Monday, 14 December 2015

My Common Voice

Me singing if Love Were All, by Noel Coward
  I sang the above when I was still shying away from using my full operatic voice because my forays into opera had always been ridiculous.
  I started as I meant to go on: aged eleven I was Sem in Noye's Fludde, and scuppered the ark. At Guildhall I was in The Marriage of Figaro; they called off the wedding. La Boheme the following year; Mimi got better. The Thieving Magpie; the theatre was raided by the R.S.P.B. The Electrification of the Soviet Union; there was a power cut.  Only the Noye's Fludde disaster is true above, by the way.  As is this: I had an extremely important role in Joan of Arc, a production that was, to say the least, experimental. Joan was a violin. There were singing sheep. The river by Joan's shack was portrayed via interpretative dance by inmates of the local drug drop-in centre under aquamarine silk.  A reviewer said that by Joan's first vision he was desperate to rush the stage and make a preemptive strike with faggots and matches. 
  Which is where I was meant to come in.  Lighting the pyre. And I forgot the matches. Until the captain of the English hissed at me to just mime the fucking fire being lit Joan was preparing to strangle herself to death. 
  But I was thereafter reluctant to the point of seizing up whenever opera was in the offing.
  'But the Mozart is the same range and needs the same welly as the Ivor Novello,' my coach Liz Marcus used to insist. 'It's just that you put it on a pedestal and pussyfoot around it.'
  That's because I feel unworthy of it, having working class vocal cords. My mother always told me.
  'Sadly, Iestyn, you inherited your vocal cords from your father's side of the family, not from mine. Mine were pure operatic. His were for the folk clubs and the country and western circuit and what have you...'
  It's a lottery, singing. It all comes down to the little flaps of skin slung across your windpipe.  My mother's flaps were Fortnum and Mason, my father's flaps Poundland.
  '...I had the rarest form of operatic voice: the full contralto with coloratura facility. Could have taken me to the operatic tree...'
  If she'd ever come down off the cross long enough to do any practise...
  ',,,Nacqui all'affanno, e al pianto...'
  She would give a burst of her Eisteddfod Rossini showpiece: "Nacqui All'Affano", known in my family as "Knacker your Fanny". 
 Talking of which: 
  'But when the calls came for the big opera work, I was pregnant with you, Iestyn. And then giving birth to such a big baby took away my breathing support.'
  Well, she was fat too: when her waters were about to break, flood warnings were issued across three counties. 
  Talking of which: yes: issues: I clearly have them around singing, inherited from whichever side of the family. 
  But as my Nan Silcox says, 'At least I started you on licking nana's coal straight from the scuttle - for the sake of that pure carbon to keep the family flatulence at bay.  Chronic, it is. Your mother once took a breath for a wedding Ave Maria down Bethesda Chapel, had a blast from the wrong end, decimated the altar display of Calla Lilies!'

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