Our first production rehearsal is six hours long.
Nick is stuck on a delayed Eurostar, so Duncan is conducting from the piano, Bryony is poised with measuring tape to review costumes, Tom has collected flower pots, (which he later walks into and sends in all directions) baskets, cushions and a watering can, and the floor is marked in discreet black tape to show where the ‘verandah’ will be. We are introduced to Ollie, the assistant director, who has been working with the children; and to the stage management who will have a lot on their hands – good luck ladies!
We get our costume efforts checked over. Briony is thrilled by A, who is perfect apart from lacking a dress-shirt for act III. She likes my act I shirt, and thinks Act II is my pièce de résistance, but Act III is pretty poor which I agree about; 40 charity shops and no tuxedos in my size! So she is going to hire my entire outfit for act III.
I show Tom photos of plant pots and patchwork, and he looks a bit overwhelmed, so I leave them with him to decide what if anything he wants to use.
We have a quick warm up with Duncan, whom I neglected to mention in my last blog! Last week he played the waltz scene with such verve, brio and élan (why is it the French have words for this and we don’t?) that it was all we could do not to dance… he fair played his hands off… anyway back to today:
Harry walks us through our first entrance. This involves us crushing into a tiny space off stage (in the right order, with our baskets) and singing our heads off, then coming in, and arranging ourselves around the ‘garden’ while Larina (Harry, at this point) thanks us for our song and sets up the corn husking contest. This proves a bit harder than you’d think, because there really isn’t room and we can’t see our cue. Fortunately by this time Nick has escaped from the channel tunnel and comes to make the crush even tighter. We can only fit by holding the baskets length ways, which isn’t going to be possible when they are full of corn cobs… and there are 30 children to fit in yet.
Simon Marsh, as Foreman leads the singing. After the first try through the Tenors are asked to sing the first part of the song with our backs to the auditorium, as we are ‘particularly strong’ this year (i.e. twice as many as last year!) and to get on stage fast to give everyone a chance to be out of the hole when it’s their turn to sing. It also means that all us Tenors are on stage when we start our bit, which is a darn good idea, it’s surprisingly exposing being the first or second on stage and having to start singing without the rest of your tribe in sight or hearing.
The corn husking is a riot, and a brilliant idea as The Miller’s Pretty Daughter is a mite cheesy unless there’s a reason to be singing it, and it makes the dreaded tra-la-la at the end into a kind of countdown, which I like. we have a great time pretending to husk cobs, lay bets, urge on our favourites etc … the singing gets a bit lost, especially as we are getting adrift from our voice tribes again, I find myself entirely surrounded by Basses at one point, and lose the plot completely, as their part on one of the trickier phrases is so different I can’t figure out what I should be singing at all. However at other points I am engrossed in the action and singing away without thinking about it; so I’ve obviously learnt more than I think. I’m off the book, anyway – there are the occasional moments when I think:
I know this is one of those all-on-one-note sections… I wonder which note…
This is followed by some faffing about with glasses of lemonade by the ladies of the house – Ollie, Harry and Nick, multi tasking as Larina, Olga, Tatyana and Filipyevna, Nick singing all the parts and Harry and Ollie miming. Then we head off to the ‘kitchen’ and end of our involvement in Act I.
Our action in Act II starts with us ‘sneaking’ into the garden to set up the surprise party for an unappreciative Tatyana. By now we have shed our agricultural worker personas and are Larina’s friends and neighbours, and Tatyana is moping over her broken heart.
Stella Howard and some of the dancers have joined us, and they are the focus of the argument between the hunting enthusiast gents and their ladies:
That ‘makes a nice change from the stag and the hare,’ is distinctly ribald now, and ‘that’s all our menfolk consider amusing,’ an excuse for the Altos to push the Basses around.
Harry calls a halt which my table of old codgers (sorry, Tenors and Basses) pay not attention to and we are complimented on our knowledge of the score.
Cake is eaten (Of course!)
Onegin (Harry) insults Tayiana (Ollie) again, with his choice of birthday gift, to a chorus of reproving Altos.
The younger ladies get a chance to flirt with the military (David Matthews), and then lead a conga, and hail to music is realised as a kind of dignified okey-cokey.
The cotillion is transformed into a game of musical chairs, much to the delight of those playing. Harry is having fun with the idea of Tatiana being a child still on some levels, I’m astonished we aren’t doing pass-the-parcel; or maybe we haven’t got to that yet.
Monsieur Tricquet (Panos Ntourntoufis) arrives and sings his petite chanson to Tatiana (Ollie again),
with many a wistful look and roll of eye. Ollie (sorry, Tatiana) is unmoved, but we tell Panos that his singing is delightful with complete sincerity.
Quite early on this morning Nick declared that we have another Blackheath Halls Community Opera Triumph on our hands.
I think he might be right.
Copyright Cherry Potts 2011