La Traviata – Verdi


As the title of my blog suggests, high notes are linked to my passion for opera.

I have had the privilege of singing for Northern Opera in five grand opera productions.

Die Fledermaus – Strauss playing cheeky housemaid, Adele
A masked ball – Verdi playing a trouser role of soldier Oscar
Elixir of Love – Donizetti playing feisty Adina
La Traviata – Verdi playing the tragic role of Violetta
Faust – Gounod playing Marguerite

It is La Traviata and portraying the role of Violetta that was quite an ORRsome life changing moment.

ACT I. In her Paris salon, the courtesan Violetta Valéry greets party guests, including Flora Bervoix, the Marquis d’Obigny, Baron Douphol, and Gastone, who introduces a new admirer, Alfredo Germont. This young man, having adored Violetta from afar, joins her in a drinking song (Brindisi: “Libiamo”). An orchestra is heard in the next room, but as guests move there to dance, Violetta suffers a fainting spell, sends the guests on ahead, and goes to her parlour to recover. Alfredo comes in, and since they are alone, confesses his love (“Un dì felice”). At first Violetta protests that love means nothing to her. Something about the young man’s sincerity touches her, however, and she promises to meet him the next day. After the guests have gone, Violetta wonders if Alfredo could actually be the man she could love (“Ah, fors’è lui”). But she decides she wants freedom (“Sempre libera”), though Alfredo’s voice, heard outside, argues in favour of romance.

ACT II Some months later Alfredo and Violetta are living in a country house near Paris, where he praises their contentment (“De’ miei bollenti spiriti”). But when the maid, Annina, reveals that Violetta has pawned her jewels to keep the house, Alfredo leaves for the city to settle matters at his own cost. Violetta comes looking for him and finds an invitation from Flora to a party that night. Violetta has no intention of going back to her old life, but trouble intrudes with the appearance of Alfredo’s father. Though impressed by Violetta’s ladylike manners, he demands she renounce his son: the scandal of Alfredo’s affair with her has threatened his daughter’s engagement (“Pura siccome un angelo”). Violetta says she cannot, but Germont eventually convinces her (“Dite alla giovine”). Alone, the desolate woman sends a message of acceptance to Flora and begins a farewell note to Alfredo. He enters suddenly, surprising her, and she can barely control herself as she reminds him of how deeply she loves him (“Amami, Alfredo”) before rushing out. Now a servant hands Alfredo her farewell note as Germont returns to console his son with reminders of family life in Provence (“Di Provenza”). But Alfredo, seeing Flora’s invitation, suspects Violetta has thrown him over for another lover. Furious, he determines to confront her at the party.

At her soirée that evening, Flora learns from the Marquis that Violetta and Alfredo have parted, then clears the floor for hired entertainers – a band of fortune-telling Gypsies and some matadors who sing of Piquillo and his coy sweetheart (“E Piquillo un bel gagliardo”). Soon Alfredo strides in, making bitter comments about love and gambling recklessly at cards. Violetta has arrived with Baron Douphol, who challenges Alfredo to a game and loses a small fortune to him. Everyone goes in to supper, but Violetta has asked Alfredo to see her. Fearful of the Baron’s anger, she wants Alfredo to leave, but he misunderstands her apprehension and demands that she admit she loves Douphol. Crushed, she pretends she does. Now Alfredo calls in the others, denounces his former love and hurls his winnings at her feet (“Questa donna conoscete?”). Germont enters in time to see this and denounces his son’s behaviour. The guests rebuke Alfredo and Douphol challenges him to a duel.

ACT III. In Violetta’s bedroom six months later, Dr. Grenvil tells Annina her mistress has not long to live: tuberculosis has claimed her. Alone, Violetta rereads a letter from Germont saying the Baron was only wounded in his duel with Alfredo, who knows all and is on his way to beg her pardon. But Violetta senses it is too late (“Addio del passato”). Paris is celebrating Mardi Gras and, after revellers pass outside, Annina rushes in to announce Alfredo. The lovers ecstatically plan to leave Paris forever (“Parigi, o cara”). Germont enters with the doctor before Violetta is seized with a last resurgence of strength. Feeling life return, she staggers and falls dead at her lover’s feet.

Violetta spent 10 months we me that year and consumed everything I lived and breathed. This was whilst working full time too. I had a class of children in Year 4. The opera would be playing in the background when they arrived every morning. Their curiosity got the better of them and one child said they had heard the music in the film Pretty Woman – you may recall the opera Edward takes Vivienne to. I love the comment when she is asked if she enjoyed it. ‘Too much I nearly pissed my pants!’ and then deftly rescued by Richard Gere with his quip about Pirates of Penzance.

Thus, the scene was set. I told the children to story and all the things Violetta had to do. They loved the fact she was dying and would eventually end the opera dead in her lover’s arms. The children became just as fascinated with Violetta as I had become. I shared the costumes that had been made especially for me and they found it hilarious that I had 3 wigs to wear throughout the performance.
The part that tickled them the most was the fact I had to faint on several occasions. Quite a skill and an art to collapse convincingly and not hurt oneself. Once the producer had seen, I was very adept at stage faints he added more in to the performance. The children would ask to see me faint in the middle of our carpet area. Makes me smile to think how engrossed they were in the opera and how much they supported me – amazing!
I would be rehearsing 3 nights a week and then most of the weekend too. The tenor, Alfredo, was brought in professionally from one of the music colleges. He was not there at every rehearsal. I had to work with an understudy. The tenor came up for 5 weekends in total and that was the only time we were able to rehearse together.
The role of Violetta is highly demanding – she has 3 phases throughout the opera and they are all sung very differently.
At the start of the opera she is bubbly, lively, life and soul of the party and loves to drink fizz! (Now you know why I loved the role!!!) Her singing is vibrant and she soars up and down the scale using every note in her repertoire. In her main aria, and she is hardly ever off the stage, she soars beyond top C and hits an E flat. That’s the aria in the video clip.) I loved smashing the champagne flutes every night – made from sugar glass. Her second mood is more sombre. She had weakened significantly and tell tale signs are there. The makeup artist was incredible. I gave myself quite a fright when I first saw how I looked. Whitened face, dark circles and drawn. Her singing is highly controlled and passionate. The tenor got to beat me about quite a bit in this act – rather enjoyed it!! (he was very pleasing on the eye) Between act 2 and act 3 I have 3 minutes of music to change an entire outfit and make up. I had a team of helpers down to stage crew holding doors open so I could flee from the stage and get to my dressing room. I learned to put faith and trust in others as they began to take my clothes off – hooks, eyes, studs etc…. while I focused upon changing wigs. Changing a wig is not simply lift and replace. There are at least 15 hairclips ensuring it is secure, particularly when I am being beaten or fainting. The final act really took its toll on me. Violetta is dying and does not have much time. She sings the most amazing aria Addio del passato here sung by Renee Fleming. This was the scene which was the hardest to pull off. We developed amazing chemistry on stage, the tenor and I. Incredible passion between the two lovers. By this time my costume was a mere silk shift nightdress and a wig which could only be described making me look well and truly RUMPLED.. Alfredo knows she is dying. She faints and he scoops her up in his arms and carries her back to bed. These are fabulous erotic moments on stage when you are faced with singing such brilliant music. We had to become very comfortable with each other as we shared kisses on stage, major physical contact. I recall the tenor saying he could feel my carotid pumping at one point as well as my heart thumping. I had become Violetta. We were one and the same.
On the opening night, I left school at 4pm to make the long drive to the theatre. I was required to wear a significant amount of whitening make up as I looked too healthy and this took me an hour and a half. Just before I left school I was called back into class by my HT – the children had the most amazing bouquet of flowers. My Mum and dad had tickets for the final performance. So, as I took my entire make up off after opening night, the producer knocked on the door with a surprise visitor – my Mum. She said they could not bear to have been sitting at home whilst I was on stage. They came to every performance. Violetta made me face my own mortality. My Dad said they had cried when Violetta died. He found it very emotional watching his own daughter die before his very eyes. Lots of sniffles in the audience.

The producer commented, ‘You really don’t know how good you are.’ That’s hard to tell someone because it comes across as boastful.

At the end of the final performance, I packed up all my costumes and loaded everything into Dad’s car. The tenor and I shared a bottle of champagne together – the stage crew’s gift.

Apparently each night, as I prepared to die, the entire cast slipped into the wings of the stage to watch.

When I eventually got home, although completely and utterly exhORRsted and drained, I was on such a high.
I laid out the costumes in my living room and sleep did finally arrive.
The following mORRning as I walked into my living room I began to cry. It was difficult to put my finger on why I was crying. It felt a little like bereavement – she was gone. Gone from my life. I had to be me again. Interestingly enough, a part of her remained in me – a bit like Harry Potter’s scar.

Playing Violetta changed a lot for me. Giving me confidence in playing one of the biggest soprano roles in any opera.

I do miss her.

Some children came to watch the opera and those that couldn’t asked to watch the DVD.

That’s the brilliant part – 8/9 year olds watching grand opera!!!

If you have never seen an opera before, La Traviata is one that would certainly be a good introduction to the world of opera. It is truly amazing!

And, on that note, (no pun intended) I am off for a flute of fizz!

The 12 shoes of Christmas Day One


The 12 shoes of Christmas Day One

It cannot deny that one of my guilty pleasures is shoes. The higher and quirkier the better. If it was not for the fact I have a walk cupboard in which to house them all, goodness knows where I’d put them! Children have begun to take bets on which pair I will wear each day and they have even started a thread on our school chatterbox learning platform. I feel quite privileged that they want to take time to talk about me. Not only are my shoes a talking point at school, they too have become a feature of my twitter profile.
On Tuesday I will launch ‘365 days in my shoes’ blogging about the highs (not the lows) of my day. The shoes will do the talking as I am one who not only talks the talk but also gets stuck in a walks it at great speed. (sometimes that is not always possible in 5 and three quarter inch heels!)
It so happened that a few twitter pals suggested I should have made a shoe advent calendar but by the time this was muted we were already half way through December. Besides, I had been posting my own nativity calendar on a daily basis. So, rather than the 12 days of Christmas, the 12 shoes of Christmas was born.
We are already at day 5! Although days 1-4 are posted here now after the event, I really wanted to record the moment. So, here they are and especially for @kevbartle @betsysalt @danielharvey9 @Gwenelope @rlj1981 @aknill @paulshanks1974 @TheHeadsOffice @mobo40 and all the others who love shoes!

365 days in my shoes!


365 days in my shoes!

I received a fab gift from my DHT – shows how well he knows me! It’s a shoe calendar with a different shoe for every day of the year. I intend to tweet each shoe daily from January 1st 2013 with a view to posting something short (like me except when elevated on heels) about the day in my shoes. No two days ever repeat in Shotton! I only have enough shoes and boots to last 63 days but shall aim over the course of the year to make sure my cupboard is too small to house all my shoes!

#nurture 1213 Ghosts of Christmas past, present and future!

298858_10150269840154506_2359568_nMy 2012 WOW moments!

1. My Dad – I have always been and always will be a Daddy’s girl. He is the only man upon whom I can truly depend. I am tearful at the thought of him not being around – he is 87. It saddens me to think of those who do not or have not had a strong bond with their father. My Dad is a retired head teacher of a secondary school. Having retired when he was only 58 I find him an amazing man. Whenever he and I part company at the end of a day or as I leave my parents’ home, the last moment is a hug between father and daughter. You are NEVER too old to kiss and hug your Dad!

2. OFSTED – I have only ever been involved in 4 OFSTEDs in 21 years of teaching. In 1997 I remember the 67 page report arriving 8 weeks after the inspection had taken place. I seemed to acquire the knack of moving to a new school before the next inspection was due resulting in the fact my next OFSTED was a DHT in 2005. It’s rewarding to read in a report that the head teacher has strong leadership and is ably supported by the very effective deputy. It is this same head teacher who is my inspiration and responsible for the leader I am today. We continue to meet regularly almost 5 years after her retirement. Now very much as friends but still talk the talk and walk the talk with each other. As I embarked upon headship, OFSTED arrived in my first year. Data was poor, there were some inadequacies in teaching but our outcome was what I had wanted. By 2012 when ‘they’ came again, we were a very different school community. More than 75% of the staff were new to the school – a mixture of experienced and newly qualified teachers. It’s exciting to read in a report, “Under the excellent leadership of the head teacher, the senior leadership team has implemented strategies which have improved the quality of teaching and the curriculum and raised attainment. They are rigorous in using data and monitor teaching effectively. Leaders and managers accurately evaluate the school’s strengths and weaknesses. They use the outcomes astutely to target further improvements. The head teacher has had an excellent impact on driving school improvement.” This becomes a very humbling moment.

3. Family – I love my family. I am one of four but from two different marriages. (link to no.1) My Dad, as you will gather, is 87 and I am 45. We laughed last year as we hit a calendar point where I was half his age. My Dad’s first marriage ended tragically with his wife dying at 36 leaving him with boy and girl twins. My Dad did remarry and created me and my younger brother. The quirky fact here is that I was born on the twins’ birthday when they were 18. There cannot be any excuse for forgetting those birthdays. My younger brother has 3 boys – I call them my three musketeers. Like me, they love cricket and rugby.

4. Love – I simply love life more than anything else in the world. God has given me the world and I thank him every day for it!

5. Moving home! Having put my home on the market June 1st 2012, it sold 2 weeks later. An unbelievable achievement having heard that so many people had homes on the market for months. I moved August 2nd 2012 and ended up, as a good friend put it, ‘A lady of property.’ This proved to be a very trying time as I owned two homes at once as I was able to move into new pad but had to await completion for old one – expensive and stressful time. The amazing anomaly here is that I moved to be close to my parents and support them in a caring capacity. SUCCESS!

6. Moving home – part 2. The actual move was so smooth. I love wood floors and had planned to remove all carpets and lay wood. Everything was prepared, the stage set for my new wooden flooring to go down when I discovered major water damage. I lost my entire kitchen for 3 months. You have the innate ability after the event to block out how awful it was at the time. I resorted to plastic wine glasses – for those of you who know me well, I KNOW!!!! However, 3 months down the line I love my home – and I stress it is a home and not a house. “Love overflows and joy never ends in a home that is blessed with family and friends.”

7. SHOES – bet you were wondering when I would get around to this!!!!! My new home has a walk in cupboard with such amazing storage that I can house all my shoes in one place – at the last count I was at 63 pairs if you include my purple Hunter wellies and Gortex walking boots.

8. Health – moving house meant I was able to change GP to one who was closer. They were incredibly thorough resulting in a major MOT on my body! Something I dreaded but results came back with a cholesterol of 3, blood pressure 120/65 and, considering I have a rare form of asthma, my lung function was off the scale.

9. SINGING – Opera, Oratorio and all that Jazz is my main outlet and escapism from school (apart from shoes!!!) I sing every day! My world would be incomplete without a song. I had the greatest privilege being asked to sing Handel’s Messiah with a choral society about 40 miles from where I live. On turning up for rehearsal with the small Baroque orchestra, I discover I am the ‘local lass’ and the other 4 soloists as the ‘hired professionals’. The day after the performance, the MD sent the following email – “Dear Rachel, many thanks for another outstanding performance last night. I loved ‘Rejoice’ – wonderful, exciting coloratura – and, in a different way, ‘Redeemer’ – you projected the fervent, secure belief of the words with great power. Thank you for doing all the things I asked of you (I did notice).

I was delighted with the evening overall, and you made a terrific contribution to it. Marie, the mezzo, was really impressed with your singing and, as you would realise, she is a consummate and very experienced professional – so praise indeed! Dear Rachel, many thanks for another outstanding performance last night. I loved ‘Rejoice’ – wonderful, exciting coloratura – and, in a different way, ‘Redeemer’ – you projected the fervent, secure belief of the words with great power. Thank you for doing all the things I asked of you (I did notice).

I was delighted with the evening overall, and you made a terrific contribution to it. Marie, the mezzo, was really impressed with your singing and, as you would realise, she is a consummate and very experienced professional – so praise indeed!”

10. WINE – Love it! I am so lucky to have an amazing group of friends who supported me through the difficult times when dealing with water damage and loss of kitchen. My house-warming was a great success and the wine overflowed!

11. Guardian Angel – if ever a girl was in need of a guardian angel, I was last month. I attended a training course for OFSTED only 6 miles from my home and the light dusting of icing sugar snow erupted and the heavens released their entire contents upon a small village high up. I embarked on a 3 hour journey home. I was terrified. Never before had I become so lacking in my own ability to drive – brakes did not function and I could not steer. I tweeted a DM to a good twitter friend. They held my hand and reassured me as I skidded, hit the kerbstones, mounted the roundabout and lost complete control. I found it unbelievable that I did not hit anyone, nor was I hit. There came a point when I realised that no-one really knew where I was or how I was feeling – ‘shit scared’ is about all I can say to describe it. My guardian angel suggested I contact family and explain. This is quite hard to do, even hands-free, when you are terrified and do not want to let family in on the fear. I did manage to get home and in one piece, although be it a very shaken and not stirred piece. Although my guardian angel commented that, ‘They felt so useless!’ I cannot express how important they were in keeping me reassured.

12. I am not driven by OFSTED or grades, however, I am passionate about progress and giving all children the best opportunities as they can possibly have in order to aim high to be the best they can be! We received Raise On-line on my birthday – October 30th (no cards please!). Our value added put us in the 2nd percentile overall. Our school is the 12th most deprived in my LA – major achievement for these kids. The pièce de résistance was an article in the press – “Shotton Primary School in County Durham is among 100 schools singled out for praise for helping to boost the Key Stage scores of their pupils.”

My hopes for 2013

1. Progress – to continue to secure the best for the children at our school. Many live in horrendous situations and it is important we enable them to be the best they can be. “Good, better, best. Never let it rest until your good is better and your better, best!”

2. SHOES – I intend to start a blog called ‘high heels and high notes’ with the aim of sharing a day in my shoes!

3. Health – I have been blessed with such good health over the last 8 years – the last time I needed to be in hospital with serious chest infection. I also request good health upon my family and that I am always there.

4. EYFS – We shall be appointing a new Early Years Leader in the new year and we want to ensure our EYFS goes from strength to strength.

5. SINGING – I am so excited about the privilege of singing at The Sage Gateshead in Hall One. This is something major in my life!!!!

6. SINGING 2 – I want to learn many more operatic arias as well as oratorio works – sometimes these are neglected as work takes over.

7. SHOES – May my cupboard always be too small to house all my shoes!

8. My own professional development – consider a move to a new school? I am in my 5th year as HT and need to start looking at my next steps. I spend so much time looking after everyone else’s next steps, I neglect my own.

9. Health – this has been good, but as I enter my 46th year I want it to be even better. I have such a buzz going to my local gym – it’s less than 2 miles from my home and so accessible. I love it. 6/8 times this week – not sure I can sustain that but want to attempt at least 3-4 times per week.

10. Garden – I have already planted spring bulbs – wish to be more proactive in my garden.

11. Apply for NLE – my education development partner recommended in my performance management I do this.

12. Twitter – I have tweeted for quite a while but these last 3 months have be invaluable. I wish to continue to develop my networks both professionally and socially – to be stimulated, inspired, enthused and motivated. Hope I do the same for others.

13. GUILT – I hope that I will never find myself in a position that I regret!