As if three months of touring round the UK was not enough, last week the intrepid company of ETO’s Siege of Calais embarked on a flying visit to Budapest to perform the opera at the Armel Opera Festival. I had been singing the role of Edoardo (Edward III) for the second half of the UK tour, having won the chance to perform it at last year’s Armel Opera Competition1.
One of the features of the competition is the resident orchestra, the Pannon Philharmonic, who are based in the southern city of Pécs, where they inhabit the modern and highly impressive Kodály Centre. This is also, unfortunately, where they rehearse. So, at 8am on the Monday, we jumped on a bus and wended our way through rush hour traffic and down the motorway to Pécs. Around 3 and a half hours later we arrived, slightly drained, and headed straight into a day of rehearsals with the orchestra. Fortunately, their beautiful playing helped assuage our fatigue and, the rehearsal finished, we were ready to brave the journey back to Budapest (a journey made easier by many bags of snacks a few bottles of wine!). Later that evening, we bumped into James2, who told us that Pécs is one of the best-preserved examples of Renaissance architecture in Hungary. Sadly our schedule didn’t permit us to explore that far and most people didn’t make it past McDonald’s.
The next day the company seemed well rested as we got into the Thália Theatre for our technical rehearsal. The ETO technical staff had been working since midnight to make sure the set was in place and when we arrived for the 2pm session we were greeted with the familiar sights (and smells) of the set and costumes. The rehearsal went smoothly, considering it was simultaneously the only chance Jeremy3 had to rehearse with the orchestra in the pit and the only chance James had to get everyone in the right place for the lighting. Mention must also be made of the three chorus men who were stepping into the opera for the first time (at least for the first time in two years). This was their only rehearsal too!
The performance couldn’t have gone better. It was felt by all that the intensity was at a level we hadn’t experienced before (this could perhaps be explained by the presence of TV cameras, broadcasting the performance live on the ARTE website) and hopefully this transmitted to the audience. One member of the company described it as having the feel of an opening night but with the experience of three months of touring.
I stayed in Budapest for a few more days to watch some of the other shows in the festival. These included a drastically updated The Marriage of Figaro, a production of The Magic Flute, Private View, a piece written within the last year and using a small ensemble of singers with the backdrop of Hitchcock film clips, and an intriguing double bill based on the death (or otherwise) of Mozart: Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri, in which the latter poisons his rival, and Rendine’s Un segreto d’importanza, which speculates that Mozart faked his death and travelled to Italy to give inspiration to a young Rossini. It was very well conceived and highly entertaining.
On the final night of the festival I attended the awards ceremony, where each of the winners from last year’s competition were invited on stage to be interviewed briefly after a clip from the opera was shown to the audience on the big screen. It was an experience I can safely say I have never had before, being filmed live on ARTE watching myself sing an aria. I’m not sure I’m in a hurry to repeat it…
The jury announced their decision as to the best performer of the festival (which went, quite deservedly, to a soprano who had a dance routine whilst singing the Queen of the Night’s first aria) and the best opera. Sadly ETO didn’t win this one, as it went to Private View. However, you can still vote for our production to win the audience award on the ARTE website for the next few weeks: click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to find the online poll.
The opera will be available to watch online for the next 6 months, both on ETO’s website and on the ARTE website, if you missed it last spring or would like to see it again. I hope you enjoy it.
1. The festival comprises six operas, performed by companies from around Europe, all of which include roles sung by prize winners from the same competition.
2. James Conway, ETO’s General Director and director of The Siege of Calais.
3. Jeremy Silver, conductor of The Siege of Calais.