Tuesday 4 December 2012

Soane by candle light

To the Soane Museum on Monday 4 December, for a candle-lit evening event for patrons and supporters of Grange Park Opera. The library on the ground floor and the yellow drawing room were lit as normal, but the remainder of the ground floor and the magical basements were all lit by candles. This, of course, is how Soane's visitors would have seen the rooms if they visited him in the evening. I believe that Soane himself used to take visitors round with a candle. It is, in fact, an amazing experience; to wander round the basements full of antiquities just by candle light. There were, of course, plenty of room stewards to keep their eye on us, but there were all highly knowledgeable as well. And then there was the music.

Because this was a private opening, for supporters of Grange Park Opera, then we had music. There were young singers to spontaneously bust into song in the library, something that was either charming, or alarming, depending on one's point of view, but certainly a test of technique to have no accompaniment and one's audience a foot or so away. I did manage to chat to baritone Stephen Gadd, who will be singing Mr Redburn in Billy Budd at Glyndebourne next year, quite remarkably his first appearance in the opera.

Whilst we wandered round the crypt there was musical entertainment from a string quartet. The crypt is an amazing place at the best of times, but by candle light it seems to come alive seeming even less of a museum and more a bizarre installation.. It is crammed full of antiquities collected by Soane and there is even a complete Egyptian alabaster sarcophagus.  The guide explained to me that Soane had to remove the back wall to get the sarcophagus in and that even during the war, when everything else was evacuated to safety, the sarcophagus remained.

The quartet then joined the singers in the library for our further entertainment. Afterwards I was talking to London-based Mexican tenor Jesus Leon, who is singing the impossible role of Arturo I Puritani at Grange Park in 2013. The role was written for Giovanni Battista Rubini, a tenorino who could sing with great flexibility in the highest register and I Puritani even contains a high-F. Remarkably, Jesus Leon is able to sing the aria as writ and hopes to be able to dazzle us with it next year. (I think that William Matteuzzi's recording of the opera is one of the few to present the role with all its impossible notes). Leon is also singing the role of Alfredo in La Traviata with Scottish Opera and in Bregenz.

Further information about Grange Park Opera from their website. The Sir John Soane Museum website includes information about their public evening openings when the museum is candle-lit.

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