I’ve just had the most intense but incredible 9 days. I got a call to jump in to a Händel production with a German translation written especially for it: so no recordings to assist the speed learning of words but plenty in Italian so I could get to know the music.
I’ve been through some ups and downs with my German, or rather, confidence in my German and this would be quite the feat if I pulled it off.
Spoiler: the show was last night and it went without a hitch 😉
What does it mean when someone jumps in? In Bern earlier this year, the original singer was well enough to walk her role, and the opera is seldom performed (2 productions in the last 100 years) so no other singer knew the role already. With only 40 hours notice, it wasn’t expected that I learn the hour and a half of music (that’s just where I was singing) off-copy with the staging, so I sang from the front corner of the stage, with music.
This time, no other singer knew the German version of the text and the singer wasn’t available to walk the part but I had 9 days – plenty of time – to learn it all!
Day 1: Sat evening, 9pm Agent calls: can you jump in next Sunday/are you free this week to speed learn it. Yes.
Day 2: Sunday morning: Sent a digital score, and a video recording of the dress rehearsal. Theatres tend to record all new productions in a dress rehearsal to keep on Archive for later revivals or situations such as mine. It is rarely a good quality recording, either audibly or visually because it is purely for the who is on stage/where and when questions. Alas, there had been significant changes to the score, some different cuts etc since the dress rehearsal. This is very unusual, so I didn’t trust that I had the right score.
Sunday evening: Concert 2 hours drive away. New music on in the car, both ways and most relaxed I’ve felt in a concert for ages, due to how well I knew the music I was performing!!
Day 3: Midday, new version of digital score – all my arias are in there this time (hoorah!). I’m only 3 hours away from the theatre so I travel up that evening.
Day 4: To sort out all other issues, and to help me learn the role, the theatre put me up in a hotel and organised rehearsals space with the harpsichord player the – the most crucial of people in this situation, as they accompany the recitatives (quasi speech parts) in the opera. After 6 hours together, I had clarified all the odds and ends previously unclear, and run the whole of my role through twice.
I tried my costume on, and shoes – very importantly, before being fitted for the wig. A gorgeous Marilyn Monroe-esque number.
Now it was just up to me to learn my music.
A trip to the UK for 2 days didn’t help, especially as it was packed full but I did squeeze a lesson in with my teacher in person, a much needed boost. The role’s music is filled with beautiful, slow phrases whereas I feel much more at home amidst crazy runs of quick notes. As with every role to date, it has prompted me to discover new facets to my voice but also develop as a performer.
Day 6: Back in Germany and straight to Halle.
Day 7: rehearsals with assistant director and available cast members. The role of Cornelia has a tough old time in this production – sexually assaulted multiple times. I was very grateful that I was able to rehearse the blocking with the colleague involved, and ahead of the Showday. There are always tricks to violence on stage and it’s never taken lightly by theatres but 2 of the cast members were flying in for the show and wouldn’t have been able to rehearse ahead of the Showday, hence my gratitude that my ‘attacker’ is based in Halle and we could rehearse in advance.
Day 8: Morning and afternoon off to soak up all the information from the last 2 days and run my ‘track’ in my mind.
I woke up feeling very anxious, so I create ‘Show notes’ for myself detailing every entrance, stage direction, and lyric until I leave stage and note how long off stage I have. Props/costume changes etc are all included. This sort of detail is vital for me to maintain my calm during the show. A classic case of knowing what I need in order to to the job the best I can.
Evening: meet with the conductor and run as much of my music as possible. Another native German, so I was completely thrilled that he was so positive about my pronunciation and that he was so surprised how recently I had met the score.
Day 9: Showday. I wake up entirely ready and thrilled to be showcasing all this hard work amidst such lovely colleagues.
Day 10: arrive home and sleep for 12 hours!!!