One of the delights of being involved in the community opera at Blackheath Halls is working with the Blackheath Halls Community Orchestra. We don’t get to hear what they are up to until the sitz probe, when we run through the entire opera and work out the corners. This is one of my favourite sessions, because we rarely hear the whole work. Then we get two stage & orchestra rehearsals and a couple of dress rehearsals (two of everything because of the split between the schools we are working with) to get used to what the music sounds like full on, before the first night.
And very necessary it is too, when we’ve been working with a piano accompaniment up until then. Jeremy, our assistant musical director plays a cut down version of the orchestral score magnificently, and it doesn’t always seem possible that he has enough fingers.
I wonder how much attention the audience pay to the orchestra, there is so much going on in an opera, although they are at least visible in our production.
I know I listen differently as a performer to how I would as an audience member – ear tuned to the instrument that will play the note I need a bar and a half before I have to sing it, that sort of thing; making it hard to take in the whole, but two things really struck me last night during the first performance of Idomeneo.
One was how very full and brassy the sound is considering how little brass there is playing – Mozart makes fantastic use of horns, but that’s about it.
The other was during a brief interlude when the tenors & basses are up with the orchestra for our ‘off stage’ chorus of drowning mariners during the storm. We all creep on and lurk at the side and wait for our cue. This gives us an unusual ‘conductor’s eye view’ of the orchestra. I can’t imagine the concentration and eye for detail it takes to conduct an opera, with orchestra soloists and chorus to pay attention to – I couldn’t even begin to make sense of the full score. Nick Jenkins, I salute you! Anyway while waiting for the music to cue us in, I noticed these waves of movement going through; not the documentary film cliché of the bows all moving at the same time (although of course they do), but for example, a point at which all the violins put down their bows as one, and plucked the strings instead. It was an incredibly elegant little movement, which delighted me – and then I had to get on with singing and had no thought for anything but coming in correctly on the tricky bit…