The second of our back to back rehearsals. Saturday afternoon, and we have added Andrew Greenan as Gremin, to our principals. We at last get a proper go at Act III and Stella and the dancers from Laban Youth Dance are back to present a divertissement at Gremin’s society party.
Harry explains that this is a very cold, brittle, affair; the audience like to think they are sophisticates, but have no culture and are easily pleased. He tells us a story about the first production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Glyndbourne: two dowager types on their way home, one of them says to the other, so what did you think of the new Mozart? Her companion replies, No dear, I think this was by Benjamin Britten, to which first dowager retorts, nonsense darling, Glyndbourne only ever do Mozart.
This is the milieu we are aiming at. We are diplomats and tycoons (and very possibly mafiosi) and we accept that anything anyone as well-heeled as Gremin produces must be art.
When Tatyana appears, she is doing the official ‘so how long have you been dancing?’ thing with Stella’s crew, and we are eagerly awaiting any opportunity to meet (or claim to have met) the glamorous Ms Gremina. BUT then…
I shan’t spoil it for those who don’t know the story!
Andrew Greenan had a lot of us in tears or close to, with his aria confessing his devotion to Tatyana. We listened with wrapt attention. He has an astonishing Bass voice: very clear, even on very low notes; it sounds like he is tapping into the earth to produce the note… as Simon Marsh, our lead peasant says, in bemusement, it’s like a singing volcano. Several of us were muttering I wish I could do that, with considerable envy.
Having worked through Act III a few times we go back to Act II, and I am in tears again, when Nick Sharratt as Lensky is breaking his heart over Olga’s apparent betrayal. I opened my mouth to sing and could produce nothing but a strangled squeak, not remotely musical. There is something about being so close to the action that makes it hard to just listen for your cue, nonetheless, note to self: try not to get so involved!
Lensky comes to sit at our table while he is working himself up to accuse Onegin, it feels very odd to be singing what a party with him sitting there in a mood; I must ask Harry if we can turn it into something, a sort of ‘buck up old chap’ moment, offering him a beer and a consoling clap on the shoulder or something, which he can reject and continue to wallow in his misery the more effectively.
Eugene Onegin is one of those stories where you want to knock a few heads together, but Nick and Damian (Onegin), and Katie as Olga, act it so beautifully that you forget how stupid they are all being. I find myself thinking, If only Lensky hadn’t brought Onegin with him to visit the Larin household… I have a copy of the Pushkin poem tucked away somewhere, a very nice copy bound in ivory calfskin, I must dig it out and see how many liberties Tchaikovsky (or his librettist) took with the original (to say nothing of the translator of course, and then Harry & Nick have both tweaked a word here or there), because this is the most fabulous exercise in immersion learning, so it would be nice to check whether I’m learning the actual Pushkin or a variant of it.
If it seems like Tatyana isn’t getting much of a look in from this blog, I’d like to point out that apart from her meeting with Onegin in Act III, which Kate Valentine gives all the anguish it deserves, all camouflaged by bright conversation (I think we’ve met before?); most of her big scenes happen when we are off stage, so I’ve not had a chance to see or hear Kate really get going. This is the one disadvantage to being in the chorus of a fully staged production, we never get to see the whole thing. When we did Dido and Aeneas it was only semi-staged and the chorus was on stage throughout, which meant we got to enjoy the production in full.
It was Duncan’s birthday, (Duncan Robertson, our assistant musical director, owner of the fastest piano playing hands in … ) so he got his own personalised chorus of a certain well-known number.
Harry went straight off to watch the final night of Handel’s Rinaldo at the Halls (which he also directed) … and so did we!
Copyright Cherry Potts 2011