Alexa Mason’s exhilarating performance punched through any discomforts and unfamiliarities anybody could have had with this type of music...it was drop-dead genius.
This innovative presentation was complemented by excellent performances from all the instrumentalists, and from the soprano Alexa Mason. Christopher Swaffer directed with authority and style.
Dr John P Kitchen, Formerly Senior Lecturer in Music, Edinburgh University
A fine group of young Scots musicians and a superb soprano - Alexa Mason delivered an operatic mad scene by Peter Maxwell Davies which in its acting and use of voice compared well with Sutherland in her prime.
Hugh Kerr, Scottish Review
Robin Holloway - Five Haydn Miniatures
Peter Maxwell Davies - Fantasia upon one note, after Purcell
The Main Event
Peter Maxwell Davies - Miss Donnithorne's Maggot for soprano and ensemble
Gustav Lange - Blumenlied for solo piano
The real life Miss Donnithorne lived in Newtown in Sydney, Australia. There is some discussion as to whether she really was jilted at the altar in 1856, living the rest of her life in stasis, but she would have been an obvious inspiration for Miss Havisham in Dickens’ Great Expectations.
Auricle's presentation of Maxwell Davies' seminal music theatre work, is framed as a mock wedding. The audience, greeted by wedding ushers, find their seats are complete with cobwebbed flowers, with refreshments in the form of wedding cake. Background music is played throughout until the 'ceremony' begins with Robin Holloway's Haydn Miniatures. This set of five little pieces were inspired by Haydn's collection of mechanical clock music, though these are a little more off kilter than the originals - gently setting up the clicking metronomes and general mayhem to come in 'Miss Donnithorne's Maggot'.
Miss Donnithorne then makes her entrance through the auditorium, accompanied by Maxwell Davies' Fantastia upon one note, written after Purcell. This work, at first shimmering and stately, descends quickly into hillbilly and foxtrot, complete with banjo and a harpsichord playing violinist. We then segue directly into 'Miss Donnithorne's Maggot'...
Peter Maxwell Davies on 'Miss Donnithorne's Maggot': The music refers constantly to the Victorian salon music with which one must assume Miss Donnithorne was familiar. After the Prelude, her song 'Green mooned the white lady' is even strophic, in the manner of a Victorian ballad. The next song starts with a quotation from Shakespeare's Hamlet, 'They say the owl was a baker's daughter', and the ensemble evokes an empty house full of clocks, at first ticking, and eventually chiming and jangling through the protagonist's disturbed, distorted memories of her tragic wedding day. 'The harbour lay on her indigo back' is based on a dump (or dompe), an Elizabethan dance form, but the surface is close to a Victorian quadrille. The purely instrumental Nocturne that follows is a dreamy distant cousin of Gustav Lange's Blumenlied, a very popular display piece for asipring late nineteenth-century lady pianists. In Her Rant ('On the doorsills of my cake') Miss Donnithorne hears sailors drill-marching ('in the exercise yard of my cake'): her betrothed was a sailor, the music is essentially military - except for her vulgar excursions into Jenny Lind-like operatic recitative. In the following recitative, 'In the dusty afternoon', the Victorian piano style becomes even more distorted into her over-heated personal memories and fantasies, while the violin accompaniment to her actual words suggests the theatrical traditions of Victorian music-hall. (Could such a well-bred Victorian lady ever have visited such a common establishment?) Her final Reel ('Hark, hark, his voice!') refers to both Mendelssohn's and Wagner's Wedding March, and quite literally has the lady reeling drunk on her own dandelion wine, as her fantasies about her betrothed become ever more lurid. In her ramblings she hears a bosun's whistle (is it the wind through the trees?), evoking the presence of the betrothed in the next room. She ecstatically rushes into his imagined arms, to a cheap tune summing up the whole masquerade, and we realize that she is imprisoned absolutely in these imaginings in this music, forever estranged and alone.
Alexa Mason Cumbrian soprano Alexa trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, before taking part in English National Opera's OperaWorks programme. Subsequent cover roles at ENO include First Squire/Flowermaiden 'Parsifal', Susanna 'The Marriage of Figaro' and Iris Marinus in the premiere of Van der Aa’s 'Sunken Garden', with principal roles in Glass' 'Akhnaten' (2016) 'Jakob Lenz' (2012) and the world premiere of Joanna Lee’s 'The Way Back Home', directed by Katie Mitchell at The Young Vic in December 2014. Other opera roles performed include Clorinda 'Cenerentola' and Gretel 'Hansel & Gretel' for HighTime Opera in 2015 and 2016, Ortlinde 'Die Walküre' and Wellgunde 'Das Rheingold/Götterdämmerung' for Fulham Opera, Zerlina 'Don Giovanni', Tina 'Flight', and Eurydice 'Orfeo ed Eurydice', as well as a concert performance of Zdenka in Strauss' 'Arabella' for Fulham Opera in 2016. Alexa’s concert work with The Auricle Ensemble has seen her tour Scotland with contemporary chamber works such as Schoenberg’s seminal work 'Pierrot Lunaire' and Maxwell Davies’ 'Miss Donnithorne’s Maggot', as well as programmes of diverse Cabaret songs, Mahler works, and a performance of Polly Peachum in Weill’s 'The Threepenny Opera'. Her soprano/clarinet/piano chamber trio Tenacious T’Weed also perform throughout Scotland.
Alexa was soloist for the first live performance of the Philip Glass/Ravi Shankar album 'Passages' at the 2017 BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, London. She also recently created the role of Dawn in Nico Muhly's new opera 'Marnie', at ENO in November 2017. alexamason.com