Forty minutes might seem like a lot of music, but in the context of a full-evening opera, we’re just getting started. That’s how much I’ve written so far, which means only another hundred minutes remain to be written. Sigh. Granted, Bel Canto’s premiere won’t take place until December 2015, but we have a workshop about a year from now were we will run the whole opera in its piano/vocal version. After that, I’ll still need to complete the orchestration. Those forty minutes are the reason why I took a flight to Glyndebourne, UK, so I could show them in person to one of the leading conductors of our day.
Sir Andrew Davis greeted me with a big smile when I arrived to Lewes train station last Saturday. He had arranged a room for me at the charming little Crossways Hotel in Polegate, East Sussex, relatively close to where he is staying. After I dropped my bags we went for tea and dinner together. Sunday was to be our workday. And so we met the next morning and spent six hours on my score. Time flew by. It was a rewarding session where Sir Andrew shared all his knowledge and experience with me. He was extremely pleased with my progress and made a few suggestions on issues related to language, form, balance, timing and orchestration. Seldom have I shown a work in progress, but I’m glad I did so because I’ve now got some invaluable feedback that will definitely influence my remaining work on Bel Canto.
I spent most of Monday morning composing and then attended a rehearsal of Britten’s “Billy Budd” in the afternoon. It was my first time at the beautiful Glyndebourne Opera House. It seats 1200 people and is located right next to the home of the Christie family, which founded and continues to champion the Glyndebourne Opera Festival. It turns out Billy Budd’s star was Jacques Imbraglio, who has already been cast for Bel Canto in the role of Joachim Messner, the Red Cross envoy who serves as a mediator between the government and the terrorists. I was struck by Jacques’ soft yet powerful presence onstage. We had a brief conversation during the break where we talked about his character. It was good to meet him in person, as I always prefer to write the music with a specific performer in mind. After the rehearsal I finally met with our star, Danielle De Niese, who is as impressive on stage as she is in real live. We had the most delightful conversation and agreed to meet again the next day.
Tuesday was just extraordinary. Gus Christie, Danielle’s husband and current Executive Chairman of Glyndebourne Productions, greeted me at 6 o’clock at the Long Bar and led me to my box along with other guests. Gus is a truly interesting man. He traveled the world for many years as a cameraman for wildlife documentaries, before deciding to follow on his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps as the leading force behind Glyndebourne. He has continued to expand the festival, which is now among the most important in the world. During intermission we went for dinner. Now this is interesting because Glyndebourne features one of the longest intermissions (90 minutes) and that’s part of its charm. It is then that all the elegantly dressed guests (men must wear tuxedos) have a chance to mingle and share their impressions on the evening’s performance. We sat at a long table for about 16 guests. Gus sat at one end and he asked me to sit at the other, which means I was effectively at the top of the table. I can’t complain; I was pampered and given special treatment throughout the evening.
Danielle stole the show, and I told her so after the performance. And the most fun part started afterwards, when a few of us were invited to continue the evening at their house. The mansion has about 30 bedrooms, and during opera season most rooms are occupied, which makes for a bustling and creative atmosphere. We all sat at a table and had a few glasses of wine, talked about everything from opera and music in general to our lives and current projects. I got back to the hotel late that evening, which, sadly, was my last. The next morning Danielle and I had short working session before I left for the airport.
It was a well-rounded trip that allowed me not only to show my progress to Sir Andrew and Danielle, but also to get to know Glyndebourne from within. It really is a family, and all singers, directors, musicians and crew members are treated as such. Even I, who was there for the first time, felt like home. I can’t wait to go back, but most importantly I can’t wait to get back to work on Bel Canto. There’s so much work to do, but everyday that goes by brings it one step closer to reality. And the fact that I could spend such quality time with the people who are going to bring my music to life is a rare privilege that I value and cherish. But enough of words for now, I’d better go and start writing the next forty minutes 🙂