Town mouse hears Sir John Tomlinson

For weeks, the talk at home had been of nothing else. Sir John Tomlinson was singing in a concert at St Peter’s, Eaton Square. Son William and I had heard him as Hunding (deeply terrifying) and Hagen (ineffably evil) in the ‘Ring Cycle’, and were almost faint at the prospect of being exposed to the power of this musical personality at close quarters. It would have been the steal of the year.

Tickets, for members of the congregation, were £5, children free. Alas, fate intervened. I was in Devon on the night. The rest of the family… don’t ask what happened. But the great bass repeated the programme-three cycles of Michelangelo’s poetry, set by Benjamin Britten, Hugo Wolf and Dmitri Shostakovich at the National Gallery.

We hurried to Trafalgar Square. Agony! The start time had been changed. We edged into the back row for the Shostakovich, regretting that we hadn’t collected a translation sheet on the way in. As a Russian, Shostakovich knew about basses, and the psychodrama he created out of the poems gave Sir John a superb vehicle. Afterwards, we recovered our equilibrium by looking at the Wilton Diptych. The angels all wear Richard II’s badge of the white hart, making them members of his household. As the children would say, cool.

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