Friday night was the sitzprobe of Peter Grimes here in Oviedo. And when I say night, I mean it. Spanish rehearsal schedules, just like Spanish shops, factor in the siesta as a matter of course, and thus we found ourselves at a sitzprobe which began at 8pm and ran until midnight. At least bars and restaurants were still open when we emerged.
Rehearsals for this show have been running since the start of the month, but this was my first glimpse of them. It's possible I could have weaselled my way into one or two earlier on, and I might have done, had this production not been so thoroughly talked up by everyone connected with it: both those involved, and those who saw it when it made such a huge splash in London back in 2009. I decided I should be good and stay away, so as not to spoil any of its surprises.
But at the sitz, I figured I'd be safe, and so I was: apart from the chorus practicing some of their creepy choreography, there were no hints dropped, no great coups de théatre revealed. Just a bunch of fantastic singers sitting (or standing) around and singing some of the best music ever written, while I attempted to maintain my dignity in the stalls. No opera makes more of a mess of me than Peter Grimes. Particularly in the theatre. Most operas have one or two bits at most that might make me cry; Grimes seems to be constructed of nothing but those bits, so I had come to this rehearsal armed with tissues and prepared to make a small, tearstained spectacle of myself.
As it was, however, only the wordless chorus in Act III made me lose it completely, which it always does, in any context. Otherwise, I welled up every fifteen seconds or so, but otherwise I coped. Not having sets, costumes or any stage business probably helped, as did the stop-and-start nature of a rehearsal like this. For once, instead of having my life temporarily and gloriously ruined by my Favourite Opera Ever, I was able to observe the practical, technical side of the rehearsal, which is still a source of fascination for me.
Watching maestro Corrado Rovaris at work (trilingually) was wonderful – the orchestra is already sounding excellent – and it was also impressive to see the famous David Alden, whose production this is, air-conducting in the stalls. He knows every note of this score. And best of all, I was able to hear my favourite opera sung live for the first time since Opera Australia's production in 2009. Still the most extraordinary operatic experience of my life, and still remarkably fresh in my memory: I found, as this cast sang, that I could still mentally overlay what I heard (and saw) in Sydney more than two years ago. I still remember how Susan Gritton sang "Hush Peter", how Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke cowered as the Apprentice, Kanen Breen's supercilious Rector, and I don't suppose I shall ever heard anyone as Balstrode without my mind's ear immediately switching to Peter Coleman-Wright.
That's not to play down the excellence of this cast, of course. With the exception, obviously, of Grimes himself, I've never heard any of these singers live before. They're a brilliant lot, perfectly cast. Judith Howarth's Embroidery Aria was heartbreaking enough in rehearsal, so will no doubt destroy me live; the nieces are fabulous, and the various men of the village – Ned, Hobson, Swallow and so on – make a motley crew in the best possible way. I can't wait to see them all come to life on opening night. I have no doubt this show will be worth every bit of the hype.
But in the meantime, I'm off to the rugby again today with half the cast. Most of the boys, and a niece, I think. Nice to know that the villagers and Grimes can put aside their persecution issues for the sake of sport, isn't it?