5 September – Have lunch with mum. Opening night of The Amorous Prawn. Peter phones at night.
6 September – Go for piano lesson with Sylvia Sullivan in the afternoon. She says that I can do a Senior Trinity College exam and seems quite pleased with my playing. Start on set work and she is stickler about fingering. She is very good but quite impersonal – quite the opposite to Webster and Anne. Her niece brings her a cup of coffee but certainly not to me! Now look at Webster and Anne – the great man makes tea himself and then gives us all a cup into the bargain!
Oliver Walker’s crit in the Star is a dream as far as Webster is concerned. He says that he has a wonderful sense of timing.
We go to the Strattons at night and are showered with Ann’s handiwork made in connection with the Teachers’ Training College.
Article about Mabel Fenney – back in South Africa on a visit from Berlin.
Mabel Fenney back in South Africa on holiday. Returning to Berlin.
7 September – Go into town in the afternoon and book for The Amorous Prawn matinee next Saturday. Go up to Webster and Anne and Webster answers the door as large as life and in quite a gay mood.
My friend Dell is in having lesson once more singing Mimi’s aria from La Bohème and breathing badly. Anne gives her usual breathing lecture and makes her practise. Dell says, somewhat sarcastically, “I had better take up swimming to improve my breathing.” Anne says that the area around her own ribs is quite hard which is unusual for a woman and also very large. She used to be quite tiny when she was young – 89,000 years ago – but intercostal breathing developed her. She goes on about how healthy it is to breathe properly and yesterday morning after Webster’s first night when they both felt like hell, breathing did them good.
I go in and pay. Webster asks if I’d like some tea and I say I would love a cup. Anne shouts through – “Boo – will you bring the biscuits, darling?” She asks if I’m going to see him in his play and I say, “Yes. I booked today for next Saturday’s matinee.”
Anne says, “Oh, sweet! It’s really a wonderful play. The first night was one of the best I’ve been to – the audience laughed right through the whole three hours. Being British, I think you’ll really enjoy it.” I say that the crits were wonderful and she agrees emphatically. Webster says I mustn’t expect to see him till about 5 o’clock. He’s actually very modest about the whole thing.
We start on scales and she makes me smile into a little mirror. I get it right but my cheeks tremble for some reason. She, of course, has to notice this.”
She corrects the Delilah vowels – I tell her that she’ll have to excuse it because I was ill at the weekend when I did it. She is all sympathy and finds out that I had a stomach chill. Most of the vowels are right. She tests them as she goes through it and says, “This would sound funny on the tape.”
When we do the aria they are both very happy about it and say that there is an improvement. Webster goes to put 6d in the meter. She says the aria has come on very nicely and next week we must do something about the consonants.
When we have tea and Anne has a biscuit, she says, “I shouldn’t have this really. I’m getting so fat!” I almost choke with derisive laughter! Thankfully, I don’t say the inevitable, “Oh, nonsense, Anne. Look at me!”
I happen to be wearing a copper bracelet for it matches the clip in my hair. Anne says she hopes I’m not suffering from rheumatism. We have a good laugh about it.
I meet Webster at the bottom of the stairs and say goodbye to him.
I go to choir at night and we work through anthem which is lovely – I hope they do it properly on Sunday.
Listen to Webster at night. He presents a really charming programme. He starts with Elijah and says that it’s popular because it’s tuneful music and he thinks that, first and foremost, music should be tuneful. He plays a duet sung by Isobel Baillie and Gladys Ripley, conducted by Sir Malcolm. Next, he plays his own recording If, With All Your Hearts, with Warwick Braithwaite conducting, next Is Not His Word Like a Fire? By Harold Williams. He plays three arias from the Magic Flute, more from Gypsy Baron and ends with Nutcracker suite.
9 September In the Star there is a gorgeous picture of an almost aristocratic-looking Anne with Mr Leslie Green at first night of Amorous Prawn.
10 September Sunday Times crit by James Ambrose Brown is also excellent and says much the same about Webster – suave, man of the world. Very nice.
Mum and I go with the Diamonds to Hartebeespoort dam and we skirt Craighall Park. I like it very much – it isn’t anything like Houghton but just nice, and in-between and quite modern.
12 September – Go into town and have lunch with Mum. We decide that as I am presumably going to start work soon I should go today and see Anne to arrange a time for my lessons.
She phones and Webster answers and tells him that it is Mrs Campbell, Jean’s mother. He says, “Oh yes, how d’ye do?” Mum asks to speak to Anne and he says, “Who?” and eventually obliges with Anne who says I can come at half past one.
I go up to the studio. Webster answers the door. He opens door, looks at me and says in outraged manner, “What the dickens are you doing here?” I tell him that I have an appointment at half past one and he looks relieved and tells me to have a seat for a few minutes. There is a big bass singing very loudly. Hear Webster cursing the kettle – “My God, this kettle’s got too damn hot!”
Anne comes in to see me, dressed in tight skirt and dark over-blouse. Her hair is almost straight but attractive as always. She goes through her appointment book while big bass continues to sing. We decide on Friday at 5.30 for next week. She asks, “Are you glad you’re starting work?” I say, “Not particularly. I’ve enjoyed doing nothing!”
13 September – Go for piano lesson in afternoon. I feel more at home with Mrs S now.
14 September – Go to Anne in afternoon. She answers the door looking glorious in a very low-cut summer dress. A girl is singing Hello, Young Lovers – not very well. Anne says, “That must be the Irish in you.” The girl says quite vehemently that there is no Irish blood in her. Anne says, “Oh, surely – with a name like Maureen!”
Maureen departs I get a surprise when I see that it is Maureen Schneider who was at college with me.
Anne and I have discussion about times and come to reasonably satisfactory arrangements. Webster presents me with the Samson and Delilah record with a really seductive picture on the cover. Anne says we should listen to it here first so while Webster sets up the record we start on scales. She makes me go to the mirror to see that I drop my jaw right down and then she comes over and puts her arm round me and we do it together. She says that my scales are really lovely.
Webster plays the aria and says I have in my own voice all the power and quality of Risé Stevens if I would project and bring it forward and work. He wants to hear me singing with as much richness as Risé Stevens next week. I have a wonderful voice and I must use it. I feel quite embarrassed but it must be true – he doesn’t say things without meaning them.
Webster makes tea and I sing the aria – well, I think. Webster goes to put 3d in the meter. Anne says she doesn’t think I’m too young to sing Delilah because she had a friend, Nancy Evans and she sang it at 16. She tells me that when she was 17 she joined a women’s choir of 24 voices and received more training in it than anywhere else.
I tell her that I know Maureen and Anne says she seems a sweet girl but hasn’t got a voice anywhere near mine.
We go on with the aria and it goes well. Webster’s suit arrives and Anne signs for it. Webster is in the kitchen with Roselle who is making a frantic attempt to wash the dishes. I depart with record and the signature of Webster Booth scrawled all over it.
I go to choir and then listen to Webster. Today is the 220th anniversary of Messiah so he plays some of it. It was first produced in Dublin where you can get gorgeous shrimps. Handel discovered that one of the singers – a little man from the North wasn’t singing in the right time. He said to him in broken English, “I zot you zed zat you could seeng at sight?” Replied the man, “Ay, so I did, but not at first sight!” His accents are gorgeous and I have a good laugh. He plays the chorus, The Glory of the Lord.
At the opening ladies were requested not to come to the performance wearing hoops. He, himself, has given a recital in the same music hall and he liked it. He plays his own recordings from Messiah and says that this is one of his favourite recordings and one of his best.
He goes on to Madame Butterfly which he says he doesn’t like it very much as it is built around two arias, The Love Duet and One Fine Day.
He goes on to Eldorado by Ralph Trewhela. He says it was originally written for “Anne and myself” for a radio programme but because Anne had so many commitments he was “ably partnered by Doris Brasch”.
15 September – Go to guild at night. I give the epilogue which goes very well and everyone congratulates me about it. We practise for Guild Sunday and they can’t manage one of the hymns so Mrs Russell makes the 4 from the choir sing it alone. Once again I practically sing a solo. I have to do the reading and talk about the work.
Peter walks Doreen, and me home and I get home at about 11.
16 September – We go to see Webster’s play and it is really gorgeous. When we arrive the first people I meet are Claire Judelman and Adele Fisher. Claire tells me about European trip and I tell her I’m here to see my singing teacher. First two acts are good and at the beginning of the third act I see a woman slipping in to the theatre and think it is Anne. Webster comes on – handsome, well-dressed, young-looking – perfect for his role. His diction is glorious, his acting well-timed. He makes the play and when he takes his bow I clap until my hands are red and almost blistered.
I see that Anne slips out the minute the lights go up and I am a little disappointed but when we get outside I see her a little way down the road talking to a fat garrulous man. She is wearing the same dress that she wore on Thursday, flat shoes and straight hair. I go up to her and her face lights up and I tell her, “Oh, Anne, I thought your husband was lovely.” She says, “Oh, I’m so glad you liked him. Did you enjoy the play?” I say, “Oh, yes, it was wonderful. Please tell Webster I thought he was lovely.” She asks if I came with my parents and when she sees them she smiles in charming fashion.
I come home – on air. I believe I enjoyed my little talk with Anne better than anything else that afternoon – except Webster of course. I noticed that she also clapped violently for Webster and laughed loudly at all his jokes. She probably didn’t want to be recognised because she did look a little bit of a sight. The blurb in the programme reads:
17 September – Go and have all my little children for Sunday school. Afterwards I go to Betty’s house with my record (Webster’s actually!) and we listen to Risé Stevens. She has a really thick – or should I say, velvety? – voice. I shall never sing like that. I wish Webster didn’t have such confidence in my voice. I have a nice tea with the Johnsons but feel a bit insulted when Mrs J says that she thinks Webster has a far better voice than Anne and she doesn’t like her. People – especially women of her own age seem to dislike Anne but it’s probably because she’s too attractive for them.
At night we have a guild service and I do the reading which goes off well. Afterwards we have a social and see a film about Liverpool delinquents.
18 September – Letter comes from Aunt Nellie in Scotland and she says her stepson and his wife know my teachers and remember them well. Practise piano and singing.
20 September – Go to piano lesson and all goes well. Mrs S is very affable and we concentrate entirely on the work in hand.
21 September – Go into town and have lunch with Mum and then go to lunch hour concert. Phillip Levy is the piano soloist. I meet Jill Harry. She doesn’t like her job and is leaving at the end of the month.
Meet Gill Mc D in the street and she is very affable for a change. I go up to studio and Anne arrives late with her hair almost straight. She says that all she seems to do is rush around. She was playing for an exam this morning and what with the Springs eisteddfod she has had “a hell of a week”. She gives me a new exercise to do so that I can get up speed.
She says I must be getting a bit sick of Oh Love so I can start a new song soon. We do Oh Love and on the trill my tongue goes up so I must get it down. We look in the mirror and her tongue goes up too! She says she didn’t pay enough attention to her tongue when she was a girl and now – “at my age I’m having to battle with it. When I’m singing publicly I know that if my tongue goes up my voice will go out of pitch and I’d hate to think that when you get to my age you’ll blame me for not insisting that you keep your tongue down!”
Maureen is ill today so Anne comes down on the lift with me to do some shopping. We talk about the play and I say how lovely I thought it was. She says, “Weren’t you shocked?” I say, no. She says she thought he was very well-cast. “Of course some snobs say that it isn’t real theatre, though, is it? But I think it’s a masterpiece.” She quotes, “Easy to write first and second acts but the third act is the telling one.” She treats me as though she is genuinely fond of me and she always brings out the best in me.
Go to choir and come home and listen to Webster. He starts with Dream of Gerontius sung by Heddle Nash and Dennis Noble. He says, “It may be of interest to you to know that I am going to sing in The Dream in PE in November.” He goes on to Tosca. He plays his own recording from it and two other recordings by the Rome opera company.
He goes on to Merrie England and says, “Anne and I have played Bessie and Raleigh innumerable times.” He plays his recording of the English Rose – one of the loveliest recordings I have heard.
Then he says, “I’m going to let you into a secret. When I first took Anne to the recording studios for a test recording, the song which she sang was Bessie’s Waltz song. When she signed her first contract the company gave me the test record and I have it here with me now.” He says after the record is over, “Not bad for a young beginner, is it?”
Next week he is going to play more from The Dream, Der Rosenkavalier and the White Horse Inn.
23 September – Go into town in the morning and meet Ann and Leona preparing to study in Rhodes Park library. I go to Central library and then to John Orrs. When I come out the first people I meet are Webster and Anne and Lemon. Anne is wearing black and white striped dress. She is terribly sweet and Webster gives me big grin. Lemon dashes around madly. What a lovely surprise. Meet Liz Moir as I’m going down Eloff Street.
27 September – Go for lesson with Mrs S. Her studio houses the Trinity College examinations room. Imagine my surprise when I hear a well-known voice talking to someone, “You’ll have to come and have dinner with us then.” I decide not to greet her in case she thinks I’m taking singing with Mrs S instead of with them.
I have my lesson and Mrs S loads me with work which I shall do. On the bus home I think that I should have greeted Anne for I shall have to mention it to her tomorrow so that she understands that I’m doing piano and not singing with Mrs S.
28 September – I have lunch with Mum and then go to a lovely lunch hour concert – Sonette Heyns sings and Edgar Cree conducts. I meet Jill and Lynn afterwards and we talk for a while.
I kill time in the library for a while and then go up to studio. Anne is wearing a pink striped dress. Middle-aged pupil called Nellie is having a lesson. Webster is playing a recording of his Abide With Me (Liddle) and he says, “I’ll play this for you one Thursday night – say a fortnight from today.
Nellie departs and Webster tells me to go in. Before we start on scales Anne tells me about all the prizes they had won at the Springs eisteddfod. I say, “Were you at the Trinity College examination rooms yesterday?” She says she was, and I tell her I was going for a piano lesson with Sylvia Sullivan and I heard her speaking to someone. She said she was speaking to the old examiner from Britain who comes out every year and looks about 90 although he’s only 70!
We start on scales and on one note Webster says, “That was glorious – sing it again!” Over tea I tell Webster rather nervously that I loved his play. He says, “Oh, did you like it? It is fun, isn’t it. Did the others like it?” I say, “Yes, it was lovely.”
Anne says that on that day after the show she went out to see a particular garden. The roof was off on the Hillman and she was wearing flat shoes so she arrived looking a dreadful sight but didn’t expect to see anyone she knew. When she walked in all her friends were there and she felt terribly embarrassed.
We do Roslein and it is agreed that it is an improvement beyond bounds from the last time I sang it. We do Hark, Hark, the Lark and she decides that we should do it. We look at it in one of her books which she has had since school days. He says he hates it for he sang too much of it as a choir boy.
I listen to Webster at night and find complete peace listening to him. He plays a few excerpts from The Dream sung by Heddle Nash and Gladys Ripley. He says he found it very difficult at first but then decided it was the loveliest oratorio of the lot.
Then he goes on to The Rosenkavalier which he sang in 1938 at Covent Garden with Erich Kleiber conducting. He tells the story of Lotte Lehmann’s husband being arrested by the Nazis and she was so upset that she was unable to continue with the performance.
He plays some pieces from The White Horse Inn and says that he spent many happy weeks in the Austrian Alps where the musical is set.Continue reading “EXTRACTS FROM MY TEENAGE DIARY – SEPTEMBER 1961”