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Michael White’s classical & jazz news: Sāvitri; John Etheridge

06 August, 2020 — By Michael White

Thomas Payne rehearsing Sāvitri

MUSICIANS’ lives were on a rollercoaster yet again last week when the chaotic Johnson government – making policy on the backs of envelopes as usual – announced that indoor performances could start again, only to change its mind and say they couldn’t.

But as things stand, open-air performance remains possible.

And in the hope that Johnson doesn’t backtrack there as well, the enterprising Hampstead Garden Opera is about to give north London its first taste of complete, live lyric theatre since lockdown put a stop to everything.

It’s happening on the lawn of Lauderdale House, Highgate. And the opera – chosen because it’s short, manageable and was originally written with a view to being done in the open air – is Gustav Holst’s Sāvitri, which lifts an evocative story from the Mahabharata about a loving wife who argues with Death and cheats him, literally, to save her husband from an early grave.

As music it combines the sound-worlds of East and West. And short though it be, HGO’s production director Julia Mintzer describes it as “emotionally on the scale of grand opera”, as well as a perfect fit for the current circumstances.”

Whatever regulations hit us in the coming days,” she says, “we’re pretty sure we can keep Sāvitri within the rules. It only requires three solo singers with a modest orchestra. And it lends itself to stylised presentation, so the singers don’t need face-on encounters with each other.”

Conducting the show is Thomas Payne, a graduate of the ROH Jette Parker programme who assisted at Grange Park Opera last summer and was originally booked (along with Mintzer) by HGO for a Figaro that got Covid-cancelled.

“We were desperate not to let the season pass with nothing from HGO at all,” he says, “and Sāvitri had actually been on my radar for a long time as something I wanted to do. Performing outdoors is a challenge because sound gets lost and balance is hard. But we’re working on that. And to be able to get this off the ground, after the nightmare of the past months, has been really important. So we hope people will come and support us.”

Audiences numbers are limited to 80 max, and seats must be pre-booked: you can’t just turn up. But there are plenty of performances: two per evening, at 6.30pm and 8pm on August 13, 15, 20 and 22.

And along with the hand sanitiser there are other requirements you have to observe, so check the website carefully: lauderdalehouse.org.uk

• LAUDERDALE House is in fact taking an impressive lead in the slow march back to normality, and there are other things happening on its lawn during August – starting with the jazz guitarist John Etheridge this Friday at 7pm.

You’ll find there’s been a run on tickets, so it’s probably returns only for that one. But the plan is to have something every Friday during summer, with a classical piano trio on August 14 and West End show songs on August 21 – though no singalongs allowed, and similar house rules as for Sāvitri. See lauderdalehouse.org.uk

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