Gillian Keith Soprano

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The Music of Summer

A brilliant rainbow bursts out of a darkened sky, as rain pelts against the window; a flash summer storm.  The pavement outside is almost steaming as the cool water floods its hot surface, and the splattering rain is like thundering applause.  After the downpour, which ends as abruptly as it began, the lawn makes a sucking, gurgling noise, as the deluge soaks in.  This is some of the sweetest music of summertime.

Summer is the season of music festivals, outdoor opera, theatre in the park, circus tents on the green and open-air film screenings.  Not only was my summer schedule full of travel and performances, but I found time to go see as much of the great stuff on offer as possible during this busy season.  I cheered on my colleagues in Bellini’s Norma at Opera Holland Park, Dvořák’s The Jacobin at Buxton Festival, Offenbach’s Vert Vert at Garsington Opera, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea at The Grimeborn Festival of New Opera, and Puccini’s Tosca at Highlands Opera Studio, to name a few. West Side Story on the big screen at London’s Royal Festival Hall was a thrill, as well as Mozart Requeim, and The Battle of the Bands with music of Count Basie and Duke Ellington at the BBC Proms.

One might think I have a bias towards opera and classical music, and should champion it at every opportunity.  But to be completely honest, it wasn’t the operatic performances I saw this season that really got me excited, as wonderful as they were.  Let me tell you about three events that rocked my world.

Dotdotdot Flamenco Company at the Buxton Fringe Festival was one of the most thrilling, uplifting and inspiring shows I have ever seen.  Three beautifully unique dancers and three amazingly talented musicians gave a performance jaw-dropping virtuosity and commitment.  I can’t wait to see more of their work.

What next? Norwegian ensemble Barokksolistene’s fabulous show as part of a triple bill Death Actually  at Spitalfields Festival.  Their inspired recreation of a 17th century London alehouse wake with dance and poetry colouring their exhilarating performances, left me giddy and breathless as I kicked up my heels to their spirited  shanties.

And finally, the incomparable Mavis Staples and her 75th Birthday Concert at London’s Union Chapel – what a night!  After all those years in the biz, no one deserves a rest more than Mavis, but on stage she is still an electric presence. Belting out those enduring anthems of her bygone days marching along Freedom’s Highway, singing soulful hymns of life’s long journey, and thrilling us with her version of The Weight, bringing it to her own wild, bedeviled climax.

I love opera more than most people, and I saw plenty this summer that was beautiful, impressive and memorable.  And so I am surprised that it wasn’t the opera that brought me to my feet cheering Bravo! It’s the overwhelming talent and intensity of the Flamenco, the inspiring improvisations in the Alehouse, and the grit of the gospel diva that win my top prize.