Sunday, 15 July 2012

I could have sat there all night

Now this is civilised. I do like the Proms. Classical music is where the missus and I probably share the most common ground, so we always try and get to a few concerts in this spectacular series. And Mrs Specs particularly likes the Royal Albert Hall, because it has seats. Frankly, after the Anna Calvi gig on Thursday, I'm just happy to be inside.

The Proms has cast its net fairly wide in recent years to include jazz, world and soundtrack music alongside the more usual repertoire. Particularly successful have been the John Wilson concerts. Wilson is a conductor with his own orchestra - greedy - who has made musicals his speciality, and his 'MGM' Prom was massively popular, living on in CD and DVD format. (Notable given that Prom performances are rarely released officially - apparently it's to do with thorny rights/payment issues. Personally, I wish they'd overcome this and do what you sometimes find at gigs - the opportunity to buy a CD of what you just heard on the way out - that would be fantastic. Ah well.)

So, although this was only 'Prom 2' in the season, it was a John Wilson night - an entire performance of 'My Fair Lady'. I do like the musical, although technically I am chumming Mrs Specs along, who adores it. I hadn't seen one of these 'semi-staged' evenings before, and wondered how it would work. Answer: brilliantly.

I confess that I'd not come across the singer playing Eliza before (Annalene Beachey), but they had gone for some old-school star power to support her: Anthony Andrews as Higgins and Alun Armstrong as Alfred, for a start. They were all superb. Higgins must be a nightmare to play. 1: He's a bastard. 2: You have to overcome the fact that everyone who watched the film wants to punch Rex Harrison in the face. And, probably most important, 3: How do you actually do it? Sing it? Speak it? His part seems written to be somewhere in between. Andrews handled this really well, channelling Harrison's exasperation and rudery but adding some proper, actual notes amid the bellowing.

Of the acting performers, the evening belonged to Beachey, though, who has a beautiful voice - even when she is still in flower-girl mode, Eliza's songs are delicate ('Wouldn't It Be Loverly?') and difficult ('Just You Wait') from the off. And an undisputed highlight (not musical at all) is Eliza's telling of the grisly story about her aunt's demise in her newly-acquired perfect pronunciation. It's a few still minutes of sublime black comedy and you could have heard a pin drop between laughs.

Because this is a Prom, there are no sets. The actor-singers (while costumed in character) are doing all this in front of the orchestra, who are right there on stage with them. I loved this. For a start, a Proms audience are partly there to give it up for the orchestra anyway, and when it was all over, the roars from the crowd were every bit as loud when just the players were taking their bows. It also meant we were treated to the scores for the film, written for a much bigger orchestra than the more 'chamber' style of the original musical score.

Have a listen on iPlayer.

Part 1
Part 2

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