Being studious

So, I’ve had a few days off rehearsals. Days off rehearsals are both adored and resented by singers, in pretty-well equal measure, though I lean much more to the former.
I’ll explain. The resentment bit first.
You’re away from home to work, you’re not being paid (because singers are never paid to rehearse, only to perform, something which I keep banging on about because very few people believe me), and yet you have to stay in the city. In theory you might be able to go home but as often as not it’s impractical or hideously expensive. Some opera companies forbid it; you are not allowed to leave the city without the consent of the boss. You’re renting expensive digs (and yet you’re not being paid). You’re thinking: I could have arrived here a week or two later, paid less rent, and still got the job done in the time I’ve been used. You could find yourself in a city that is, very often, an absolute armpit (I’m thinking Liege here) with no redeeming qualities whatsoever and sod all to do.

Tour guide

It’s a lazy Sunday in Amsterdam for me. Saturday would have been lazy too; no rehearsals, for a change, and nothing pressing to do. But it didn’t turn out that way. A handful of Brits, despite a free weekend on the cards, decided to stay put in town rather than cough up the ridiculous sum it now costs to pop home for a weekend. Gwynne Howell, despite his mammoth career, has never spent anything more than a few days in the city. He’s 73 and his wife is joining him in a few weeks’ time. He wanted to know where they should be going, what the city had to offer, and having established my credentials as the cast’s longest-serving Amsterdam hack, it was only natural that he should turn to me for advice. I volunteered to take him on a little tour.

Sea interlude

There are days when you are reminded that Amsterdam sits below sea level and today is one of them. That’s not to say that the city is literally underwater but it is so shrouded in damp and dankness that we may as well be a few feet under the North Sea that lurks, a grey and grumpy beast, just a few miles to the west, barely tamed by dunes and dykes. I used to swim in the North Sea as a child, on its western edge in Essex, and it has always struck me as grim and inhospitable.

Shanks for the memory

There’s quite a lot of doom-and-gloom at the Netherlands Opera thanks entirely to the massive cuts they are about to suffer. Fees are being slashed and the word is that if you’re not singing a major role then your only hope of working here is if you already live in Holland and are prepared to work for a pittance. So, a bit like England then.