One evening a very long time ago, I climbed flight after flight of stairs to the very top of the auditorium, passed the entrance to the amphitheatre and then climbed on up to the balcony also known as ‘The Gods’. I and my two roommates were at the opera to see ‘The Magic Flute’ at Covent Garden. (Yes, you didn’t misread that, it was two roommates, as in those days, 1980, it was two or three to a room and only mature students were allocated a single room in the large, women-only student house where we lived.)
The two memories I have of that evening over 40 years ago were, firstly, the wonderful singing by Kiri Te Kanawa as Pamina and, secondly, the exhaustion of the sit/standing arrangement and straining to see the performers from the very, very back. So, why, oh why did I find myself at the Royal Opera House on Monday morning in ‘The Gods’ again? It was the triumph of considered, thought-out optimism over ever-fading, vague-ish memories.
In the past, when I lived in London, I used to belong to the Friends of Covent Garden and, interestingly, I notice from a 1989 programme, basic membership back then was £25 a year. Needless to say that has gone up over the intervening decades and it is now £115 for an annual membership, but if you are able to attend the daytime rehearsals I think it’s worth it.
Attending dress rehearsals is one of the benefits of belonging to the Friends along with priority booking. Now I am semi-retired I can finally attend a daytime rehearsal in London. It is something I’ve always wanted to do. However, when I bought my ticket for the dress rehearsal of ‘The Barber of Seville’ only restricted view seats in the upper slips were still available.
And, what of my new experience? I think I’d say it was a mixed bag. The dress rehearsal was musically and theatrically wonderful. The younger vocalists, Aigul Akhmetshina (Rosina) and Andrzej Filończyk (Figaro), gave it their all and sang all the flashy fireworks so beloved by Rossini with no marking to save their voices. The mighty-voiced Bryn Terfel offered the most charming and amusing performance of Don Basilio with the expected superb singing. The other more mature members of the cast gave good performances, but I felt they were perhaps holding back vocally just a little with their eye on this evening’s Opening Night.
And, the downside? If I found it physically draining as a young student to be up in ‘The Gods’, then as an oldie it was always going to be challenging. My knees, neck and back did not appreciate the two and three quarter hours running time despite stretching my legs with a walk down to the Paul Hamlyn Hall during the 25 minute interval.
The lessons I’ve learnt from this new experience are, firstly, it is definitely worth being a member of the Friends if you live in the London area or can make a day trip to the capital. Secondly, if you find it difficult sitting at awkward angles to watch productions, then it is essential to note the day and the time booking for rehearsals goes live and login before all the front-facing, comfortable seats are sold out.