"It's a hell of a town!" - Billy Budd goes to New York

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6 February 2014

Enjoying chicken wings on Superbowl Sunday

We learnt recently that around 1.25 billion chicken wings are eaten across the US on Super Bowl Sunday. Having experienced the event in our newly adopted local here in Brooklyn (pictured right), there is little doubt in our minds as to the accuracy of this enormous figure. Team Billy Budd went some way to ensure wing consumption remained as high as ever. At rehearsals the day after there was a higher than usual number of people complaining about having the ‘meat sweats’.In fact, the past week in New York has seen the Company eat its way through the Boroughs.After a warm welcome from the BAM team last Tuesday we set off into the cold (minus 9c) to get our first taste of Brooklyn. Many of us ended up having some really delicious burgers at the conveniently located Shake Shack . The morning after witnessed a near en masse visit to the Happy Days Diner where stacks of pancakes and bottomless coffee helped to temporarily abate jet lag before a lengthy walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to Broadway, Time Square and beyond.

Downtime has given us all the opportunity to throw ourselves into everything NYC has to offer and it has been a gift to have our trip coincide with Chinese New Year and Super Bowl celebrations. Pilgrimages to the Metropolitan Opera have obviously been a popular choice, whilst others have preferred to experience the razzmatazz of Broadway. Those at the Barclays Center earlier this week found themselves cheering on the Brooklyn Nets alongside Beyonce and Jay-Z.

MoMa Sculpture Garden in the snow

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) has provided a mind-blowing day out for many of us. It is a truly humbling experience to get up close and personal with so many big hitters from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and the works by Moore, Calder and Rodin in the museum’s Sculpture Garden look particularly magical shrouded in the latest covering snow.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music is America’s oldest performing arts venue. We are based in the site’s grand Howard Gilman Opera House and feel privileged to be resident at such an esteemed artistic hub. BAM’s Harvey Theatre is currently playing host to the US Premiere of Angus Jackson’s King Lear starring Frank Langella and neighbouring organisations include the Mark Morris Dance Company and the new Shakespeare Center – Theatre for a New Audience.Thanks to BAM’s dedicated team it already feels likea home from home. With jumbo boxes of PG Tips and comfy armchairs, the Green Room is the place to be in-between scenes and provides a welcoming bolt hole from the bitter cold.

It has been incredibly exciting reacquainting ourselves with the Billy Budd set which fits beautifully into the Howard Gilman Opera House and the theatre’s lay out compliments the sweeping curves of Christopher Oram’s spectacular design.

Last week auditions were held here in New York for the Powder Monkeys who appear in the show’s‘Battle Scene’. The eight child actors joined rehearsals immediately and complete our company of 128. With various accolades under their belts (one of them has appeared in a film with James Franco), they are consummate professionals.

30 January 2014

Peter (far left) in rehearsals for Billy Budd in 2010

From dedicated music calls to production rehearsals, the past two weeks at Glyndebourne acted as a memory jog for most but also a chance for new recruits to get up to speed with life on board the HMS Indomitable . For our 2014 voyage we are delighted to welcome Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts who sings the role of Maintop, Daniel Norman steps into the role of Red Whiskers and a new recruit to the Hauling Party in the form of Danny Shelvey. All of whom have (for now) been spared authentic 18th Century initiation rites.

With set, props and costumes sent on ahead of us, it was a case of drilling the opera on a duct tape blueprint marked out by stage management (pictured below).

The absence of the production’s nuts and bolts allowed a taint of absurdity to creep into rehearsals. Those of us required to ascend the rigging resembled hamsters in running wheels and a highlight of the celebrated’Battle Scene’ was the moment a succession of tea trolleys were rolled out rather than cannon. Not exactly the ammunition you expect from a crew of hardy sailors.

Unsurprisingly there is a buzz of excitement throughout the company. Immediately apparent is the commitment to the project and a true sense that we are an ensemble, united by a common goal of producing our best possible work. From the off-set, Revival Director Ian Rutherford has hammered home the importance of listening and reacting. It seems an obvious thing to do, especially as musicians. However, it is all too easy to simply go through the motions on stage, forgetting what we do instinctively in’real life’and that the success of our individual and ensemble performance relies on this basic interplay. To help with this, we have all had to compose a paragraph or so detailing individual back stories for our characters. The result is a motley crew made up of everything from a possible spy to a foul-smelling weaver from East London. We have also spent a considerable amount of time taking into account the hierarchical nature of the naval community and looking at how clearly defined roles, structures and protocol controlled the way in which life would have been played out on board a ship like the Indomitable .

Like Ian Rutherford, Sir Mark Elder inspires us to endow each breath, word and sound with the weight of dramatic intention. Last Saturday’s sitzprobe at London’s Henry Wood Hall witnessed the singers and wonderful London Philharmonic Orchestra’ putting it together’ for the first time in the run up to the tour. We’re gradually starting to see the bigger picture take shape and it’s impossible not to be blown away by the magnificence of Britten’s work.

Away from rehearsals the inclement weather on the East Coast dominated coffee-break chat and we all found ourselves at one point or the other discussing the merits of Uniqlo Heattech thermals versus the more traditional garments on sale at M&S . One company member has got his hands on a list of NYC watering holes equipped with open fires and we’re yet to agree on a suitable location to experience Super Bowl Sunday. Perhaps we’ll even manage to persuade a certain principal to take on one of the infamous Man V Food challenges?!

For more follow@PeterBrathwaite on Twitter and find out more about Peter on his website.