties when I bought my first racehorse. Davey Crockett. And suddenly, I wanted a camera. Digitals had just become popular. So I Bought one. And started taking horse pictures like other people do babies and cats.

The Soldier Fritz at 10 weeks
Then little Minnie arrived in our life…

And so I became a confirmed old photographer and likely to remain so.

When, after Ian’s death, I returned solo to ship-travel and to Europe, my trusty camera went with me, and gave me hours of enjoyment. Nights aboard the Bank Line Ships swapping USB sticks of the day’s adventures with my fellow passengers. Now that you didn’t have to take a reel of film to the chemist, this was enormous fun …

Kurt in Tahiti
And then, just as I left Europe to return to New Zealand, my camera died. Distress! Where should I find another? When we changed planes at Singapore I wandered desultorily through the duty free (huh!) shop to see what the new trends in camera were. No, I told an anxious little assistant, I’m not buying. Just surveying the field. Half an hour later I walked away with a nice little Fuji apparatus and more (free) accessories than I could carry. Most of which are still in a drawer.

Fuji and I travelled the world together for five or six years. We photographed all the pictures of this blog and thousands more. We photographed more horses (and now we have the same queries as Dad did with the mountains) and the kitties and our vast family of peacocks.

I noticed Fuji’s age showing a bit. He didn’t zoom as he used to. He had to be shaken a bit to open his lens. And one day everything went magenta. Last week we visited Woody Head, NSW, one of the prettiest spots I’ve discovered in years, and Fuji went diligently to work … some lovely shots of .. oh a pelican flying across the sun! And the wonderful solider crabs carrying blue meringues on their backs…

Back at The Cove I plugged Fuji in, and … WHERE ARE MY SOLDIER CRABS? The pelican and the sunstar …? I guess Fuji’s days of direct-into-the-sun photos were gone. His little heart just gave out. I nearly wept.

Fuji's last foto. And he missed the pelican!
Paul diagnosed the cure as an instant remarriage, and the next day we headed for Yamba’s little photoshop. How on earth would I chose a new camera with out the aid of an Asiatic assistant? It was easy. Yamba is little. The shop is very little. It had two cameras, the cheap version and then the more expensive version with a 25x zoom.

Yesterday, Paul and I took Canon SX620HS (‘Canon’ for short) for a walk .. Main Beach, Pippi’s café, Pippi Beach … and gave him his first lessons. And here are the results … not bad for a first collaboration!

Renee teaches Paul how to drown on land
Gosh .. it's so unweighty. Hard to hold steady!
This ocean is COLD!
Dog, have you got centrally-heated testicles? 
How to train your dragon 
Mia's best 'Butter wouldn't..' expression
Noah's 'Not-Impressed Till the Chips Come' Expression

The Pacific isn't terrific?

See? No shark....
Kurt, ten years after Tahiti ...
Canon, young feller, I think we're going to get on just fine together...

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bring on the (1860s) Dancing Girls ...

I’m not a ‘dance’ man. I wasn’t allowed to learn dance as a boy, I never caught up later, and when I appeared on the stage and someone like Gillian Lynne was foolish enough to put me in the front row (of the singers-who-dance-a-bit) without a try-out, merely because I had a 36-26-36 figure and an, um, big personality, the truth became hideously obvious. When, circa 1972, I went to sea with the fabled Vic Ogley company as primo basso … well, there was no slacking in that company of a dozen-and-a-half bodies … everyone had to do everything. So, I sang bass and, when the occasion demanded, baritone or tenor (‘Song of the Daaaaawn’), and I ‘danced’. My partner, in those days, was the beautiful Alison, ex-Royal Ballet School. She took me in hand and she tried, my god she tried. But it was no good. No one rubbished me, but years later the company régisseur, who became (and was up till his death this month) my dearest friend, said to me: 'you couldn’t even march. You did ‘same arm same leg’'.

Maybe, as a result, I didn’t much enjoy watching Dance either. I remember as a child being taken to see Poul Gnatt as Peer Gynt at our local theatre. When my father asked me whether I had liked it, it appears I replied: ‘when does the opera come to our town again’. Then, when I met Ian, we went to several ballets. Ian had been publicity manager for the Russian ballet in Sydney in 1938, so elderly ladies called Tamara kept popping by, but when we went to Covent Garden … well, there was one incident that summed the whole Russian ballet thing up for me. Elderly lady in front of us no 1: 'on the thirteenth fouettée she didn’t .. 'lady no 2: 'MARGOT did fourteen …'; and now on to the floor exercises and the beam. It just wasn’t ‘me’. Too technical, too soulless … and what in the heck were those cake frills they were wearing.

But I was finally to find a dance show that I liked enormously. A French company guested at Covent Garden, and we were invited. We often were when there were empty seats. They played La Fille mal gardée … is that the one where there’s a chimney? … and La Sylphide ..  no, that was the chimney!'.. and it was enchanting. No gymnastics, no fifty-two fouettées, just glorious, graceful dance and pantomime.

Alas, France didn’t win. And nowadays thing have got to a desperately low state, with modern musical theatre and TV variety show choreography. On something like the unregretted American Idol you don’t know whether to turn the sound or the video off first … when I go to my local shows, lines of people doing 1960s TV routines (damn you, Paddy, Irving and Duggie)_...

Anyway, this isn’t what I set out to blog. So change gear.

The dancers I was thinking about weren’t the grand ones. Today I got led (via my blonde burlesque ladies) into the world of the ‘spectacular theatre’. You know, those shows where the main elements were .. and are .. the tricky and glamorous scenery and scene-changes, the billion costume changes, and the nubile ladies, roughly described as ‘ballet’ (can you hold third position dear?), who filled the evening’s entertainment when there wasn’t a smidgin of story or dialogue and an incidental pop song going on. And in English and French terms that means the ‘opéra bouffe à grand spectacle’, in German the ‘grosse Feerie Spektakel’ and in American … well, lets not quibble about precedence here, it’s that kind of show that was epitomised by the infamous The Black Crook.

So that’s where we are going. Did the dancers in shows of the grand spectacle genre actually dance as we would understand it? Or were they just glamorous girlies, lightly dressed, making movements that would cause their male audience to purr? Hmmm. Well, to start with, there don’t seem to have been any ballerinos. So the aim was clearly signified. But the principal dancing ladies were all from Europe. Well, they all had European names. Weren’t there any dancers in America? Morlacchi, Bonfanti, Palladino …

And even in the lower reaches … which is where I went today. Don’t ask me why. Ah, yes. I was scrubbing up the featured girls for one of Lydia Thompson’s shows and there was ‘Miss Schrötter’. Too weird not to be a real name. So I put away my singers, for a day, and went in search of the lowly Miss S.

 Well, I got more than I bargained for. There were three Fräuleins Schrotter. With or without umlaut. Carolina, Gabrielle and Henrietta, by any other spelling. Allegedly, they were imported to dance, with the multitude of others, in The Black Crook, like so many alleged others. And they may very well have been. They actually seem to have been trained-ish dancers.

Carolina turns up first to my gaze as a momentarily featured chorine in the production of The Forty Thieves at Niblo’s Garden in 1869: ‘A German Fay’. Then the ‘Misses Schrotter’, Carolina and Gabrielle, appear on the bills at the Theatre Comique, alongside Hattie Kelsey (sister of the better-known Lizzie and also, allegedly, a Crook rescapee), Lizzie Dark and, later, star dancer Annetta Galetti and a Blonde, Emma Grattan.

Third sister Henrietta joined them in the Edith Challis extravaganza Lalla Rookh at the Grand Opera House, I see them (two or sometimes three) at Pittsburgh, at the Olympic Theatre supporting Pauline Markham, dancing a ‘Sailors’ Festival’ at the Metropolitan variety house with Lizzie Kelsey, then a Can-Can, a Spanish Dance and a Flower Dance …  Carolina seems to have got solo billing in Ahmed at the Grand Opera House, then they can be seen at the Tivoli and the Parisian Varieties …

Nearly a decade as second danseuses on the New York variety and occasionally theatre stages. I suppose it was worth leaving Vienna for?

I tried to find out what became of them, and I partially succeeded.
Gabriella was married in 1875 to a Danish doctor named Otto Auris, and died of it 20 April 1876. At 44 Bond Street.
The others, I’m not wholly sure of, but there are very few Schrotters around in those years in New York, and when two of those few just happen to be a Carolina and a Henrietta …
The Carolina married an Austrian ex-army man by name Victor [von] Helly, of allegedly knightly extraction, had two children and lost him in 1891. She was still alive in the 1930 census ..
The Henrietta? Well there seem to have been two. One who married an Arnold Reifenstuhl and went off to Chicago to people the county with little Reifenstuhls; the other who became a Mrs Grunwald …

Carolina’s daughter became a lady in a shop. I imagine her mother and her aunts had had rather more fun dancing their way through life as young women.

Which should bring me back tidily to where I started, but absolutely doesn’t … I have had a bit of a ramble, haven’t I?

Dance, dance, dance, little lady ..