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Director's Diary: Ghost makeup and a new arrival

Set, costume and makeup, it's all looking as sleek as we hoped. And best of all - our Dutchman, Iain Paterson, arrives in Bergen!

Week 2  

I’m writing this on the eve of week 2. A lot has happened since I last posted - firstly I have moved into an apartment two minutes walk from the theatre, and the difference to my London commute to work is little short of amazing. You mean I don’t have to travel for 50 minutes to get to work? I can live with that. Plus the Wi-fi is strong in the apartment (essential for the international visitor!) and I can use my Netflix account on the enormous flatscreen TV. Happy days. Home until mid-March.  Early in the week, Bridget Kimak the designer receives new images from the Viennese set-builders - and it is looking so good, as sleek as we always envisioned it.


The main news, however, is that this week a Flying Dutchman flew in from Amsterdam (see what I did there?) and we rehearsed the rest of the show, with every scene now on its feet apart from the big chorus sequences. Having finished on stage in Tristan und Isolde in Amsterdam at 11:30 at night, Iain Paterson was sounding magnificent in our Bergen rehearsal room in the bowels of Grieghallen by 3:00 the following afternoon. I’m always amazed at the capacity of opera singers to carry more than one huge role in their heads at a time; I once saw a singer on contract to an opera house where I was working rehearse Enrico in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor with me in the morning, move on to revival calls for Marcello in Puccini’s La bohème in the afternoon for a performance later in the week and then perform Rossini’s Figaro in the evening - that’s admittedly an exceptional day (not to say badly-scheduled) and he was truly exhausted when I saw him unconscious with an empty glass in his hand in the theatre bar after the show that night. The focus and precision needed had been huge and he had nothing left to give. Iain was probably glad to get to his accommodation that first night in Bergen, but he kept working at full stretch until the last minute of the call - a true pro. Plus, when he “marks” his voice to preserve it by not singing at full volume or down the octave, he knows to keep acting just as much if not a little more.

Rehearsals 180218 Iain Nett

Even after such a hectic international schedule, Iain has been charm itself in rehearsals, hugging all his old BNO friends from his time here as the Forester in The Cunning Little Vixen five years ago. It was moving to see him and Eric Halfvarson (our Daland) greet each other after a few years of not working together - brothers-in-arms from many a show together, their joy in being with each other again on stage is palpable. Very few performers can sing this heavy repertoire, so these experienced Wagnerians are bumping into the same group of people in opera houses all over the world.

In the middle of all this, we bring in one of our local Bergen chorus, Joel Ahlbom Armelius, for a make-up test to see what the Holländer’s undead crew will look like. Bridget and our head of make-up and wigs, Kati Sjögren, work their magic and soon a first idea of what these poor lost souls might look like begins to appear. Bloodless and pale, collateral damage from the Holländer’s fate as they are cursed to accompany him on his endless travels, the Dutch crew long for the release of death as much as the Holländer himself.

Ghost Joel Johnblog

We get a shape on all Iain’s scenes in a very short time, Iain having many good ideas and thoughts as I knew he would, and by the end of the second Sunday of rehearsals, all the principals’ scenes are staged, and have mostly been looked at more than once. The detail we are getting is terrific, and Iain wisely sings out for most of his rehearsals making sure he can be this detailed while fully singing this demanding role. I like to send out written notes after a run of a scene or act, not necessarily just correcting errors (which is always a dull note to give) but suggesting new subtexts, new avenues to explore the next time we look at a scene, new conversations we can have about the piece. Nobody is in the mood for detailed notes at the end of a rehearsal, nobody wants to be kept after a rehearsal officially ends for notes, so I write them up and email them out. People can read them when they are ready to read them, and I sometimes get to watch the scene the next time and the changes miraculously occur.

Rehearsals 180218 Halvforsen Nett

Which is exactly what happens when we look at the Daland/Holländer scene for the third time - these seasoned professionals have absorbed the emailed notes and then they make them happen in the scene in a really considered way. It sounds like it should happen every time, but I can assure you it doesn’t. Thrillingly, the Holländer/Senta duets are proving to be very special and intense as well, Elisabeth Teige and Iain bringing out the best in each other and feeding off each other’s energy, as scene partners always should. Having fully recovered from her cold of the first week, Elisabeth is now going from strength to strength, and I can’t wait for the Bergen audiences to hear her.

Rehearsals 180218 Eli Iain Nett

And as I write on our second Sunday in Bergen, with the third week about to start (how have I only been here 14 days, I feel like I’ve never lived anywhere else....), the chorus have now arrived in the city and their musical rehearsals have begun. It shall be an exciting week three, getting to know lots of new artists and working with former students who are now friends and colleagues out in the industry. It’s becoming a busy time for Simon Kirkbride from the Edvard Grieg Kor, who employs and administers all the professional singers in the 48 strong chorus, Håkon Matti Skrede the Chorus Master, and our Production Manager Vilde Gustavsen, as they ensure everything for the chorus is ready, everyone is happy, and everyone is prepared for rehearsals to begin. So many essential people are involved in the smooth production of a grand opera, and they don’t get much grander than Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer.

See also:
Director's diary: An opera in the making
Director's diary: Rehearsals start in Bergen
Tickets and more info

Photos: From rehearsals in Grieghallen, Friday 16th February 2018

The Flying Dutchman by Wagner
Premiere in Bergen 10th March, also 12th, 14th and 16th March. 

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