Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Peter Grimes and the tricky 'th' sound !

It's a very wintry day here today. I woke up to a thick layer of real snow, and large flakes tumbling out of the sky. We and the mainland seem to have taken the brunt of the snow, further north on the island it is quite clear seemingly ! Just shows how unpredictable the weather can be in this remote and beautiful place. A mountain can mean the difference between deep winter and high summer in this part of the world !

As a result I have only taught three pupils today, most of my monday pupils are from the south of the island, or the mainland, so it would have been foolish to attempt the journey.

I did have my super young tenor who is working so diligently on the Messiah arias, and very hard on making his English pronunciation perfect in a Vaughan Williams song from The Songs of Travel. I had not thought that the 'th' sound and the 'w' sound would prove so tricky for a native Dutch speaker. He tries so hard using the tongue to make a strong opening sound to the words ' The crooked straight...' And 'The voice of Him who crieth.....' Etc, and another hundred or so words which require the sound. We English speakers are so used to making this sound we forget that the tip of the tongue must be extremely strong and flexible to sing and speak it convincingly. Young E is valiant and persistent in his practise, and I know by the time he is performing the arias he will have mastered it.

I admire the seeking of perfection in correct English - it is a language full of very difficult sounds. I remember well going to the Wien Statsoper a number of years ago, and watching a rather indifferent Peter Grimes by Britten. The pronunciation of the text in this most strong and poetic libretto was at best mediocre and at worst indistinguishable from a lost Hindu dialect from the far forests of India. So dreadful was it we had to turn on the English subtitles cleverly concealed on the seat backs in front of us, in order to understand our own language.

The appalling thing about this is that had it been an Italian opera, or a French opera, coaches would have drilled the singers in minute detail and for long and tedious hours......so every linguistic nuance was right. For this production of Peter G, if there indeed was a language coach they should have been shot at dawn having been denied a final meal !

Not that I feel strongly you understand !

A quite astonishing piece of film, just two minutes long from 1945. A young Britten and the beginnings of the masterpiece. Truly amazing !

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