Sunday, 15 January 2017
Yesterday I decided to have a sauna after my gym workout. I'm suffering a bit from osteoarthritis in my left hand, and had read that dry saunas could offer relief. There was only one other person in the sauna, a very overweight Indian guy of indeterminate age, though, as he mentioned that his father was my age, I'm assuming he was in his 30s. We started chatting, just small talk, and then he asked me if had any children.
"No," I said.
"Why you not married?" he asked.
"So far I never wanted to get married," I replied.
And there it was, that moment when I considered briefly evading the issue, not telling the truth. Why? Because I was worried about his reaction? I've been out to friends and family for the best part of 40 years now. You'd think I wouldn't have a problem anymore, but still there was the briefest of pauses (and it really annoys me) before I replied,
He was a little taken aback.
"In my country you would be shot," he grunted.
"And if you did that in my country, the one you're in at the moment, you'd go to prison - for a very long time."
He accepted that with equanimity and oddly enough the conversation didn't end there. By his own admission he was pretty uneducated, and I ended up giving him a short history lesson about the Second World War. (He thought the Nazis were Jewish and American!) The question of my sexuality was soon forgotten. When my time was up and I headed for the shower, he wished me well and that was that.
However, afterwards I pondered my hesitance in telling him I was gay. It bothered me. Haven't we, haven't I, moved on from the attitudes of previous generations? After all, in this country, and quite a few others around the world now, we can even get married. Surely we've reached a stage in society where one can reveal one's sexuality without fear of reproval.
Well only recently, our new right wing, UKIP influenced, Tory government voted to block compulsory LGBT-inclusive sex education. Religious sensibilities, it seems, are more important than teaching children it's ok to be gay, more important than tackling the bullying so many LGBT children suffer on a daily basis. So we haven't come that far since Section 28 after all. It might be legal for us to get married now, but let's not talk about it, or at least if we do, only in the abstract. The fact that LGBT couples actually have sex is something we'd rather not think about.
As a hard Brexit becomes increasingly likely, as the UK isolates itself more and more from the rest of Europe, and as the UK removes itself from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, then we will need to be ever alert to the possibility that freedoms so recently won can be taken away. Look at what's happening in the USA. Trump isn't even in the White House yet, but already steps are being taken to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and millions who were given hope will now be left without any form of health insurance.
We are living in a different world now from the one I thought I lived in, a post truth world. Liberal is now a dirty word. Intellectuals and experts are mistrusted, education (in the old sense of acquiring knowledge) derided, and ignorance applauded, and, in this climate, maybe it isn't so strange that I should mark that slight pause before acknowledging my sexuality.
Thursday, 16 June 2016
Since I started offering tantric erotic massage around five years ago now, there has been a proliferation of glossy ads on the internet offering what professes to be tantric massage, but I wonder how many of these are offering a genuine experience. How many are providing a straightforward massage with a quick hand job at the end, and how many are offering other sexual services that have little to do with tantra and the spiritual? I wonder because I used to offer such services myself, and because I know that what I do now is very different from what I used to do when I was escorting.
So what is tantric massage, and what might a new client expect? Well Tantra, in its purest form, goes back to at least the 8th century. In its original form it is a mystical pathway, an accumulation of practices that have in common extensive use of ritual and of psycho-experiential techniques such as yoga, visualisation, and meditation. In its modern form, Tantra has a slightly different meaning, referring to both new age and modern western interpretations of traditional Tantra, brought forward by pioneers of the so-called Neo-tantra since the 1970s. These teachings consider sex as a sacred act which is capable of elevating its participants to a higher spiritual plane. They all show how sexual energy can be transformed into ecstatic experiences. To reach this aim, they offer a wide range of techniques, containing elements originating from fields such as bodywork, breath work, yoga, and meditation.
In short tantra is, or can be, the perfect fusion of spirituality and sexual energy. Recipients of tantric massage have been known to have full body orgasms without actually ejaculating (ejaculation and orgasm are not the same thing, though one usually accompanies the other). This is when each of the seven chakras in our body vibrates at the same time, and can only happen when the recipient totally commits to the experience they are being offered, not as easy as it sounds.
I can’t of course guarantee that this will happen to every single one of my clients, as, in essence, I act as a facilitator, but I can guarantee that you will feel nurtured, healed and rejuvenated. I create the environment and setting in which such circumstances are possible.
For this reason, I only work from home, because atmosphere is extremely important, and that means a nurturing space that the client can walk into. I like to make sure that the room is properly prepared; warm enough to feel comfortable naked, with soft candlelight and my choice of music playing (music is a very important part of the massage).
Preparing the client for what is to follow is also very important, so you will not immediately be asked to take your clothes off and get on the table. We will have a brief chat about what and what not to expect. I will check on your personal boundaries, and get a better picture of what you are looking for. We will then, whilst still clothed, do a few simple breathing exercises together, which help to relax both of us, and also create a connection between us. We then undress each other before I invite you to get onto the massage table. From now on the key is to allow yourself to be taken care of. Nothing is expected of you, and though you may touch and hold me, you are not expected to reciprocate in any way. Just lie back and let me take care of you. Give in to the sensation of touch, wherever that touch may be. It is incredible how even the simple touch of hand on arm can have an erotic charge.
For premium customers I also offer digital internal prostate massage, which, aside from being very pleasurable, helps keep the prostate healthy and can help prevent prostate cancer.
So, yes, there is a world of difference between authentic tantric massage, and what many out there are offering. In the words of Joseph Kramer of Body Electric,
"The difference between a hand job and Taoist Erotic Massage is the difference between banging on a piano or playing Mozart."
Come and experience Mozart. More details on my website http://www.sensualself.co.uk.
You can also see some of my client testimonials on Rentmasseur and at http://www.masseurfinder.com/gregmitchell.
If you’d like to check out a movie of me giving a tantric massage then try the Sensual Massage Movies website.
Tuesday, 12 January 2016
Back in 1982, I was in Zoo, the dance troupe which replaced Legs and Co (which in turn had replaced Pan's People) on Top of the Pops. We danced (or rather clambered around on a climbing frame) to David Bowie's Cat People. I loved the track (and still do). This is the Giorgio Moroder version. It was a different take from the one that appeared on his contemporaneous "Let's Dance" album.
There have been so many wonderfully eloquent tributes to Bowie over the last couple of days, that I feel anything I say will be superfluous. For me he is one the giants of the music world. His passing is an event of the magnitude of those of John Lennon, of Elvis Presley and of Maria Callas. A legend in his own lifetime, and now a legend for all time, he produced quality music for 50 years and his latest album, which can now only be seen as valedictory, is yet another classic.
Great artists do not die, and Bowie is no exception.
Tuesday, 8 December 2015
So after six months I finally come to the end and find myself at the beginning, Callas’s first commercial recordings and the 78s that introduced the world to the voice of Maria Callas. The recordings followed a radio concert of the same material (plus Aida’s O patria mia) and were obviously intended to showcase Callas’s versatility, a pattern which was to follow in some of her EMI recitals, like Lyric and Coloratura and the first French recital.
Callas was only 25 when these recordings were made, but they display an artistic and vocal maturity far beyond her years. She first sang the role of Isolde under Serafin in 1947 in Venice, literally sight singing the role at her audition. Serafin, who had conducted her in her Italian debut as Gioconda, was suitably impressed and hired her immediately.
The Liebestod is of course sung in Italian, but it is more than just a curiosity. This is a warm, womanly Isolde who rides the orchestra with power to spare. Note too how easily she articulates the little turns towards the end of the aria. Her legato is, as usual, impeccable, and the final note floats out over the postlude without a hint of wobble.
|Callas as Isolde|
Norma’s Casta diva and Ah bello a me are sung without the opening and linking recitatives, but the long breathed cavatina is quite possibly the most beautiful she ever committed to disc, and the cabaletta, though it lacks some of the light and shade she would later bring to it, is breath taking in its accuracy and sweep.
But what caused the biggest sensation at the time was the Mad Scene from I Puritani. What was considered a canary fancier’s showpiece suddenly took on a tragic power nobody suspected was there. Qui la voce is sung with a deep legato, the long phrases spun out to extraordinary lengths, but with an intensity that never disturbs the vocal line. Vien diletto almost defies belief. No lighter voiced soprano has ever sung the scale passages with such dazzling accuracy, nor invested them with such pathos, emerging, as they do, as the sighs of a wounded soul. And to cap it all, this large lyric-dramatic voice rises with ease to a ringing top Eb in alt. I have played this to doubting vocal students before now, and they have sat in open-mouthed disbelief. I remember one opera producer friend of mine once telling me that listening to it made him profoundly sad. “I know I will never hear live singing of that greatness in my lifetime,” he confided to me. If ever confirmation were needed of the greatness, the genius of Maria Callas, it is here in these, her very first recordings, and especially in this astonishing recording of the Mad Scene from I Puritani.
For my part, I have enjoyed every moment of my journey from those late recordings, where the genius would flash through to offset the evident vocal problems to these earlier ones where the voice had an ease and beauty that deserted her all too soon. Callas is and remains the pre-eminent soprano of the twentieth century. I know of no other singer who has made music live the way she did. A post on Talk Classical recently discussed underrated singers. I’d be tempted to add the name of Maria Callas, because, to my mind, her genius was inestimable. None of the accolades she has received seem eloquent enough, and I certainly can’t add to them.
60 years after she last sang on the operatic stage, she is still causing controversy, and no doubt always will. Her career may have been short, but was it Beverly Sills who once said, “Better 10 years like Callas than 20 like anyone else?”
Callas’s first ever complete studio recording was made for the Italian firm Cetra in 1952, before she had signed with EMI. The role of Gioconda had furnished her with her Italian debut in 1947, and was the occasion she met two of the most important men in her life, her mentor Tullio Serafin and her future husband Battista Meneghini. Paradoxically she would make her second recording of the opera at the time of her affair with Onassis, and when she was separating from Meneghini.
|Callas in ger Italian debut as Gioconda at the Verona Arena|
When Callas recorded La Gioconda for Cetra she was still a large lady and at her vocal peak. It was recorded just a couple of months before she made her spectacular debut at Covent Garden in Norma and shortly before her only series of performances as Lady Macbeth at La Scala, a role one wishes had figured more in her career. She then went on to sing Gioconda at La Scala, her last performances in the role until the EMI recording in 1959.
Given the sheer animal power and massive, freewheeling brilliance she could command at this stage in her career, you would think this Cetra recording would, in all but matters of sound, win hands down over the later one, recorded seven years after when her vocal powers were failing, but I’m not sure it’s that simple, and, whilst listening to this one, there were quite a few passages where I found myself hankering after the later recording. True, the singing is often magnificent, and it is easy to be swept away by the coruscating force of her delivery, but I find myself missing some of the refinements she has made by the time of the second recording. This may be a controversial opinion, but this one seems to me to be a series of thrilling highlights, whereas the characterisation on the EMI set feels more of a piece, with a cumulative power I don’t get here, for all the added security of her voice; and actually there are certain, purely vocal moments, she manages better on EMI than she does on Cetra (the pitfalls of Ah come t’amo, the E un di leggiadre section from Suicidio, the whole of the section after she gives Laura the sleeping draught, for instance).
As against that, I should also state that her performance of Suicidio here completely floored me when I first heard it. I had no idea a female voice, a soprano at that, could sing with such passion, could have such powerful chest notes. It was absolutely staggering and one of the things that first turned me on to the genius of Callas in the first place. If I later got to know the opera better from the EMI recording and place that at a slightly higher level of achievement, it is none the less a close-run thing.
The Warner engineers have done a great job of the re-mastering and it sounds much better than I remember it from my previous CDs, though obviously not so good as the stereo EMI set. One also misses the greater refinement of the La Scala orchestra and chorus.
|At La Scala in 1952|
As for her colleagues, it is largely a case of swings and roundabouts. Barbieri is a much more positive presence than the young Cossotto as Laura, but none of the men on either of the sets are particularly good. Ferraro on EMI isn’t very subtle, but he certainly makes a pleasanter sound than the awful Poggi. Honours are about equal between Silveri and Cappuccilli, Neri and Vinco. Votto’s conducting isn’t much different in the two sets, and remains some of his best work on disc.
One thing is for sure, Callas as Gioconda is an absolute must, and, regardless of any reservations surrounding her colleagues or recording quality, eclipses every other performance of the role on disc.
Monday, 30 November 2015
My review of this film adaptation of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood first appeared in TheGayUK in October 2015.
I studied Dylan Thomas’s “Under Milk Wood” for my English A Level, rather more years ago now than I choose to mention and it came as quite a surprise to me to realise that I still remembered, almost word for word the narrator’s first long speech, beautifully spoken here by Rhys Ifans.
“Under Milk Wood” is really an extended dramatic poem for voices. It was first conceived as a radio play, commissioned by the BBC in 1954, with Richard Burton voicing the narrator. Later it was turned into a stage play, and there is at least one previous film (1972) with Burton reprising his narrator role, and with such luminaries as Elizabeth Taylor, Peter O’Toole and Glynis Johns amongst the cast.
Whilst remaining absolutely true to Thomas’s original text, the screenplay of this new film, brings out more than any I’ve seen or heard, the sheer earthy, lascivious and hilariously funny filthiness of Thomas’s dreamscape, a true celebration of the joys of sex. Only most of the sex in this story takes place in people’s minds, their fantasies and desires brought out in full, luscious technicolour glory.
The film looks superb, for which director of photography Andy Hollis deserves enormous credit.
Director Kevin Allen has at his disposal an excellent cast of Welsh actors, many of them faces well-known from TV, all perfect for their roles. Rhys Ifans, who also doubles as Captain Cat, is quite as effective as Richard Burton in his long opening speech, his accent, though perfectly intelligible, just that bit more Welsh, where Burton, targeting a 1950s audience, slightly Anglicised his tones.
Charlotte Church, making a very successful screen debut, is cast as Polly Garter. She has a plump, rounded, wholesome sexiness that is absolutely perfect for the fertile baby machine, that the rest of the village like to gossip about.
Ultimately, though, the film is also about loss; loss of community, loss of a way of life. Captain Cat is old and dying and his demise is symbolic of the death of the village Llareggub (Bugger All spelt backwards). There hangs over the film a purveying sense of nostalgia for a time that never waa. Gritty realism is swept away with a click of the camera, and for 85 minutes we can escape into a world of dreams and fantasy. I enjoyed it immensely.
According to the notes accompanying this recording, Callas actually replaced the scheduled singer for it, a famous mezzo who was having trouble with her top notes. Does anyone know who this might have been? Could it have been Stignani? She ducks some of the top notes in Callas’s Norma the following year, and she was getting on a bit by this time, so it’s possible I suppose.
Whoever it was, we should be pleased that Callas was around to fill the breach, because her Santuzza is superb. Unbelievably she had only previously sung the role in her student days, when only 15 and also a couple of times with the Athens Opera, but, apart from this recording, never again, and yet, in fabulous voice, she inhabits the role of poor, hapless Santuzza as no other.
At this stage in her career her voice was as responsive in verismo as it was only a few weeks before, when she was recording Bellini (I Puritani). She uses none of the tricks of the verismo soprano, no glottal stops, no aspirates, no sobs, but sings with a pure musical line. When she sings io piango at the end of Voi lo sapete, she is able to suggest tears without actually sobbing.
Furthermore her characterisation has been thoroughly thought out. This is a young woman at the end of her tether with nothing left to lose. Her very first utterances are full of weariness and hopelessness, that first little dialogue with Mamma Lucia full of despair. Quale spina ho in core, she sings, and her singing of those few words rends the heart, as do her thrice repeated cries of O Signor in the Easter Hymn. Left alone with Mamma Lucia, she pours out her sad story. Voi lo sapete is not only heartrendingly poignant, but beautifully sung, and we note how economically she uses her chest voice. Intensity is not achieved at the expense of musical line.
Nor is it in the duet with Turiddu, which bristles with contrast and drama. Here it is not just a duet with two singers bawling their heads off at each other, but a full scale Sicilian row between a young couple. Callas pleads, rails, cajoles and, finally, when she can take no more, hurls her curse at Turiddu.
Alfio serendipitously turning up at just that moment gives her the opportunity to vent her spleen, but, yet again, her singing is full of subtle little details and the solo that leads into the duet is sung with a sustained, if tragic beauty. Note how skilfully she shades the line at the end when she takes the pressure off the voice, moving from chest to head and ending quietly on lui rapiva a me. The closing section has both Panerai and Callas pulling out all the stops. It is absolutely thrilling.
A few words then about the rest of the cast. Di Stefano sings with his own brand of slancio and presents a caddish, if ultimately remorseful Turiddu, Panerai is a splendidly virile Alfio, and Anna Maria Canali a sexy, minx-like Lola, superbly bitchy in her short exchange with Callas’s Santuzza. Serafin’s speeds are sometimes a bit slow in the choruses, but he paces the meat of the drama really well.
The recording still overloads occasionally at climaxes, so I assume that is a problem that exists on the master, but otherwise the sound is quite open and Callas’s voice fairly leaps out of the speakers.
Not for nothing has this remained one of the top recommendations for Cavalleria Rusticana for over 50 years, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. For first-rate recorded sound and orchestral splendour one would go to Karajan, for characterful full-throated singing to Serafin.