søndag, maj 06, 2007


We are in the middle of the premiere of Lucia di Lammermoor. And in 24 hours I shall no longer be here.

The performances will carry on and the chorus will still be rehearsing. But I will not. In fact, I will not set foot in the Opera again until sometime in September. Summer holidays will have been spent and many of us will have had time to soak up some sunshine, may be explore new lands, meet old friends and start counting the number of shopping days to Christmas.

The reason for my absence is the unique chorus master system we operate in Copenhagen (unique as far as I am aware anyway). There are two of us (like many similarly sized opera houses) and each of us does approximately half a season each (this is the unique bit). We have a job share. A bit like newscasters on CNN or BBC World.

As far as possible we divide the season up in such a way that we have our "own" productions which we look after from the moment the chorus first opens its music up to the moment the curtain comes down on the first night. After that, if there is backstage music to conduct, then we have to swap shows.

The advantages of this system are many. The chorus is not constantly looking at the same person waving his arms around - an orchestra works with many different conductors after all, as do most Radio choirs. The chorus master can play to his musical strengths: he might have a passion for Verdi, but Wagner might be one big yawn. He might have particular insights into the music of the 18th century, but be struck dumb when it comes to preparing the operas of Prokoviev. Like in other areas of life, we all turned on by different things.

It also permits the chorus master to work on projects outside the opera house - again, like many members of the chorus, orchestra and solo ensemble, being able to work on other projects is a way of recharging or refreshing the batteries. My colleague has worked on numerous occasions not just with Det Kongelige Operakor but also with the Danish Radio Chorus whose repertoire is evidently very different. Every year for the last five years I have spent 10 weeks working as an assistant chorus master at the Wagner Festival in Germany.

Above all it gives me and my colleague an insight into other ways of doing what is essentially the same job the world over. Constantly trying to improve the way the chorus works is an important part of our work. It needs constant evaluation and reappraisal if we are to bring the best out of what is a large group of people working in an environment which, amazingly enough, can quickly become monotonous.

Whilst away I will still be chiselling away at the up and coming seasons and will also be writing about how we plan the chorus's work. Spreading 60 people over 10 different operas three to four years ahead is a little like solving Rubik's cube with all the inherent satisfaction and frustration.

So until then, I'll hand you over to my chorus master colleague. I hear you've been working on a piece about one man and his three lovers .......

Philip White