Fish, flesh and faeces: on rehearsals I have skipped

Fish, flesh and faeces: on rehearsals I have skipped


norman lebrecht

October 07, 2013

British composer Iain Bell is getting closer to the world premiere of his Hogarth opera in Vienna. Here’s his latest blog, exclusive to Slipped Disc:

I had long decided that I wouldn’t be attending all of the rehearsals, musical or scenic for the opera. It was of the utmost importance to me that all involved were able to explore the piece freely without my presence as some Fedora-wearing, chain-smoking, eminence-grise in the background disturbing the flow*. A rhythm was quickly established whereby I would attend two or so hours of rehearsals of each session (of around seven hours). This worked really well, they were able to crack on with their work and by not witnessing all the ‘baby-steps’, I saw great progress each time I was there.

I am reflecting upon this now as I am presently pacing my apartment whilst the orchestra is having its second rehearsal of the piece. There is no embargo on my attending. I reached the decision to absent myself from the early stage orchestral rehearsals having consulted with various singers, conductors and ill-assorted opera types who all cautioned against my being there – and they were right. It wouldn’t be the healthiest course of action for my sanity to hear those important early mistakes, the frequent repetition of rhythmically thorny entries and the very necessary cursing of my name! That said, I am here with so many questions running through my head, one of the loudest being,

“does the orchestra enjoy playing it?”



photo (c) Gretl Sartorious

As daft as it sounds it has been a real pleasure to see the gleeful faces of the chorus (and cast) as they sing such Acroydian gems as, “fish, flesh and faeces”! I hope the orchestra can join in on a bit of that too because it is that enthusiasm and sense of fun that has made this rehearsal process a real delight.

So I am here feeling like the proverbial 1960’s husband whose wife is in labour, sitting (to avoid the yucky bits) in a waiting room for his baby to be brought into the world.

Mercifully, this 1960’s daddy-to-be has an iPhone and what a relief it was to receive a Facebook message from the first rehearsal from a member of the opera house team (including the picture attached to this blog, cheers Gretl) saying how well it went. Phew! Whatsmore, as our maestro had injured his ankle our assistant conductor, Kalle Kuusava came valiantly to the rescue and led the rehearsal, doing so with such aplomb that I am told his performance inspired a ‘bravo’ from the players…well done that man!

Later that day when I was called to the theatre to do some press, it was so warming to be approached by various personnel from the opera house management team who had attended that rehearsal telling me how much they enjoyed the music. That meant so, so much, though I was a little puzzled at their enthusiasm until I realised that before that day their only point of entry into the piece had been via the piano reduction of the orchestral score. When I heard this part being played by our outstanding pianists Joyce and Raf, I was not hearing a piano but a slightly altered horn crescendo, an eruption in the strings a or snarling contrabassoon – I forgot they were just hearing, well, a piano. No wonder they were excited!

So with all this in mind, I think the pacing must now stop and I should head out and enjoy a little Viennese autumn sunshine.

*note: Nan, I neither wear fedoras nor smoke just in case you’re reading this.





  • MpR says:

    He must be a bundle of nerves wrapped in a hurricane about now. I feel for him!

  • Marco says:

    Sounds like there’s yet another talented Finnish conductor!