Festival and Tour 2011

Stage-Write: The next generation 

Thomasin Trezise of the Glyndebourne chorus is our intrepid backstage blogger.

Rusalka understudy rehearsal, Festival 2011
Thomasin as a Wood Nymph in rehearsals at Glyndebourne, Festival 2011

About Thomasin

Thomasin Trezise was born in Brighton and studied at the Royal College of Music. Thomasin’s singing career has been more maverick than some, including Music Theatre, piano vocalist at Mayfair’s Tiddy Dols Restaurant and vocals on Lord of the RingsStar Wars and the Harry Potter films.

Operatic roles include Second Nymph (Rusalka) and Mrs Herring (Albert Herring) for Glyndebourne; Angelina (La Cenerentola) and Mimi (La bohème) for Garden Opera; Orlofsky (Die Fledermaus) for Ludo Productions at the Brighton Festival; Valencienne (The Merry Widow) and Despina (Così fan tutte) for Opera UK and Olga (Eugene Onegin) and Dorabella (Così fan tutte) for Music Theatre London. 

She started singing at Glyndebourne in 2003.

7 December - Final week of tour

I like Plymouth!  Don’t get me wrong, I like Norwich too, but there is something about Plymouth…

For a start we all tend to stay very close together, within a stone’s throw of the Hoe, Barbican and The Theatre.  This creates a kind of community spirit because we are all walking in roughly the same direction when we leave the theatre, and can all enjoy the hospitality that Plymouth offers without worrying about driving anywhere.  And what hospitality…  Plymouth is a foodie’s and a drinkie’s heaven.  From the Plymouth Gin Factory’s own cocktail bar and restaurant, The Barbican Kitchen, to wonderful fresh Fish and Chips down at the Barbican harbour.  There is also a chocolate cream tea café.  Bear with me..  Yes, chocolate cream tea.  They make their own scones with Belgian chocolate chips in, then you pile on the jam and clotted cream.  The finishing touch is a jug of warm Belgian pouring chocolate…  I’ll just let you think about that for a while.

Norwich and Wimbledon were great too.  Wimbledon was not uneventful:  On the first night of Don Pasquale the revolve completely failed us and the show had to be stopped after only about five minutes.  It was a while before we in the ladies dressing room noticed.  This is our time for applying white make-up,  gossiping, and complaining about said make-up.  The noise levels can get a little high and it wasn’t until someone said ‘Hasn’t it gone quiet?’ that we noticed the music had stopped.  For those that don’t know, every dressing-room in a theatre has a little speaker in it which relays the show so that you always know where you are.  It is interrupted by calls to the stage from the stage manager.  These are made from the side of the stage and come in about five to ten minutes before you’re due on stage to give you plenty of time to get there.  Anyway, it turned out the machine that operates the revolve had been put inside a cupboard and had overheated.  It started to go REALLY fast, which I thought would have been fun, so was a bit disappointed when they jammed the cupboard door open to keep the machine cool. But at least it sorted out the problem and we were all systems go again.  There’s more..!  The tenor singing Rodolfo was very ill on the Friday and the understudy David Butt Philip was on.  He did a fantastic job.  Quite a week.

One more week left!!!  Stoke On Trent.  I have a nightmarish memory of driving to Stoke from home (Hastings) this time last year.  Do you remember?  Heavy snow all the way.  There were a few moments when I thought I would have to abandon the car.  Hideous.  Let us all give thanks for the gentle way we have been introduced to Winter this year. 

Now I’m going to pack warm clothes-it’s chilly oop North you know- and see if I can track down a picture of me enjoying a chocolate cream tea from last year.  If I remember I look like a child who has run through a chocolate fountain.  Watch this space…

14 November 2011 - Two weeks in.

Well here we are, already two weeks on the road. We’ve wowed Woking and marvelled Milton Keynes.  Well, we’ve been there and done the shows, anyway.

 So far there is nothing to report; the revolve was very sluggish on Tuesday in Milton Keynes. Fortunately a few quick-thinking chorus managed to get it going, much as you would a roundabout-one foot on, one foot off and push hard.  I’m sure Sophie’s blog will tell you exactly what happened.  I have to say that I didn’t really notice until I found myself walking into the person next to me, compensating for a revolve that wasn’t happening.  I’d like to say that was because I was so focused on the music; so I will.

Socially I think it would be fair to day that we took full advantage of the leisure activities that each town had to offer.  On Friday in Milton Keynes a few of us were seated and ordered in the Chinese Restaurant round the corner from the theatre by 9.15!  That’s what I love about La Boheme; it’s so short.  Throw in the fact that the chorus are released soon after the interval and you have a performance night made in heaven.  Most of the ladies of the chorus have now learnt, the hard way, that it’s mistake to eat too much on the day of a Don Pasquale performance.  The painful ordeal of getting into the corsets afterwards, both for us and the dressers, means it’s simply not worth it.  These are days for a generous brunch and a light nibbly dinner.

It must seem to you readers out there that I and my colleagues are overly fixated on matters earthly and not enough on the art.  We are all dedicated artists, of course.  But take care of the artists and the art takes care of itself.

See ya.

24 October 2011: The last week at Glyndebourne.

Well hello!

Here we are with only one week of performances left at Glyndebourne before we hit the road.  How time flies when one is enjoying oneself.

I mentioned the contrast between La Boheme (modern dress) and Don Pasquale (eighteenth century loveliness); this is becoming more and more marked the more shows we do.  I can arrive for Boheme, do our bit and leave in the same make-up, and the costumes are very easy. While they are not precisely what one would wear for Christmas shopping, you can put them on on your own.  There are exeptions; the two transvestites take AGES to get in to their outfits.  I suppose the homeless characters have to take a little time as well.  I’m not giving any more away, you’ll have to try and catch it on tour.

Don Pasquale is a very different affair altogether:  We have to cover our faces, chests and what shows of our arms and hands with white make-up, get put into heavily powdered wigs and feathers and forced into very tightly corseted dresses.  The whole thing takes a while, not least because it’s quite tricky to get the white make-up to cover evenly.  Actually, it’s not dead white, it has a hint of pink, but it’s many shades paler than most of us. 

I’d like now, with your indulgence, to discuss the different merits of white make-up types:   We have been given pan-stick, which is solid and (I believe) oil-based, liquid which is water-based and 2 forms of powder.   We are meant to use the liquid on our bodies,  the pan-stick on our faces and the powder to cover it all. All this, incidently, without getting a scrap on our fantastic cream costumes.  The liquid seems to react to anything else you may have on your skin, like moisturiser, in a rather unfortunate way.  If I mention skin disease you’ll know what I mean.  Unfortunately, once it’s started to congeal on your skin it’s pointless trying to make good with a damp sponge.  The only thing to do is start again.  Having had this experience once I now use the pan-stick on my chest as well as my face. Come on!  I’m 40!  I’m not leaving the house without moisturiser on my décolleté!  Then, one day someone brought down a pressed mineral powder that has the same white/pink tint in it.  This went on easily and made your skin look velvety and perfect.  I immediately asked for more.  Alas, A La Carte have made it up bespoke for Glyndebourne and there is not enough, so when it’s gone it’s gone.  Swings and roundabouts, all good things must come to an end, hey ho.

Bored?  Well I’m sorry.  I’ll change the subject.  Don Pasquale has reminded me of my childhood.  There is a duet between the soprano and tenor where they have a picnic and almost eat some Battenburg cake.  I’m sure they’ve chosen Battenburg because it matches the set.  I used to LOVE that cake!  I could actually taste a difference between the pink squares and the yellow squares, and had to separate them before I would consider eating it.  It’s very tantalising being on stage and watching them build up to the moment where they almost take a bite. I’ve started to salivate a little, like one of Pavlov’s dogs.  After the scene, while the rest of the Pavlov’s dogs in the chorus descend on the cake, I find my desire for it gone.  I wouldn’t want it, even if I stood a chance of getting any.

Had enough?  So have I.

See ya.

September 14 2011: The Tour begins...

So here we are, half way through week two of the Tour rehearsal period. Everything happens more quickly than it does in the Festival; we had but a week to learn the music to both bohème and Don Pasquale before the stage rehearsals began. There isn’t a lot, but it stretched one a little.  

Both operas are in Italian. Having spent the summer singing in German, which is actually closer to English, I have been reminded just how difficult it is for us to get our tongues round the language of so much opera. Italian pronounciation is so very different to English. It’s a real task throwing off the splashy, wet consonants and diphthong- ridden sounds that we have been making from birth. It is a challenge worth rising to, however; Italian makes singing so much better, and we apply many of its sounds to other less singer-friendly languages.

Another thing that both productions have in common is that they both use a revolve.  This simply means that the centre section of the stage has the capacity to turn around. It also means that there is more to go wrong. Stage management are not always big fans of the revolve; they have to be extra vigilant in case un-coordinated members of the company get thrown off in all directions. Seriously though, it doesn’t move that quickly, and the chances are the worst that can happen is that you stagger a bit and lose your dignity and balance. The mechanics of the revolve seem to be more of a problem than anything else it doesn’t always work. It’s like cars and computers. There’s no consistency.

The Don Pasquale set is very easy on the eye, and the costumes are GORGEOUS.  Did I mention that in the last blog? Probably, it is nice, having lovely things to wear.  Obviously I can’t tell you too much, but I may drop the odd hint. Watch this space.

August 23 2011: 'Cream with flamboyant powdered wigs'

Well hello! 

Yes, I know I’ve been quiet, but, to be honest, not a lot has been happening recently. 

We had a happy and productive rehearsal period, we Rusalka understudies. We did a very good cover showing on the stage, but not a single one of us has been called upon to do our bit in a performance. What is wrong with people?! Haven’t they heard of illness?! Surely out of common decency one of them could have found it in their hearts…? Ah well, there are still two performances left, so one should never say never.

On a more general note I believe the Festival has had record tickets sales this year and fantastic positive audience response, so well done you, if you came. If you didn’t, what about the Tour? We do a few shows at Glyndebourne before going on the road. We are doing La bohème, a new production of Don Pasquale, and reviving Rinaldo, which premiered in the Festival this year. Personally I am only involved in the Puccini and the Donizetti, so will have one day off a week, to skip about and go shopping. Every touring venue has it’s associations for me: Milton Keynes has huge SHOPS, Plymouth is great for eating and jogging by the sea while Norwich has great site-seeing. Woking is commutable for most of us and will forever be connected in my mind to panicky dashes to the train station.  

The La bohème is a revival of the very popular David McVicar production, and, as I said, the Don Pasquale is new. The director, Marianne Clement is setting it in the eighteenth century, and characteristically of Glyndebourne, the costumes are beautiful - all cream with flamboyant powdered wigs. It will be a great contrast to the bohème, which is in modern dress. 

Meanwhile I have two more potential opportunities to strut my stuff in Rusalka.  Watch this space.

June 28 2011: Undersea understudy

Hallo and welcome to the undersea world of the Rusalka understudy rehearsals. We have spent long hours in the darkness of the auditorium watching stage rehearsals, and Melly Still’s atmospheric production does make you feel as if you are underwater.  There is also the lovely British summer we’ve been having… We are having our own rehearsals as well, slotted in around chorus schedules. These are led by Donna, one of the assistant directors. In addition to performing the complete opera for the artistic director, we have an understudy showing. This is usually (though not always) on stage and is a 45 minute selection, giving everyone a chance to do a bit. 

It’s a tricky job, understudying. Most people have ideas about how they would play the role, and this may not concur with the singer you are understudying. Of course there is room to be a little bit creative, as long as you are always in the right place at the right time. Fortunately Glyndebourne is very generous with the time it gives to understudy preparation. Needless to say, it’s nowhere near as long as the cast themselves, but you feel well prepared. You are not likely to have many rehearsals on stage but you would walk the stage with your assistant director before the show should you get the heart-stopping phone-call.

I should count myself very lucky to have been on twice in my Glyndebourne career, but it doesn’t stop me wanting more… Rusalka has opened now and so far so good-or bad, depending on how you look at it. But anything can happen. Watch this space.

June 28 2011: Lights, camera, and a four-note solo

Die Meistersinger is over! I am watching the live streaming from the last night as I write. There was much excitement on Sunday because of the filming. The previous performance had been filmed as well, for back up, but Gerald Finlay had been absent due to vocal exhaustion. That created quite a drama, since the understudy was indisposed as well. They flew in James Rutherford from Bayreuth. He did an absolutely extraordinary job, considering that he was completely unfamiliar with the production until that morning.  

So there we were, not only being preserved on DVD for posterity, but live on various big screens round the country. No pressure. I wouldn’t say people were actually nervous, but there was a certain amount of tension. The difficulty is that you don’t want to freeze up and do a different performance from the one you have been doing. At the same you want it to be your best. It’s a tricky balance. My personal pitfall is a tendency to do mad staring eyes. Sometimes I do it to get a laugh from my fellow choristers. But since such a face was for ever frozen onto a leaflet for the Glyndebourne Tour in a production of The Magic Flute I’ve tried to avoid it. I was doing a mixture of ecstatic zealot and added in the mad eyes. Not pretty.

Anyway, everything went very well on Sunday. And, although we had been asked to stay in costume just in case any more takes were needed, none were. Good job all round. This is the first time I’ve watched it so I’ll let you know if I’m happy with my four-note solo. One thing that did happen for me personally was nothing short of a miracle. I had been trying, at every performance, to lodge a large bonnet on the statue of Bach at the top of Act 2. I had to balance it on the end of a long wooden pole, stand on the edge of the fountain and pop it on his head.  It simply wouldn’t stay up there; the pole always dislodged it when I was trying pull it out. Until Sunday. The Gods were smiling.

Now I have a week before I start rehearsing for my understudy in Rusalka. Watch this space.

June 7 2011: Stick on side-burns and the loss of 'The Book'

I must start this blog with an apology:  In the preamble to my first blog I stated, with remarkable confidence, that John Christie wanted the first season at Glyndebourne to include Meistersinger, Die Walkure and Der Rosenkavalier. Now, having read John Allison’s article in this year’s programme I find myself corrected. It was actually Die Walkure, The Ring and Parsifal, a much more balanced and sensible programme (!). That will teach me to trust lunchtime chit chat. It’s pure laziness on my part.  promise to do my research more thoroughly in future. Or maybe I’ll just avoid any attempt to sound intellectual and stay lazy.

On with the blog: We have now done four (out of ten) Meistersinger shows and have settled into a routine.  We arrive at 2pm for our first warm-up with the lovely Paul Woods. Paul is the assistant choreographer and has applied himself to our varying abilities with admirable tenacity and bonhomie. He also takes a mean aerobics class. It’s amazing what you’re capable of with ‘Voulez Vouz Couchez Avec Moi, Ce Soir’ playing good and loud. Anyway this first warm-up is a gentle one and leads into to a reminder of our 1st Act dance. Then we get into costume and side-burns and do Acts 1 and 2. I stick my sideburns on, the boys have grown their own. The rest of the ladies have wigs with side-burns attached (I’m the only one with short hair). After Act 2 we have to resist the temptation to eat too much during the long interval as we have our second warm-up at the end of it. Act 3 is so long that we have time to do this, rehearse the tricky Bavarian-style slap-dance, and get back in to costume before the final scene. The curtain comes down at 9.45ish. We get out of side-burns and costume and leave the building about 10pm. Only eight hours on the premises, so quite like a normal working day. Hang on though, this is opera! What the hell was Wagner thinking of?!  More to the point, where was his editor?!

A quick word about the costumes; I glossed over them, but they are not to be taken lightly here.  Not only does Glyndebourne still make all their wigs, hair by hair, but all our costumes have been made for us, many of them hand-stitched. The leather trousers (!) were made in Germany and some of the jackets have imported antler-horn buttons. The jackets and trousers for the men have been tailored by a bona fide London tailor. He had chalk at the fittings, which he drew on us with.  If this seems extravagant it is the kind of attention to detail that Glyndebourne is famous for. And there’s no doubt about it; if your trousers are made in the 19th century way, you do feel a sense of authenticity. Except that we have 21st century knickers on underneath them, tee hee.

I mentioned Paul, the assistant choreographer. It is the job of the assistant choreographer and director to stay with the show after the director and choreographer have moved on to their next job. They watch every performance and make sure it stays pretty much the way it was on opening night. They also revive the show if the director is not available. They do this with 'The Book'. This brings me quite neatly to the next show that opens here, L’elisir d’amore, which is currently rehearsing on stage.

I really thought I was going to have something juicy to write about here because they lost 'The Book'! 'The Book' is a specially bound version of the score with blank pages between every page. This is where the assistant director writes down every move that is made on stage so that productions can be revived accurately. It’s normally huge. It is hard to imagine how it got lost, but there we are. It was last revived in Houston, so maybe under the seat on the plane? Anyway, it hasn’t created as many problems as you might imagine. Glyndebourne has it covered. Not only does every performance get videoed for internal records, but Annabel Arden is back reviving her own production. So I have to let go of my mental picture of the directorial team, frowning up at immobile singers on stage, saying ‘Can you remember whether she kissed him here or not?’, and sidling up to long-term choristers  to see if their recall was any better, appealing though it is. I shall go to the Dress Rehearsal on Tuesday, and I expect to enjoy the very entertaining production I know and love.

Meanwhile, whilst I have my days off in between Meistersingers, the rest of the chorus are a little tired. Rusalka has started rehearsals as well, so choristers in all three operas are pale and wan. Some of those will have understudy rehearsals as well. Hey Ho, life goes on. It’s lovely in the garden today...
 

May 19 2011: Meistersinger boot camp 

Warming up on the Glyndebourne lawns, photo: Leigh SImpsonMeistersinger apprentices warm up at Glyndebourne. Photo: Leigh Simpson

I realise that, in taking over the Glyndebourne blog from Paul Hopwood, I am stepping in to very large shoes. As much as you may miss the caustic yet jovial humour that came through in his writing, so do all of us who worked with him. He’s not passed away, merely doing some work for ENO for the time being. Whilst I understand I can’t replace him in your hearts, I’ll try not to bore you too much.

I’ve been at Glyndebourne eight years now. I sing in the chorus, have done some understudying and I’ve been on twice. Once fairly randomly as Mum in Albert Herring and once as second Nymph in the amazing Rusalka, which is being revived this year.   Maybe I’ll get lucky again. Not that one ever wishes illness on people. Actually I lie, I do; nothing too serious, just temporary loss of voice.

In all my time at Glyndebourne there has never been such a buzz about a new production as there has about Die Meistersinger. It is, quite simply, the largest production that has ever been staged here. When the entire cast is in a scene including dancers, extras and children, there will be 132 people on the stage.   Directed by the brilliant David McVicar and choreographed by the gorgeous, potty-mouthed Andrew George and with Vladimir Jurowski in the pit, it has the dream-team in charge.

There’s more to it than that though. It is long overdue if your name is Christie. If you have read any of the history of Glyndebourne on the website you will know that John and Audrey Christie spent part of their honeymoon at the Bayreuth Festival. This gives you a strong hint as to their operatic preferences. If John Christie had had his way the first season at Glyndebourne would been Die Meistersinger, Die Walkyre and Der Rosenkavalier. A tad Teutonic, no? John Christie was an amateur singer himself, and had a crack at the role of Beckmesser in a cut version of the opera, performed in the Organ Room.

While many of the staff in the building are very excited about Meistersinger, catering go a bit wild-eyed and twitchy at the thought of the courtyard (don’t forget the orchestra) stuffed to the gunnels, with the queue snaking out through picnickers and round the lake. The wardrobe department are a wee bit snowed under as well:  As I passed one of the staff she bellowed "There ARE other operas!". Indeed there are, five of them, including a brand new Rinaldo, and revivals of Rusalka, L’Elisir d’amoreDon Giovanni and The Turn of the Screw. I’m only in Meistersinger, so it is on that that I will write about. I have spies in other camps though, so watch this space.

Anyway, enough with the background, on with the blog. I did promise not to bore you. Part of the 132 cast are the fourteen Lehrbuben (that’s Apprentices, for the uninitiated). This day started, as have the rest of the days for the last week and a half, with an aerobic warm-up. We have been hand-picked, not just for our voices, but for our high fitness levels (oh how I wish that were true). Sorry, I’ll try to carry on when I’ve stopped laughing. This morning it was decided that we would carry out our warm-up on the lawn, in the sun. Which was nice. I can’t remember what the music was that day, maybe Kylie, but we attracted a fair bit of attention. A couple of people joined in, just for the hell of it.  

We’re getting a bit used to it now; it’s like boot-camp, we’re hardening up. The first time we did it we were all pretty much ready for home after twenty minutes.   Unfortunately we had to carry on for the rest of the three hour call, to learn the actual dance. Yes, we dance, the Apprentices. We’re all adolescent lads, you see, bubbling over with youthful sexual energy… Hmm… With the actual age of the Apprentices ranging from 24 to 40(ish), I think it would be fair to say that we are feeling the burn. 

Later, over the lunch hour, it was suggested that the Lehrbuben could release a workout DVD as a money-making scheme for Glyndebourne. Yes well…  In the afternoon, putting the ‘routine’ into context, it was a teensy bit of a shock to find that it took but a moment. Two weeks of dancing like fools, over in a few minutes.  Quite gratifying when the rest of the chorus applauded and cheered, quite spontaneously. Oh yes, we’re impressive, the Apprentices.

What better way to end the day than to go over to the house for Austrian wine and nibbles, courtesy of house guests Jeremy (our lovely chorus master), musical coach Duncan and German coach Dominic?  Imagine our surprise when, half way through the evening, Dominic made an impressive entrance in full lederhosen with all the trimmings. Yes, Meistersinger has inspired people. We’re all looking forward to what he might wear to the first night party…

Seriously though, I’m not meant to tell you anything about the production. I may have already said too much. It’s very long. I think I’m safe to tell you that….

What I can tell you is that it’s been brilliantly cast, and that David McVicar is getting great performances out of them. There are people on that stage who are seriously good actors as well as being superb singers. The orchestra sound fantastic too; we all sat there with big grins on our faces the first time we heard them. I think I can tell you that it’s shaping up pretty well… What the hey, it’s going to be awesome.

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