Festival Diary: Rehearsals Begin

“Are you in to have a nose?” It’s the first question Ellie, the Festival Chorus Manager, asks me. As I step meekly forward into the rehearsal room with a notepad and pen clutched in one hand, I suppose the only answer could be yes. Instead of being shooed away back to my office, I’m welcomed with a smile and given a seat where I can watch the third day of opera rehearsals commence.

Festival Diary: Rehearsals Begin

As I sit down, the sopranos and mezzos of Il Cappello di Paglia di Firenze open their score sheets and prepare themselves for an intense three-hour rehearsal. At exactly 2.30pm, a slight tap of the conductor’s baton calls everyone in the room to attention. The répétiteur plays the opening bars, and the chorus burst into song.

To me, it all sounds amazing. In a brief moment, I’m so caught up in the stunning score and music that all the preparation, all the documents I’ve been typing up and all the emails I’ve been sending are worth it. As the voices drift over the roofs of Main Street, Wexford Opera House and the town itself seem like better places.

I snap out of my trance when the chorus halts abruptly after 10 seconds. “It’s pronounced Tzelto, not Selto,” the conductor tells those gathered. In a flurry of pages, chorus members take note and get ready for another try. The conductor raises the baton once again, and they start from the top.

From Italian pronunciations to musical phrases that seem a little too “aggressive”, perfection is demanded even at this early stage. That’s not to say that it’s all serious business, however. At times, rehearsals give way to nostalgic stories about previous works in Wexford. Some singers recall the difficulties learning Polish for the Wexford Festival Opera production of Maria in 2011, but claim that it was worth it for the music. Others remember their experiences of Wexford town from previous years. Sometimes, the insistence on flawless singing seems to become the butt of the jokes. “Do we have to laugh in B flat?” one soprano pipes up. The funny thing is that they may just have to.

This week, Il Cappello is firmly in the spotlight. Cast rehearsals for the Italian opera have already commenced in the Jerome Hynes Theatre. Il Cappello was written by the prolific composer Nino Rota, who is best known for his Academy Award-winning score for the first two parts of The Godfather trilogy. The farcical opera has been made into two films in Italy, so it could be seen as less obscure than the usual Wexford productions. However, with a colourful, retro design and a cheerful score, it looks like one of the more fun productions this year.

The Festival Chorus arrived on Sunday 15th September, and since then Wexford Opera House as I know it has been a different place. The photocopier beside my office has been constantly occupied with sheet music and information for performers. We’ve already received visits from international journalists – this week we hosted Desmond Chewyn of the prestigious Berlin-based Auditorium magazine. As I write this, I’ve just been introduced to the idea of having “a soprano moment.” Perhaps I will clear up what that is later in my diaries.

While the performers have been tied up with rehearsals, our events for Friends of Wexford Festival Opera have continued. The second In Conversation event was held on the 12th September with Technical Director David Stuttard. It gave the Friends a sneak preview of the set design of Cristina, Regina di Svezia. The third and final In Conversation event was held in the Embassy of Ireland in London, with Cristina’s director Stephen Metcalf and conductor Andrew Greenwood. Foroni’s opera is a retelling of the abdication of Queen Cristina of Sweden in the 1600s, but Wexford Festival Opera’s production has been updated to the 1930s. It is an era associated with King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, as well as the speech of Edward’s successor, King George VI. Placing Cristina’s story in that context, the opera promises to be one of the highlights of this year’s festival.

Now that the festival is in full swing for most of us, we’re looking forward to sharing it with Wexford. By the time this diary entry is published, the much-anticipated Fringe Festival will have been launched, Culture Night will have passed, and the remaining artists will have arrived for the festival. Who knows, by that stage I may be able to tell you who will be opening this year’s festival? It’s a secret I’ve been harbouring for a while now, and the temptation to disclose the identity has been the only negative aspect of my work here so far. Hopefully I’ll be able to yield by this time next week. Until then, it’s a matter of keeping calm about that small detail and carrying on with the excitement to come.