Norfolk was amazing.
It was blissful weather most of the time and so I frequently went on bike rides around the area- one lane roads (no worries about which side to be on then!) through wheat fields and wild flowers with rabbits jumping out all the time and pheasants and hawks and butterflies and little boys on bikes who challenge you to races. Oh, and centuries old farm houses and a community pea patch that smelled like dill (you have to remember that I actually *like* dill, so this was nice.) And that was just the bike rides!
We put together an opera from scratch in 3 weeks. The instrumentalists were only there for the last week (or, in the case of Will our trumpeter- only the performances. Why did Handel only write trumpet into one movement of a 58 movement work?) and for the first couple of days we were rehearsing around 9 hours a day. So, a little bit in to the deep end after not playing hardly at all for most of the year.
The singers were from all over the place, but a the largest group of them were from DIT in Dublin. Dublin Institute of Technology School of Music and Drama. (Why does a school of technology have a conservatory? Same reason a university synonymous with medicine has a conservatory- the conservatories keep going bankrupt.) There were also a bunch of Australians and two other Americans- my accent was all over the place.
We were housed with various area families. I was with the Lakzo Schroeders- who are wonderful and have 5 children. The first night I was there was very cold; so the older members of the family (The parents Norbert and Tina and their eldest son Tim who played violin with the orchestra) and I sat by the fire in their 17th century living room and chatted about all sorts of things. This proved to be too tempting for the younger members of the family who had all already been put to bed- so one by one they tromped down the stairs with their wet, freshly bathed heads and curled up on their parents laps or on the rug in front of the fire. It was all ridiculously charming.
Everyone got very involved in the making of the costumes, sets, and props. Though mostly the costumes. We needed Roman armor (sawed off flower pots), various Roman lady outfits, christian peasant clothes, etc. All of the singers had at *least* one costume change and all of the costumes were made on site in a little house down the road from the church we were performing in. They were designed and made mostly by Gidon Saks (http://www.intermusica.co.uk/saks)
who it turns out is quite a successful opera singer himself. Like, really successful. And he was making the costumes, 'cause he wanted to. Also, he is a total character and I adore him even though he was slagging off Seattle because he had bad experiences there with Seattle Opera and the Ring Cycle. The costume house was *tiny* by the way. Like, small enough that I could bump my head on the rafters. Gidon is definitely over 6' tall, so I'm not really sure how he survived. He also did a masterclass that I went and watched and was alternately inspired and rolling on the floor with laughter.
The performances took place in St. Mary, South Creake (http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/southcreake/southcreake.htm) There is a roster on the wall of vicars for the congregation and it goes back to the 1100's. Cool, huh? I had never seen a church before that had both historic graveyards and a very current graveyard. I spent a lot of time hanging out with Robert Pilch (d.1879) and Susanna Collins (d.1798) as well as the George brothers (d. Oct. 1916, Nov. 1916, 1919). We had built a stage in the center of the church so that the opera was in the round. A little bit weird, but effective. We weren't allowed to have our final, ending party until everything was completely cleaned up and put away and the church put back to rights. We managed to complete this in an impressive hour and a quarter.
There was a wonderful community spirit throughout the whole place and I'm hoping to go back again either for the Easter concert of another of these operas that they do in the summer. It's a strange thing though- I've never heard of any other summer program that was entirely invitation only and depended so completely on who you know. Peter is the one who got this gig for me. Thanks, Peter!