Updated: Apr 19
“There are two sighs of relief every night in the life of an opera…the first comes when the curtain goes up. The second sigh of relief comes when the final curtain goes down without any disaster, and one realises, gratefully, that the miracle has happened again.”
So said Sir Rudolf Bing, General Manager at Glyndebourne between 1936 and 1949, founder and first director of the Edinburgh Festival, and subsequently GM at The Metropolitan Opera for 22 years.
Last night we performed a staged opera that is almost 283 years old, to the day. I was beyond proud to introduce the cast and company of Gertrude Opera, in our outdoor opera-as-theatre picnic opera at Noorilim, in our 10th anniversary year.
After a summer of barely any rain, the weather turned petulant on the day of our only outdoor performance, but as our patrons arrived, armed with picnic baskets, raincoats, hats and scarves, as if our lighting operator had flicked her switch, a bright blue sky appeared, and the rain stayed away until just as the final applause died down.
In regional Victoria with a cast, orchestra, creative team and production crew of many birthplaces, backgrounds, ideas, beliefs, hopes - we performed the work of a brilliant German composer. Georg Frederich Händel’s Alcina - written in Italian, yesterday sung in English with a wise and witty translation by the insightful writer Amanda Holden, who lives in London. After working in Germany and Italy, Händel settled in England. It is that exchange of ideas, minding sensibilities and mixing of cultures that opera stands for. From the audience to the performers, we each have a human story: our stories and our emotions connect us, and are not confined to a particular language or a socio-economic group. What is unique, is the individual and group voices of the performers - given gratis to the audience are their tools, their time, their dedication in preparing to perform (how much simpler would it be to do a concert performance with everyone using a score...!). A staged performance involves the inexplicable - and actually, even with a ticket price is priceless: voices that vibrate through the bodies of the audience, communication on stage that reaches into hearts off stage cannot be monetised.
Congratulations are coming in thick and fast, and the intense workload and pressures of the lead-up pale into insignificance, as the realisation hits that again, people loved the opera, and are asking about repertoire and dates for the next one. It is inexpressibly rewarding for the opera I direct and/or produce, or sing, to bring genuine joy and meaning to lives of people I do and do not know. I wake up from the exhaustion and exhilaration of it all, and realise that despite the difficulties, I love showcasing opera-as-theatre in comparatively intimate, non-traditional surroundings, giving opportunity for professional singers be brilliant in major roles that they otherwise wouldn't have done, and helping the next generation of performers make debuts on the opera stage with some of the best in the industry. And surviving and relishing the process thanks to some heaven-sent souls, minds and imaginations. You know who you are.
It is difficult to luxuriate in the ‘old-country’ elements of opera in beautiful surroundings, without adding to the impression of exclusivity - especially when we want to encourage a broad audience, and particularly those who have never been to ‘the opera’ before. One of the elements of which we are most proud is the make up of Gertrude Opera’s audience: genuinely diverse - all ages, backgrounds, cultures. Opera cannot be fairly said to be ‘high-brow’ when at a non-traditional venue, with free-choice dress code, and BYO food. However it is, and will always be, an 'elite' activity for those performing and presenting it - there is no other way to do justice to 400+ years of a western musical-dramatic tradition in terms of quality, achievement and dedication than to reach elite level. There is however, no demographic barrier to the enjoyment of something at the very top end of human endeavour - except perhaps cost, which is where philanthropy can step in to have the most broad impact, and over the next few years, I would hope we might be in a financial position to develop that aspect of our operations. All it would take is money.
“The opera always loses money. That’s as it should be. Opera has no business making money.” Rudolf Bing, again...,
A comforting thought, as we head into a major fundraising campaign with grand plans for our second decade and beyond. Hat is out. If you came along, and have the capacity to pay more, we'd love you to make an extra (tax-deductible) donation. If you couldn't be there, have read this far and want to see our "excellent" intrepid opera activity in non-traditional venues continue, and grow, please help. Donation link right here