Amazingly, I remembered the twisting journey down to the bowels of the Archeveche as if the operas of two years ago were only yesterday. There’s not enough room to swing a cat (preferably the scary wild one that ran through the pit last time during the death scene in Traviata) backstage, although Pat Lawrence did once try pole dancing when he thought no one was looking. On finally entering the Pit we were pleased to discover that the acoustic had improved dramatically owing to stuffing (trapped orchestral players?) being removed from the Pit walls. Speaking of the Pit walls, sadly these had either been painted over or changed so my 2011 graffiti (Max woz ‘ere/bling4eva) was gone.
Playing in the Pit, especially an outdoor one, is an unusual experience for us. We have long pegs which resemble tongs u might find in your kitchen drawer. These are to stop pages flapping over when the mistral blows, and boy it’s been blowing this last week! The first nighttime rehearsal saw people grabbing emergency fleeces/scarves from their cars that were never really designed to be seen by colleagues. Gianandrea Noseda even offered me his coat when he saw my blue lips were not a fashion statement. It looked like the Aix festival might have to get a new sponsor: North Face.
The biggest challenge for us though is space, i.e. there’s very little of it. Certainly anyone lined up against the Pit wall will probably be seeing an osteopath in the weeks after we get home. On stage in concerts we are used to seeing the woodwinds and brass raised up behind the strings but here they are lower and the brass, far off to the right somewhere. I haven’t actually spotted them yet. Also the hazards of being outside mean we are open to the elements and also unwelcome deposits from birds which unluckily Belinda discovered yesterday.
I’m very lucky in the operas as I have an (albeit cramped) seat on the outside line of violins. This means I can see about 50% of the stage without having to strain my neck. The opening scene in Rigoletto is meant to depict an orgy. Opera directors over the years have used their own artistic licence to show this, ranging from implied shenanigans to full on male nudity at the Royal Opera House (thanks to Sylvain for this snippet of info, I wonder how he knew??). In this production there are a group of dancing girls cavorting around in their underwear but, who, we are reliably informed, will be stripping off completely come the show. Now it’s hard for me to describe the general feeling of the orchestral men when these girls danced onto the stage but I haven’t seen that much tongue lolling and drooling since I last watched Crufts. (Thanks Dave Jackson for this perfect photo of pure LSO concentration)
Don Giovanni presents its own problems. Marc Minkowski wanted the same forces but squashed into a much tighter space. We are now joined by the virtuosic pianoforte raised up on stilts so it is level almost with the stage. At times, the Estonian men’s chorus pile into the Pit en masse, apparently wafting beer smells. Not sure if this was a complaint or just plain envy from the violas who mentioned it.. The Pit has actually been raised to change the sound so the ledge where I could rest my elbow on in Rigoletto twenty-four hours ago is now too low, not that I was slacking off in rehearsals or anything.
Days have fallen into a chilled out relaxing pattern. Being here in Aix is really like being on a completely different time zone. Since the operas don’t start til after 9, it does mean they go on until the next day. I, for one, am not rising before the day gets into double digits. I made the amateur error of getting burnt my first day out in the sun after Rod Franks let me have the red lilo he had bought on the first day and no longer needed. (I think it’s really because he found the bikinied woman on the cover wasn’t included in the package.) I swear he blew the lilo up in one puff. We are occasionally joined poolside by interlopers who hired apartments in town but miss having a pool. My hub is considering doing likewise – don’t be surprised if you find him sitting in your front room, watching tv, drinking your wine…