Sunday, 26 July 2009


                                                                                                                                         Jose Lasheras.

I had to send off my measurements for a grand new production of Carmen in the Arena of 26,500 capacity.

This I did, hoping that they were correct, and euphemistically thinking that I would lose a couple of pounds before arriving for rehearsal. Normally measurements are taken by the dressmakers of the house when you arrive.

It was immensely hot and I was staying in a horrible modern box of an hotel outside the city and thus could not run around and study it as I worked. We rehearsed from 8pm until 2am. I turned up for my first fitting and the designer was there too......Disaster! 

The ravishing jacket in cobalt silk, which was hand painted all around in silver did not do up! and the seams had to be let out under the arms....which disrupted all of the narrative of the painting. The designer was truly forgiving....lovely, and we got on despite, as I watched his patience and calm eye for detail. We talked about so many things as the "sarte", the semstresses pinned and tacked away.

I felt that I had let him down and spent every day in my icebox hotel fretting, eating nothing and wondering how else to lose weight in such a hugely hot city, when I had to keep all of my energy in reserve for the nightime.

I think that he must have forgiven me for Christian Lacroix and I are still friends, and I have  his paintings, Christmas cards, jewellery, book and his most beautiful clothes for which I saved so long and now treasure more than ever.

His clothes are so impeccably made, truly exquisite in detail, shape, and colour with a flair that I have never seen before......and I shall do my best to remain in them for the rest of my days. 

They are cut to the body in a way that you rarely see and are always supremely comfortable as well as the most beautiful.

Our world needs this great talent and supremely gifted designer who understands entirely our shapes, lives and the way in which we express ourselves and need to inhabit our clothes.

All of this he interprets with the most veuve, brillo, daring panache and immense flair.



Rhumba Numba.

This week, since I have a moment to spare, I thought I would learn a couple of new dances!

Salsa and Rumba........

I have danced seriously, since I was three, and after classical ballet, I went for Flamenco, jazz and anything else that I need in order to work in theatre.....the music is SO Great!

Every morning after singing Lady in the Dark (Kurt Weil and Ira Gershwin) in Palermo, and then Rome, I clambered up 85 stairs to ballet class at 9.15 am.

The dancers looked astonished as they draped themselves, elegantly drawing on a cigarette, around the old theatre staircase.......(Nicotine cuts your appetite and thus your weight) and I would labour away at the barre, with my towel and bottle of water, gazing at the puddle of sweat beneath my feet. Dancers don't work near air-conditioning nor open windows..and this was in 40 degrees C.

 Singers go near smoke at their peril.  

So....singing Carmen is a piece of cake if you can dance and, in Madrid I said during rehearsal....."If all of these wonderful dancers come on as I am hardly need me!"
" I'll sing if I can dance flat out when I"ve finished".

This we all did, and then I went on to dance for half of the night, and out after breakfast for the magnificent art galleries in Madrid as well. Two weeks in the Prado was hardly enough....

This is my Rhumba Numba frock..which I wear for a fun second half in concert....or indeed for anything else!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Illustrious Jeans!.

La Belle cantered in to collect a case of Noilly Prat (in precisely the right shaped bottles) and happily delivered to me by mistake.

She had lavender socks and matching baseball boots on, and we were too busy laughing for me to ask if she had dyed them herself.

I wondered where in deepest Hackney she had fallen upon them, for she is too busy too go much further afield than her studio.

Perhaps these things just migrate in her direction.

She has after all, the most Illustrious Genes!


Monday, 20 July 2009

Out of the Frying Pan.....

I made an appointment with Herr Direktor in Munich towards the end of my first year at The Bavarian State Opera.

I had not been allowed to sing a new production at La Scala. Milan, because I was told that I would be required to sing the tiny, offstage part of the shepherd in Tosca. "But" I protested, "there are 15 young mezzos in the Opernschule here who could do it and this is a premiere at La Scala. If I remain faithful to this house and lose opportunities like this what will happen to my career?"

"Ah, replied Herr Direktor "We have planned so many performances for you in the next season and indeed, you can stay for at least 8 years."

Three months later, I was no longer required, and all of my furniture, car and the paraphanalia of a settled home was discarded.

Loyalty seemed a disposable asset.

I went to Vienna, to the Wiener Staatsoper where the new Direktor who had seen me in Munich told me, "You can sing all of your repertoire with us."

He had resigned before I arrived.

Every time that I came in for a performance I was greeted by the press with the infights between the Government and the Direktor of the Staatsoper, the man who had engaged me, and himself also a member of the Government.

I sang well, all of my performances, but of course the plans were changed and much was cancelled.

Always watch your back when hired by an outgoing regime!

As we say in Vienna,"Take the money and run".


"Coraggio! E il piu difficile di tutte le opere. In Bocca al Lupo"

So wrote Nicola Rescigno in my first score of Norma.

The great Maestro taught it to me himself at the age of 85 since he felt that I should sing it, and many were the moments when we broke for a cigarette (his!) and I beat the kitchen table with frustration and looking heavenwards, wished SO much that I could ask Callas how to negociate a certain phrase. The great salto or leap of almost two octaves, straddling the two ponte or bridges in the voice, in the duet with Pollione for instance, which has to be accomplished exactly in tempo, and this tempo must be precisely judged at the outset...fortunately in this case it is my responsibility and not that of the conductor. 

These great scores are really a life's work, and this one in particular is I feel, the perfect synthesis of Classic and Romantic, with the simplest of orchestration to illuminate the vocal line. It is this, at times spare writing, which makes all the more impact and gives the piece such elegance. 

Norma is so drenched with love and passion and is deeply moving not only for it's glorious music....... and this is Bellini's genius.

"You have been given Susan, a great responsibility, and inheritance which I hope you will bring to others and use for them, continuing these traditions in this great period of music.

 So profit, and I hope I've been helpful to you in being able to show you these things, and that you can be of help to others, bringing joy to people through singing these things well."

Nicola Rescigno to me,
Rignano Flaminia,
12th June, 1995.

"Courage! This is the most difficult of all operas." 

"Into the mouth of the Wolf."

A Highly Rated Filly!

In praise of my chum Cressida.

Ma Belle as I call her, moved in almost next to me longer ago than we can recall, and has been steadily creating her very personal niche in the world of design ever since.

Her screen prints are legendary as is her family background, and I am lucky enough to possess her beautiful clothes and textiles. She has painted my lampshades to go with 17th Century needlework, my coal bucket...a huge flower pot decorated with a regiment of flames marching round it, and my musical boxes.... a series of very lightweight briefcases which never leave me and get regularly beaten up at airports. They are filled with scores, recording equipment,water and practice shoes and Cressida has painted each one with legends, to go with my voice and winter coat.

Her scarves are so gorgeous that I can't bear to put them away and they just hang around the house - or hotel rooms - upliftingly.

 My practice skirt is made from her offcuts,and a magnificent length of silk velvet, somewhat Art-Nouveau/William Morris, is now an off the shoulder sheath, cunningly transformed by Sandro my dressmaker in Milan, who managed to do it without cutting the fabric.

It's in her genes of course. 

All that she touches is transformed by her magic from carpets to furniture, even cakes, and I can't wait to see what happens next. We did a photo shoot last week for a magazine when I wore her wonderful jacket, and my roses arrived by courier from Hitchin in the nick of time to be included too as we chatted away about hats and gardens and calligraphy.

She is a stalwart friend and I am proud to know her. 

Heaven help the person who has to live in between us!