Not content with being 71 and dead, poor Mr Walter got out of bed yesterday and stood on several screws from his Ikea luxury item, now littered around the floor – yes, the life of an After Lifer is not plain sailing – fortunately when he was alive Mr Walter was a dab hand at flat-packs, so all is now restored, albeit in different holes, so his bed has a 10 per cent list. Mr Walter goes to work to ascend the masterpiece that is After Life, and it is not so much flat packs that concern him now – but flat screens; you see, not content with writing some of the most difficult music to sing and memorise in the repertoire, the whole creative team has ganged up against the singers to make life (or rather, death) as difficult as possible – there’s a “serve you right for dying” feeling about the whole thing, for the conductor has all but been eliminated from view. We reach the stage and play the new game for dead people – “Hunt the Beat” – this entails one searching furtively and unsuccessfully for the monitor that was always promised would be ‘there’ or rather ‘there’ or perhaps ‘there’. The real live conductor is behind us and above us, as is his orchestra, and the monitors that are placed for us to catch his relayed beat have to be out of sight of the screens that form the ’set’ – otherwise you, the opera-goer, would be able to see his beat too – and apparently you have not paid for that too. For a performer it’s rather like walking a tight-rope without a safety net, or swimming the channel without a support boat, or watching reality TV without an off switch – or any number of really dangerous things really. And I have to confess, this is probably an opera in which I would like to see the conductor – and even in a monitor, he is only two-dimensional – so no chance for a peripheral sensation – you really have to stare at the man to see where he is – and large screens are out – no, no, that would be too easy – the rules are not set for that.
I once did a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta at English National Opera where my first entrance was from the flies in a giant sushi-burger; I was hauled up there during the overture, and watched the first 20 minutes of the piece as if being a camerman in a Hollywood Musical movie – then came the first notes of my number, and I heard nothing more – the tail of the sushi burger started moving and so did its head creating a positive din – smoke appeared from everywhere and it must have looked jolly impressive, but I was lost in my own world of sushi and smoke and never caught the conductor’s eye throughout the number – her eye was nowhere to be seen, or her beat – but at least I knew she was a woman… Ken Russell never directed an opera again.
So you can see I am used to blindness – and now death as well – but performers can have no screws loose – it’s all in a day’s work for an After Lifer.
Off to the Sitzprobe now where we put everyone together for the first time – in a nice studio miles from the Stage – it will be the last time we see Otto Tausk in the flesh till the first night party…
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