Thursday, 29 May 2014

A Very Special Communion at St Michael's Church - Luxembourg

I'm just back from my first visit to Luxembourg. It was a country that I did not have any personal links to only that I and best friend and counter tenor - Oliver Gerrish were invited to sing at the communion of Prince Gabriel by his parents: Princess Tessy and Prince Louis of Luxembourg. On my return to England I feel that Luxembourg has a special place in my heart.

Coming into Luxembourg airport was like looking down into Blake's poem and reading "England's green and pleasant lands" - but it's not because its Luxembourg. Its green alright, lush fields and bright green trees in full leafage, I'm already thinking this is my kind of place.

A short fifteen minute drive in a taxi and you are into Luxembourg City. During the drive i'm thinking what a pristine place. No Litter or dirt to be spotted anywhere. This thought was soon strengthened on approach to the big city - or toy town as my friends and I have now fondly named it. Luxembourg is spotless and the buildings are very well maintained and lovingly cared for.

On reaching the center I head to St Michael's Church where the service is to be held the following morning. I am met by best friend and counter tenor Oliver Gerrish and the beautiful Princess Tessy. Princess Tessy introduces myself and Oliver to the choir and Conductor - Gerry Welter, Organist Alain Wirth.
Princess Tessy intoducing Myself and Oliver
The next morning I wake to the bells of Luxembourg streaming in through my open window on a light breeze. It is Prince Gabriel's big day and I know it's going to be sunny! Myself and Oliver head to the church ahead of the Royal family and at 10:15 the ceremony begins. It's an intimate gathering but the entire royal family and extended family are there to celebrate Prince Gabriel's first Communion. Prince Gabriel is seated in front of the alter for the entire duration of the service. I was amazed to see such impeccable behavior from an 8 year old - even if he is a prince of Luxembourg. I can feel that this very close knit Royal family are immensely proud of the little prince and quite rightly so. The music for the service was perfectly chosen for the occasion. I sang Mozart's Laudate Dominum and  Oliver sang Schubert's Ave Maria - which he sang beautifully with great reverence. We ended with Purcell's duet Sound The Trumpet - so perfect for the occasion. I  couldn't feel happier singing with my best friend and feeling the huge amounts of joy for the prince and his parents. This feeling took me back to my days as a girl chorister at Wells Cathedral. Its a special feeling when you know you are singing to God.Following the ceremony Oliver and I were invited to dine with the royal family.
By the organ before I sang

Here is a pic of Prince Louis and Princess Tessy on the big day with their children Prince Gabriel and Prince Noha:

Here is Oliver and myself outside the Royal Palace:

After the Lunch our friends and I had a guided tour of Luxembourg. I learnt that Luxembourg is a UNESCO world heritage site. We ambled around the city taking in the buildings and the museums. The most spectacular bit of the tour was looking out into the perimeter of the city where one can see the historic fortifications of Luxembourg. These go on for over twenty kilometers and are called the Casemats:

After the tour I walked around with the girlies and sort after some Luxemborgish Coffee and Chocolate.The boys decided to catch up on some rest before a night out on the town.
Myself and Kim Tran outside St Michaels church where Prince Gabriel had his communion ceremony.

Meat Liquor, L'eto Caffe

Last night was girle catch- up night in central London with the super amazing Spanish Dramatic Mezzo Soprano Sara Saavedra Gonzales

Here is Sara starring in the 2009 GSMD production of The King Goes Forth To France
Sara and I have been besties since our year at the National Opera Studio. I haven't seen her for some time due to us both having hectic schedules. So last night we met at one of London's top burger joints Meat Liquor. So here is the verdict:

Top Burgers: YES. I had the bacon cheese burger. Perfectly cooked beef patty with just the right amount of ooze. The pickles gave the burger that acidic crunch and the yellow cheese the right amount of gloop. The bun was wonderfully soft.

The Sides: We ordered the onion rings and cheesy fries. Both were yummy but the onion rings were an absolute delight and the best i've had to date. They were big, fluffy, crunchy and light. Perfect.

The ambiance: This was one of the most off putting things about this restaurant or should I say night club (except no one dances). On entry there was deafeningly loud punk rock music being blared from all speakers. So it was really difficult to talk. The lighting mood was black and red. So it was difficult to see what you were eating. The walls were covered with crazy drawings in red and black of various people with animal head and lots of blood.

The service: Terrible service. We waited 20 minutes to order and the food came before our drinks. Further still we were charged double for drinks at the end of the bill which we had to ask to be taken off.

The Wait: Well I was prepared for some waiting as the restaurant clearly states that there is a no reservation policy. We waited in the que outside which crept around the restaurant for twenty minutes. When we got to the front door we were stamped with a Meat Liquor logo (apparently people had been que jumping - which I found hard to believe as there was no way you were getting through all that security) and I thought to myself am I going to this place to eat burgers or dance? The waitress then took my name and said that we would be called when our table is ready. She instructed us to the bar. The bar was heaving with people all crammed up in the space. I began to realise that the system of being sat down was not going to be straight forward or fair. I mean why can't they just have a buzzer system? Nope there is just one guy with a list of names and the number of people in each party. We waited one hour at the bar before being seated! At this point I was really ready for my burger and quite annoyed. The blaring punk music did not help things. So a break down of the wait was: 20 minutes at the door, 1 Hour at the bar, 20 minutes to order, 10 minutes till we ate. Total waiting time: a stonking 1 Hour and 50 minutes!!!!!!!

Verdict: One visit is quite enough for me.

One leaving Meat Liquor we headed to Soho in search of good coffee and a chance to actually talk. We came to an inviting looking Cafe with delicious desserts displayed in the window and it looked quiet.

Place: L'eto Caffe, on Wardour St.

Window display: A vast array of cakes and pastries - yummy.

The menu: extensive drinks menu: I had a Latte and Sara a Black Orange Iced Tea. The cakes: well all you need do is go up to the window pick and order. We both had a fig tart which was delightful.

Order at the counter: A lovely young bouncy man greeted me with a beautiful smile and as usual I was off to my chit chat with him - I mean why not?!?

We spent close to two hours here catching up and nattering away. We stayed until they closed.

Verdict: Great place for coffee and cake and a girlie catch up.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

A Night At The Opera - Grand Pavilion Matlock Bath

Grand Pavilion Matlock Bath
Oliver and I finally did it and New Georgian Opera had its debut on the 3rd May at the Matlock Grand Pavilion. We were so happy to be raising funds and awareness for the Grand Pavilion and the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust. The Grand Pavilion is an Edwardian pleasure place which the locals are saving but for the momnet have named "a little bit scruffy" We were honoured to be joined by many county folk as well as locals, opera enthusiasts and many of our friends and family. After oodles of planning,  promoting, organising and learning the music both Oliver and I were  thrilled at what we together with others including our secretary Zuleika Parkin, Andi Brazewell, Lynn Alison, Mike Susko and Lizzy Stoppard had achieved. I think the highlight of the day was 8 strapping men carrying the 6 foot Yamaha Grand piano that I had hired from Swan Music for the evening up three flights of stairs and up onto the stage which stands at my shoulders! Incredible. Obviously the Edwardians didn't think to install a lift! Well I know that the lifts and many other 'little things' are definitely on the to do list.

John Pierce and myself singing Boheme Act One duet
The night before this concert I had a wonderful recital at the Watts Gallery with the accompanist Tessa Marchington. So as soon as the recital finished in Surrey  at 10:30 both myself and Shira got into the car and drove to Derbyshire. I reached at 1:30 AM - so made really good time, although I think I was snapped by a speed camera on the M1 as the speed dropped to 50 from national seed limit and I was a little over but i'm hoping I just imagined the flash. Anyhow i'll find out in a few weeks when or if I receive 'one of those letters' in the post.
Amita with two foxes at the Hodgekinson Hotel

The next morning Shira and I were up and about, all be it quite tired on all accounts. So breakfast was followed my a 15 minute steam. I tend to steam not only when I have a cold but also when I have late nights, hours of  travel and back to back concerts - its important to keep hydrated. The quickest way of moistening the vocal cords is by steam inhalations but caution must be taken to make sure that the water is not too hot - I have on occasion burnt my throat from really hot steam!

We all met up for rehearsal at 2pm in the Pavilion including Shira who was either stretched out on one of the chairs or trotting around the stage listening to all these phenomenal sounds. Kelvin Lim NGO Music Director at the piano, John Pierce - Tenor, Oliver Gerrish - Counter Tenor and myself.
Shira and Oliver watch me rehearse
Zuleika prepares High Tea on Sunday

Shira takes a seat

Shira on stage.

After rehearsal we drove back to Olivers's where Henry Conway had pots of tea waiting for the boys. I however was rushed off to the main bathroom where Zuleika Parkin did wonders to my hair. One hour later I was transformed into a Diva ready to take the stage. This is quite apt as my first piece was Casta Diva.

Henry Conway at home by the Aga

Proscenium arched Stage 
Kelvin and John rehearsing
The last hour before leaving fro the concert was pretty manic. I think I could say one of the most manic in the history of all the concerts I've ever done. There was Kelvin taping up his music, me running around trying to find extra copies of music for everyone, packing my bag with shoes, make-up and the dress to be worn after the concert as well as getting Shira fed and pooped so that her next 3 hours in her crate would be comfortable. Shira was a dear during the concert despite a little wee in her crate. After she slept for almost 3 hours in my Barbour bag (now designated as Shira's) underneath my table at the Matlock Balti where we all went for dinner and celebrations.
Lizzy on her horse at the house just hours before getting into her Georgian dress
John Pierce sings from the Paul Potts edition of Nessun Dorma!!!
Oliver and I thank say our thanks and explain about NGO
Me singing Summertime
Shira and I at the Barley Mow

Kelvin and the Scotch tape!

On arriving at the pavilion half an hour before the start we all quickly realised that it was already filling up pretty quickly. According to my guests the organisers were having to put out more rows of seating due to the huge amount of public who were buying tickets at the door. Lizzy and Mike were already place outside the Pavilion to greet the guests dressed in full Georgian regalia, donned by two buckets of torches, red carpet and armed with a glass of bubbly.

Soon the hall looked like this:

And then we were all off performing all the famous Opera aria jewels and well known songs.

Oliver Singing Che Faro Senza Euridice

The concert was a total success and for us opera singers and fellow pianist it was fun. I am so thankful to both John and Oliver who both sang on wretched colds. They were both heroic. Also a huge thank you to Kelvin and John for driving up from London just for the day.

The next day was filled with activity including walks around the hills of Bonsall, high tea at Oliver's and to finish off live music and dinner at the Barley Mow - the Bonsall local. Bank holiday Monday was spent with my friends and family as we all took to the cable cars in 
Matlock Bath to see the heights of Abraham.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Stafford Sinfonia - Spring Seranade Concert 22nd March 2014

It was a huge pleasure to be asked by my good friend Miranda Sadek (and player in the second Violins) to come along to the Stafford Sinfonia Spring Concert which took place at the Rising Brook Baptist Church, Stafford on the 22nd March at 7:30pm.

Rising Brook Baptist Church, Stafford.

I sat in the first row beside Particia Wurtz (who normally also plays in the Sinfonia) of the packed out Stafford Church. To my amazement I spotted a few under 5's, one little boy who sat close to the orchestra was decked out in his Pj's and blue spiderman slippers. As the orchestra started to play I watched the boy who seemed entranced and totally mesmorised by the sound of all the instruments. I must admit that I too was totally submerged into the glorious music. Many of the Sinfonia players are family members like Miranda and her mother who are in the photo below. The orchestra also includes the conductor's wife: Marie Wade - percussion and son and professional violinist Richard Wade.

Miranda (2nd Violin) and Patricia (1st violin) at the interval

The orchestra is made up by amateur and professional musicians. The ages range from the early 20's to the mid 80's! The Orchestra is lead by Mandy Hallam who is a professional Violinist and graduate from the Birmingham Conservatoire. The conductor and Director of music of the Sinfonia is the  Darrell Wade, an accomplished musician of considerable weight having been a violinist in the Royal Opera Orchestra. He has also taught many of the violinists in the orchestra including the leader.

The concert opened with the Cenorentola overture which was played with an assured strong and exciting orchestral sound. It made me happy to see how much each orchestral player as well as the conductor was enjoying making music. The soloists of the evening was Mandy Hallem who played Beethoven's Romance in F for violin with great feeling.

Wendy Hallam - Leaching the orchestra

Wendy Bufton - Flute and the self taught Robert Downing - oboe played Holst's Fugal concerto with much playfulness and joy. The highlight of the evening was Schubert's Symphony Number 3 in D.

Miranda Sadeck and leader of the 2nd Violins Jamie Parkes

A thoroughly enjoyable evening of music. Stafford Sinfonia next performs at the Baptist Church on the 28th June 2014.

   Conductor Darrell Wade and the Stafford Sinfonia

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Shira - my new little addition

After 10 years of wait Shira my new little Chihuaha has arrived. Due to so much travel with all my concerts and operas my family bid me not to have a dog (as they knew they would be the one's looking after her when I'm away.) Two days before my 31st birthday I decided that the time was right for me to have a little bundle of joy - Shira. Now met and greeted my family adore Shira and she is the diamond in the Raval family tiara!

Shira and I on her second day with me as her mummy. Shira is 8 weeks old.

Shira came from a litter of 4 - two boys and two girls. Her mother is a long haired black and tan Chihuahua and her father is a short haired black and white Chihuahua. When I came to view the pups in Devon there were just the two boys and Shira left. 

 Shira curled up on the right with her two brothers

I was lucky that when I decided Shira was the one for me, my cousin and Veterinary surgeon Roshni was right there with me checking her out. I was glad to hear that she is very healthy. The next day we all went to the surgery where Roshni Administered her first Injections and microchip.

Shira getting her first Vaccinations by Roshni

Once injected we were on the long journey back to Staffordshire. I put her in a crate with fluffy toys and chews and soft towels. She was very good - whimpering a bit but then she soon fell asleep.

Shira in her crate

These past three weeks Shira has been an absolute star. She is now a seasoned traveler having done hundreds of miles in my car already. Last weekend my family and I all decided to climb to the top of Rodney's Pillar in Wales - she did it! She probably walked 2 miles out of the the 6 and she was so assured. I am now training her on the leash (this is taking a little time) and teaching her the commands sit and come which she has almost mastered. I am hoping that by the time I fly off to Luxembourg in a couple of months she will be fully potty trained and know the simple commands so that my lovely mummy can take care of her for a few days whilst I am away. 

Shira at 10 weeks watching me have my photoshoot

Shira being part of my photoshoot

Shira posing in the car

Shira at 11 weeks socialising with her new friends Johnny the Cav x Bischion and Goldie the Cocker Spaniel

Monday, 17 March 2014

New Georgian Opera


Monday 15th March 2014

New Georgian Opera

The Bringing together of Opera and Great British Historic Buildings...

Well we finally set it up! My best friend and Counter Tenor Oliver Gerrish and I launch our opera venture - New Georgian Opera on the 3rd of May 2014. We met in 1999 at the Eton Choral Course although I must admit I couldn't really remember him as I was far to busy being studious whilst he was having fun with the boys which included the wonderful Tenor and now world famous actor Eddie Redmayne. However our lives met with a bang in 2001 as we became the best of friends during our time studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. During our first year at GSMD Oliver became president of the Young Georgians - of which I am a founder member. The Young Georgians is part of the Georgian Group which exists to preserve Georgian buildings and heritage. We decided to put together our love of architecture and Opera in our NGO venture. We look to bring opera to Great British buildings and to help bring attention to those historic buildings in need of some saving. 

Oliver and I at Sutton Scarsdale Hall - the finest Baroque ruin of a beautiful Georgian palatial home in Derbyshire.

Both Oliver and I are from the Midlands - I from Staffordshire and Oliver from Derbyshire. Thus it was decided that our first NGO concert would be held at the Grand Pavillion - Matlock Bath to help raise money and awareness to this building in need of some TLC. The Pav as it is lovingly known by the locals-  (partly named as it was used as a nightclub in former years) was once a grand Edwardian Pleasure Palace with its huge hall and proscenium arch stage. Even in its current condition it is host to many shows, however our concert "A Night At The Opera" will be the first opera act to performed there in decades. 

All Proceeds shall go to the Grand Pavillion and the Derbyshire Historic buildings Trust.

Sutton Scarsdale Hall

Hardwick Hall - Derbyshire

My little angel Shira who came along to our photoshoot.