Friday, July 20, 2012

Ellen Christine at the Choregies d'Orange

The Romans came to Orange, France, and decided to build a Theatre.  I haven't found out why, as yet, but it's an extraordinary place, where the acoustics hit you like Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. It doesn't matter if you like opera, but it helps.
The Choregies d'Orange are in rehearsals this week for Turandot, with Roberto Alagna and Lise Lindstrom.  It's an incredible production, with a vast chorus, all from the South of France.  Imagine! This huge stage, with the original architecture behind the performers.  The French have put a glass roof over the stage, for historic preservation, but I'm sure it helps the acoustics even more.  When Puccini's music is being sung by 100 chorists, the heart stops, the blood chills, the spirit lifts, and you are in Heaven.
Having never been to Orange, I'm enthusiastic, to say the least.  More like a kid in a candy store.  It's fascinating to be present for all of the rehearsals.  The singers are in half-voice most of the time, but even one note that hits you like an arrow between the eyes is enough to get you ready for the production. The veritable smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd, is the bug that bites and keeps you coming back.  Maybe it's different when you're backstage most of the time in your line of work, and you get to see the first pieces fall into place.  Maybe it's different when you are used to hearing the director yell up and down the theatre.  But hey, this is some theatre.  To talk to each other, they need walkie-talkies, because the stage is about 100 meters wide.  The stage director moves the crowd around, placing them in their precise positions every 5 minutes.  The sound and the lights are up behind us, in the arc of the stone seats.  a friend of mine told me that the plebians had straw-filled cushions to sit on, and the VIPS had cushions and retractable domes, to protect them from the sun and the wind. Rehearsals are until midnight, so the wind is capable of whipping through the stadium, as the birds fly in and out of their nests.  Lodged high in the stone walls, the birds fly almost on cue, sometimes in a flock, sometimes one or two little wings beating their way home.
With everyone in place, and the stage director happy, the chorus lances into the last act.  Get a copy of Pavarotti singing the role of Calaf, and you will have the touchstone performance.  Those of us who live for the golden tones of Roberto Alagna can't wait for the sacred moment of Nessun Dorma.  For this note, have I flown 3000 miles.  For this opera I have traveled this distance, to hear those incredible tones in this incredible place.  This is opera.

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