The plan smacked of hysteria. Take Alt om min Familie, an opera for and by teenagers, to Stavanger with a new main-role singer, a stand-in director, new conductor and orchestra, work in a venue which no-one knew well, and pull it together on minimal rehearsal – i.e. arriving on Friday afternoon for a show the following day.
So, a yawning group of singers and backstage team arrived by bus in the city after an early start from Bergen with a couple of ferries and a great number of hairpin bends en route. We piled into Stavanger´s spectacular waterside Konserthus with great ships seeming to sail directly from the foyer, and collectively breathed out. Spacious dressingrooms, a calm canteen, rehearsal space, a great acoustic – oh Bergen, learn and learn quickly – we need an opera house!
Within minutes, more outbreaths and dropping of shoulders. The orchestra, Jan Bjøranger´s wonderful 1B1 which mixes top students, young professionals and experienced mentors, sounded warm, secure and eloquent. A run through – remarkably fluent – then dinner. On to the stage – lots of adjustment to the larger space, a great deal of work with lights, plenty of discussion, litres of coffee, then much talk from the hard core about finding the appropriate down-town pub.
Next day, after presenting bright and shiny faces to the media, what should have been a mid-day dress rehearsal swerved into an interesting kind of group analysis of the opera itself. In Zetlitz, Stavanger´s second hall and its opera venue within the larger complex, the sense of space and super-accurate sound drove singers and director into a keen re-examination of the story´s characters: how they converse, why they collide, how they co-exist.
So the performance that night offered different things to its broad variety of listeners. Stavanger´s audience, after the city´s European Capital of Culture experience, is fierce in its opinions but thoughtful in its commentary. Yes, there were musical blips, and no, the show wasn´t dramatically perfect – but the extraordinary commitment and natural stage presence of the young singers was praised to the broad Jæren skies. For 1B1 it was a new experience – playing opera, playing in the pit, and accompanying young voices. For Stavanger Konserthus´s management, it was a new initiative – opera for a young audience and a new collaboration for the venue.
For Bergen National Orchestra, anxieties apart, the venture taught lessons, made new friends and discoveries, built shared confidence and opened doors onto new possibilities. We´ll be back there. Next time, let´s try less coffee and a few more days rehearsal…