Written by Caroline Baum
Week 4: The Opera Centre, Sydney
I don’t know why the German term sitzprobe is used universally for this kind of rehearsal but it translates literally as ‘sitting rehearsal.’ It’s the first encounter between the orchestra and the singers without props or costumes and it’s like a big mapping exercise of how the piece all fits together. It’s a crucial familiarisation and memorising opportunity because once they are in the pit, the musicians often can’t actually hear the singers.
Fitting more than sixty musicians into the Joan Sutherland Studio is a tight squeeze. The singers are on a raised plinth to one side of the orchestra, and the chorus are at the back. Some players are behind acrylic shields to protect them from the volume of the sound at full tilt, because the acoustics in here bear no relation to the theatre and the sound has nowhere to go. Others, like the double bass players, just block their ears when the brass gets loud. The cramped configuration makes the act of singing over the instruments an almost athletic act.
‘The balance will be ok in the pit?’ Maestro Molino asks Tony Legge.
Tony reassures him. The Maestro looks relieved.
As Assistant Music Director, Tony is a human operatic encyclopedia. In his tweedy jackets and jumpers, cufflinks and accent, I’ve cast him in my mind as a slim version of Stephen Fry. Today, underneath the score, which he follows as if he were reading the newspaper, he’s also got a copy of Rugby Tough. Hidden depths…
Later in the afternoon, Bruce, designer John Stoddart and lighting designer Nigel Levings are all in the opera theatre to look at the set for the first time and to finesse details.
The projections look superb and the barn is breathtakingly beautiful with light filtering through its wall slats. It reminds me of the barn in Peter Weir’s Witness. (Although John Stoddart did not design that film, he worked with Weir on The Long Way Back for which he had to design prison bunks, which don’t look that different from the ones in this barn.)
When I ask where he got the look for this production his reply is the now universal answer: Google.
‘Reckon the fire will burn through the first act?’ asks Bruce.
The Maestro is unhappy with the timing of the curtain coming down at the end of Act Two.
‘I don’t want it to come down on Tony’s last words because of the noise the motor makes. Can we wait till the end of the scene?’ he shouts up from the pit.
His wish is swiftly granted.
There’s a tall ladder in the barn scene. I wouldn’t want to have to come down it. Wonder how Tony Griffey feels about it.
The Luger Barry uses at the end of the opera is broken, setting off Bruce’s alarm bells. ‘I had a gun in Fanciulla that never went off. It was ridiculous and it’s made me very wary,’ Bruce grumbles.
Later in the week when it’s fixed, it fires without a hitch but now no one can hear it. Turns out that no one had thought of adjusting the speakers in the auditorium to pick it up. Once that’s sorted, the problem is fixed. One less thing to think about in the final countdown.