Waiting in the Wings

by Keith Clarke

It is good to see that Opera North’s controversial community opera Beached is to go ahead regardless of the huffing and puffing that has surrounded some gay content. The whole fuss generated more heat than light, and highlighted the fact that homophobia is always waiting in the wings. The episode put Opera North’s Richard Mantle in an impossible position, and he seems to have done a brilliant job of behind-the-scenes negotiations to reach a sensible conclusion.

The story brings up memories of the furor surrounding the notorious Clause 28, a piece of legislation that dictated that local authorities should “not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

One result, back in 1988, was that Glyndebourne Touring Opera canceled performances of Britten’s Death in Venice at a schools festival, and everywhere, local authorities were on the look-out for any artistic endeavor that seemed a little light on its feet.

After a vigorous campaign, the clause was dropped, but if left a bad taste.


Summoned by a friend to hear her choral society dishing up the Brahms Requiem I found myself in Holy Trinity, Sloane Square, in London’s Chelsea. It’s a terribly posh venue, yet for all the choir’s very considerable efforts, the event might as well have taken place in the local swimming baths.

The Brahms was prefaced by the world premiere of a new piece, Genesis, by Peter Foggitt, one of the young men playing the two pianos for the Requiem. It is probably fair to say that it contains some beautiful music, but that was virtually impossible to judge, since nearly all the sound careered off into the lofty vaulted roof of the church, leaving behind just an aural sludge. It didn’t help that the choir’s helpers thought that a useful accompaniment to the piece would be some enthusiastic bottle opening and glass chinking a few yards from the audience.

It’s a pity that so often, it is the details that let down amateur performances. Here is a choir that can make a great sound and has the inclination and wherewithal to commission new work. It no doubt put tremendous energy into planning the Big Event. Yet in the end, the result could only have been satisfying to the choir itself and its hangers-on.

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