Prompt Corner - Festival 2012

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8th September:Festival Reflections, Prom and Water World

Well, we made it through another Festival! Each one is so different, and brings its own challenges, but I think we survived pretty unscathed, just exhausted.

The whole of August was pretty full on for those of us working on the Double Bill and Figaro , as we had DVD filming, live cinema relay and internet streaming to contend with.

Hence my recent lack of blog!

When we film shows, there is always extra work to be done, not only with the addition of radio mics for the singers (which have costume and wig implications), but also the lighting sometimes has to change. For example, on the Double Bill alone, we did over 7 hours of extra tv lighting, and more than that for Figaro .

Even with all the advances in High Definition cameras, they are still not as sensitive as the human eye; dark scenes can be too dark, whereas bright scenes can completely wash a singer’s features out and they will just look like a blob on the screen.

Two shows are always filmed, the second one is used, and the first one is there as an emergency back-up.

I managed to watch bits of both shows on the streaming afterwards, and was pretty pleased with the results.

The last night of Figaro was a little strange, as we weren’t saying goodbye to it. In fact we would all be meeting the next morning for the Prom rehearsal, which put paid to any wild partying we had planned.

It’s always an interesting day out at the Royal Albert Hall, even for those of us that know it like a third home, (second being Glyndebourne) it always manages to throw us surprises. This year was the luxurious be-decking and sponsoring of the green room by one of our best loved department stores. Fantastic squishy leather armchairs, perfect for a pre-show nap!

We always try to do as much of the production as we can for the Prom, but obviously things have to change…sadly no Austin Healey, or set, but everyone had full costume and wigs. We had three door frames on the stage to denote character’s rooms, and as there were no doors or locks we devised a kind of Foley system.

Now follows a brief history lesson:

Named after Jack Donovan Foley, a Hollywood sound pioneer, it is a reproduction of every day noises usually added as sound effects during post-production on films, tv and radio. It was first properly used on the 1929 film of ShowBoat from Universal Studios.

Figaro does have sound effects as part of the show anyway, for example Cherubino’s crash box in Act 2, but normally this is done behind the scenes, and not onstage, interacting with the singers in front ofa capacity crowd of 5,544 people and a radio audience of potentially millions. Gulp!

Act 1 mainly consisted of ringing La Contessa’s bell while sitting next to Henry Wood, then Act 2 was knocking, banging, crashing and an impromptu comedy scene with Izzy (Cherubino) during her exit. We had an absolute scream doing it, but it’s so hard to keep a straight face, I did an awful lot of cheek biting.

I even got a mention in an online review that said“the radio-like sound effects stayed only just the right side of Carry On”.Something we should perhaps all strive for in life!

After an all too brief almost week off, we are literally plunging into Rusalka rehearsals. As I write, the Prince is having his first“swimming“lesson with the dancers, and Stage Management are playing pin the tail on the water nymph.

Until next time!

23rd July: It’s magic time!

Since I last wrote, many things have happened. Figaro has finally opened and the big secret was finally revealed. The most fabulous prop ever created is the Count’s beautiful Austin Healey 3000,

which received it’s own round of applause during the opening night!

The monster technical show that is Fairy Queen is also up and running, and to create much needed space, as soon as Vixen and Cenerentola were finished, the sets were straight in the back of a truck and away.

So, what else…

The time finally came to open the 24 props crates sent from Paris for L’Heure .

The Jerwood studio smelt very peculiar for a week, a kind of musty and dusty experience of something that has been stored in a box for several years.

There is just so much set dressing in this show it was difficult to know where to start, but eventually everything found it’s place.

L’Enfant is also gaining momentum, last week finally saw us getting on stage with it, and we have been spending a long time getting all the moves right. I’m not allowed to tell you why it’s so complicated, so you’ll just have to wait and see.

Each scene is only a few minutes long, so the show is pretty much one massive musical scene change interspersed with singing!

We always rehearse scene changes so that everyone knows where they should be and what they should be doing, but when the changes are in view of the audience, even more attention paid to the choreography.

One thing that has had me worried was the lack of our theatre bat, Igor. Well known for his appearances in Tristan , Meistersinger , Rusalka and various other shows, he hasn’t been seen at all this year. But happily he came out to play on Saturday and did some fantastic laps of the stage during Voi Che Sapete. He probably hasn’t been enjoying the miserable weather either.

Tomorrow, we have the piano dress of the Double Bill , so finally we will get to see the amazing L’Enfant costumes. Very exciting, as we have only had certain elements of them so far.

they are going to look incredible!

This is the back of the L’Heure set. Each moving piece on the wall is controlled from behind via pulleys and cogs. The magic of live theatre!

Saturday 23th June – Full steam ahead

I’d like to tell you all about Figaro , except that I can’t.

We’ve all been sworn to secrecy, so that about wraps it up for this week!

Except that I must tell you the coolest prop in the world is looking even more gorgeous than ever!

After rehearsing on stage for the the last week, we suddenly find ourselves at pre-dress time. This is the last orchestral stage rehearsal with all elements before the final rehearsal. It is also a chance for photographs of the production to be taken, which will then be used in press, publicity and to accompany first night reviews.

Moving onto stage after several weeks in the rehearsal studio is always exciting, but it can also be a difficult time, as you have so many more elements to deal with.

Not only do the singers have a much bigger space to play in, but they also have lights, costumes and any moving parts of set that we can’t fit into the rehearsal room.

As we haven’t been able to spend all day, every day on stage, the stage crew have to do an enormous change over, starting at 1.30pm, getting rid of the Figaro set, and building Vixen, Cen or bohème . It’s a huge task, and once the stage is set, then the Electrics department have to focus the lights for each show, Wardrobe and Wigs have to set up their quick change rooms, and Stage Management bring all the props and furniture up from the understage stores to set the wings ready for the show.

It’s pretty similar to touring, but warmer…at least it should be.

Thank goodness for the late start time though! Last year, Meistersinger started so early we couldn’t have any other show rehearsing on stage before it.

It’s crazy to think that next Wednesday is the first night of Figaro , but it’s also the first day of rehearsals for L’Enfant (the second of the Ravel double bill). This means that we have all six productions in the building, with the first part of the Double Bill coming the week after.

Rehearsals are also well under way for Fairy Queen and have been for a good couple of weeks, this has included rehearsals in London for the acting company that we have in the show, and now they have joined us in production rehearsals at Glyndebourne to start putting the whole opera together.

To complete our busy week, we will see the final performance of Vixen on Thursday. It won’t be long before the Vixen set is taken apart and removed from the back dock (the large area behind the stage) and put into storage. The space taken up by Vixen is quite large and with all six shows in the building it is proving to be a tight squeeze, and afternoon changeovers from rehearsal to show can be a bit like one of those puzzles with one piece missing and all the other pieces shuffle round.

The space taken up by Vixen will soon be filled with more and more pieces of the Double Bill as they arrive, plus there are various elements of Vixen that go under the stage, such as two manually operated traps, a large slide, ladders and stairways and two quick change rooms. These need to be removed and replaced with a life size horse, a large golden tree, a small boat in the shape of a pea pod, a giant haystack (not the wrestler) and several pieces of furniture, all ready for Fairy Queen stage rehearsals next Monday.

As you can tell, we are all very busy!

Next time, tales of a child and some magical stuff…

Looking in to the Peter Hall room at the back of Fairy Queen

Wednesday 30 May: The Vixen Diaries

Morning all, sorry I haven’t posted for a while.
The last 4 weeks have been particularly hectic, but now the first two shows are now up and running, we have a little breathing space before bohème opens and Figaro gets onto stage.
I’m not allowed to say anything about Figaro, it’s all very top secret, but I reckon its going to be fab. Plus, it has what is possibly the coolest prop ever in the history of Opera. A bold statement, I know, but just wait.
Anyway, this week I thought you ought to hear all about Vixen, so I’m going to pass you over to Claire, known to all as CB or Ceebs, who will tell all…

Hello everyone!
Well, some of you may know, this is my eighth year here at Glyndebourne, my second festival as DSM, and I have been given my first ever new production on the book.
This is extremely exciting for me, and although I thoroughly enjoy being on the book for revivals, there is something quite special about being on a new production and being part of the process from the very start.
I am sure Sophie will agree with me that it’s very easy to get quite protective over it!
Not only do you get to see a show develop from the very start and be a part of it’s (occasionally frustrating) ever changing process, you get to compile your own book.
This is something I’ve not had the opportunity to do yet, so it’s been a real treat…
As Sophie has said in previous blogs, when preparing a score for a new production, all you can really do is put lines down every blank page and note timings down.
It’s once rehearsals start that you can start putting blocking in and rough cues, and you can start working out where calls for singers and wardrobe etc can go.
As the production really started to take shape, I realised that it was going to be much bigger than I had anticipated. As every day passed, the pages in my book were getting fuller and the list of cues were getting longer. For such a short opera, there is certainly plenty going on!

Some of my calls to the singers have to be split up as there just isn’t enough time between cues to say them.
Also, ordinarily, when calling singers and staff for a scene change, they are usually called by name and referred to as“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Staff“however, at a particular point in Vixen, I have to just say“your call please everyone involved in the scene change“as there isn’t enough time for me to physically address everyone before I have to cue the next sequence of events.

Normally, we tend to generally stand by a sequence of cues about 30(ish) seconds before its about to happen whereas sometimes in Vixen a standby is a good few minutes long and I will remind everyone on cans that it is a long standby so they don’t think about having a quick nap! Which I cannot imagine being possible in this show as there is something happening all the time.
We’ve got animals, children, people walking down walls, guns and blood to name but a few.

Vixen has been a real challenge, but an incredibly rewarding one. I have learnt an awful lot from this show, including my professional capabilities!
It’s been a wonderful process, and a fabulous first new production.
I often feel, when starting the show, that I am balancing on the edge of a roller coaster. Not one where I can shut my eyes and wait for it to finish, but one I have to drive. Good job I love roller coasters.
Now, off to bohème which is like putting on a pair of comfortable old slippers…

Friday April 27th: Stormy Rehearsals

I hope you’ve all had a chance to watch the about us video on our website? case you haven’t!
Unfortunately, the SM department wasn’t here when it was made, so I thought I would throw in a few bits of numerical interest for you.

Over the course of the Festival rehearsal period and performances, we consume approximately:

2,640 cups of tea
197 cafétieres of coffee
110 pints of milk
4,700 removable labels
50 mechanical pencils
24 double ended permanent markers
2 packs of highlighters
1 roll of magic score tape (for those over eager page turns!)

Also, from the end of March to end of August, Claire and I will make almost 3,290 backstage calls to performers.

As some of the calls we make can be quite lengthy, we always shorten the title of the opera to something far more manageable. Le Nozze di Figaro becomes just Figaro, L’Enfant et les Sortilèges will be L’Enfant, The Cunning Little Vixen , Vixen and so on. There are a few anomalies with this system, Billy Budd for example just sounds wrong being truncated and keeps the full title. In conversation though, the names can be shortened even more, La Cenerentola is generally known backstage as just Cen.
So from now on, I hope you don’t mind if I refer to shows by their shortened form!

This morning we have been rehearsing the Cen storm sequence, something that has achieved a near legendary status at Glyndebourne. It’s a piece of staging that needs 14 people backstage banging doors, windows and shutters, swinging chandeliers and magically disappearing a table cloth while the Magnifico family are scared out of their wits. That’s just a short summary of what happens and I haven’t even mentioned the 30 kilos of basmati rice!
In fact, there are 59 lighting and technical cues that have to take place in 2 mins 20 seconds. It’s all great fun, and quite hilarious trying to recreate it in the rehearsal studio with only 3 stage management.
The main purpose of doing this was to give the performers a chance to map their moves out before we bombard them with a tempest of noise. Tomorrow we will move onto the main stage and treat them to the real thing.

When we get onto stage, I will be placed in a slightly different area than usual. Because the sliding walls for Cen are so big, when they are in their offstage position, there is no room for anyone to stand safely at the prompt desk without getting crushed. So until July 11th, the prompt desk will be situated in the prompt side cage. This is normally used for costume quick changes when the performer doesn’t have time to get back to their dressing room.

For much of the show, I have a wonderful view of the back of Don Magnifico’s kitchen and the other side of Clorinda’s ‘bedroom’, and really have to rely on the front of house camera to see where people are on stage.

I shall leave it there now, as we have to be in early to set up on stage. Thanks for reading!

The view from my desk.

April 12th 2012: Greetings Opera Fans!

Welcome back to Glyndebourne life after a long winter, hope you all had a good one.

Of course, preparations for the Festival have been going on for many months now, but in the last three weeks, things have been really gaining momentum.

The Cunning Little Vixen is well into rehearsals, the chorus are having music calls, Le nozze di Figaro has had it’s Bauprobe, and the Ravel Double Bill is being built on stage as I type.

Bauprobe is a German opera term that doesn’t really have an English translation.
In essence though, for a new show the set is built on the stage, and the designer, lighting designer, director, production manager and technical staff work through any problems that may come up. For example, a door may need hinging the opposite way, or a flown piece may need extra black serge on the back to avoid light leaking through. It is also an opportunity for the lighting designer to work out where they want the lighting booms ladders and towers, and how much room there is to play with.

Once the issues have been noted, the set will be deconstructed and sent for any alterations to be made, in time for the first day of production rehearsals.

For a revival show like La Cenerentola the principle is much the same, except the problems have already been dealt with. The stage time given here is to check that everything is clean, safe, working well, and any paint touch-ups can be completed before rehearsals begin.

As my own rehearsals haven’t started yet, I am using the rare time in the office to prep my scores for the Festival. As La Cenerentola has been done several times before, it is simply a case of changing the names of performers and changing cues to my own hand writing. I say ‘simply’, but you’d be surprised how long it takes to work through 641 pages, or just under 4 inches of Rossini!

For my three new shows, Le nozze de Figaro, L’heure espagnole and L’enfant et les sortilèges , prepping a new prompt copy involves drawing a line down the middle of each blank page, putting sticky labels in to mark each Act and scene, working out appropriate points in the music to call performers before they are needed on stage, then listening to the opera and noting down the time in the score every 30 seconds. In the case of the Ravel Double Bill , I will listen to them several times to learn the music, but it’s my fifth time of doing Le nozze di Figaro , so it’s well and truly in my head already.

Although each performance of an opera can vary slightly timing-wise, it gives a general indication of how long things take, and will then form the basis of all the technical paperwork that I told you about in my first blog.

Apart from the score prep, we all have to do computer paperwork too.
Cast lists, chorus allocations, fire check lists and prop cage labels need to be printed out and stuck in appropriate places, and the templates for all the running plots must be prepared, ready for all the information that can only be input once rehearsals actually start.

Outside the building it’s all go as well, lawns being scarified, rolled and cut, the boat house being restored to its former glory, borders weeded, planted and mulched and lambs being born…makes a welcome break from staring at dots on a page!

La Cenerentola singers arrive on April 16th for a few days of music calls, then we begin production rehearsals on the 18th.
From then on, things will be pretty hectic so I’m sure I shall have plenty to tell you!

Some light reading for the summer…