photo by David Corbett
The team is talking about Act II, the Café Momus scene, which, like everything else in this production Gale has transposed from its traditional Parisian locale to Weimar Republic Berlin. ‘Everyone gets a sausage, some bread and a nice bit of garnish on their plates’, says Mat Lawrence, Head of Scenic Props. ‘Good, I want to stay away from food that is too liquid, nods Gale, adding ‘We need a sound effect when Musetta breaks a plate.’ No detail is too small: coins for Schaunard in Act I need to be bent so they don’t roll off the table. Salami needs to be smaller and accompanied by a jar of pickles.
At the end of the meeting, Gale is upbeat, despite a cold picked up on a last minute flying visit to China. Thanking everyone for their contribution she says, ‘It’s rare to feel this positive at this stage.’
But she is also understandably nervous: today is her first encounter with her Mimì, Takesha Meshé Kizart, the American soprano who was such a hit with Sydney audiences when she sang Tosca last year. Takesha’s arrival was delayed by a week, and now she too is unwell, battling a cough. When she arrives from Frankfurt, she looks a little vulnerable, but even her shy giggle is melodic.
In the first run-through of her entrance in Act I she protects her voice, merely speaking her lines. Gale guides her and Korean tenor Ji-Min Park through the delicate choreography of their encounter mapping out where she faints, where her head should land. ‘Touch her face like eggshells,’ says Gale to Ji-Min, demonstrating. She extracts every drop of juice from the libretto, taking ownership of it, while checking that she is not in conflict with the score. Turning to conductor Brian Castles-Onion she asks: ‘Can I drop him sprinkling water on her face?’ Castles-Onion nods. By the end of their first session together, Takesha feels confident enough to try a few notes. The effect hints at thrills to come.
After lunch a buzzing in the corridor suggests a large swarm of bees is on approach.
But no, it’s just the chorus. ‘Where are my topless prostitutes please?’ shouts Gale above the noise. She has to do a lot of shushing to get them to settle down and focus. To add to the challenge of marshalling forty people in high spirits, each with something individual to do, the scene takes place on a revolving stage, which has been rigged up in the rehearsal studio. The operator warns everyone when it is about to move and when it is about to stop ‘jolt coming now everyone!’ Later on in the day those words resonate very differently with news of the Japanese earthquake.
Book tickets to see La bohème at the Sydney Opera House, from 31 December 2012.