It can’t be an easy task changing the sets night after night from Don Giovanni’s wooden-panelled living room resembling a gentlemen’s club (and I don’t mean “Spearmint Rhino”) to the flamboyant circus-top housing Rigoletto’s world. The wardrobes of the two productions are also very different, the latter perhaps having a limited budget (the many bare-torsoed men and women in scanty undergarments) whilst in the Mozart it seems that the cast rummaged around in a dressing-up box blindfolded before walking on stage.
The opening night of Rigoletto was hot and humid which attracted a great swarm of flies, our stand lights glowing like beacons, calling to them in the dark. The orchestra turned into a bodily moving mass – as one, crazily swatting, bow swishing and frantic head scratching. Relieved to escape for the interval, players muttered darkly about a “repeat of Toronto” and for those who hadn’t been at our outdoor Beethoven 9 concert on a muggy September day two years ago, we conjured up images with film titles such as “Swarm”, “When insects attack” and “Flying ants – The return, 3D”. The last time I had been this popular was at the Cours Mirabeau concert last week where I was the only person with hand sanitizer near the portaloos. I dearly wished for a can of “Raid” but in my enthusiasm for insect death we’d probably all have choked in a cloud of toxic spray hovering over the Pit.
I felt pretty sorry for the singers under all their stage lights as no doubt they were being attacked without the luxury of being able to swat the air like loonies. I’m sure some of them swallowed extra protein onstage that night. Amusingly the next Rigoletto show, as we turned the 80 odd pages, revealed an insect graveyard. I guess there are worse places to snuff it than being squashed within the pages of fabulous music.
The opening night of Don Giovanni saw the Commendatore singing from the Pit about four hours into the opera. The director felt this would be rather like a voice from hell (sure was hellish in the Pit the night before with the flies) unseen by the audience. We were amused to see some front row-ers peering over at us as if someone in the orchestra had decided to just start belting out one of the most iconic moments of the opera. That said, at the end of Act two in Rigoletto I do join the the fantastic Irina Lunghu in her top E flat to the amusement and shock of my colleagues. Sadly I realise as I concentrate on hitting the top note with my voice, my violin playing leaves a lot to be desired.
The Aix Festival, as is their custom, had generously set out free bottles of wine for the orchestra on both opening nights. Sitting in the green room I was witness to faces lighting up in pure joy as they spotted the sight, and certain people took two vowing, “it’s not all for me”. Uh huh. I’d be very interested to know how many bottles of vino have been consumed in the three weeks we have been in Aix. I really hope there’s a good bottle recycling plant near Aix as it’s thirsty work playing all these notes in the heat. It would make me feel better about counting the boules of ice cream I’m having (I decided to stop when I reached double figures within the first week).
Happy to be supremely lazy with the excuse of saving my energy for the shows, I watch with interest the numerous excursions my colleagues undertake such as visiting Lac de Sainte Croix, Les Calanques, Ansouis, Cassis to name a few. Rod (one of our principal trumpets at the hotel) plays football most days and even scored against a young Brazilian man he later found to be Marseilles’ third goalkeeper and forty-odd years his junior. Some have climbed the Sainte Victoire excruciatingly early to see the stunning sunrise, most frequent the many markets for fresh produce and I’m told there’s French tat to buy too. (I wonder why they tell me this?) One friend, who shall remain nameless, stays in his room watching French TV all day. Apart from boosting the French economy by visiting the many boutiques, (I’m welcomed with open arms as being Chinese they assume I’m blowing my nose with €500 notes) this is how I spend most of my waking hours…