From the orchestra pit: London

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Performing at the Britten Theatre in the Royal College of Music has had a touch of familiarity and nostalgia for those who have spent time there as students, teachers and performers. It is a good theatre to play in. The pit is not too cramped, or too low, so there is a reasonable chance of keeping an eye on what is happening on stage, if one is lucky enough not to be sitting underneath it. Backstage, though, is quite a trek to get to; the “five-minute call” heralding the end of the interval was announced almost as soon as one had reached the dressing-room, which was through an almost unfathomable network of corridors and stairs, the result of the Topsy-like design of the RCM.

Each of the three operas has a very different atmosphere and language, and honing the different sound-worlds has been one of the pleasures in working on them. Xerxes bursts with energy and virility; Flavio has an altogether warmer, more loving feminine quality, whilst The Fairy Queen explores the fantastical and the comical.

A highlight for us was the wonderful response of the children who came to watch the dress rehearsal of the Fairy Queen. Looking out at their rapt faces, hearing them laugh, and hearing them cheer at the end whilst we romped our way through the final chaconne was exhilarating.

The first night of Flavio, only a few nights ago (yet it seems like an age since we first started work on it) had a similar spontaneity in its reception. Along with the sensuous pleasure given by its glorious costumes and mesmerising blue background, it continues to make me laugh and cry every time I hear it, in spite of having played it so often two years ago during the Handelfest.

Xerxes, so different in its more serious setting, has the comic touch too, whilst containing the most thrilling music. Watching the cast (with whom we are in love) move from flirtation to fury, from love to desperation and back again, one realises that the qualities required by opera-singers both vocally and dramatically are manifold, and that Handel knew a thing or two.

Finally, last Saturday, the lucky few of us who are involved in the Bach cantata concerts which are also part of the tour rehearsed for the first time. We never thought we would have the energy to face another rehearsal, crammed in on the day of a Flavio performance, but Bach was our healer and our balm.

Next stop, Bath, then Buxton at the end of the week – so many of us will be packing our walking boots (and waterproofs?) for the delights of the Derbyshire Dales.

Jean Paterson and The Old Street Band

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