Monday 6 June at 9:30 p.m. – Théâtre de l’Archevêché – Festival d’Aix-en-Provence
As night falls over the terraced seating at the Théâtre de l’Archevêché, the first onstage rehearsals of the 2022 season are bringing several days of in-studio work to a close: tonight, the cast will be performing the end of Act 2 of Rossini’s Moses and Pharaoh. For the Festival and its teams, this first evening is the fulfilment of months of anticipation, preparation, and individual and group investment!
On stage, the entire set is assembled, and all props are ready. The venue seats are empty. In the middle of the parterre, a large control table takes pride of place, but has been temporarily abandoned in favour of the raised orchestra pit, where the production crew is currently located. Stage right, the stage manager points out on her score the various character entries, set moves, lighting changes, etc.: in short, all cued events during the performance. Without this key individual, the effects cannot be coordinated: she will give the green light to each and every one, in function of the music. At the other end of the space, the vocal coach — another essential figure — is rehearsing with the singers and accompanying them on the piano during the entire rehearsal process, before the orchestra arrives.
Tonight, Sinaïde, the Pharaoh’s wife, urges her son Aménophis to accept the marriage to Élegyne, the Syrian princess, that his father has arranged. The young man, who is in love with Anaï, Moïse’s niece, pretends to give in. Stage director Tobias Kratzer moves through the music meticulously — measure by measure, almost note by note. With score in hand, he indicates to the singers their various reactions and positions, and they patiently begin anew to find the right gesture. After going through several reiterations, the dialogue is now able to embrace its animating force: Aménophis turns violently away from his mother on a phrase from the orchestra, and Sinaïde gently places her head on her son’s shoulder. At the end of the first session, a duo torn between two generations, two ways of being, of acting, has taken shape. The performers hone their musical expression with Michele Mariotti, the conductor, who specialises in Rossini; his passion for detail brings out the slightest modulation in the score. Although the artists don’t sing in full voice (they must save their energy and avoid developing bad habits), the emotion is almost palpable. Pene Pati’s miraculous singing already imparts an extraordinary lyricism and ardour to the music. Opposite him, Russian mezzo-soprano Vasilisa Berzhanskaya — highly acclaimed for her Rossinian performances — embodies the manipulative maternal figure.
Attending an opera rehearsal is akin to observing activity from within a hive. While the singers learn the staging, dozens of people are calmly at work, each with his or her own specific objective: e.g. adjusting a video effect, programming a projector, repairing a prop, pointing out an entry from backstage. Opera is the sum of all of these individual micro-energies that converge towards a single aim, the result of which will be seen in just a matter of weeks. The slightest detail is precious: all the work that occurs now will be capitalised upon in the future production.
At 11 p.m., the production manager suggests a 20-minute break after 90 minutes of constant effort. The worklights come back on in the seating area and back stage. The technical team invades the stage to perform adjustments required to carry on with the work — what is supposedly “downtime” really isn’t; and in these small moments, the concept of community takes on its full meaning. In front of our very eyes, a utopia emerges: that of a creative community with a single artistic objective. The stage may even be seen as mirroring the audience, as reflecting the world of 2022, a world divided into history and modernity, in which humanism and extreme greed face off. It is about us, the audience, this evening; and we must take account of what and of how this new production makes us feel.
It is now 11:20 p.m. on the dot. Rehearsal begins once again. The hive hasn’t stopped for a single beat and will carry on late into the night.
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