Report to Meyerbeer Fan Club concerning "Meyerbeer: Master of Musical Spectacle" at Hampstead Town Hall, Sunday, November 18th at 7:30 p.m.

Dear Members and Friends of the Meyerbeer Fan Club,

 
To those of you who were present on Sunday Nov. 18th at Hampstead Town Hall, I say, "How lucky you are!"  Those of you who couldn't make it, "Sorry, you missed a great evening."
 
We arrived in London on Friday; and one day later we were advised that the mother of our pianist, Jonathan Gale, had that very day died, and was to be buried on Sunday.  It was unlikely that we would be able to find a replacement, so disaster loomed as a real possibility!  But potential tragedy turned to triumph, as Mr. Malcolm Coccle, the regular pianist for the Alyth Choral Society stepped into the breach, learned the parts and quickly rehearsed with the singers....
 
Let me say first how emotionally satisfying it was for me, an American and a New Yorker, to make a pilgrimmage to the U.K. on behalf of Meyerbeer, and to participate in an evening sponsored by the B'nai Brith Raoul Wallenberg Lodge.  So many of our British friends have voiced their unqualified support for us in our hour of deepest needs following the 9/11 murders of nearly 4,000 human beings, and we were gratified and moved to find so many English people on the street wearing the stars and stripes. 
 
Many thanks are owed to all who participated.  They are, Robert Letellier, Stu Scott, David Conway, Jonathan Gale, Malcolm Coccle, the thirty members of the Alyth Choral Society with its director Vivienne Bellos and our singers, who were: Miriam Murphy, soprano, Bradley Daley, tenor and Richard Strivens, bass-baritone. 
 
Every seat in the 225 seat hall was sold.  It was a standing room only performance. 
 
Here is how it went.  The evening was divided into two parts.  In Part I, Robert Letellier gave an "illustrated lecture" about Meyerbeer, which consisted of some displayed pictures along with recorded musical examples of a whole range of pieces from Meyerbeer's operas, from Robert le Diable through L'africaine.  The audience sat in stunned silence, but found themselves unable to contain themselves after hearing such pieces as the incomparably romantic "Robert, toi que j'aime" (June Anderson) from Robert le Diable, the moving "Blessing of the Swords" from Les Huguenots, Act IV, and the vocal pyrotechnics of Dinorah's "Shadow Song".  With these pieces and others, but taking the podium for less than one hour, Dr. Letellier built a powerful case for the unmatched supremacy of Meyerbeer as a romantic composer, raising the large ? mark ("Why is his music not performed?" or, "How is it that I've never heard this before?"), while whetting the appetite of this audience for the live music to be performed in Part II.
 
Following the 30 minute interval, during which refreshments were served (and during which we sold 25 CD's of "My Favorite Meyerbeer"), the audience returned and we were joined by our pianist (Mr. Coccle), our three singers, and the thirty male and female choristers.
 
Your webmaster was introduced as "President of the American Meyerbeer Society" and I, in turn, prefaced and introduced the choral pieces which followed.  I am deeply indebted to David Conway for preparing the substance of my remarks concerning the liturgical pieces, U'venucho Yomar and El Adon.  It is the latter piece which bears a superficial but remarkable resemblance to the "March" of Jean in Le Prophete ("Roi du ciel et des ange...") which was remarked upon by Cantor Naumbourg in "Zemirot Yisrael" but remains an unsolved mystery as to priority of authorship.
 
If there was a weakness of any kind in the live music portion of the program, it was the U'venucho Yomar piece performed by the choir.  But it was all very uphill from there.  The choir sang nicely in the El Adon...and the audience was easily able to make the connection to "Roi du ciel..." because Dr. Letellier had used that piece, sung by Gedda, earlier in the evening!  (Another piece of the puzzle:  Richard Wagner derogatively called Le Prophete "synagogue music"...Question!  Did Richard Wagner attend synagogue in Paris, and if so, did he attend early enough in the service to hear El Adon?)
 
But then, Miriam Murphy, a young soprano native of Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland, sang and acted a magnificent La Barque Legere, adding in just the right dramatic flair, followed by Bradley Daley, a powerful young tenor, singing a spirited "O Paradis" from L'africaine.
 
The highlight of the evening was the next and last piece, the entire finale from Robert le Diable, semi-staged, including the Aria Grand Trio and the choir finale in which all the singers participated.  Richard Strivens as Bertram was more than adequate, but Ms. Murphy was an almost ideal Alice, powerful and passionate; while Bradley Daley almost perfectly captured the emotions of the conflicted Robert in the finale.
 
Ending on this note, the crowd roared their approval with many shouts of Bravo!!!.
 
I believe that Meyerbeer won over many adherents during that evening; and I would strongly recommend that Meyerbeer events like this be repeated in this very successful format!
 
Best regards to all!
 
Stephen A. Agus

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