Friday, 7 March 2008

Nude women, and Britten (unlikely combination)

I was away from rehearsal last week, as I was mired in my new job. I'm working at the National Gallery, on their website.

Some of it does involve looking at pictures of nude women. They may look fabulous and elegant in the pictures. But you later find out that they were tarts who are now at least 158 years old. Rather like online dating I suppose. At least that woman in Déjeuner sur l'herbe actually is an oil painting.

But the job is only for four weeks. And most of it actually involves putting up mundane details of events on the website. Such as informing people that at 1pm there will be a gallery talk on some 16th-century Madonna and Child, painted by a bloke who sounds like a pizza chain. Web services in most companies are not considered 'creative services': they come under the umbrella of marketing. Presumably the one they use to shelter under outside while having their hourly fag break.

Anyway, the rehearsal yesterday was a musical run-through with scores. We spent about half an hour in the Great Hall before Roger R came in and threw us out. This was because they had to prepare the piano for a Prepared Piano concert later that day. (There's some crack about nuts, screws and bolts here, but I'm too bored with Lynne Truss to work it out.)

It was annoying but quite amusing. Roger had the air of a building foreman telling you to go and park your car somewhere else. Look, we put up that notice of works on that lamppost six months ago. In half an hour there'll be a ruddy great skip going right here where your car is. Not my problem if you can't find another park, pal, etc.

So we trooped off to some pokey rehearsal room upstairs that happened to be free. Fortunately the zombie saxophonists and drummers who usually live up there must have been on lunch break, or not got up yet, or something.

And there we had the company of - for the first time - Peter Grimes himself. A teeny bit late, considering we started five months ago in October, you might think. But it does rather highlight the main problem we've had so far: that the most committed people are mostly (though not all) the ones with commitments, which means they can only make some of some of the rehearsals.

(It's the same principle that scuppers your love life after 30: all the lovers worth having who might make a commitment to you are taken, because they've made a commitment to someone else. Probably someone not as nice, but with better salary/legs.)

Take Dr Mario for example. He's an excellent, committed lyric tenor who will be a fabulous Grimes, and boy he'll look the part. You wouldn't get in a fishing smack with him lightly. (Er, I don't mean it that way. Mario's straight, as he confirmed with some entertaining post-rehearsal anecdotes, more Jon Vickers than Peter Pears.)

But he's also a full-time surgeon who lives and works abroad in a small developing country. (I think he's based in Cardiff.) So when your rehearsals are on Thursday mid-afternoon 200 miles away, that presents clear logistical problems. Sorry, guys, I've got to go and sing. Can you just see to that left ventricle, patch up the aorta and close the rib cage, and if there's any problems I'm on my BlackBerry?

He's not the only one. Hamish, Abby and others, and several chorus members, have to squeeze what they can - sometimes less than an hour - between work commitments. Stuff that has to be done to pay the bills: nursing or making photocopies or assessing the work of Gustave Courbet. At most rehearsals we've had about half the principals, max, and a chorus of two tenors. If we do make it all the way to a half-decent performance it'll be a miracle.

At least yesterday we had everyone, and some bits (some) actually sounded quite good. For an hour - at which point Hamish (Balstrode) and Abby (Ellen) had to scoot to a masterclass, and Dan (Swallow) had to go to I don't know where. So we were back to the Reduced Britten Company, like those Americans who do comedy potted Shakespeare plays with three people.

Still, there were two big positives. First, it was really nice to see Mario again - Charlotte (Mrs Sedley) hadn't seen him since she was dancing provocatively for him last summer on stage as Carmen. Second, Hamish's muttonchop sideboards are coming on a treat. By June he'll be a ginger Captain Birdseye.

Nan, of course, wasn't there. It was her birthday, and she thoroughly deserved a day off, and was off celebrating. We'd put together a special gift for her: Jonny (Hobson) had had the great idea of the Opera Goldies recording a CD for her. (Actually, Charlotte said it was her idea and that Jonny nicked it. Rock-Paper-Scissors, guys.) So last week, we whizzed through some of the songs and arias Nan's worked with us on, accompanied by the ever patient Richard Black on piano, and recorded them on to a CD. (I made a token contribution to the smugglers' quintet in Carmen, stepping straight off my bike, wheezing and croaking like Ian Paisley. Everyone else sounded fab.)

So we really hope Nan likes it. I knocked up the cover for the disc - email me if you want to see an image. If you need to ask why I called it the 'Opera Gold Omnibus', then you probably wouldn't understand the answer. Nan: hope you had a fabulous day yesterday. Happy Birthday, and love and thanks from us all.

Well, I suppose I'd better back to work. Back to Déjeuner sur l'herbe.