Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Triumph that fired on all cylinders

(For more pictures, see Nathalie's Facebook album.)

Well, we're finished for another year. As usual, I woke up the Sunday after the final performance feeling like I'd just been let out of jail, or perhaps completed a long community service order, and could now enjoy the rest of my life.

Make no mistake: this was our most successful opera so far. There were a few minor pauses, missed entries and swopped lines, but overall both nights were a joyous, resounding triumph. It would be invidious to pick anyone out, because everyone contributed, and everyone was on top form. Congratulations all round, from singing to acting to costumes to orchestra to stagehands... and of course directing and conducting.

Audience response was fantastic too, form a near-full-house on the Friday night, and a more-than-full-house on Saturday. (They were a bit more savvy, because they knew the right bits to laugh. Or perhaps they just had better eyesight and were able to cope with the minuscule seven-point typeface on the printed libretto.)

More than ever I feel proud of our production, and what we've all achieved. Five years ago we were doing makeshift semi-staged affairs in Deptford Town Hall with a chamber ensemble. Last week - no doubt, this was the real thing, with the best set and costumes we've ever enjoyed, and a genuine opera-company feel. There'd been quite a bit of tension in the weeks leading up to dress rehearsals, but in the last few days it all came together and the spirit in the canteen - er, sorry, I mean dressing room - was really good.

Opera Gold has made another step forward this year, in terms of scale, style and standard. It's been a privilege and pleasure for me to share both onstage and backstage with so many talented, pleasant and fanciable people. Congratulations to all who have embraced this rare opportunity, and thanks to Nan for her sheer determination and unbounded generosity of spirit to keep making it all work so well.

That's all a bit serious, so before I go off into Gwyneth Paltrow mode and start thanking my marm and my parp and my fyemly and weeping down the front of my frock, here's some of the amusing images I'll take away with me from our fantastic Figaro of 2009...

• The dressing-room shriek of "Aaargh!!! Oh my God!" from Chris that had the ladies' chorus rushing over thinking he must have lost a finger in some sort of freak trombone accident. What's the matter, Chris? "There's a... there's a... cockroach!"

• Ros about to go on as Marcellina, realising the prop she needed was on the other side of the stage, requiring someone to go across the open door in full view of the audience. Thinking quickly, the slim Ros summoned the slightly less slim Nick to do the fetching instead. Manfully, he scrambled across the floor on his belly to get the prop, then threw it back across the audience-visible gap. Nobody noticed. Only then did we realise that had Ros waited 30 seconds, the door would have closed anyway, allowing her to fetch the prop at leisure. Well worth it to see Nick doing his Swampy impression though.

• Xenia, Anna and Nan in the dining room of Nan's house knee-deep in sewing machines and costumes. Most of those things you were wearing came from Streatham's charity shops, where Nan is a regular. You can just imagine the assistants there whispering after Nan's been on yet another wardrobe-bolstering spree: "Such a shame. She used to be an international opera singer, you know. Look at her now. Buys her clothes from Oxfam."

• Catching a sight of Ozzy Osbourne in the toilets during the interval, and realising it was me in the mirror in my Basilio wig.

Thanks again everyone, and congratulations. It's been fabulous, but for various reasons I just won't have the time to be involved next year.

Oh, I said that last year...

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Crazy day? Well, a very long one

Yesterday was supposed to be the Sitzprobe, but we didn’t do much sitting down. No doubt something to do with having to cover our backsides. It was a stage-rehearsal run-through with the orchestra and Cast B, minus recits, but do you know, it’s almost beginning to come together. Two weeks ago we were Ivan the Terrible; we’re not quite Peter the Great, but we’re probably Boris the Adequate.

Today was the Dress Rehearsal, a marathon session from before 2pm to after 9.30pm. The girls had some remarkable frocks, some with a good deal of civil engineering in the bustles and bodice. Ros’s looks like something out of those fetish parties in north London. Er, that a friend told me about. Helen’s Countess frock is spectacular and was quite a talking point, the talking usually being ‘please don’t keep treading on my frock’.

There was a camera crew in, doing a recruitment film for Goldsmiths. Clearly they think the sight of men poncing about in wigs, tights and exotic hairstyles is going to be a fee magnet for the Annual Report. They may be right.

I did a spoof to-camera piece in the style of a news reporter, a sort of Tim Sebastian in a frock coat. ‘The atmosphere here in Seville is tense,’ I informed the imaginary primetime audience, nodding in that way that reporters do to try and cover the time lag in the satellite link. ‘The wedding of Figaro and Susanna is scheduled for today, but sources close to the count say he is trying to stop it taking place. We also have as yet unconfirmed reports that the identity of Figaro’s parents may be revealed, and which could send shock waves through the community. Whatever happens, this is turning into a crazy day. Don Basilio, News at Ten, in Seville.’

I don’t think Armando Iannucci has anything to worry about.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Unfortunate Situation in Knightsbridge

Our stage manager Nick’s Situation Opera did a staged Figaro with most of our cast last night (pic right: afternoon rehearsal). It was a benefit concert at St Paul’s, Knightsbridge (vicar: the Rev Richard Coles, one time member of 1980s pop combo The Communards, and rather successful guest on Have I Got News For You the previous week).

The concert was in aid of KwikPrint of Deptford, the only people who actually made any money out of it. It was meant as a fund-raising exercise for Helen, our Countess, to help her out with her Academy fees next year (new rules mean she’ll be rushed over seventeen grand for tuition, a sum so large Fred Goodwin could buy a round of drinks with it). But, sadly, the audience takings didn’t cover the cost of printing the programme.

Shame; the acoustics were good, the band and singers sounded great, and it was also priceless experience for all of us doing the staged Figaro later in the wek.

Actually someone else did benefit from the concert: the pub round the corner, who did an unexpected grand's worth of business between the band arriving and the bar closing twenty minutes later.