IPH as Opera South webmaster

My association with the theatre has mostly, but not always, been with musical theatre including opera. In 1984 I sang a principal role with Opera Omnibus which was later renamed Opera South. From 2006 to April 2010 I performed the role of webmaster of Opera South and the following is what the page about me on its website said.
Ian P. Hudson

Yes, this is me writing my own page in case anyone out there is vaguely interested. I was asked to become Opera South’s webmaster in late 2005 and took over at the start of February 2006. On this page you can read something about me and what I know about the business of opera...

A visitor might ask what my credentials are. What do I know about opera? In answer, I offer this narrative of my activities that can be considered related to opera, or to the stage or to music in general. It is here for anyone curious about why I can claim to know so very many sides of the business better than most. As a result, this page has ended up rather long; but this is unavoidable because I have taken (as an amateur, but with success within my sphere) many relevant roles. What about the old saying "Jack of all trades, master of none"? Unless "jack" covers a person knowing more, having done more, than anyone who isn’t a specialist in a particular line of activity, I say "not necessarily"; If any composer is my hero, it is Alexander Borodin who was a notable professional chemist, and rightly famous in a sphere completely different from music, as well as a major composer. I haven’t done anything that notable, but have had my moments in my own small way.

  • I sang in the chorus, including the usual roles of peasant, mediaeval soldier, gentry, boyar, and also as a Yeoman of the Guard (Sullivan, Haslemere, 1994).
  • I was asked (no, I didn’t audition) to sing a principal role (Jupiter, Offenbach’s Orpheus) and was reasonably successful.
  • I tried my hand as a librettist (/translator) — I wrote a brand new English libretto, after reading the 1780 German original of Gottfried Stephanie the Younger, for Mozart’s Der Schauspieldirektor which was performed and quite a success in Haslemere in 1984).
  • I dabble as a composer (of piano & instrumental pieces, one for small orchestra, but not yet of opera). I taught myself orchestration — Walter Piston has been on my shelf for almost 40 years, and nearby you’d find Rimsky-Korsakov, Schoenberg, Norman Del Mar, typical basic textbooks, Bach, Mozart & Mahler scores, and books about the work of composers from Anton Bruckner to Edward "Duke" Ellington.
  • As an instrumentalist, I play or have played in my time (just a little, but for friends too) various instruments including
    • the recorder (descant and treble);
    • the swanee whistle (and that slide ain’t easy, folks!);
    • an antique shawm (like a keyless, mediaeval oboe, but best with a bagpipe double reed) that I got in a souk in Morocco;
    • the clarinet (I only have a Bb but mostly play jazz anyway);
    • a veteran silver baritone saxophone which I sold when I needed the money decades ago;
    • the (Spanish or classical) guitar;
    • the ukulele;
    • the piano, organ, and electronic keyboards.
  • I have also acted "straight" (i.e. Shakespeare, with no music), as when I was asked to take the title role in Othello; on that occasion I went to an audition for a mixed "Shakespeare evening" with something like Henry V’s archbishop of Canterbury or the ghost of Hamlet’s dad in mind, and was asked to read the Othello part for the audition of the young women all wanting to play Desdemona!
  • Opera singing students also study languages, for many grand opera productions (unlike Opera South’s) are not in English. Well, I am fluent enough in French and German to be taken for a native speaker by natives; and having sung in the chorus of Macbeth in Italian (and, also, having learnt Latin at school and remembered a lot of it) I can sing and pronounce any operatic Italian correctly, and generally understand what it all means. I can be polite and hold a simple conversation in Russian or Spanish, and I have even written verse in Russian in recent times and can read Russian texts (with a dictionary) so the Cyrillic does not frighten me.

    Having also been a professional writer and editor for many years, including time working in France and Germany, I am familiar not only with the standard publication style and usage guides for English, and French and German, but also with the various different (but reasonably strict) conventions in each operatic language for capitalization in opera titles (as exhibited, for example, by the Viking Guide). I have tried to ensure that they are always followed on this website and in Opera South literature.

  • I am a competent carpenter, electrician, plumber, painter, and scenery maker, as well as an artist (painter and sculptor, see my web gallery of paintings); I have made scenery, such as the gigantic statue of Brahma for The Pearl Fishers (1985), and the Opera Omnibus/South ramps first used in Count Ory; and I made many props and my own costumes. For the May 1989 production of Bellini’s The Sleepwalker (La Sonnambula) I was contacted on the evening of the dress rehearsal and asked to make the collapsing mill race bridge, for which the thitherto available offering was (shall we say) a considerable disappointment. This device is seen in the climax of the action in the last act, where the heroine is sleepwalking, and wanders out of an opening high in the side of the watermill building (her widowed mother is the miller for a Swiss mountain village) and walks along a dangerous, narrow structure high above the mill race, falling from which would mean instant death by being crushed by the mill wheel spinning (in its space between sluice boards and so forth). The point of this event in the plot was that only on seeing this does the tenor lead, who has broken off with the heroine thinking she was deliberately in another man's bedroom at the hotel, believe that his beloved really does walk in her sleep; being a peasant, he had never heard of such a thing and did not believe her mother's assurances that the girl was unaware of where she was. Well, the late request from the company meant I had only 24 hours (and I had a job in the daytime, too) from that moment until the dress rehearsal. I built a bridge with a fake effect of the gantry collapsing abruptly and noisily, operated with her foot by the soloist playing the sleepwalker. At the dress rehearsal, which I then watched right through, the chorus were unaware of this device having arrived. The climax arrived, and the cast were all singing the build-up music. I was pleased to see the ladies of the chorus, more or less every last one of them, jump out of their skins when the bridge was triggered and appeared to collapse; they knew the story but they thought it had really collapsed! In later years the musical director for that production still reckoned that my device had stolen the show and I remain rather pleased with it in the annals of opera in Haslemere.

    I will give you just one small instance of a special property that I made, for my 1984 part as Jupiter: his wrist sundial; it was my own idea, not from any director, and obviously (on the face of it — pun deliberate) the idea’s absurd or surreal (Barry Humphries might say it was Dadaist); but the bit of business with it, as the sun arose slowly at the beginning of Act II, when there are a certain number of bars before Jupiter has to speak and wake everybody up, had that Haslemere Hall audience chuckling, once they had seen what I was fiddling with, before the action even started — which was (of course) the goal. The tiny sundial was small enough to be won on the wrist, but big enough to be seen round in the theatre; and I still have it. It’s a piece of nonsense, but just like that whole operetta; and I always reckon that, in comic opera, the more laughs the audience has, the better. I have no time for people (such as stuffy MDs) who are against the show making the audience laugh in case they miss a bar of the music! Going back to my catalogue of the musical-theatre-related roles I have tried in the past, I have even been on FOH (front of house) staff as an usher, collecting tickets as the audience take their seats; and on another occasion I served wine to the parched opera audience from behind the bar in the interval in Haslemere Hall’s rather sparse little annex.

  • I was by higher education a mathematician, physicist, and classicist; and after trying a career as a school teacher (in Moss Side, Manchester) I spent my main career as an information technologist. Now, as a retired expert computer programmer and a software and systems engineer, I have tried to see that all of this website works well in all major browsers. As a physics student at university level, and a self-taught amateur electronics engineer, I know something of high fidelity sound recording, and of acoustics (I recall that the physics, the acoustics, of clarinets and bassoons is particularly curious); and I have delved into the physics, engineering and craftmanship particularly of organs, from the great pipe organ (William Leslie Sumner’s work has also been on my shelf 40 years) to the modern digital electronic organ, and how they work and are made. In the same realm where physics/acoustics, engineering, and music meet, I have been interested in the architecture of theatre spaces, and in the work of the profession known in German (and now apparently also in English) as Tonmeister. Richard Wagner’s ideas, realized at Bayreuth, are of great interest, as are the "inverted mushrooms" in the roof of the Albert Hall, and such events as the new (opened 1994) Glyndebourne facilities.

Well, that covers performing and preparing operas, musical theatre and music. How about running a business? After all, an opera company, even a charity, is a business and has to have accounts and budgets, and see to profit and loss, income and expenditure. Well, I was director of my own Limited Company for about 20 years. Latterly in that time I prepared my own accounts which were acceptable to Companies House and the Inland Revenue. I had a copy of the Companies Act and had to see I complied with it. So in a small way I ran a business and was my own (self-taught) unofficial accountant. And I read enough of the law for that, of verious other legislation (including the new Copyright Act) in which I was interested, and some general law books, so as to understand a bit of those worlds.

With which opera companies have I been involved? First, the student society at Bristol University (which world-premiered The Haunted Manor done by Opera South in 2001. I found I still remembered most of the tunes from taking part in it 30 years earlier. Next, the Manchester Opera Company, where I sang with the basses and also conjured up Macbeth’s tableware and the witches’ Hecate effigy, the rose window that was the abbey church interior for The Force of Destiny, and even Chinese lanterns for the Act II finale party in Eugene Onegin. While in Manchester I got a job backstage with English National Opera tour season; I worked backstage there while they did (as I recall) Das Rheingold, Gloriana, Il Trovatore, and several nights of The Merry Widow. Later I was a chorus member (including a singing waiter with a loaded tray held aloft) in Hello Dolly! at Richmond Theatre on the Green, SW London for a season (well, six nights and a matinée). And in America in 1982 I was in an otherwise all-Virginian cast for The Pyjama Game with Reston Community Players, but I had to come home before the run ended. The tango scene (Hernando’s Hideaway) was quite something. (I was a dapper 101/2 stone 32 year old in those days.)

I reckon that qualifies me as a bit of an all-rounder in the musical theatre business.

In autumn 2016 I helped again briefly with the website, making a small change; but it had completely changed since my time as webmaster. What the website used to look like in my day.