The production was exciting. Katharina Thoma had such a clear idea of what she wanted and knew both how to encourage you to create it and how to show you how to do it if you were drawing a blank. Add to all of this a very collegial, positive and supportive manner of working, and it you end up with an amazing creative experience. She worked within the limits of every performer, but gently pushed you to try new things, as well.
In the beginning, I didn’t quite understand how the second half of the opera would work with her concept. The piece was set in 1940, in an English country house. The “party” in the prologue was a war-effort fundraiser. At the end of the first act, the house gets bombed in a bomb raid. It worked beautifully with the climax at the end of the Composer’s aria, and made total sense.
The second act seemed to me like it was going to be problematic. Katharina wanted the second half to be set in the same house, now converted into a hospital, about 6 months later. It was no longer “the Opera,” a few minutes later. I didn’t see how this could work with the words. Instead, Ariadne was a suicidal patient, intent on dying and speaking in poetic terms. The Nymphs were now nurses. Listening to the actual words, if you took the references to rocks, islands and waves as poetic images for solitude, it worked fantastically. We, the commedians, were entertainers from ENSA (the English equivalent of the USO), coming to provide a pick-me-up for the patients. Bacchus, described by the Nurses as a “God” was a fighter pilot on the cover of the local newspaper. He ends up parachuting in, and being treated at the hospital. He falls for Ariadne, and ends up healing her with his love… I, in the meantime, have had a nervous breakdown talking about all my ex-lovers (probably dead by now) and the Nurses put me in a straightjacket since I’m being inappropriately sexual… The “boys” come and “spring me” out of the hospital, dressed as nurses. (This part is actually quite fun…) The end of the opera ends in a bit of a more poetic abstraction, when the dividing curtains billow up to create a more abstract landscape for the two lovers to speak of their rhapsody… Knowing the poetry of this piece, the words all worked so cleverly with the concrete, “modern” setting in which Katharina had put our production.
However, the critics and a lot of the public with whom I spoke seemed perturbed by the second half. I only realized WHY when we did the delayed video broadcast on June 4th. I watched a bit of the first half during our hour and a half long break in between acts. (A Glydnebourne tradition to give patrons time to have a picnic in the middle of the opera!)
The supertitles for the opera were hard to understand, did not follow either the poetry nor the play of words that made you realize how clever Katharina’s production was, and the synopsis in the written program gave the “standard” synopsis for the second act, so anyone who read this was expecting a totally different story in the second half. If the synopsis had just been more vague so that people just followed the story being shown with the original words, OR if they had been explained what they were going to see, I’m sure the public would’ve had a much different experience. In this case, though, it was the worst of both worlds, as they were expecting one thing if they’d read the synopsis and then they were not seeing that (not nice to deceive your audience! They don’t appreciate it!) Even if they were just watching the translation, they still weren’t getting a literal translation which helped them correspond what they were seeing with the cleverness of the staging. Frustrating, as I think the production was truly remarkable and clever! AND THOUGHTFUL!
Speaking of thoughtful, Jurowsky is now officially my hero. Besides sacrificing his last orchestra rehearsal in order to give me a Sitzprobe (!) because of my schedule between Glyndebourne and Bregenz, he went above and beyond the call in so many ways.
During our rehearsal process, he kept trying to find ways to further Katharina’s vision of the piece in how we performed the music, as well. I have never had a conductor who was more interested in bringing forward the director’s vision than what his arbitrary vision of the music was. Then, at opening night, probably from all the travel I’d been doing, I ended up with a horrible cramp in my neck. The same place where I’ve had pain and stiffness since a stage accident in 2009, but where I said I was OK at the time, so I can not get any help now from the opera house’s insurance for physiotherapy, etc. Lesson learned there…
On opening night at Glyndebourne, it only started to stick when I started to sing in the first act. It went OK, but I was very stiff from my normally loose self and would have a very painful twinge with certain movements. Since we have a dance call before the second half every show with Jurowsky, he noticed that I was in pain and we desperately tried to find an osteopath or someone to work on my neck during the hour and a half break. Unfortunately nobody was reachable. So Jurowsky came to my dressing room before he went on for the second half and did REIKI on my neck!! How many conductors do you know who would not only spend their break rehearsing, but the precious few minutes before going out for the second act of your first Strauss opera at the opening of the Glydnebourne season, to try and help an ailing colleague??? Uh, none besides this man! Between that and hot and cold packs (and a bit of ibuprofen), I made it through the show with flying colors. I love me some Vladimir Jurowsky!!
One wonderful thing about singing in England is that my husband was able to come and visit me over a few weekends. I love singing in Europe for exactly this reason. We were able to do a little sight-seeing my last weekend over Sussex, visiting Battle, Eastbourne, Seabourne, and Bodiam Castle. Earlier in my trip, I was able to go visit with my dear friend Carolyn in their new house in London. The whole family was able to come see my show (in two installments) and the girls had something to say at Show and Tell the next week! I also got to catch up on some coaching with my favorite coach Jonathan Papp and see my neck specialist Ed Blake. Thank goodness!! The things we singers have to worry about!!