From the road: the day after

Wednesday 1 July 2015

The performance at the Thália Theatre in Budapest in the Armel Festival went really well! I was worried about the singers and even the players, after a pretty brutal day of rehearsal on Monday and then a rehearsal in the theatre the afternoon before the performance. It would have been easy to exhaust people, but the performance was full of energy and commitment. It was like the fire at the top of the show just took shape in each of the performers (it certainly was hot enough on stage in those heavy costumes!). It was clear that they all loved the piece, and felt that they owned it.

I think that the audience was surprised and moved. A Hungarian actress met me at the end of the show and had tears in her eyes: she said she did not think opera could be so well acted, and so moving. Of course I liked hearing it, but it was balanced by a pleasant conversation (in broken German) with a nice older lady in the seat beside me for the second half. I asked if she liked it, and she said very definitely ‘Half!’ Predictably, the half she really liked a lot was the music; when I asked what was wrong with the other half, she said that the costumes were ‘easy’ (by which I discovered she meant poor, or inexpensive) and that she did not understand the hanging bundles of clothes (a really beautiful feature of Samal Blak’s design). I explained as best I could that the people in the besieged city were wretched, and that hanging bundles of clothes attract moisture in a place where there is not water supply. Sensing I might be something to do with it, she showed me her thick glasses and said that she could not really see any detail. A really lovely, highly motivated person: there was a twinkle in her eyes, even if she did not see well.

I am off to Italy tonight to start work on a production of Handel’s Rinaldo in Lucca. I confess that I was halfway dreading this last performance of The Siege of Calais, not just because I knew it would be technically and logistically complicated; I also hate to lose sight of this work we did together on a beautiful opera about strong character, country and family. I remember recommending to all my colleagues that they read Grossman’s Life and Fate in preparation – and the discussions that followed in rehearsal, both times it was produced. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to all of my partners in making it, and all the people who felt something when they saw it, many of whom wrote to me afterward.

James Conway
General Director, ETO and Director, The Siege of Calais

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