Monday, October 31, 2011

Seppl at the Seaside

There’s been a ‘false quietness’ about our little horsey world during these last weeks. Livia and Fritzl working themselves up for a return to the tracks, D’Arcy jogging, Lucie and Agnes resting, Seppl taking five … Instead of racing horses, we’ve been rearing them. After the glamorous Franco

  came Sally’s son, a lovely leggy Righteous Hanover colt, whom we have called Johnny

  Next, was Annie’s little boy (also by Righteous Hanover), - so we have 'The Righteous Brothers'!

and Erin’s Badlands baby and dear old Gwen’s Monarchy foal – she is coming back to us to have it – are in the works. But this weekend was the annual race meeting at Kaikoura. A festival of sunny seaside racing, featuring some of the best horses in the country, in the lead up to next week’s New Zealand Cup. I’ve only once had the delight of winning a race at Kaikoura – with Il Campione in 2002 – although Master Ado ran a mighty third a year or two later in the one-win trot. Well, this year Seppl went to the seaside, to run in that very same one-win trot. Sixteen trotters in the field, and guess who opened favourite! Our wee boy! Gulp. As you know I get nervous when my horses are favourite, and today all sorts of wayward things were afoot: our Lawrence, Fritzl’s driver, won race one on a 113-1 shot, two hot favourites galloped hysterically out of contention, and there had been two scary-looking crashes, one involving Seppl’s last-start driver, the great Jimmy Curtin. Well, by the time the race started the powers that punt had decided to go for the Purdon-trained horse, unfortunately named Contador, doubtless on the ground that the maestro could have another favourite blow up, and a North Island visitor. Seppl was third favourite. He had drawn eight, the extreme outside of the front row, and, with a heap of shoving and manoeuvering on the part of those drawn inside him (if eight horses won’t fit across Kaikoura’s track, make it less), he was practically hung out on the post where the tape zings and slaps when released. When the tape did go, he didn’t make his usual flying beginning. He gasped a moment at the horrid machine … but then, where another horse would have galloped, got his mind back on the job and launched himself in pursuit of the best beginners. Three back on the outside when they settled round the first bend, he waited only for the back straight, where Murray zipped out of his trailing spot and took Seppl straight to the lead. ‘He grows another leg when he’s in front’ the commentator once said. He does. He strode deliciously along in front, unchallenged, as, in the last 400 metres, the survivors of the pace and the gait lined up for the attack. Wham! Contador galloped on the tricky home turn, wham! Royearl’s Quest, running parked, left his feet instants later, wham! Ruby and Diamonds, the original leader, flew to bits at the straight entrance and didn’t stop galloping until after the post … and Seppl? Murray glanced over his shoulder, saw he was well clear, and eased to the line more than two lengths clear of the field. Seppl’s tenth start, his third win, and as Mr McNamara, the commentator – or was it Mr O’Connell, the link man – said, there will doubtless be more. The little boy with the most unfashionable breeding on show has turned out to be a distinctly nice racehorse.

Here he is, courtesy of Race Images, snapped hooning down the home straight with – look!—in the background, the famous Jack Litten colours, which I used to punt on decades ago in Julie Hanover days, here worn by runner-up, Game as Ned Kelly. Colours? I know. Murray copped a $25 fine. He forgot to change his shirt, and went out wearing his colours instead of mine. But this picture will still be going on my wall. A lovely souvenir. Win number 42!

Friday, October 14, 2011

"I'm about to be a mother..."

It seems only a year or two since I brought home the gangling yearling filly with the giraffe neck and the wonderfully haughty stare, from the Sales. Well, my beautiful Elena de Gerolstein had a little racing career, won one race and ran some fine placings, and is now retired. But, dammit, talk about the glamorous older woman! She looks better than ever, at seven years old ..

So it's time to become a mother. Hello, Mr Rob Roy Mattgregor ...

Duchess, meanwhile, has delivered us of her fifth baby: and after three girls in a row ... a baby brother for Fritzl!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ganzl - the 21st Century

Ganzls of now! Here are Régis and Segolène's daughters: Elena 7 and Lucie 3

And, well, I'm not likely to have human children, am I? But I have an Elena aged 7 and a Lucie aged 3 as well!

ROBIN HOOD ... back from the dead!

When England's Victorian Opera brought out their recording of Lurline, I hailed it as a double success: both as an historical document and as a jolly good listen. Now the organisation has followed up with Macfarren's opera, Robin Hood, and I can only repeat my former comment. Only more so.

Robin Hood is an absolutely English opera, written by a proven and sophisticated English playwright, and composed by a successful English composer, on the most wholly English of subjects. It looks English, it sounds English, it simply couldn't be anything else ... it just smells English.
It is also utterly typical of its time, conventional even, and in no way tries anything new in its music. We have a Florestan-cum-Fairfax prison scene for tenor, we have a Henry Phillips distraught father scena for the baritone, oodles of Malibran bravura for the prima donna, who in time-honoured fashion puts the denouement on hold while she does her vocalises, touches of English part-singing, a little bit of buffo, and there is a lilting take-away Sims Reeves ballad for ... well, for Sims Reeves.

And it's all absolutely splendid stuff of its kind.

Robin Hood is a star vehicle. Robin and Marian dominate the show and the score, and Macfarren has made their roles long and hard. Producer, E T Smith, who always did things in grandiose fashion, cast them with England's megastar tenor, Sims Reeves, and one of the best coloratura vocalists on the European concert scene, Helen Lemmens-Sherrington, who, I am quite sure, both vocally had their parts tailored to fit. He got Charles Santley, too, to play the Sheriff, who was duly made into a nice chap rather than the nasty henchman of Prince John we are used to. Top English singers Josephine Lemaire and William Parkinson took the little parts, but really, the show is all Robin and Marion, with occasional interludes by Santley. And a chorus of many. Since the Robin and Marion were huge public favourites, and the piece a fine one, lavishly staged, Smith had a splendid hit on his hands.

Victorian Opera had a task on its hands. Having had to cast Malibran and Louisa Pyne for its last two discs, now they had to cast Sims Reeves and Mme Lemmens. It can't be done, of course, but they have had a darned good try. Nicky Spence (Robin) lilts and thrills nicely. He drives the show's big hit, 'My Own, My Guiding Star', along in a ringing way that shows why it was a hit, and I particularly liked his moody prison scene. Kay Jordan (Marion) flings herself bravely into the hectic bravuras, but I liked her best when she joined the delicious mezzo Magdalen Ashman in the merry 'To the fair'. Miss Ashman also started things rolling with the grand 'The hunters awake'.
Geoffrey Hulbert sang the Sheriff's show-off scena ('My child has fled') vigorously, Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks was a merry Allan, and I found perhaps the most unalloyed joy on the discs in the ensembles and part-singing. Macfarren really could write for English voices, and English singers -- as proven here -- can sing his work a treat. With hardly a modified vowel.

If all this sounds a bit uncritical ... haven't I any complaints? Well, one or two of the Sims Reeves solos are a bit too conventional to be true -- their titles give it away: 'Englishmen by birth', 'The grasping Norman' -- but they were well liked in their time. So was buffo 'The Monk within his cell' -- created by comedian George Honey -- which I feel should rollick more. But it comes down to this: if you like the conventions -- the ballads, the scenas and the bravuras -- of 19th century English opera, and I do, very much indeed -- and the utter Englishness of it all, with its round and glee singing, it would be hard to find a more enjoyable opera than Robin Hood.
And unless you can raise Reeves and Mme Lemmens (to listen only, not look -- they were both vastly unheroic and unromantic-looking), I can't imagine it being more pleasingly and effectively presented than it is on this disc.

Next one, please, Victorian Opera.