The wonderful Jean Rigby (on the right top in the above Zoom class, with Ann Murray top left and Christopher Robson bottom right) played her part, back when I was running my five classes on Britten's Albert Herring, getting others to come along who'd been in the immortal Glyndebourne production directed by Peter Hall. So we had, not all at the same time but all with so much to say, Nancy (Jean), Sid (Alan Opie), Albert (John Graham Hall, so funny), Mr Upfold (Alexander Oliver, ditto) and Florence Pike (Felicity Palmer, another hoot). I think that counts as some sort of historical reunion - and of course all concerned said it was among their favourite operatic experience of a lifetime.
With Serse, I'd originally hoped that we might reassemble some of the stars of the new English Concert recording following on from an electrifying live performance. It's become my Desert Island Handel. Emily D'Angelo, Lucy Crowe and Paula Murrihy are megastars, but the first two very kindly told me they were busy (Emily on a new Handel production, Lucy on end-of-term stuff with her kids), while Paula I'd already prevailed upon to talk Octavian just before the Irish National Opera Rosenkavalier, along with conductor Fergus Sheil (and what a triumph that turned out to be). In the end Harry Bicket, whose skill is total in entwining orchestra with voices and who was working on a new production of Pelléas et Mélisande in Santa Fe, came along for a much-appreciated ten minutes at the beginning of one class. Before I move on, tell me if you know a more fiery piece of Handel than D'Angelo singing 'Crude Furie' (there is an equal, below, from La Murray, but can you get better than either?)
Get this recording: it's superlative in every way.
Then we hit another bullseye - not only Jean, who'd played Amastre, Xerxe's discarded lover disguised as a man, in the groundbreaking ENO Xerxes directed by Nicholas Hytner, but also Christopher Robson, the Arsamene - and, wonder of wonders, the great Ann Murray, thanks to an Irish friend who knew her well, Joe Brennan.
She turned out to have as wicked a sense of humour as La Palmer, and had us all in stitches with candid reminiscences (not least about Charles Mackerras, who of course was never the easiest conductor to work with, but rightly a perfectionist). Yes, it was history: the production which marked the start of the Handel opera revival. It's been revived frequently and would still work now. The whole Channel 4 film is up on YouTube, but horribly distorted (I picked up a second-hand DVD). Three clips are, I hope, to the point. In the first Jean's major solos as Amastre have been stitched together.
The second has a duet everyone remembers - and not just because duets are rare in Handel operas, more because the English translation helped to make it such fun (the whole thing works in English, I think): Robson's Arsamene in a lovers' spat with the wonderful Valerie Masterson's Romilda.
And finally, the English version of 'Crude furie' from Murray. Piquant that the subtitles are the Italian original. Special visual rewards here, as always thanks to Hytner and the commitment of his singers. Ticks all boxes as a Great Operatic Performance.
What miracles of substance and design the ENO programmes were in those days. I still miss the chameleonic and brilliant Nick John, whose untimely sudden death was a shock to all of us. This is the cover of my first Xerxes programme - I caught it for the first time in the 1988 revival, which included the above three singers.
Inside, style and useful detail were one.
Now three weeks into my summer Wagner course on Zoom, and enthralled as ever by the peculiar world of Parsifal, I dug out my ENO programme from 1986. The articles and quotations within are numerous and useful even now. I confess to some shame in not remembering more about it than I do, since Goodall was conducting (I wasn't a fan in those days of his extended lengths) and - will you look at this insert, placed to the right of the programme cover. Jerusalem singing in German to an otherwise English cast was parallel to an earlier experience I had at the Royal Opera, when Rita Hunter sang the Trovatore Leonora in English to Carlo Bergonzi's very Italian Manrico ('what are you saying? I cannot understand you').
Only ten two-hour-plus Zoom classes will do for Parsifal, especially as I have to make way for guests. John Tomlinson will return towards the end, when we go back to his Gurnemanz in the Kupfer production, but already in the second class we had sense and inspiration from Andrew Gourlay, whom I saw in action live for the first time in a terrific complete Firebird score with the National Youth Orchestra. He's made a very careful selection of music to form a suite, with minimum interference and hardly any filling-in of vocal lines. Here he is top right, and this time I've done a close-up in case it's too difficult to make him out (I have 60 students and even though not all can make it live, we're still on two screens).
You can watch Andrew conduct the LPO in the whole suite here on YouTube, though I heartily recommend the Orchid CD:
Still my favourite performance of the Prelude is Bruno Walter's.