I thought Horti Hall, the home of the Victorian Opera, was an amusing pun (Horti, get it?), but it turns out to be short for “Horticultural”. The place was originally a meeting hall for the Horticultural Society. Here it is, from the front:
Nice facade, that. Around the back, the building’s roots, as it were, are more clearly seen:
At the end of the first day’s music call, what I love most about opera singers (yes, I have a glass of wine in front of me, and I am full of bonhomie for you all) is their unstinting efforts to be true to what you’ve written. Even if what you’ve written ain’t that good, their first instinct is to have a red-hot go at it, and to raise concerns only after they’ve done so. This has two effects, one good and one not-so. The first – good – is that you try to do better by them, knowing that they will really try to realise what you throw at them. The second – not-so – is that you’ll exercise less old-fashioned craft, knowing that they will really try to realise what you throw at them.
Highlights from Day One:
At one point, David McSkimming, who is conducting my excerpt (and a fine, self-deprecating man he is), turned to me and said, “I like this one.”
I had my ear cocked to a door leading outside, through which could be heard the upper notes of Sandy France’s Playing With Fire, having a piano rehearsal across the way. It sounded most impressive, so I replied, “Yes. Me too.”
I realised then that David was referring to the piece of music on the stand in front of him – something I’d written. So I now sounded, instead of generous, cocky.
“Oh,” I said, trying my best to recover. “Um … oh, right. I thought you meant – out there – thank you. Thanks very much.”
Exactly, I like to think, how George Clooney would have handled it.
Opera is Sexy
Sex was very much on everyone’s minds this afternoon, because I was careful, with the singers, to point out the moments when characters were being seductive, if it wasn’t apparent without context. I like singers to have a good time.
“He knows exactly which buttons to push,” I said of Renard, my lascivious priest, to Julian, the man playing him. “See how he says ‘Tonight, as you lie in bed’ to the girl? That’s outrageous! He seems to mean prayer, but we know what he really means.”
“Ah,” said David McSkimming, a little later. “So, at ‘inside of you‘ we’ll just let the music pause for a little bit, and leave that to sink in for the audience …”
These opera people. Filthy, if you let them be.
How to Get Ahead With Composers
We didn’t get to Joan’s aria today, Joan being the high-strung headmistress of the girls’ school in the piece. The scene is where Joan recounts a very erotic dream she’s been having to her brother. So I said to Maxine, who’s playing Joan, “With your aria, I’m sure you’ve noticed for yourself – ”
“Look, not to piss in your pocket or anything,” says Maxine, “but that is probably the hottest, sexiest aria I have ever had to sing.”
“Ah. So you understand it then.”
“Yes, and if this ever gets – you know – goes ahead, I would kill to play Joan.”
Singers take note: I will now write anything for this woman. Anything. You think other composers aren’t as shallow? Then find me one, just one, who doesn’t want to hear the words “hottest, sexiest aria”.