Sunday, 22 November 2009

WHAT a day!!

Going completely against the grain, and actually posting a photograph that's relevant to my writing, here's one of the horses' heads I've been working on, finished and ready to deliver (the poppy and leaves are not integral, by the way, but wall decorations in my flat).

I put the final touches to the heads on Thursday, bought extra-large bin bags (heads for the transportation of), and organised a leisurely handover in Frankfurt on Friday, with plenty of time for visiting the butchers who sell lamb and, oh, who knows, maybe a peaceful beer or two...

HAH! So much for leisurely!

First thing Friday morning saw me tearing out large and bloody chunks of my hair, trying to understand repeated phone conversations in German. I'd had a slight plumbing problem, and the tenant's boyfriend had offered to liaise between the owners and the plumbers, which was extraordinarily kind of him. Unfortunately he has a rather impenetrable accent, and I have enormous difficulty communicating with him even face-to-face. Add to this my phone phobia (I have a horror of phone conversations, even in English) and the fact that it was a little complicated (cash required, up to certain amount only, get receipt, doorbell not working so please ring, etc etc), and I was in a high state of stress before I left for the theatre.

Now this was going to be a somewhat fallow time in terms of my work at the opera house; the Offenbach is well into its run, and the Strauss does not open until April. So when last week they asked me to study a Puccini role, just in case and no performances (but I'd get the role learned and coached), I jumped at the chance. I've now had five days with the score, and one coaching, basically at this point note-bashing and noting where the tricky points are going to be. Act I is down cold, the rest still a work in progress.

Because I'm just studying it, I was hesitant about whether I'd be welcome at the Konzeptionsgespräch (meeting where everyone gets introduced, the director explains the concept, and you see the set model and the costume designs for the first time). I went along anyway; I wanted to introduce myself so I could hopefully sit in on the rehearsals, as a way of (a) learning the role and the production, (b) improving my German, and (c) watching the Very Famous Name director at work. Having dressed unobtrusively on purpose, I slithered in and sat at the back, praying at all times not to be chucked out unceremoniously (I hate being unsure of the protocol) and with my poor brain trying once more to untangle accented German. It was over sooner than expected (it will be very interesting!). Due to temporary lack of tenor through illness, it was decided to start in on Act II. At this point I looked around for my friend, who's actually singing the role. Not a sign. Apparently she had a doctor's appointment... yes, you've guessed it, I was asked to sing in for her. I said yes, of course, but I'll need my score, and tried to maintain an appearance of outward calm despite my heart leaping around in my chest like a landed fish; I've never been quite so glad to see someone as when my friend appeared at the last moment, having been delayed unreasonably at the doctor's - I thrust the prop I was holding into her arms, smiled weakly, and spent the rest of the rehearsal slumped in a chair in the corner, score in hand, trying to unstick my shoulders from my ears, where they had become unaccountably lodged. (* - believe it or not, this continues below)

I cycled my slightly wobbly way back home, dealt with two more phone calls despite wanting nothing more than to ignore them and take my score back to bed (interestingly, one was from the plumbing company, saying their lads would be later than arranged, was that OK? - and ironically I understood more of that speech than I had of any that day!). I bagged the horses' heads ready for delivery (had some trouble with the ears, despite the size of the bags, but determination won out) and waited for the plumbers to arrive. Eventually, they did, explaining that they were in my street but couldn't find my building. Aaargh! This is a common problem; the street postal address has actually trailed off to a barred footpath by the time it gets to my block of flats - vehicle access is via another street. I explained all this but either my German or my ability to explain the maze of one-way streets and odd turns that the corrective journey required was insufficient, and I ended up saying oh hang on, I'll come and show you, which necessitated squashing into the van besides a rather pleased plumber and his mate, and eventually parking illegally. They did their thing with machines and gurgling noises, while I muttered Italian phrases to myself, trying to make them stick in my head. Eventually they left, trousering what seems to me an exorbitant sum but I guess that's plumbers the world over. Phew! I was now free to zip over to Frankfurt!

Of course by this time, dusk was falling. By the time I'd dragged my unwieldy burdens to the station, bought a ticket (at the counter; those sneaky ticket machines are NOT going to trick me again!!) and hopped on the train, it was far too late to visit the butchers. Damn! No lamb!! And because it was late, no time to play. We did however manage a visit to an Irish pub, where a pint of Guinness and a plate of chips had to pass as a balanced meal, but I have to admit I was exhausted by the day, and jolly annoyed, once I reached the station in Frankfurt, to have missed the train by thirty seconds and be forced to wait half an hour for the next one - sod's law!

* You'd have thought that was enough excitement! The one really good thing was that I thought I might be able from then on to get away with attending the rehearsals, so I duly turned up yesterday morning. The first session was fascinating, but because it was the middle of Act II, my friend didn't actually sing a note. Then we had a break. I was just finishing my coffee when the assistant director came and said that because my friend and some of the others in the rehearsal had an unrelated performance that night, the director had released them, and could I please sing in? No problem, said I, thinking, well if it's only a question of acting and reacting to the (absolutely bloody wonderful) soprano, I can do that. Back on the rehearsal stage, the director announced that we were going to continue, setting the end of Act II. I can't tell you what my thoughts were - this is a notoriously tricky bit for my character to sing, requiring ferocious amounts of counting in the first bit, and harmonies in the duet which require quite a bit of work to get rock solid. In my one coaching, we'd laughed, repeated it because it was so devilish, and I'd marked it as a place to be worked on carefully... As I took a deep breath and prepared to launch the first, shrieked, phrase, I distinctly remember thinking, hmm, it really wasn't meant to happen like this; if the opportunity arose I was going to quietly impress the director by being thoroughly musically prepared, as always, familiar with the moves from having observed closely, and of course my voice would have been warmed up. The notes started to ring out, and just thought, ah heck, funny how things don't turn out as expected, que sera sera, and bloody hell, it's an odd thing, opera!!


  1. Fantastic adventure you are having! Everything. I'm just eating it up. The horse heads are amazing! Your talents are many.

    I have a fear of phone calls too!!!

    And I love the way you had to jump in before you had everything prepared. It's so GOOD for you!!

    One last thing. I was always under the impression that Guinness could be considered a nutritionally adequate meal.

  2. Hi there--stumbled across your blog via 'the forum'... Are we almost-neighbors? I'm flying back to Germany tomorrow...currently an "American Frankfurter" :)

  3. Fresca - you mean I would have been OK even without the chips? Reassuring to know, thank you!

    Coloraturaah - yes, we are; would love to meet you. Bung a post on the forum and I'll drop you my e-mail!