Pimlico is a strange part of London town! Mostly, it’s quite an interesting mix of wealthy and not (as most of London is). However, in April/May of each year, it changes somewhat. Why am I talking about Pimlico you ask?! Well…during these Spring months, the place is awash with singers clutching opera scores in one hand and a mug of lemon & ginger in another, hurrying to get to a 10:30 rehearsal call and “quietly” trying to warm up on the tube by sirening/humming (and yes, I know, it is never as discreet as we think!).
Quite a few well-known opera companies use rehearsal spaces in this area and so, Iford’s Team Bohème also graced Pimlico with their presence for our Sitzprobe. Sitzprobe is a German word translating literally as “seated rehearsal” (interestingly, in Germany, I’ve been told that some don’t actually call it that but rather an “Orchesterprobe” – how logical!). The “Sitz“, as we singers over here call it, is where the singers get to work with the orchestra for the first time and focus solely on the music of the piece. Sometimes it will be the first time the singers have heard the orchestra in action and indeed, it will very often be the first time that the orchestra will have heard the singers in action too. There’s always a great deal of excitement about this day in the rehearsal calendar – people want to sing / play their best and it’s a day to simply revel in the music that you and your fellow cast have been employed to sing.
Our wonderful orchestra is the Chroma Ensemble, who are a small-ish collection of very talented musicians. The arrangement we’re using is a very clever reduction done by the eminent contemporary British composer Jonathan Dove. We kick off with those instantly recognisable quick run of 4 notes that leads us into Puccini’s world of Bohemia. Watching talented orchestral musicians play their instruments is fascinating and this lot seem just as passionate about playing it and eeking out the drama in it as we do! So I know we’re in for a treat.
Although we hardly have enough time to cover the whole piece, we get a lot done in a few hours with our indefatigable conductor Ollie Gooch at the helm picking up on every nuance and every little trick in the book! Even though it’s a much smaller orchestra than one might hear in a bigger opera house, it’s a perfectly formed ensemble with this very imaginative arrangement and in the big moments in Acts 1 and 3 for example, I genuinely didn’t notice the difference, such is the sound of these guys.
We leave the proto-operatic world of Pimlico (!) and return to our rehearsal home of Rotherhithe to start running the show – an opportunity to iron out any issues in the show but also to gather pace and stamina by running large chunks of the show. We also have the “studio run” or what some people call “the floor run”. This is a rehearsal where the entire opera is run as a pseudo-performance with as much set, props and singing as the situation will allow. It is usually viewed by a select few from “the Company” and perhaps a few other invited guests. At our studio run, there were about 20 people dotted around the space watching – our first live audience!! It was the end of a long week so although for me personally, it wasn’t my vocal best, the drama in the piece came to the fore and by the end of the show, it was truly electrifying to be a part of. By all accounts, it was the same in the audience too – being so close to the action, as one is down at Iford, along with director Chris Cowell’s clever and poetic translation, this production allows for true immediacy between the singers and the punters. Therefore, it is the tragedy of the piece that hits hard, which was quite evident when the studio run ended for there was a short silence before the applause, something I love! This is a silence where you know you’ve struck a nerve and the audience have been so gripped by the tragedy they’ve just witnessed that it takes them a few seconds to ease themselves back into the real world and try and form a smile through the tears and tissues! That’s when I know we’ve done our job!
So….we have a show ladies & gents! We all decamp to the rather lovely little pub next door and enjoy a well-earned pub lunch! The next stage is to get the show down to the cloister at Iford and see the set in situ, with lighting, costumes etc.. This is a whole new level of excitement when you see the world of La bohème, visually, becoming more of a reality. Iford, here we come!