Last week I teamed up with Martin Nelson and The Revolutionary Drawing Room to bring to life a series of wonderful anecdotes about Viennese music-making at the time of Haydn and Mozart. The narrative relates stories from the autobiography of Michael Kelly, an Irish tenor and theatrical manager. Along with his English colleague Nancy Storace, he was one of the first singers from the UK to make a successful career in Italy and Austria and both of them created roles in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro.
The title of A Viennese Quartet Party comes from a famous supper party at which four composers – Haydn, Mozart, Dittersdorf and Vanhal – played quartets together, and at which Kelly and Storace were also present. Kelly was, famously, a teller of tall tales but his autobiography is full of fantastic detail and characters who seem incredibly modern in their quirks and behaviour. The viola player of the RDR, Rachel Stott, created the script for A Viennese Quartet Party e a couple of years ago, since when it has been recorded and performed various times in different versions.
Our performance last week was the first time that we had included singing in the evening, Martin and I having previously simply read lines in character as Michael and Nancy. However, since they were both singers we added a short vocal item for each of us to explore how this would add to the presentation. As we appear only as actors in the first half, it is a surprise for the audience when we break into song and a complement to the various quartet movements that are performed by the RDR between sections of narrative.
The Petworth Festival audience was certainly delighted with the show and it was a great pleasure to return to Champs Hill where I recorded my recent Notes from the Asylum CD the day after the recording received a 4star review from BBC Music Magazine.