The Sun has made a fabulously well-timed appearance as we all descend on the grounds of Iford Manor. The Sun bathes the Cotswold stone in a yellow glow and the beautiful round purple flowers (I’m told they’re called “”) are in full bloom. I decide that this isn’t a bad place to work!!! We all collect in the Cloister building for the first time, designers, directorial team, musical staff, company representatives, cast etc. and there’s a certain excitement for the coming week. We know we have a good show…now, we get to play around on set with the real props and costumes and make the show come alive!
The first couple of days are spent sorting out any technical issues e.g. scene changes, props available and working etc.. Interestingly, as the Cloister is an open building as part of the Iford Manor grounds, we have tour parties coming into the Cloister and sitting down for a few minute snippet of the opera whilst we’re rehearsing it – the cheapest ticket of the season! As the sun beats down, we are reminded that wearing thick coats and acting cold in the opera might prove a little difficult….still, mustn’t complain about the weather lest it turns! Taking advantage of such weather, I walked from Bradford-on-Avon to the Manor for rehearsals today rambling through such quintessentially English countryside – rolling hills, sheep grazing, parish churches nestling into the landscape and bridleways leading through ancient woods – all leading down to the splendour of Iford Manor, with its stunning bridge, babbling river and incredible gardens. If that wasn’t enough, the wonderful staff and volunteers here always ensure that we are well-fed and watered by catering for us at meal times and baking some truly Bake-Off worthy cakes! I really am grateful to work in such places and also with companies who look after their artists so well.
The orchestra arrive and there is a frisson of excitement in the Cloister – we run sections of the show, preparing for the dress rehearsal the next day and everyone is raising their game. Inevitably, there are technical things that go wrong but that’s exactly what these stage rehearsals are here for. The dress rehearsal runs by with a few things that went to plan and a few things that didn’t! It’s been a long few days – we’d sung pretty much a Bohème and half the day before the dress rehearsal so it was good stamina training at the very least!
The weather tempers slightly for opening night but not our spirits – everyone is in high spirits and Act 1 kicks off with a real crack of energy. I hilariously failed to blow out my candle when Mimi enters so, after a second more successful attempt, I then had to quickly fit my words in double-speed before Mimi’s next line! Something also flew into my mouth at the beginning of Act 4 so giving me a coughing fit (as well as Mimi!) so the audience might have thought we were both done for!! A few other first night nerves inevitably creep in throughout the show but mostly, it was a huge success. How do I gauge this? There was that deathly silence at the end of the show before the applause! We’d moved the audience! Ultimately, that’s what a show like this in a space like this should do. Audiences of course appreciate the sets, the costumes, the setting, the orchestra, the voices etc. but if you’re not drawn into the drama of the story at such close quarters, then someone is doing something wrong! I think we’ve got one helluva show on our hands. It’s been a challenging but rewarding process for me personally and I’m loving being a part of it (even if acting cold whilst sweating profusely is a little challenging). Here’s to the rest of the run!