Monday, 23 February 2015

This beautiful, serene scene is proof that the last few weeks have been so worth it, and stands in stark contrast to the flu ridden, carnival infested, estranged weeks of rehearsal.

The estrangement was not at all Oper Köln's fault; their opera house is being refurbished, and they have been banished to a large blue tent for performances, and various far flung buildings in odd parts of town for rehearsals.  I was constantly lost, and I wasn't the only one.  Our rehearsals were made all the more . interesting, by the insistence of the Opera House in Muscat on all references to alcohol being removed.  This production, in common with many, had been rather high proof, and it proved a challenging experience trying to extract the booze without altering the spirit of the original production (it had been put on a couple of years ago, then Muscat wanted it, but in English; hence my engagement, along with a cast of fabulous native English speakers).  We had two weeks; this is an incredibly short amount of time to whip into shape something where four of the major players were making their role debuts and the entire thing is being constantly reinvented, yet is constrained to stick as closely as possible to the director's original vision.  Not helped in the slightest by various illnesses including the flu (which got me for the first time in about fifteen years; it was Not Nice) devastating the whole company.  And the fact that carnival was swirling drunkenly around the flats that the opera house had rented for several of us right in the middle of town . wonderful if you're in the mood; not so much if you have rehearsals morning and evening, and could have done without the party music until 5.30 a.m.

We struggled through it, anyway, and were rewarded (before heaven; how nice!) by our residence at the fabulous Royal Opera House Muscat.  This amazing building was only finished in 2011, and is beautifully detailed and so well thought out.  The only thing I found a little odd was the lack of clocks in the dressing rooms / make up rooms etc. (My very sweet Arab dresser promised to pass on this tidbit to the management.) Other than that, they'd even painted lines along the bottom of the walls directing you to stage right or left (for those that don't regularly work in such places, I would just say that the backstage areas of opera houses are generally the most labyrinthine and impenetrable places you've ever wandered around lonely as a rather bewildered cloud).

I suspect we were all a little nervous as the first night approached; we hadn't even had a proper run through before the dress rehearsal.  However I have to say I have seldom worked with such a marvellous cast of colleagues, and I was thoroughly impressed by the level of professionalism and sheer artistry shown all around.  Having been warned that the Muscat public was a bit cool, prone to clapping mainly Arab productions, we were flabbergasted to get a standing ovation, with the entire public leaping to its feet within seconds of the curtain going down at the premiere, and laughs in all the right places.  Glorious!

OK, so we didn't have a heck of a lot of free time, but what a wonderful place to perform.  And the hotel provided the best buffet I think I've ever snarfed, including an Arabian pudding called Umali which I swear was laced with crack or something, as EVERYONE who tried it came back for second helpings, and third, and...  even those who, like me, aren't that bothered about sweet stuff!  (And who, for reference, no longer have waists...).

I'd be back here like a shot if invited, if only for the glorious feeling of walking across the courtyard to the catering room in the interval, of necessity in costume, and having waltzed past the security detail in camouflage, to step outside into the richly smelling, warm, luxurious evening; so different from the German cold, which shuts down the senses one by one.

Should anyone be interested in photos of the production, there are some lovely ones here.  

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