photo by David Corbett
Rodolfo is texting, waiting for Marcello to show up for a music rehearsal for La bohème.
Maestro Christian Badea paces the Opera Australia rehearsal room, cracking jokes. He may be Romanian by birth but when he speaks he sounds like a don in a Scorsese movie. There’s a ripe ‘don’t mess with me’ roundness to his vowels, an accent that betrays years studying in New York and then working in Savannah. It’s his first time in Australia.
He picks over the score of acts three and four in forensic detail, a musical detective sifting through evidence to examine the nuances of every phrase, correcting tempi with a hint here and there about emphasis and diction.
‘I know you are a great Tosca, Takesha, but right now I need you to be shy and gentle as a wallflower. You will die beautifully and with passion,’ he adds, ‘ but not just yet!’
He keeps the mood in the room light, energetic - serious and playful at the same time. It’s quite a skill to be authoritative without being heavy and makes the process, which is very detailed and focused, look deceptively easy. I realise what I’m really watching is the building up of trust to make the singers feel they are in safe hands.
To Takesha: ‘That was good, it was about sixty per cent, but I want you to go for broke here, really push me backwards. Don’t worry, I’m not going to make you sing too much or you’ll kill yourself.’
To Marcello: ‘It’s Mi-Mi , not Mi-Mee - too heavy.’
And : ‘Sing out more! She’s the one who’s sick, not you. You are the good guy, you care about her so be generous , you are like an older brother to her, don’t be too reserved.’
And: ‘We have to milk the money notes not the transitions.’
And: ‘Marcello, here the character is rather edgy and kinda crunchy’
Takesha laughs: ‘Crunchy... I like that’
The Maestro again: ‘You are both young, too many ralentandos and you will end up sounding middle-aged!’
To Musetta: ‘I think you should slap him (Marcello) at this point otherwise what he’s doing is domestic abuse. Is Gale asking you to do that?’
‘Great, then he gets excited and they can have lovely make-up sex later,’ jokes the maestro.
Which is probably exactly what Puccini was thinking.
Read the next installment of 'Backstage with the Bohemians', or skip to part 1...3, 4, 5, 6.
Book tickets to see La bohème at the Sydney Opera House, from 31 December 2012.