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Portrait of Iain Bell

The première of In Parenthesis

Iain Bell

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I've been asked to scribble down a few words following the première of In Parenthesis at Welsh National Opera last week, so I ask you to excuse and indulge my ramblings for just a little while, or a couple of paragraphs; which ever is quicker.

The final week of rehearsals was action-packed. By the time I arrived on Monday (the première was on the later Friday), the cast and crew had already had a full week of stage & piano rehearsals, culminating in several runs of the piece prior to my arrival, by which point everyone involved was in complete mastery of their role/responsibility. Monday ushered in the stage & orchestra runs, at which point I've always felt my principal focus is ensuring the orchestra is firing on all cylinders whilst not over-powering the voices. WNO Orchestra is such a gloriously well-oiled machine, that I needn't have worried. Under Carlo Rizzi, who I am delighted to say is the best conductor I have had the privilege to work alongside...truly, they played throughout with sensitivity to the singers and dramatic commitment to the story-telling.

As well as these (and other) practical, musical concerns, I have a near-irrational protective instinct toward singers I work with, so I regularly checked-in with them, making sure they were okay on all fronts, particularly our lead-tenor Andrew Bidlack. He plays the role of John Ball, a role which is maybe four times longer than anyone else in the piece; a 'twisted' virtuoso role making bel canto-like demands, requiring him to wring out every last drop of vocal technique. It was particularly important to me that he felt rested and appreciated while still engaged and motivated. He was doing the David Jones proud! 
 
The week of rehearsals went swimmingly. It is no understatement when I say how impressed I still remain at everyone's preparation and investment in the piece, ranging from crew and the stage team, the directorial team, the design/lighting team (and all those involved in the costuming), to the music staff,  Orchestra, Chorus and soloists. After the final rehearsal on the Wednesday, which felt like a full performance as there was an audience, we all descended en masse to the bar in Wales Millennium Centre for a good while; it was the first time in weeks that many of them could truly rest - for a day at least.
 
During this week, as well as attend rehearsal etc, I had given various talks and interviews, so was made aware by many of the 'occasion' nature of the première that was ahead, but nothing could have prepared me for opening-night (and day). Following press interviews and various meetings, I took myself away for an hour or so to clear my head for the evening's proceedings. Upon returning, the joy I felt at seeing serving members of our armed forces standing guard outside the Centre, with older and retired soldiers bustling in the foyer, was wonderful. Members of the public were also encouraged to participate in a sing-along of favourite songs from the war. This all led to a palpable excitement in the air. I would be lying if I said I didn't feel nervous as I took to my seat; my husband on my right and Librettist/Associate Director Emma on my left. Both of their knees were nervously clasped at various moments of the performance during which I was completely astonished at the music-making I was witnessing. The adrenaline of a full-house had caused all performances to transcend anything I had seen during the rehearsal process, and I think the audience could feel this. There was scarcely a cough throughout the entire 100-mins of the piece! 
 
I remain utterly obliterated by the kindness with which In Parenthesis was, and has since been, met in the days following the première. The warmth of the audience response in the auditorium has shone-on into the days following and I cannot wait to return to Cardiff for the performance this weekend. The team has had a well-earned week-off, enabling them to decompress, get some vocal rest and approach the piece afresh. I have no doubt they will turn-in another exceptional night at the opera.