Daniel Gundlach


Creating Magic
An expanded version of an article published in Classical Singer magazine, April 2005

I was in Paris in the winter of 2003—to perform in Perelà at the Bastille—when I received a call to audition for a new opera. Le Luthier de Venise was set to premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet in the fall of 2004. To my delight, I was offered the role of La Mendiante in the first cast.

Of all the singers in both casts, I was the only non-native French speaker, which presented me with a particular linguistic challenge. When I received the score of the first of two large scenes for my character, I found a further challenge: a high tessitura. The role, I was to find out later, had been conceived originally for a female mezzo-soprano. When the revised vocal score reached me in February 2004, the role had been revised to better suit the countertenor voice. I worked diligently with my teacher, Arthur Levy, and my vocal coaches in New York to ensure that I would be well prepared by the time I arrived in Paris that September.

We had exactly 30 days from our first rehearsal to the first performance, which took place in Rouen on Oct. 4, followed by five performances in Paris the following week. During rehearsals and performances, I kept an e-mail diary, from which I culled the following excerpts.

Aug. 28

I arrived this morning at Christopher’s vacant apartment in the 18th arrondissement, somewhat the worse for wear. After surviving a long and cramped flight, I had the distinct displeasure of watching one of my suitcases burst open on the baggage claim carousel. I was carrying enough for at least six months in Europe, so it was a mad scramble to save my toiletries, books, and sweaters. Unable to bear the thought of carrying hundreds of pounds of luggage up and down the maze of steps in the Métro, I sprang for a cab from the airport. I have never been happier to part with 40 euros.

My partner Nick’s last words to me as we parted at JFK were, “Keep your eyes on the future, and your feet in the present,” or words to that effect. Let’s just say that I understood and concur with him entirely.

One of the most important things anyone ever said to me is: “You make the world you live in.” (That, and “You are what you eat.”) I’m ready for an adventure in this new world. As Nick the navigator is wont to say as the car heads for a sharp curve or a bump in the road:
“Hold your necks!”

Sept. 6

Today was my first day of kindergarten! I have never been the type of person who is confident going into a new situation, so I arrived at the Châtelet this morning a bucket of nerves. Unlike in my younger years, I tend now to withdraw when I’m nervous. From the Châtelet, we were all bussed out to our rehearsal space in Ivry-sur-Seine, a southeastern suburb, where we will be rehearsing until we go to Rouen (an hour or so northwest of Paris) at the beginning of October for our premiere.

Let me give you the cast of characters for this production. Gualtiero Dazzi is the composer—a charming, somewhat portly Italian who has lived in Germany and France for many years now. Gualtiero is quite clear about what he wants, and he expresses his desires in no uncertain terms, though always with great respect and kindness.

Once again I am reminded how incredible it is to be creating a role for the first time, especially in the presence of the composer. Unlike some composers I’ve worked with, Gualtiero is very open to suggestions. He’s already made some slight but effective emendations based on what he’s hearing from his cast and what we have asked from him.

Our librettist, Claude Clément, published her original picture book on which the opera is based, Le Luthier de Venise, about 15 years ago. Claude is a woman d’une certaine âge—very, very French, down to her platinum blonde hair. She is keenly interested in the entire process of creation, and has been exceedingly kind and supportive to me and all others in the cast. [During the course of that month, Claude and I forged a strong artistic bond.]

Claude has skilfully framed the original tale within the story of a beggar woman (my character), formerly a famous storyteller, who has been commanded by an evil prince to compete with a cellist in a strange contest: She is to tell stories, and he to play, until one of them runs out of inspiration. If the storyteller loses, all poetry will be abolished; if the cellist loses, all music will cease to exist.

The storyteller has attempted to merge words and music into a single tale, thus ensuring the survival of both arts—but she has run out of inspiration. She encounters a Pierrot, wandering as a vagabond, who tells her precisely such a story.

The Pierrot tells of a violinmaker who practices his trade in Venice. A beloved ancient tree grows in his garden. When the tree dies, he fashions it into an enchanted cello. At Carnival time, a famous virtuoso tries to play the cello, and fails—he is crippled by his own pride, and only cacophony results. Later, returning alone to the cello in all humility and sincerity, he succeeds, eliciting from the cello not only the most beautiful music ever heard, but magically returning the tree to life.

My role is extraordinary. Not only do I open the opera with the story of the contest between words and music, I also sing a duet with the cello at the end of the opera, the emotional and musical climax of the piece.

Here are the other singers:

Catherine Dubosc and Salomé Haller are our Pierrots. Catherine is probably the most famous singer in the bunch. She exhibits great care in the projection of the text, and she appears to be an excellent actor, so I think she will make her mark. Salomé is a very interesting singer and a lovely person. She has a strong, beautiful voice and is a superb actor.

Robert Expert is the other countertenor. He is a charmer and very tall and lanky, just like yours truly. We have a good rapport—something that is never guaranteed when two countertenors are in the same opera together! He has had a sore throat, so I am reserving judgment on his singing. Certain things he already does beautifully, sick or not: Much of his mid-range soft singing is exquisite. I know first-hand how difficult the role is, so I’m learning from him, as I hope he is learning from me.

We have two excellent baritones as the Luthier: Laurent Alvaro and Ronan Nédélec. Both are superior musicians who also have strong stage personalities, although it is already clear that their performances will be quite different, Ronan’s portrayal is gentler, Laurent’s more pensive.

The cast is rounded off by two coloratura sopranos sharing the role of the Luthier’s Cat, an excuse for a long lines of high-flying florid writing. For most of this week, the second-cast Paulette Courtin will be the only feline on the premises. The Swiss soprano Christine Buffle, our other kitty, arrives Friday.

Giorgio Barberio Corsetti is our director and stage designer. He has quite an amazing vision for the piece. The entire stage is to be covered with several centimeters of water! When the curtain rises, the Mendiante is sitting on a pile of bricks towards the center of the stage, and Pierrot flies in from the ceiling on a wire. For the final duet with the cello, the player sits on a chair on top of the relocated bricks. I walk above the water across several planks. Meanwhile, there are video projections at the back of the set, as well as a contingent of acrobats and a full chorus (all of whom, along with the water, arrive next week).

Alain Altinoglu is our conductor. He was James Conlon’s assistant on the Perelà I performed at the Bastille, and he stepped in at the last minute to conduct the same piece when it was reprised a few months later in Montpellier, so we already know each other well. He is one of the finest conductors I have ever worked with. No one in my experience makes the singer feel more pampered and protected. He also throws the clearest cues I’ve ever had the privilege of catching.

We are also blessed with two pianists who play this fiendishly difficult score as if it were the simplest Clementi sonatina. One of them, Natalie Deng, has already given me an incredibly helpful coaching on the diction. Everyone is very complimentary about my French, and Natalie is helping me refine it even further. It’s an intense challenge to project the text as clearly as a native speaker.

Sept. 15

After a week of principals alone, three new elements have been introduced into staging rehearsals. One is the chorus: the Le Jeune Chœur de Paris, and yes, these singers are indeed young. They sing well, but they have a little to learn about keeping quiet during rehearsals when they are not occupied onstage. And if I sound like an old curmudgeon, then I accept the designation.

After three days of staging the chorus (during which the principals mostly dozed and complained), Giorgio turned his attention to the acrobats. They have received the most attention by far. Mind you, they are doing cartwheels, flip-flops and headstands, and dangling from ropes. We have already had a number of minor accidents. I don’t begrudge them the time it has taken to work out these details, especially when this all transpires on or above a stage covered with water.

And yes, the water did arrive, at the beginning of this week. Quite possibly, it will be very beautiful. It is also probably the most precarious set I have ever worked on. When you consider that in most theatres no one is even allowed to carry a bottle of water onto the set, and when you also consider the amount of electrical current being pumped through those lights ... I’m not even going to complete the thought. I’m sure every safety precaution has been taken.

As Catherine pointed out to me the other day, I am exceedingly lucky that my two scenes take place on a static set. In her scenes, everyone is holding their breath, watching the acrobats make their death-defying moves. Christine Buffle—who is an amazingly feline Cat, by the way—has to fight particularly hard, because there are two “birds” dangling from the ceiling during her first big scene.

The other main element of the staging that we have not yet seen is the video projection. We have been told some stunning images will be projected onto an upstage screen or onto the scrim. When the curtain rises, for instance, I will be sitting on my pile of bricks in the middle of the water with a projection of a full moon emerging from the clouds behind me. And in the final scene, floating violins will be projected onto the scrim while the cello and I perform our duet.

Sept. 19

Have I commented yet on the musical aspects of my last big scene in the opera? Before yesterday, I was not at all sure what Gualtiero was trying to achieve. The musical motion grinds to a halt and Anssi Karttunen, the wonderful onstage cellist, and I share an extended duet.

At first I found the music repetitive and boring, and impossible to sing in tune. In a musical rehearsal yesterday, however, Gualtiero explained to Anssi and the two Mendiantes that he took Indian classical music as his inspiration.

The whole scene is constructed along the lines of a raga, with strictly prescribed phrase lengths and breathing points in the music, yet giving the overall impression of one long arching musical line from start to finish. Stasis and color are, in fact, this music’s primary virtues. The cello and the countertenor take turns leading, while the other voice weaves its own contrapuntal thread. The music moves inexorably forward, though it resists Western concepts of melody and harmony.

Robert began the rehearsal, singing exquisitely. When my turn came, I was amazed that I was finally able to relax into the vocal lines, to find the breath and the support to sustain the long phrases—and, for the first time, to sing perfectly in tune.

Sept. 22

Well, no one is going to forget my arrival at rehearsal today! The space at Ivry is tight, and to get to the male soloists’ loge, I must wend my way through a scattering of acrobats in various contorted warm-up positions. (I always found it somewhat irritating that they did not do this out in the entrance lobby where there is more room, but I didn’t want to be The Ugly American, so I kept my mouth shut.)

Today, in my efforts to avoid stepping on anyone, I encountered a piece of the set that was in the wings. This piece was on wheels, which, amazingly, no one on the tech crew had seen fit to lock. As I maneuvered around the piece, it started to roll. To make matters worse, someone had stacked four or five wooden planks up against the piece, which clattered to the ground all around the acrobats. No one was injured, but I was horrified and humiliated.

Later that day, as I passed one of the tech crew, I heard her refer to me under her breath as “M. Catastrophe,” which really frosted me, because it was the tech crew’s negligence that created a dangerous situation in the first place.

Sept. 27

We had our last filage (run-through) at Ivry today, with full makeup and costumes. No orchestra yet—we get to work with them for the first time in Rouen! As Laurent said to me, tensions were running so high that we felt as if we were performing the premiere. I think that one reason the Jeune Chœur was so giddy today was that they felt transformed by their costumes. Bettina Walter, Gualtiero’s wife and our costume designer, has created a beautiful, magical and outlandish set of costumes. One soprano done up as a biker chick was chirping about wanting to take off with some type on his chopper.

Jean-Pierre Brossman, the artistic director of the Châtelet, was there today, and was extremely complimentary afterwards. A journalist from Radio France, unbeknownst to me, made a DAT [digital audio tape] recording of the rehearsal. I’m glad I didn’t know in advance. I was in excellent voice—and Gualtiero has chosen the end of my first scene as the musical example for a segment on the opera that will be heard on Radio France this coming Monday. Of course, I had to give approval for them to use the clip, and I was delighted and shocked at how good the recording sounded. Alain, too, has had only praise for my work (apart from those critical suggestions that I thrive on), so I guess I’m on the right track.

Sept. 29

Gualtiero and Bettina invited the cast over this evening for a lovely party. Gualtiero’s mother was there, visiting from Italy. She was at our run-through, though I hadn’t met her at that time. The principals arrived en masse at the house where the family has been staying, and Gualtiero introduced each of us to her in turn. When he explained to her that I was “la Mendicanta,” she grasped my hand harder and told me that I had a voice from heaven. Then she kissed my hand and broke into tears. At moments like this, I am reminded why I am a singer in the first place.

Oct. 3

We met bright and early this sunny Sunday morning at the Place du Châtelet to bus it to Rouen, where our opera will have its world premiere Friday as part of the Festival Octobre en Normandie at the Opéra de Rouen. Interestingly, each soloist took an individual bank of seats in the front of the bus while the choristers and acrobats filed all the way to the back. Silly me, I thought the class system in France was long dead.

How glorious to drive though Paris on such a beautiful day! It really is a city like no other. I chatted with Catherine about her upcoming recital projects, and with Laurent about politics, religion, and motorcycles. We arrived a half hour later to find that none of our rooms were ready. So, with an hour and a half before rehearsal was to begin, the principals went to dine nearby.

A half hour before rehearsal, Laurent phoned Emmanuelle, one of our stage managers, to tell her we’d be late. She begged us to hurry, as things in the theatre were tendu (tense). We inhaled our lunch and rushed back to the hotel to deposit luggage in our (finally) prepared rooms. From there, a mad dash to the theatre, which my colleagues had described to me as moche (ugly). They were right. Catherine told me that Rouen’s theatre, along with much other beautiful architecture, was destroyed in the war. The “new” edifice is the worst sort of fifties-style European architecture.

Things were ugly inside the theatre, as well. The video projections were way behind schedule, and you could have cut the tension with a knife. We had been told this was a tech rehearsal and that there was no need to sing, but it proved to be a start-and-stop run-through—we were asked to sing out to resolve certain balance issues.

The foremost technical problem for Robert and me is the placement of the Mendiante for the cello duet. We are both doing a lot of soft singing, and while balance with the cello is now fine, the scene lacks some immediacy in the theatre because of our position far upstage. It’s too late to move the planks further downstage, because everything has been choreographed around their placement. We may have to sing our big scene standing in the water. Stay Tuned.

Oct. 4

I wandered the streets of Rouen this morning, my only chance to be a tourist. Sights include a beautiful clock tower, the old market place where Jeanne d’Arc was burned at the stake, a Jewish monument from Roman times (the oldest such monument in France), and so much more. The town itself more than makes up for the moche theatre.

Today at the Sitzprobe (aka the italienne, in French), I was reminded of both the perils and pleasures of creating a new work. Vocal phrases that don’t work can be rewritten, and the composer himself can rework the orchestration, if it proves either too light (which is rare) or too heavy.

The orchestration of “Luthier” is quite thick, often at points where, judging from the piano reduction, one would least expect it. The orchestral colors throughout are extraordinary. I told Gualtiero it was like first seeing in the flesh a painting I had known only from black-and-white reproductions.

We did the opera twice with the orchestra, first with our cast, then with the other cast. Robert told me that the orchestra overpowered the singers for much of the first run-through. Nevertheless, when it came time for my second scene, I felt as if I was in a trance, the music is so unspeakably beautiful. Here Gualtiero has made effective use of the cimbalom, a Hungarian version of the hammered dulcimer, creating a beautiful aural atmosphere that perfectly complements the scene.

The solution to the balance problem is that Robert and I will walk right up to the scrim in our beggar boots and sing the first two-thirds of the scene as far downstage as possible. The boots are already waterproof; our feet remain dry throughout.

As with any untried new piece, the technical and musical issues that arise can take a long time to resolve. This evening we had an orchestra tech rehearsal. Alain occupied himself with the balance and fine-tuning of the orchestra, including correcting copying errors in the orchestral parts. It was slow going: In three hours, we barely made it halfway through the 80-minute piece. Poor Christine must have sung about 30 high C-sharps this evening. I also had to do the floaty thing at the end of my first scene four times back-to-back. Well, at least I know I’ve got it right!

Sometimes you can find viable bits of stage business during the rote of sheer repetition. I had been concerned for weeks about finding the perfect pose for the top of the show, one that suggested desolation without drowsiness. I found it tonight quite by accident, a way of leaning on the waterlogged bricks that is somehow actively forlorn.

The repetition was harder on the acrobats. There is one moment where one of the bird-women has to fly down from the ceiling. Just as she began her descent, Alain stopped the orchestra to make a correction and she nearly lost her balance. Eventually, the acrobats got the hang of it: do your moves just once, even if the orchestra stops. For the singers, we were working through balance issues and had to repeat our bits over and over.

Oct. 6

Yesterday was a marathon day. We finished our orchestra tech in the afternoon and then had a few hours off before our dress rehearsal that evening. It was a little freaky to have to go right up to the scrim to sing the final scene. I felt quite far away indeed from Anssi, who is still position far upstage. Natalie gave me the note, for the umpteenth time, that my consonants are too muted. Truth be told, consonants were the last thing on my mind. I guess that’s all too obvious!

Afterwards, Gualtiero told me that balance is still a problem in the last part of the scene, so he is simply transposing several notes up the octave. Now I suddenly have to cut loose with two full-throated high Fs, after singing softly and with great nuance all through the first part of the scene. I had about three hours to work those new passages into my voice—so what did I do? I took a nap!

We began again at 9 p.m. I felt in quite good voice and got through my first scene very well, except for one spot where I nearly lost my place, a passage where two adjacent phrases begin with nearly the same words. I caught myself from going astray just in time. Interestingly, Robert and I tend to have memory slips in exactly the same places, which I find quite fascinating, because, unlike this example, some of them don’t seem to be tricky passages in any way.

Once I made my first exit from the stage, I had about 20 minutes to make sure that the newly inserted high notes were in place. Judging from Gualtiero’s reaction afterward, all was well, so I just have to remember not to muscle them. It helps that the text I am singing is about letting the music flow freely and without tension or artifice.

Oct. 9

It feels like a month has passed in just a few days. The night of the premiere is all a blur. I remember looking down at people standing waiting for a bus while I vocalized with a piano in a hallway (only one of the dressing rooms has a keyboard, and it ain’t mine). I am always one of the first ones to get their maquillage in this show, which means that I have to be partially costumed, because most of my outfit goes on over my head. We wouldn’t want to smudge my perfectly runny makeup!

My appearance is topped off with a dishevelled hippie wig that perfectly matches my own hair color. Any commuter glancing up from the bus stop to find the source of the Valkyrie-like cries would have seen a tall, androgynous, Janis Joplin look-alike who seemed to be coming off a really bad trip.

The premiere went extremely well. I felt in extremely good voice, singing freely and without impediment. My colleagues each did beautifully, but I must say a word in particular about Catherine Dubosc’s extraordinary power as an actor. It has been one of the great joys of my entire artistic life to look into her face, bedecked in Pierrot makeup, as she recounts the story that is unfolding onstage. She returned my compliment beautifully the other day when I told her she was exquisite, responding, in her charmingly accented English to my charmingly accented French, “I think we are both very much the same type.”

The chorus and acrobats performed extremely well, though there were a few spills, and Alain guided the orchestra through a few minor spills of their own, though on the whole, they did wonderfully. The audience at the conclusion was extremely appreciative.

After a brief appearance at a meet-and-greet party, I went home and crashed, sleeping fitfully through the night. The next morning, I stayed in bed reading, rose late, showered and went to the theatre in time for the first scene of the student matinee, which the other cast was singing at 2 p.m. From there, I raced to the train station to meet Nick, who was arriving from New York for a brief visit. We had arranged that he would call me, but because of my sometimes-recalcitrant cell phone, he hadn’t been able to get through. He was indeed on the train that I hoped he’d be on, and I gave him the nickel tour of Rouen before we went back to the hotel, where he showered and rested until checkout time.

I was in less good voice for this second show, perhaps not surprisingly, but I thought I gave an even better performance, especially for a second night, which, as we performers all know, are traditionally plagued with all sorts of problems. In fact, we had a few near-disasters with the acrobats. Nick’s presence in the audience wasn’t the only thing that set the fire under me that night. Gualtiero said a few things to me right before I went onstage that seemed to indicate he thought I was holding back in some way—perhaps not the best psychological approach to use with everybody, but in my case, it worked.

After the show, we all piled into the bus back to Paris, arriving at 12:30 in the morning. Sylviane Borie, the magnificent and efficient production manager at the Châtelet, arranged for cabs to take the principals home. Nick and I shared one with Catherine, who lives in Montmartre, then stayed up talking and rehashing until we collapsed around two in the morning, he from acute jet lag and I because, in the words of Vera Galupe-Borszkh, “I give too much.”

Oct. 11

Happy birthday to me! Nick and I met our old friend Bibi—who has come up from her home in Provence for my opening night—at a charming restaurant on the rive gauche just opposite Notre Dame. This evening, Nick came to our piano tech rehearsal at the Châtelet, our only chance to work through technical details before the dress rehearsal. We saw my dear friend and fellow countertenor, Derek Ragin, on his way to his first musical rehearsal for Angels in America by Peter Eötvös, which premieres here at the end of November. Just over three years ago, Derek and I both sat in this house at a performance of Eötvös’ previous opera, Three Sisters, and I wondered if I would ever get the chance to perform in this gorgeous theatre. Hold your necks! It’s about to happen!

Oct. 14

Final dress rehearsal today. Nick is already gone, after an all-too-brief visit. I had not sung anything since Friday, deciding that what I really needed was a little vocal rest. It took me a while to get my voice up and running, but I was grateful for the time off.

The show went very well; Claude, our librettist, was particularly nervous about her work being judged by a group of (primarily and presumably) hardened professionals, but the response was the most enthusiastic we’ve gotten yet and seems to bode well for the premiere tomorrow.

My dear friend Reba has also come over from New York for the opening night and, our attempt to dine together thwarted by her hotel problems, we opted for dessert chez moi. Our evening concluded with listening to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s gorgeous Bach recording. This particular singer, along with the unadornedly radiant Soile Isokoski, is my current idol, and among the artists I turn to for inspiration. As long as there are singers this honest and natural out there plying their craft, I think there is hope for the classical music business after all. Not all the great singers are dead or retired!

Oct. 15

Last night was our opening at the Châtelet. After all the bustle of preparation (getting into costume, makeup, vocalizing, exchanging of opening night cards, last-minute dressing room visits from Alain and Gualtiero), I found myself at 7:25 on my pile of bricks. I don’t think there is any more magical place to be than behind a stage curtain right before it rises—you can feel the anticipation and excitement. And yet, on this evening, I was in a state of complete and utter calm.

A stagehand hooked Catherine into her harness, and we blew kisses at each other as she disappeared into the fly space. Through the indeterminate murmurings of the audience, I heard the orchestra warming up, then tuning. From the backstage monitor, I could see Alain arrive on the podium and accept the audience’s warm applause. I tried to arrange myself to look “like Patience on a monument,” finally deciding to let the inspiration of the moment guide my choices.

The opening notes of the short prelude sounded from behind the curtain. I felt transported to a place where I no longer really existed. It took quite an effort to remind myself to stay cognizant of what was going on around me. I had a long aria coming up in about three minutes and I had to keep my head about me.

I was facing away from Catherine, so I never got to see her lowered from the fly space, but the collective sigh from the audience served as an aural cue for her magical entrance. Though I was in the desolate world of the Mendiante, looking out over the ruins of Venice, I was still maintaining that second sight that Magda Olivero has described in which the singer remains in the moment, yet watches and assesses his every vocal and dramatic choice with a detached critical eye. (Fascinating that such an over-the-top artist as Olivero would be guided by such an instinct.)

As I began to sing, I heard the most dreadful metallic scraping behind me. At one of the last rehearsals in Rouen, Giorgio had decided he wanted a gondola to pass along the back of the stage at the beginning of my aria. There the stage was slightly larger and an unseen stagehand crouched upstage of the gondola, guiding it along its track as it passed. In Paris, the stage was smaller, and there was no room for immediate human intervention: the gondola was simply pulled across the stage by a cable offstage left. Presumably this had been rehearsed without incident during the student matinee, but alas, on this night, the evocative first moments of my aria were accompanied by the screams of a banshee.

I stayed outwardly calm, though the creaking gave my narrative of the contest between words and music a slightly more desperate edge. The dramatic connection with Catherine that night was very strong. At each successive performance, I have felt more and more in tune with her moves, her impulses, her actions.

On the opening night, we had a few more acrobatic spills than usual, and poor Christine took a heavy tumble into the water that left her with a painful, black-and-blue backside. Other than that, everything went very well. I found a profoundly quiet center from which to sing my final scene with the cello. I could feel the energy from the audience, unimpeded by the scrim. If anything, the video projections of flying violins on the scrim increased the connection I felt with the audience.

At the end of the piece, there was a substantial ovation from the audience and we took numerous curtain calls. In Rouen, we had already established the precedent of a communal cry of joy from the assembled company as soon as the curtain came down, and my friends told me later that our shout was heard out in the house.

Directly afterwards, there was a cocktail party on the top floor of the public space of the opera house. My various friends in attendance met me there as soon as I could get out of makeup and costume. How gratifying it was to have friends from so many different periods of my life there to support me. I won’t embarrass myself by repeating some of the accolades heaped on me by friends, colleagues and strangers alike, except to relate what Bibi said to me: “You are now singing almost entirely without affectation.” Bless her for that qualifying “almost entirely.” Because of that, I knew she was telling me the truth.

Oct. 19

Well, it’s all over, though it feels now like we just barely got our feet wet, so to speak. The second performance was, I think, even stronger than the first. It “helped” that, assurances to the contrary, the gondola issue was still not resolved, and my aria was again accompanied by the screams of the damned (only this time even more prolonged, because the techies tried unsuccessfully to muffle the sound by pulling the gondola more slowly). But this time at least I was prepared, and simply ignored the cacophony. The final duet with the cello came from an even more profoundly calm place; I was definitely channelling Lorraine Hunt Lieberson! The audience was even more responsive than on opening night.

Sunday was a much-needed day of rest, for there were two final performances on Monday, one with each cast. For the first time, the “A” cast sang a student matinee, while the other cast sang the final performance that evening, their only one before a paying audience. I was happy that the gondola issue was finally resolved, but alas, the noises in this performance came from the audience. Unlike the other student matinees, where a representative from the theatre told the children in no uncertain terms that they must maintain silence throughout, this time they only got a pre-recorded message telling them to turn off their cell phones.

Waiting, one last time, on my pile of bricks for the curtain to rise, I thought a herd of elephants were being guided to their seats. Once they quieted down, however, the children were attentive for a good deal of the time. In all reality, this is no opera for children, even if it is based on a children’s book, in particular because the climax of the piece is so internal.

By the time of my duet with the cello, the acrobats and the chorus in their funny costumes were no longer onstage and the natives were getting restless. As soon as I stopped singing to move upstage through the water, all hell broke loose. They all began whispering as if on cue, whereupon some petit con, as Claude referred to him later, let out this hoot that caused the entire audience to dissolve into laughter. I have never been angrier (onstage) in my entire life, but I kept my cool. In fact, I sang the challenging final pages of the scene at least as well as I ever had, but it was an unfortunate note on which to end my performances.

Never mind; my work was done and I had given my very best. After the performance, I spoke to Bruno Michel, the artistic administrator of the Châtelet, who told me of an exciting prospect for performances at a stupendous venue. I can’t say more, as nothing is confirmed yet, but one thing is sure: if and when this opera is revived, Gualtiero wants me to sing the Mendiante.

I sat in the house for the final performance that evening. My colleagues were all brilliant, as good as the “A” cast in almost every case. Robert, who had been ill all through the rehearsal period and in Rouen, really hit his stride that evening. The others were as good as they could possibly be, which was very good indeed. Salomé Haller is a stage animal, Ronan Nédélec has a voice from God, and Paulette Courtin was exquisite. It’s clear that they all have wonderful futures ahead of them.

As in all other performance situations, but perhaps even more so, when an artist is preparing a world premiere, he must throw himself into the work without any judgment, which, fast as you can say “Joan Crawford,” could put one into a strait-jacket. As I sat in the audience that night, my work finished, some flaws in the piece were more apparent than they had been, but I still find “Luthier” to be a remarkable piece in many ways. I am honored to have helped bring it to life.