On (and off) stage on Glyndebourne’s 2009 Tour…
Plymouth December 8 2009
The last week of the tour, and as I arrive at Paddington, it seems that not only have a lot of us settled on catching the same train, but a fair few of us have also agreed on visiting the doughnut shop first. Even the statue of Paddington Bear has moved there, and I was always under the impression that he preferred a marmalade sandwich.
We have all been looking forward to Plymouth week – it is the last week of a long season and tour, and is a great town for a touring company. Top attractions include the fish and chip shop, the café that provides a gut-busting ‘chocolate cream tea’, and the Plymouth Gin Factory cocktail bar. After arriving on Tuesday afternoon, those of us who are not involved in the evening’s performance of Così do our very best to enjoy all of these highlights before 10.30, after which we agree that it is only dutiful to attend the reception hosted by the theatre in the upstairs bar. Some of our disgruntled colleagues from the Così chorus apparently misconstrue our collective sense of company loyalty, believing that we are simply after a free drink. Of course, these are only a few dissenting voices of inexperience that have failed to understand the importance of keeping up company spirits whilst on tour.
There might be the beginnings of a festive spirit developing as the week goes on, but it is certainly the end of the Plymouth holiday season. On the downside, this manifests itself as a series of fairly bleak weather fronts battering the coast and town. On the plus side, it means we have our pick of the holiday accommodation. So, after battling our way through the storm to the haven of our digs, it becomes clear that the off-season accommodation dividend has paid out handsomely this year. Five of us are sharing a flat so palatial that it has a grand staircase spanning three floors and sports domed ceilings complete with gilded cherubs blowing celestial trumpets. It is a little disconcerting to wake up looking at these on Wednesday morning. It wasn’t that heavy a night.
Thursday brings the last Jenůfa day. The Jenůfa Experience for schools is held in the afternoon at the Plymouth Theatre Royal’s own studio space – TR2. It is quite a facility, and although surrounded on three sides by an industrial estate and gas terminal, in every other respect it is as well appointed as could be hoped for. And the fourth side boasts a sea view. It is an appropriately superior venue for a valuable part of Glyndebourne’s work. I will miss these workshops. As Claire and I are directed by the students in the opera’s final duet, we enjoy ourselves as much as ever, with a joy only tempered by the fact that it is for the last time, and that this time we have been directed to ‘snog’ at the end. I’m quite glad that we’ve learned to trust each other over the last five weeks.
The last Jenůfa show is a moving occasion. This has been a great show, and the principals have all invested an enormous amount of emotion. We have worked hard at it too, and are proud to have been involved. It is also Robin Ticciati’s last show, and the company throw a leaving reception for him. Apparently, the top brass were tipped off about him at an early stage in his career. Around the room, colleagues could be seen quietly wondering if they could ever recruit such a personal tipster before visibly realising that it was unlikely and visiting the drinks table to enjoy the company’s largesse in any other way they could. The evening ends at a late-night jazz club, and in the medium of interprative dance. Some dancers are easier to interpret than others.
The final days pass quickly. Friday’s Così performance provides some of us with a full evening to enjoy what the nightlife of Plymouth has to offer. Even so, at least one non-Mozartian colleague feels the need to show solidarity, and puts in a full appearance backstage. Those Chorus members who glanced into the prompt-side wing at that moment may have regretted his desire to engage in this display of camaraderie. The final Falstaff is also graced by some fine performances from the wings. With Christmas looming, and as the final fugue draws to its close, it warms all of our hearts to see that management has seen fit to provide some festive decorations.
Time to go home. It is a bitter-sweet time of year. Some of us will not be coming back. The chorus will look very different again next year. And for those of us returning, there are some tricky months to negotiate. Gubbay isn’t performing in the Albert Hall this February. Tax bills are about to become due. There are rumours of work advertising double glazing in the TV slots for the new ‘Popstar to operastar’ show. Sometimes, stacking shelves at Tescos can be the dignified choice. Next year, Billy Budd. As we battle back through the Atlantic gale to Plymouth station, we can feel, once again, that Glyndebourne has given us every opportunity to develop our art.
Milton Keynes December 1 2009
Milton Keynes. Home of the concrete cow, and an enormous indoor snow-slope. Sheryl, Beryl and Nancy, the three mannequins from the bridal shop in the third act of Falstaff, have dressed for the occasion. In the festive holiday spirit, they greet us at the sign-in sheet wearing salopettes and carrying snowboards. Clearly, stage management have too much time on their hands. Suffering from a similar affliction, I have decided to spend some time this week sorting out a chorus t-shirt, but struggle to come up with an appropriate legend for the front. Fortunately, during the Falstaff balance call, an entirely innocent, if unguarded, comment from the pit provides inspiration. Sometimes, timing is all. The Glyndebourne Community Choir t-shirt hits the design board.
Milton Keynes is a unusual destination on the tour. Providing little in the way of immediately obvious tourist attractions, and being a conceivably commutable distance from Lewes, many of us choose to commute. The rail companies reward our collective decision with a series of signal failures that are due to the wrong sort of wind. Uncomfortable as well as inconvenient. So, on Thursday, knowing that I had to be early for the education workshop, I decide to drive. And encounter a town planning system that is so geometrically challenging and full of roundabouts that I arrive only just on time and suffering from a degree of dizziness that I hadn’t expected to encounter until we revisited the Gin Factory in Plymouth. Fortunately, the Education Department’s Jenůfa Experience is worth the journey. I now really look forward to these workshops, and even contrive to get the Czech right on this occasion. That part of the session where Claire Surman (my soprano partner in crime) and I are directed in the final duet is a particular highlight. Our students this week are all motivated, all full of good ideas, and, disconcertingly, all girls. After the evening’s show, the now familiar ‘education day’ audience response is even more enthusiastic and high-pitched than usual.
Saturday brings the news that I have not been the only one suffering from travelling tribulations. In fact, my petty disagreements with roundabouts pale into insignificance next to the automotive disasters endured by some colleagues on the long drive from Lewes. Desperate times require desperate measures, and I am promoted to cover ‘Joke Shop Owner’. I don the brown coat and flat cap, and am kindly informed by my ever-considerate colleagues that the only part of my James Herriot disguise that is missing is an elbow-length rubber glove. Fortunately, the role of ‘Joke Shop Owner’ requires only that I appear briefly at the door of the shop and look confused by what’s going on. I fulfill my role to the letter. As the final scene develops, with several bodies down, the set is looking quite sparsely populated. Confused by the wide open spaces, Kathleen Wilkinson briefly looses her footing as she cavorts around the watching chorus, and disappears from view. Reappearing in a state of some dishevelment, dusting herself down with the floaty bits of her wood nymph’s costume and with an enormous smile on her face, the already surreal Herne’s Oak scene becomes a little too bizarre for all of us to continue taking entirely seriously. It is possibly time to move on. Milton Keynes has its advantages. Space to swing a cat. A green room with a flat screen and some rather smart looking brown leather sofas. Skiing facilities for thrill-seeking shop mannequins. But panto is coming, and we have to move out so that Mickey Rooney can move in. It doesn’t get much more surreal than that. Time to move on to Plymouth. At least there, this sort of craziness can be blamed on the gin and sea air.
Norwich November 24 2009
Norwich. Always a popular week. A high percentage of the Chorus establish a temporary commune in Spixworth Hall and outbuildings, a few miles out of the city centre, and the first job is to install two ‘polypins’ of Harveys Best. Touring is all about making yourself feel as ‘at home’ as possible. In fact, it proves to have been a sensible precaution. Arriving on Tuesday, I enjoy the first night off, as I’m not needed to fly the flag for Mozart in Così. I go to central Norwich to meet my colleagues and co-specialists in later repertoire, and note that, perhaps due to their post-enlightenment inclinations, the Coach and Horses has already run out of bitter. Naturally, they protest that it was the fault of the crew, who had descended on the pub on Monday night. Regardless, the siren call of the Harveys proves impossible to resist, and we retire to our digs.
It is fair to say that in Norwich, the more time it is possible to spend out of the dressing room, the better. The chorus dressing rooms seem to be shrinking as the tour goes on, and we are crammed in under a corrugated roof that we share with the small principal’s dressing room next door. Thus, on Falstaff nights, we are treated to the warm-up routine of our principal colleagues, which proves a fascinating insight for at least one of my friends who is covering the role in question. Rarely can an understudy have been so thoroughly researched. Backstage too, space is tight. The prompt-side wing is shared with the fly-ropes and brakes, and we are given a pre-show lecture in not touching anything to see ‘what that button does’. Certainly, dropping one of the flats from Falstaff into a Così scene would provide an interesting stylistic blend. We tiptoe around the backstage – a warren of different pieces of staging – with understandable nervousness.
Thursday, too, brings some tiptoeing. I arrive at the Norwich Girls’ School for the Jenůfa Opera Experience and park in entirely the wrong place. As I find myself trying to find the front door, I make an impromptu tour of virtually the entire school, and start to wonder, as I wander past yet another Hockey pitch, how long it will be before somebody starts making phone-calls to the authorities. When I finally find the front door, I have to pass through an elaborate security system and don a visitor’s badge. Better late than never, I suppose. The workshop goes as well as ever in the safe hands of the education department, with one of the most noticeably energetic participants being the girls’ school’s Head of Music. Despite her flattering enquiry as to which role I was singing in the evening’s show, my own participation is not my most impressive effort. After singing the contents of a Slavic phonetic dictionary virtually at random, I decide to spend some time this week revisiting Janácek’s score. And to celebrate my resolution, I get lost in the Norwich one-way system on my way back to the balance call. The evening show, however, is glorious, as has become the norm for this production. The few empty seats are a terrible shame, especially as, yards away, there are hundreds of people standing in the cold to listen to a local celebrity discussing the relative merits of local retailer’s Christmas window displays, before turning on a light switch. They don’t know what they’re missing. Although perhaps Jenůfa isn’t quite a family show.
Friday brings a welcome day off for the non-Così types, and is a memorable personal anniversary. This day last year, my son William was undergoing a life-saving transplant operation. He is unimpressed with Daddy’s tour, as he is seeing even less of me than usual, and hasn’t quite grasped the full possibilities of a phone-call just yet. “What did you do today?” I ask. “We went to the museum. It had the Great Fire and the Plague. Bye.” At least he seems to have escaped the excursion unscathed. Which cannot be said of all of my colleagues, after an evening at the Belgian Monk followed by a reception hosted by the entirely gracious East Anglian Glyndebourne Association. Saturday is necessarily a quieter affair. A drive to the coast for some fresh air before the show and the late-night drive back to London. Unfortunately for my passenger, I discover a fantastic local smokehouse, and buy a kipper to share our journey home. The concreted security of next week’s venue-Milton Keynes shopping centre – is probably appealing more and more to her as we head back down the A11.
Stoke-on-Trent November 17 2009
Stoke week, and after the first balance call, we are reminded that when we first ‘sign-in’ at any new venue, we need to give our temporary address. This proves to be a tricky ask for those of us who have thrown our accommodation needs to the mercy of more organised colleagues with spare rooms. A quick glance at the sign-in-sheet reveals addresses including ‘a cottage in the country somewhere’. With potential customers like these, it is surprising that the postmen don’t go on strike more often. The joy of Stoke week, however, is very much that it is a week in the country. Somewhere.
Before we can run to the sanctuary of our various country retreats, we have to negotiate the first Falstaff balance call and show. It’s James Gaffigan’s last week, and we shall miss him – he’s helped us all to continue enjoying a show that some of us have been doing since the spring. Attempting to use his last balance call to polish some of the rough edges still occasionally in evidence, he encounters the vocal frustrations of an orchestral colleague who has forgotten both the first cardinal rule of keeping your head down in late rehearsals, and the second cardinal rule that if you can’t, you should at least make sure you are nowhere near a fold-back microphone. His unfortunately memorable words of annoyance were thus broadcast throughout the building, and will surely make it onto a chorus t-shirt before long. Artistic immortality of a sort to which some of us can only aspire.
Falstaff, at least, is now sporting a fit and healthy cast. Last week, Jonathan Stoughton ‘went on’ as Steva in Jenufa, impressively holding the fort while Pavel was recovering from a dental emergency. This week, it is the turn of the Cosi covers to step into the breach. There must be something quite incongruous for the Cosi audience as they look at a set bathed in warm Mediterranean sunlight, whilst being informed that the cast has been decimated by a decidedly Great British heavy cold. As for myself, I can be happy that Caius – the Falstaff role I cover – requires more brute force and stamina than vocal finesse, and so it will take more than a seasonal virus to provide me with my Glyndebourne debut. Anyway, that will obviously be when I am hired for Rodolfo in a couple of year’s time. (For some reason that contract hasn’t reached me yet…)
I now especially look forward to Jenůfa days. Not only is it my favourite opera on the tour, but it also brings the education Opera Experience. Part of the experience this week involves finding the venue. Attempting to trust to my innate sense of direction and what I thought was a remembered mental picture of the map, I soon find myself detouring into the historic industrial heartland of the Potteries, and seemingly driving along the canal towpaths. Fascinating, but not helpful. I make the necessary U-turns, and arrive in time for a quick rehearsal. This proves helpful, as it is a tricky enough piece of singing to start with, without being slotted incongruously into a rousing sing-along for teenage students. Dom, the workshop leader, amazes me once again with his energy and talent. I amaze myself that I am able to mostly remember the Czech, and after three hours, there is no doubt that the students have a clearer idea of the work. Happily, so have I. Before we started these workshops, Act Two had mostly been notable for the card game in the gents’ chorus dressing room.
Back to our ‘cottage in the country somewhere’, and as the week continues, we are able to use our free time to enjoy the Staffordshire countryside and the Atlantic storm front that is sweeping the country. Fortunately, our accommodation has a wood-burning stove, and is situated next to a sawmill. Desensitised by the recent Lewes Guy Fawkes celebrations, we soon achieve a conflagration so intense that the smoke alarms go off. It is time, perhaps, to make our excuses and leave for Norwich – the next stop of the tour. On the way back along the A50, we pass a sign saying that the area is a hotspot for ‘load theft’. It is next to the Glyndebourne touring trailers. We assume we will be performing in Norwich.
Woking November 10 2009
It’s the first week of the tour proper and before we go anywhere, I have a couple of auditions to negotiate – it’s that time of year when we all start to worry about what we’re doing for the next 12 months. So on Monday morning, I warm up carefully before allowing myself plenty of time to get to a hall in Regent’s Park. Thoroughly pleased with my professionalism, I arrive 15 minutes early, and rummage in my bag to find my score so that I can get the name of my audition aria right.
The score is, in fact, still on my coffee table in South London. I have 40 minutes before the panel leave for lunch, and so decide to make a dash for the Tube to get to the Boosey and Hawkes shop on Regent’s Street. Which, I discover when I get there, has been closed since last Christmas. I run to Chappells, buy a copy of the score, run back to the Tube and finally arrive back at Regent’s Park with five minutes to spare, just as the fresh-faced tenor in front of me leaves the hall with a copy of the exact score that I have just bought. I content myself that, even if I look and sound as if I have just finished a half marathon, I can ask Gareth, the pianist, to treat my score carefully enough that I can take it back and swap it for something else. ‘Classics for buskers’, perhaps, unless I sort out my organisational difficulties.
Tuesday brings Woking. But only for those of my colleagues who are doing Così. For the rest of us, there is a rare extra day off. Which I now feel I need. There is also the small matter of learning three chunks of the Jenůfa score as I am taking part in the Opera Experience workshops for schools this year. I have really been looking forward to these, although it’s been proving difficult to learn any of the score without the usual support of coaches and music staff on which you learn to rely at Glyndebourne. My Czech is better than it was before I first arrived at Glyndebourne but I still suspect that I will have to hope that there are no native speakers at any of the workshops. They may well spot that I have resorted to learning the word ‘vselicos’ by singing ‘jelly sauce’ quickly.
Wednesday is Falstaff, and the first night in Woking for those of us not singing Cosi. Having been brought up only three miles down the road, this venue never feels as if we have really got on the road as for me it is in fact, an easier commute than the daily jaunt to Lewes. Arriving at the balance call, we discover that the Falstaff cast is still reeling from a virus that has been gently making its way around the dressing rooms. In Woking, these are quite small, and heated to roughly blood temperature. Jonathan Veira has succumbed this evening, but bravely manages to continue despite the best efforts of his immune response. In the chorus, colleagues are starting to falter too. The final fugue ‘tutto nel mondo e burla’ involves less tutti than normal as larynxes are nursed for the weeks ahead. Frankly, however, it is fairly surprising that we are all together on stage in the first place. The trip from dressing room to stage right is tortuous and involves four flights of stairs and several potential wrong turns. Only the timely intervention of a colleague prevents me from making my first Act Two entrance in the timpani section of the orchestra pit. Another wrong turn would take you into the smaller ‘Rhoda McGaw Theatre’. This would be a trip down memory lane for me – I once took part in an am-dram performance of Under Milk Wood there. However, this would probably not be the best time to indulge my reminiscent tendencies as it’s being used as a dressing room for the fairies to put on their wings. That’s the sort of theatrical magic you don’t want to interrupt.
Thursday brings another fantastic performance of Jenůfa. I doubt if I could ever tire of this opera, even although I’ve spent all afternoon helping present the Jenůfa experience to some local students. Thursday is also Guy Fawkes Night and as a result many of my colleagues are commuting back to Lewes, the epicentre of the annual outbreak of pyromania. I head back there too; keen to see what the fuss is about. We sensibly decide to delay our departure for a bit-Lewes will be shut until midnight anyway – and head out in search of a quick drink. Woking is a town that has its priorities neatly encircled by its small one-way system. The theatre is part of the same complex that has a cinema, a shopping centre and at least two burger restaurants. Everything, in fact, that a discerning opera singer on tour needs before the show is over and it is time to go to the pub. At this point, it must be admitted, Woking rather lets itself down. Essentially, it seems, if you are wearing anything other than fake tan, hot pants and something in which to put your Versace wallet, you are over-dressed for an evening out. We creep shiftily past the bouncers, and huddle in the corner of a warehouse pub drinking real ale and looking tweedy. You can take the Glyndebourne Chorus out of East Sussex it seems, but…
The week ends with a reception thrown by the Wessex Glyndebourne Association for cast, company office, performers at their annual concert, winners of their prize, and the writer of the blog. I am grateful to get an invitation somehow. They are, as proved by the trays of cakes alone, generous hosts. The deserving winner of their prize this year is Aoife. There is no cup awarded, sadly, as I would enjoy seeing what an English engraver would make of spelling her name. Next week, it’s Stoke and the Pennines. Time to pack walking boots and a good waterproof.
Glyndebourne November 5 2009
It’s the last week at Glyndebourne for 2009, and there is now a palpable end of term feeling in the air. The corridors are filling with packing boxes and ‘skips’ to go away. We are already wondering to ourselves how some of the backstage manoeuvres are going to work when some of the touring venues have half the space in the wings. Canny choristers are questioning whether it is really necessary to spare vital storage space for a wig that doesn’t seem entirely necessary. I am cornered by our make-up artist, who asks if I need everything in my make-up box. When I admit that, in fact, I’m only using a bit of red pan-stick and my finger, it appears that this is clearly not the response that was being looked for. We eventually agree that I do, in fact, need everything in my box. Afterwards, I can’t help feeling that this was a conversation that backfired somewhat. At least I do not have to adopt full ‘zombie make-up’ in Act Three of Falstaff. With an hour’s break between our first appearance and the appearance of the zombies, there is time for some of my colleagues to get quite creative with this make-up effect. The special-effects team on Casualty would probably be quite proud of some of the looks achieved – although it is doubtful that a zombie in pyjamas with a medical condition somewhere between acne and the bubonic plague would ever figure in one of their storylines. On the operatic stage, however, anything goes.
Before we can really get into the end-of-term spirit, there are cover shows to be performed. Così is up first, and due to a combination of earlier illness and a packed fixture list, the Cosí team get to perform the entire opera on stage, rather than having a run in a studio and a later 45 minute highlights show. It also means that the covers for Falstaff and Jenůfa miss the show, because we need those three hours to rehearse our own. It’s a shame to miss my colleagues on display, but I manage to catch some of it on the monitors in the boys’ dressing room, and am pleased to see that everybody seems to be doing as well as we all would have expected. I am particularly pleased to hear my dressing room bay-mate Mike Wallace coming over loud and clear in the ‘impressive tenor’ voice recently described favourably by Opera magazine in its review of The Yellow Sofa. As he is a baritone (and an impressive one at that) he took enormous umbrage at this, whilst I obviously considered that he should take it as something of a compliment. I am pleased to report, however, that he does a considerably better job of singing Gugliemo than any tenor would.
The Falstaff cover show is on Tuesday, and seems to pass without significant hitch. It’s another rare opportunity to sing solo on the main stage, and I enjoy the fleeting pleasure as much as I have in the past. Generally, if a chorister finds himself singing alone on this stage, it is because he has made a crashing error of counting. There have been a couple of notable solo performances from choristers this year. Surely there’s a case for a prize. My Falstaff cover colleagues seem to enjoy themselves too. Nuala Willis gives us all a brief master class in comic acting, and Sion Goronwy looks and sings the part for which he was surely born. John Mackenzie and I have great fun in Act Two scene Two, but manage to land the sofa we overturn onto Reuben Lai (Bardolph)’s foot. He copes with the distraction admirably.
Elsewhere, in the wings, Eliana Pretorian manages a quick change, remaining oblivious to the fact that it is proving rather more of a distraction to one of our other colleagues. It seems that the preparation required by method acting is a technique now adopted by singers playing romantic leads – and I thought that all you needed was a great voice and your own hair!
There is room for great singing and impressive acting in the Jenůfa cover show too. A six-week tour in the middle of a flu outbreak is unlikely to pass without the need for a cover or two, so it must be re-assuring for all involved that the subs’ bench seems well trained.
As the week draws to a close, it is time to pack up my desk. There is a bit of work to do. As I reach the Precambrian layer of mess, I uncover an ironic note from a colleague, suggesting I tidy up a bit. I think it dates from July. Amongst the highlights of this year’s desk clear-out are my old teaching tie – used for a cover show, several unsigned contracts for The Glyndebourne CD Label, a bottle of Glyndebourne claret given to us at the beginning of the festival, a pair of somebody else’s pants and a stick of Brighton rock. Everything, with the exception of the pants, is consigned to the boot of my car, where it will doubtless all remain. It is time to go on tour.
Glyndebourne October 28 2009
It’s the beginning of a 10 day stretch for me, and of 13 days on the trot for those Mozart-specialist choristers strutting their stuff in Così. Monday eases us in with a ‘three session day’ – two Jenufa rehearsals, then a Falstaff cover rehearsal. Cover rehearsals for all the shows are crammed into this week, and Aoife O’Sullivan has to step into her cover as Jano in the Jenůfa stage and orchestra. She does a splendid job, and, just as Rhian in the main cast, makes an alarmingly effective job of being a Moravian boy, albeit one with an ability to sing Janácek in a loud soprano. In the evening, our cover rehearsal provides a rare chance for us to rehearse on the show’s set – this time ‘Ford’s garden’ from Act One, Scene Two. The scene is technical, and it is useful to have a go at tiptoeing around the cabbages and trying not to trip up on the foam soil beds. Our Fenton also gets a chance to try out his fencing skills with his trowel and cabbage. These are not the sort of delicacies that are covered in the sort of stage-fighting classes you receive at college. It is always useful to get your hands on the real props. Cover rehearsals are often notable for the ad-hoc nature of the scenery and props. Our Falstaff cover cat has been represented by anything from a spare piece of knitwear to an elaborate work of newspaper origami. When we finally get to see the real cat, we also get to see the little den used by Claire Burslem from stage management in her role as cat operator. it is quite clear that the only way that she has been able to keep sane with one hand up the bottom of a puppet cat is to have had the other one in a tin of chocolates. Either that, or the cat itself is pretty handy when it comes to unwrapping sweets.
As the week continues with the final rehearsals for Jenůfa, the shows of Così and Falstaff and the various cover calls, those of us not dropping by the wayside slot in a concert in aid of Parkinson’s research – Claire on stage door holds this cause very close to her heart. Ciprian Droma – chorus baritone and embryonic promoter extraordinaire – is mobilised to assist with the organisation of the concert itself. He is a born organiser – when it comes to such niceties as repertoire choice, he tries hard to make it seem as if you have a choice, whilst ensuring that you don’t. A career in music administration would definitely beckon if he ever gave up the day job. Aoife and I are instructed to provide the compereing for the first half, then to lead the ubiquitous Brinidisi from Traviata. As I hear a string of beautiful performances from colleagues, I bemoan the fact that I have got to the stage where I am relied on for the ironic commentary between items, and then to sing the drinking song. I begin to suspect that I may not have nutured my reputation as well as I might have. Pleasingly, however, it brings a chance for us all to sing Vivaldi’s Gloria. A career in opera singing mitigates against singing too much chorus in Baroque music, but it is great fun, and the sort of singing that I miss. The evening seems to be a great success, and Claire shows her appreciation with chocolate. You don’t work on stage door, it seems, without developing an instinctive understanding of your colleagues.
The week ends with the first night of Jenůfa. It is a fantastic piece of theatre that we are all proud to be part of. Within the first five minutes of arriving on stage, we have managed to cram in singing, dancing, fighting and a brief orgy. The staging is viewed as a classic piece of work, and dates back to 1989. Nikolaus Lehnhoff clearly knew how to operate the Glyndebourne Chorus, and it’s good to feel that we form part of a continuous thread when it comes to our artistic strengths.
Glyndebourne October 22 2009
The first week of Tour performances has begun, and already the heady final days of the summer’s Festival seem a long way away. In fact, due to some extraordinary freak of the East Sussex micro-climate, the weather has actually improved since August, and now that the Tour’s more egalitarian dress code has taken force, the Chorus can go into the gardens to enjoy the sunshine without donning black tie first. The blog-embargoed secrecy of the rehearsal period is nearly over, with Così fan tutte being the first show to get up and running. Half of us, however, are not involved in Così, and have looked forward to this moment as mostly signifying the fact that we will be guaranteed at least two evenings off a week. Theories abound as to the selection criteria for the Così chorus. Some tend towards the theory that wardrobe must have had a say. I, for one, admit to looking terrible in a corset. Testing the theory, I go to see the dress rehearsal which is as polished as ever. None of my colleagues disgrace their corsetry, ex-colleagues grace parts of the fantastic principal line-up and the set is glorious. Looking at it, I wonder how it is that when I pick up a paintbrush in my little one-bedroomed flat, it takes days to even achieve a reasonably consistent coverage of magnolia, whilst a palace is cheerfully constructed every other night on the stage. The magic of theatre, I suppose … that and the lack of my own decorating skills.
Changes have been afoot since the summer. Some colleagues have moved on, others have arrived. Most significantly, we have a new chorus master in Jeremy Bines, who is proving himself to be a very fine chorus master. He is also better at the cryptic crossword than I am – all very annoying. Controversially, he seems to be taking the approach that the chorus should have some sort of idea about what the words that they are singing actually mean. This is a revelation to some, and the tactic comes across its first hurdle when we are confronted with the folk song in Jenůfa. A colleague of ours has a Czech girlfriend who has been tutoring him in Slavic idiom. When a national proverb means “If all the lakes were dry, you could pull a fish out of your behind” you know that you are dealing with some complex cultural barriers. The Jenůfa Act One Folk Song stays true to type. Neither does it take a degree in Freudian psychoanalysis to see the subtext in a song that tells about the man falling from the pinnacle of a ‘Man-tower’ into his beloved’s lap. These are going to be very difficult sentiments to somehow convey in our complicated Act One dance routine. I quietly decide to concentrate on the sounds and not falling over my own feet. If I manage to smile a bit too, I reckon my job is done.
Falstaff gets underway. Again. Richard Jones’ production is sufficiently technical and precise that little has changed since the summer. For those of us who have done it before, it is like slipping on a comfortable pair of favourite shoes. I am even able to slot in as cover Caius in an early production call when Colin Judson is away. It’s astonishing how things can remain in your muscle memory after a few months. Mostly. It is a treat to see two pals and recent ex-choristers in the main cast too. Sean Goronwy and Rachael Lloyd both do a fantastic job, able to spread their wings away from the Chorus. Our cover Ford from the Festival – Guido – is also in the main cast this time. After a few months in the country, his grasp of English is gradually improving, though his language does seem quite specialised. It seems that you are able to function perfectly well backstage in an opera house so long as you have a rudimentary vocabulary consisting either of words with no more than four letters, or phrases that are notable for their inventive use of metaphor. Guido would do well, I think, with sections of the Jenůfa libretto.
Next week Jenůfa will start, cover Falstaff rehearsals will sprint to a finish and we will be just a week away from heading off into the unsuspecting regions. Travel boxes have already started appearing around the building. In a rehearsal in the Peter Hall Room, I spot a huge cardboard box emblazoned ‘Falstaff – cabbages’ – It’s an unusual business, packing to go away on tour.