All star night

ROBIN GREGORY wears jacket and tie to review special evening

TO MY left, one of ballet’s legends, Dame Beryl Grey. To my right, the next Mayor of Eastbourne with his charming wife. Onstage, Dame Felicity Lott, star of Vienna, Paris, London and Glyndebourne, with her actor husband, he of the magnificent radio voice, Gabriel Woolf. At the piano, composer, conductor and academic, Terence Allbright. Packing Eastbourne’s Birley Centre (dozens of extra seats) were members of the Towner Friends, of the Sussex Opera & Ballet Society (joint organisers of the event), and many leaders of the thriving East Sussex community. Saturday May 5th was ‘posh frocks’ night indeed !

‘Flott’(as her admirers call her) was in perfect voice for her part in a presentation titled ‘Love and Marriage’, which blended humour with passion, song with poetry and prose. The evening proceeded from the words of children, through romance and marriage, to disillusion; but the prevailing sentiment was wry, knowing amusement. Gabriel gave us Shakespeare, Auden and Housman, but brought us down to earth with Thurber’s wicked The Unicorn in the Garden. Flott ravished us with Schumann’s Widmung and Duparc’s Invitation au Voyage, then showed her other side (the side that brought Paris to its feet for a standing ovation in Belle Hélène) with Noel Coward, Rodgers & Hart, and (especially) Poulenc’s lilting waltz Les Chemins de l’Amour (The Byways of Love).

Few great opera-singers can bring off Jerome Kern (Showboat), Hugo Wolf, and Sondheim (Losing my Mind) in the same programme; but, with an equally perfect change of mood from pianist Allbright, Flott alternated at will. She even included a song by my favourite neglected local composer, Brighton’s Roger Quilter (Love’s Philosophy). No wonder an encore was demanded. The two performers held hands and sang “We’re a dear old couple who detest one another: the Seaford Derby and Joan”. We didn’t believe a word of it, but it was that sort of evening.