January 2008 Archives

continuo notes 3


sacre coeur

I stole the ladies dressing room to meditate before the performance of Don Giovanni in Paris. I seemed to be keeping tendonitis successfully at bay with arnica but I was about to play solidly, revengefully and passionately for four hours and I was scared. I had also developed a high fever the night before and had no idea if it would re-emerge. After ten minutes successfully dealing with my fear and bringing myself back to the present, there was a knock on the door. It was Zerlina offering me a Good Luck card and two Californian walnut squares.

‘Our conductor just gave me a very alcoholic candy’ she giggled. ‘I’m not sure I’ll be able to stand up let alone sing Bati Bati…’

I met our chef in the hallway and he offered me the same first night charm as he had offered Zerlina – a brown nipple shaped chocolate with a very boozy centre. Inside was a cherry, a piece of whose stone lodged itself somewhere near the back of my throat. I swiftly added choking to my list of things that, along with boiling up and having my arm drop off, might prevent me from getting to the end of the performance.

During the performance, of course, I rode Mozart high on a mixture of empty mind, adrenalin and a tummy full of kirsch liquor and, apart from a brief moment during my solo in which I looked down to see that underneath my silk trousers the winter growth of hair was visible on my bare legs, I, along with Don Giovanni and his ladies, had a ball.

‘You made me cry’ said Julian in the interval.
'You have a wonderful wife' said the amazing Don Anna to Julian.
'It feels like family making music with you' said our first violin.

For myself, I felt like I had, in a fleeting moment of time, been an imperfect cog in the wheel of Amadeus' genius, but I had at least stayed present. That's not to say that the compliments were not happily received.

Julian and I rode home to Provence on the early train and I slept. When I got home I slept all afternoon. I woke briefly to have some champagne and receive an email from someone whom I was convinced was our Don Ottavio. I replied effusively, complimenting him on his sweet toned voice and the very fine couple he and Dona Anna had made. The email was, I realised this morning, in fact from the second double bass player. The day had been a blur. I went back to sleep.

In the morning a lake of sheep spilled past the house on their way up the mountain, and in his arms the shepherd carried a 15 minute old lamb. The creatures flooded the path and, drinking an excellent coffee on the terrace with the scent of pine and thyme and the sound of bells on the air, city streets and the ‘Soldissimes’ in Galerie Lafayette that I had been trying to resist for a month seemed far away and unimportant. Mozart, however, was still in my heart.





I know all you Mums out there will say “You Wait!” so before you do, I shall say that I am waiting. We are both waiting very patiently! The dossier is almost finished for the French Adoption Agency….

Meanwhile, on the day of our pre-dress of Don Giovanni, after two hours of hysterical phonecalls with URSSAF who keep on gouging thousands of euros out of our bank account without warning or explanation, and taut as an E string, I decided to visit the local hammam; a luxury I know I will not have as a Mum.

“It’s clean isn’t it?” the owner said brightly, her breasts lounging in her lacy bra and her stomach toppling over her large knickers.

I had been alone and covered with soap for about half an hour. I wasn’t sure the woman would ever return to give me the ‘Sheherezade’ treatment so, after I had meditated and done a few yoga stretches, I had gone in search of her. I looked at the fossilised gum in-between the tiles, and the crusts of savon noir around the taps. “Yes” I said.

While I lay on the table waiting for the treatment, she plunged a dirty sweater in and out of the low tiled basin she was to use to scrub me down. She was singing. I decided if she was happy doing her laundry, so was I. I inhaled the smell of the soap and went back to Fès in my imagination while she finished off.

Then she was leaning over me, her breasts dangling in my face. “It’s marvellous, isn’t it, the gommage?”

“Yes” I said, twitching under the thrust of the glove careering all over my body.

“Are you married?”



I decided not to go into the adoption thing. “Yes”

Ten minutes later I was on the massage table hoping to give my continuo shoulder some relief.

“It is good, isn’t it, the massage?” This time she was sliding her hand roughly across my spine hard in the wrong direction, tweaking one ankle and rubbing one calf in a different rhythm. A vat of argan oil slithered over me.

“Yes” I said.

After seven minutes, she said. “OK?”

“Yes” I said.

“OK” she said and swiftly returned to the shop where laughed manically whilst discussing something – me? – in Arabic with her colleague.

“Tea?” she asked, peeking her head round the door. She had her robe on now, with one nipple poking out where it was worn, for all of Batignolles to see.

I was already dressed as there was no sign of the mint tea and pastries included in the exotic formula so I was on my way out. “Yes please” I said.

I felt strangely marvellous.

On the RER train I received a text: ‘It looks like I’m going to be a Mum after all!’. My friend and colleague from Glyndebourne, having also mourned the loss of a biological child, is adopting at the same time as us. At 45 and 48 we will be Mums together!

I arrived at work (where the running joke is RER C, Aria, 1, Aria 2, (etc till Aria 24) RER C again) at 5 for a pre recit pre dress recit rehearsal. By eleven o'clock, as we played the last chord, I felt something I’ve never felt before. Could it be the onset of tendonitis? Clearly the Sheherezade treatment did not work.

continuo notes 2

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‘I reckon Giovanni likes it shaken, not stirred’ said our chef.

Our Giovanni tossed his flop of silk hair.

‘And Elvira has one foot in a convent….’ he continued.

‘…And another in a panettone’ I said.

Our Elvira, whose child has a high temperature, had just returned from the doctor’s surgery. She adjusted the wrap of her toe-length frock, made a few singerish hmms and buzzes and flew into her tormented aria.

‘Ohmygod’ said our Californian Zerlina. She had abandoned her well structured Prima Donna face and was looking up from the voice diary in which she was scribbling furiously.

Our Dona Anna was absent because she was singing a Rhein-maiden in Berlin in between rehearsals.

Our Leporello sang his song about the little black book that Michael Nyman made so much money from (with me in his band) and went off to do more laundry.

The recitative rehearsals have come to an end and the band has arrived. Though I was tiring physically of being an orchestra of one, and though it is good to have some testosterone finally in the bass section, I am missing the intimacy of our troupe. Led by an all Jewish American double act of chef and chef de chant, we tried, for two weeks, to work out whether or not Giovanni was, at heart, a good guy; whether Leporello was disgusted by him or in awe; whether or not Masetto had balls, and what had happened to Ottavio that had transformed him from a wallflower into a stud. And that was only the men….Now, with oboes and horns and a swarm of violins, the problems are more mundane, such as where the hell is C sharp, and what do the marks that have been called ‘daggers’, ‘carrots’ and ‘cailles’ for two hundred years and which have been played as accented staccato notes actually mean? Treatises have been consulted, temperament examined and new bow techniques tried. We’re getting there.

continuo notes

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I am scanning words like ‘birbo’ and ‘vendetta’ and ‘amor mio’ and trying to place my tonic not only on the right consonant but with an appropriate biff or caress, embellish my dominant suavely or flirtatiously as Don Juan does his seduction stuff above it….It’s pupil-burning stuff. Then suddenly, towards the end of the first act, my fingers, largely forgotten as my eyes strain to read the text, have to do a marathon of noodley string crossings underneath Zerlina’s sublime entreaty to Masetto. I don’t know whether or not Ian Dury was a Mozart fan, but ‘Bati Bati’ seems to me to be a fine 18th Century version of ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick'.