Friday, April 3, 2009

Passionate madness

It's Passiontide in Holland, hurrah! And don't the Dutch just love their Passions. I managed to get myself signed up for a "tour" of Holland - a tour that involves me clocking up enough miles to get to Australia and back, but invariably leaves me sleeping in my own bed every night. This can be a mixed blessing, Holland is a small place - not small enough that crossing the entire country doesn't take awhile, but small enough that a company can just about get away with not providing transport or accommodation during an eighteen-concert season. This can become pretty tiring, particularly when the eighteen concerts are thinly spread over twenty-two days. I'm thirteen concerts in, and at the moment I'm in that fabulous state of being too tired to sleep. Wonderful.

Not that I'm not having fun, though. It's a fabulous piece of music and it's no wonder that some people devote their entire careers to performing Bach. I've been keen to learn the Evangelist role for some time now as well, so listening to it eighteen times is a pretty good way to get a feel for it! The thing is that as tired as I am, and as tired as the people around me are, you do end up zoning out quite a bit, and short of something memorable happening, one concert can blend into another to an extent.

But that's where we come to the fun part. You see, in an eighteen-concert run, memorable things DO happen, and being tired and zoned-out as you are, fits of giggles amongst the choir and orchestra are not unusual. It's that particularly awful sort of giggling though - the "I know I shouldn't, but that was REALLY funny, oh my God keep a straight face, bite the cheek, lip, fist, anything, hahaha snnngggrrrrkkk" sort of laughter that ends up sounding like you're having an aneurism. Like that completely insane moment in the headmaster's office with your mates and he's going mental at you and then you notice that his flies are undone and you lose it.

There have been several moments like that lately - they seem to have happened more often as we get closer to the end. I'm not sure whether it's because we're tired and a bit mad and so small things seem funnier, but over the past week there's been loads of them. Some of them are pretty simple - someone comes in early, someone's chair collapses, an instrumentalist drops something noisy at an inopportune moment - but two in particular stick in my memory.

Utrecht, 27th of March. Concert number 7. Sight-gag. Depending on the church, our soloists sometimes sit in the front row of the audience. In our rather generously-proportioned soprano's first aria, she walked on stage and turned around and I noticed that something had happened to her jacket. There were two symmetrical white stripes across the back of it, almost like the reflecting strips that a cyclist would wear. "That's weird", I thought - and then one after the other, they fell off and fluttered to the ground for all the world to see. They were the "Reserved for the soloists" signs from her seat. Gold. Hahahaha- snnngrrrrggk.

Hoogland, 29th of March. Concert number 9. Comedic timing verging on genius. For those of you who aren't familiar with what the Passions are, they're basically the story of the death of Jesus Christ set to music. The whole piece runs from the betrayal, arrest, trial by Pilate, angry mobs, crucifixion, death and aftermath. As you can imagine, the moment of His death is pretty significant - in a piece that was written with gravitas in mind, this is grativas times a thousand. He cries out in a loud voice, and then as some translations have it "gives up the ghost". It's sung and/or narrated by the Evangelist, and our Evangelist as got that bit down pat - he draws everyone in, pauses for dramatic effect, decrescendos dramatically, sings so quietly that you can barely hear him, and then stops. The whole world holds its breath for a few moments - everyone communes with their innermost being, confesses their sins, tries to remember what they had for breakfast that day, that sort of thing - and then the piece goes on. So as an audience-member, you'd think that would be a bad time to blow your nose, huh? Well - you'd be wrong. "Und vershied [and died]".... PARP!!!! Right on cue. One of those farty, raspberry nose-blows too, the sort of violent emission that only dainty old ladies seem to be capable of, from someone's granny in the front row. Don't think I've ever seen anyone up-staged by nasal congestion before! Fits. Of. Giggles.

Some of these anxious moments aren't always caused by others, though - sometimes they're caused by me. The St Matthew Passion makes me fart. Don't know why, it just does. It's probably because I haven't been eating very well for the past few weeks, but for some unknown and very inconvenient reason it seems to manifest most when we're on stage. And trying to keep my own badly-timed violent emissions down to a dull roar can be pretty difficult!

If you've got any of your own onstage bloopers that you think worth sharing, feel free to put them in the comments.

1 comment:

The Empress said...

Not my blooper, but at one recital I did (flute, not singing), I was playing this lovely, unaccompanied modern piece, with lots of very high held notes. During one such passage, I became aware of a commotion at the back of the church. Ever the professional, I didn't let it get to me and finished the recital. I asked what had happened later, and it turned out that the high notes had interfered with a concert-goer's pace-maker. Ooops. Perhaps flute recitals should come with health warnings...