I returned last week from a gruelling, mentally and physically taxing, but greatly rewarding two weeks away: on Saturday November 10th I rounded off three days of rehearsals with Sir John Eliot Gardner, with an open rehearsal of Beethoven’s Symphony 9 and Missa Solemnis, with the winners of last year’s World’s Best Choir, The Monteverdi Choir, and the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique. We were about to embark on a ten-day tour to the States with these two pieces, and this was our final rehearsal. But rather than have a couple of days free to pack and generally prepare, I flew out to Dubai on the Saturday evening in order to give a recital of arias and songs with, by huge coincidence, the mezzo soloist from these Beethoven concerts, Jennifer Johnston. However, she didn’t fly out with me, as she had planned to travel back to Manchester on the Saturday night in order to kiss her four year old daughter and her husband goodbye. She was to fly out the following morning, and so I travelled with our pianist, Alisdair Hogarth (he of The Prince Consort fame).
Dubai is a strange old place – if you haven’t been there, you haven’t missed much – it was one of the coldest days of the year there, at 31C (it gets up to 50C in summer, OUCH), but most of the daily life there is spent indoors, travelling from your air-conditioned car in the garage to the air-conditioned, underground car-park, to the air-conditioned office or, in my case, the air-conditioned airport to the air-conditioned hotel, attached to the air-conditioned, giant shopping mall which contained the air-conditioned theatre where our recital was to take place.
Did I mention the place was air-conditioned? It’s not great for the voice, but then, neither is being exposed to such outdoor heat, so it was a case of better the devil you know, than the one who’ll scorch your skin off. One trick I used to help with the dry air conditions was to soak several bath towels and hang them up all over the hotel room, while leaving the shower on at full heat to get some steam going (the latter also helped to get the creases out of my concert dress).
As I mentioned earlier, the hotel we stayed in was attached to an enormous shopping mall – it would have been great to have an extra free day to mooch around (this typically soprano-styled blood-lust would be sated in a couple of weeks, more on that later), but by the time we’d arrived and adjusted to the new time zone, it was late Sunday evening, and our recital was the following day. Al and I went over to visit a composer friend of mine who lives in Dubai (in fact, she had been the brains behind our visit) and spent a gorgeous, balmy evening sipping wine in her garden. Even at 9pm the temperature was still around 23C, though Jo mentioned that, on a couple of days a year it does get cool enough that you might consider wearing a cardi at night…
So, Monday arrived, and so did Jen. The three of us had a somewhat bleary-eyed breakfast in the hotel before travelling back to Jo’s house to embark on a three-hour rehearsal. Jen was on tremendous form, knocking out Wagner, Verdi and Britten at what felt like 8am. Al had already done several hours’ practice the day before, and was so completely on top of the repertoire that we hardly ever needed to stop and go over things (I love working with such talented people, it makes my job so easy).
That afternoon, we arrived at the theatre to check out the acoustics (pretty dry, 500-seater auditorium) and to top-and-tail things for the evening. At that point, another friend of mine, a trumpeter ex-pat, arrived and took me for a whistle-stop tour of the city centre and a quick beer, before dropping me back at the hotel so I could prepare for the concert.
The concert that evening was terrific – an almost sold-out theatre, mostly filled with ex-pats, meant that the three of us could take the time to chat with the audience and explain the scenes, arias and songs we were performing. It was a huge success, though there was no time to stay and celebrate, as Jen and I had to get straight to the airport for our 1am flight to the States…….