As my colleague Clarinda puts the final touches to the Friends Preview - a weighty, glossy tome designed to introduce the season to our large contingent of loyal patrons - I took a stroll up to the theatre site for a meeting. The expanse of grass in front of the old house that we build the theatre onto every year was looking sad, rutted and the worse for wear as as result of days of rain. Soon, diggers will move in to create foundations for the new canopy masts and support cables using a mixture of concrete and ten foot long "screws" in the more delicate places. Once done, they will hide their work with re-landscaping. But picturing all of this endeavour and how it would all look come the first night of the season was a herculean task given the wind ripping through the park and carrying with it horizontal rain. Everything was grey; the sky was grey and even the grass and trees looked grey. It is a frequent theme of discussion in our office that it is as if we gather about us all of the obstacles one can imagine and then one by one try to clamber over them as we try to create one of the leading summer opera festivals in the land. I am almost certain that such an event could only happen in the UK. Our European counterparts have so much less to worry about - least of all the weather. I always hope that our Friends can make the leap of imagination that will carry them from a wet, dreary January to a warm, thrilling July.
A significant decision of sorts was made today which along with the steadily growing bustle of the office and new starters (it's getting crowded) signalled a real lifting of the working mood. I say "of sorts" because we had already made the choice of producing Donizetti's effervescent comedy "La fille du regiment" in 2008. It would be a first production of the opera for the company so there is always a sensible caution afoot as we gently feel our way along the line of works by the great composers. James and his assistant Kate went along to the dress rehearsal of the ROH production this morning and came away convinced that we will do the piece justice in our environment. It is helpful that Kate has studied the work academically. Apparently the tenor Florez eased through the dreaded procession of top C's that the piece is famed (and feared) for. Equally impressive was Natalie Dessay (whose "Bell Song" from Lakme I have been luxuriating in recently), oozing class and effortless, bright toned grace. The passage of high notes in quick succession that Donizetti gave his lead man often mitigate against the production of this work - finding tenors prepared to take it on is difficult. However, the general opinion is that Donizetti wrote the passage brilliantly, giving his singer every chance to prepare for each new escalation. It is a fantastic piece and the positivity of J and K means we are fully engaged with it now, even at this early stage.
By our usual standards, the 2008 season is awash with levity since Simon Callow's production of The Magic Flute will follow the opening pair of Trovatore and the Donizetti. We tend to be known for our tragedies (as Dickie Attenborough once said to a journalist friend of mine, "Every tear a dollar love") but it is nice to feel the fresh, sweet breeze of audience laughter dizzying it's way through the house.