Artspeople : Finance plays second fiddle to date with Verdi

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John Bimson, chairman of The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, is showing commendable initiative in his efforts to get the orchestra's finances back on a sound footing.

Bimson, who is also principal horn in the orchestra, was casting his eye over its programme when he lingered on the season's eagerly anticipated climax, Verdi's Requiem to be conducted by Daniele Gatti on Maundy Thursday next year.

Bimson's eyes watered as he thought of the ecstasy of the Requiem with its large chorus, then watered some more as he thought of the balance sheet. He rang up Gatti. Could the performance be given a few days later on Easter Sunday as a Resurrection piece?

"Why?" asked the RPO's bewildered music director. Because, replied Bimson triumphantly, it would then fall in the next financial year.

Gatti's response is unrecorded. But the performance remains a requiem and remains very firmly scheduled forMaundy Thursday.

Writing about sequels and prequels the other week I mentioned that at least Charles Dickens had been relatively safe from the prequel/sequel fetish of the Jane Austen write-alikes.

It did not take long for me to be proven wrong. The list of summer books from Harper Collins contains A Time Before Oliver by Eleanor Thomson. It is described on the cover as the "love story of Bill Sikes and Nancy - a prequel to Oliver Twist in the bestselling tradition of Catherine Cookson".

The marriage of Dickens and Cookson seems an even more unlikely one for Miss Thomson to accomplish than the love story of Bill and Nancy. I can only imagine the happy couple gazing out over London Bridge, Nancy stroking their mischievous pup, Bull's Eye, as Bill whispers sweet nothings in her ear and puts his hands, oh so gently, round her delicate neck ...

Michael Gambon has, I'm pleased to see, been granted star status by American Equity, for the Broadway production of David Hare's Skylight.

Gambon's British co-star, Lia Williams, will be alongside him. American Equity has accepted her under the swap system, with an American actor coming to Britain.

Jessica Lange (above) the Hollywood star seen most recently as Mrs Rob Roy, is likely to make her first appearance on the West End stage as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire. The producer, Bill Kenwright, is on the verge of signing the actress for the planned production by Sir Peter Hall. Sir Peter's magic touch failed him recently when Mind Millie For Me, with Felicity Kendal, was forced to close early; but the Lange Streetcar will, I suspect, be the theatrical highlight of the autumn.

Remember those quintessentially British musical films of the early Sixties which reached their zenith (or nadir depending on your view) with Cliff Richard's Summer Holiday? A new British-funded musical (the first for 10 years, claim its promoters) has begun shooting at Ealing Studios. Produced by the Ealing-based Parker Mead, Julie And The Cadillacs, directed by Bryan Izzard, tells the story of a Merseybeat band in the Sixties and its battles with the music business. Stars include young punks like Victor Spinetti, Thora Hird and Toyah Wilcox. Plus ca change.