A composer waits his turn in the Vienna laundry

A composer waits his turn in the Vienna laundry


norman lebrecht

October 04, 2013

The British composer Iain Bell shares the excitement of staging a new opera in Vienna:
In the glamorous life that is that of an opera composer, I am currently writing this blog (#2) while seated on what resembles a park bench (painted in blue gloss for that added je ne sais quoi) in a laundrette in Vienna, waiting for my now-weekly load to finish drying in the tumble. Yup, I can hear the sighs of envy all these miles away!
Our rehearsals for A Harlot’s Progress have now moved from the studio complex in the outskirts of the city to the theatre. Whilst I miss the village-hall ambience the studio had grown to acquire, as well as its free coffee machine and wifi (though access to the latter could only be gained by standing on a particular spot just outside of the ladies’ loos – awkward for all concerned, believe me), being in the opera house is infinitely better.
Rather than the previous fifty-minute long train-train-tram trek to get to the studios, in a mere twenty-minute stroll I am there. During this time, I amble through the streets with my iPod playing something to clear my ears before the operatic bombardment that awaits. My current aural palette-cleanser of choice is the choral music of fourteenth-century English composer Dunstable; obsessed is not the word. On the assumption I have arrived at the theatre without getting lost (and one must NEVER assume this, my sense of direction is beyond shocking, more of that later), I am then ready for the rehearsal session that awaits.
During the previous month, I had enormous sympathy for the team of tech-guys and stage/set crew who were obliged to attend rehearsal and look on in silence as the cast and directing team got to grips with the piece. I would have been on Facebook/Twitter in minutes but they showed far more patience and grace. It is now a real joy to see them do what they love doing in an environment that is as familiar to them as sitting behind a piano is to me.
I cite the piano as a place I am familiar because the ‘otherness’ of the rehearsal spaces within an opera house remains utterly alien to me. Until now, my sole relationship with such buildings has been as an audience member, so to be inside an environment that is usually so shrouded in mystique and secrecy feels akin to trespassing in the private apartments of a stately home or the inner sanctum of a temple. I am always expecting that tap on the shoulder by the management asking me to leave. I must stress that this is absolutely no reflection on the people here. The friendly, village hall atmosphere of the studios has travelled with us on our operatic caravan to the theatre. It is just because everything is so new to me, it is hard to fathom.
This is very much compounded by my awful sense of direction. I am forever getting lost in the labyrinthine corridors of this two-hundred-year-old theatre on journeys as short as a thirty-second walk and have resorted to leaving certain rooms only when I spot someone else is leaving and heading in same direction. Yup, that bad…
That said, as soon as I see the cast on stage it starts to feel so much more ‘home’. On that note, tonight is first stage run through with full cast and chorus. I have a feeling I will have a word or two to say on the matter.