Handel-ling the situation
I have had a very exciting, sleepless weekend in Switzerland. I jumped in with 48hrs notice (6 of which were spent getting there) to sing the title role in Handel’s Lotario on the main stage in Bern. Clang. I had never heard of the opera before, but after reviewing the 5 arias, I saw it sat at a comfortable area in my voice and said yes. Cue 2 hours to pack while downloading the only existing recording onto my phone and uploading the score onto my tablet – the joys of modern technology.
I was already on the second leg of my train journey when the Wi-Fi became hopeless and my brain needed a little breather from the maniacal speed learning. I decided to visit the theatre’s website and learn a little about who I was about to be working with. It’s a really good job I didn’t do that before agreeing to the jump-in, as I realised I was to be working with a conductor and singers that were all a bit of a big deal. The conductor, in particular, was someone I had come across before I should have let anyone hear me. This was naturally a lovely opportunity to rectify that impression but the demon on my shoulder was already laughing at the fool I was going to make of myself.
My name is already on the cast list for the show, so no backing out now.
I message R with the recent info (I’m in a silent carriage) and his response confuses me. He is correct that it is a small world for me to have come across a conductor I already know but the further back and forths suggest that he has missed something vital. It turns out, he thought I meant the train conductor, rather than the orchestral conductor for an hour of our WhatsApp chat. Muggles!
I was in Bern for less than 48hrs but I managed 4 hours sleep in total. Only I could be confronted with the most stressful of jump-ins (to date!) amidst the 5 days of the year that Bern hosts carnival. Drums, trumpets, singing, but mostly drums and brass, were my lullabies into 4am both nights. One particularly unforgivable trumpeter came back along at 6am the first morning with his own solo rendition of something loud and awful.
Pretty hilarious in hindsight, and the ‘simply the best‘ rendition at 5am was a wonderful confidence boost, albeit the reason for not getting the sleep so desperately needed. I had spent 9 hours at the theatre learning the title role of a Handel opera and was to debut it the next day.
On 4 hours sleep over 2 nights, not to mention the first jump-in I’d ever done, I hadn’t had chance to stop and think about what a big deal for me this all was. It all came to a head an hour before the show, as I called R and had a mini melt-down. Fully aware of the serenade from the night before, he reiterated that I was ‘simply the best’ person for the job at that moment: No-one else knew the bloomin’ music, for a start! – keeping it real 🙂
I feel immensely proud of the performance, and the audience were incredibly appreciative and supportive. The cast and crew are all amazing, and were so kind to me. My greatest fear was that I would make an error that threw them off, but after my first 20mins of recit and the first aria, I found myself even enjoying myself and adding improvisational vocal decorations (very much expected in this type of music, but usually also very much rehearsed!). How they pack out a theatre during carnival, I don’t know, but it was brilliant. And I’m happy to say that even the duet between myself (front left corner of the stage) and the soprano – centre stage, but 2 metres higher up on scaffolding – was a success!