We are sitting at midnight in sheepskin-wrapped camping chairs beside decidedly retro tents swathed with fairy lights. The slightly lopsided table, clad in tasteful crochet, clinks with Prosecco bottles. We are all laughing a little madly under the moon at the success of our Mimi Goes Glamping festival, Bergen National Opera’s three-day extravaganza of opera, food, nature and fun designed on the Wilderness/Latitude/Coachella principal of music and ’lifestyle’ activities, in collaboration with wonderful Åmot Gård. We may be glamping in a decidedly quirky Norwegian way, but we are not, at this late hour, listening to Puccini. No, the Communications Department are determinedly grinding into action a 60s battery vinyl record player. Engelbert Humperdinck is just about audible through the crackling and wheezing, wailing ’Please release me, let me go….’ In the distance an owl is hooting in sympathy and there is the faint munching of nearby goats.
We’ve had extraordinary performances from Bjarte Eike´s Barokksolistene – a mix of opera, dance and Venetian theatre, which had the audience swerve from tears to joy – then fresh young voices from BNO’s Unge Stemmer and Edvard Grieg Kor; magical masterclasses from great Wagnerian soprano Rachel Nicholls who also effortlessly rolled back ten years of her career to sing Vivaldi, and from her husband bass-baritone Andrew Slater, who profoundly inspired the local choral community. We baked stunning macaroons in pastry chef Håvard Flatland’s Masterclass, and consumed disturbing quantities of scones with astounding chocolate and chilli marmalade at the ensuing tea songs concert where young baritone Gustav Hasfjord sang winningly about ’beautiful soup’. Our opera gala was beautiful, ending with heartrending Strauss, and Eli Kristin Hansveen’s late-night Eli sings Ella a joy. The gorgeous old Bakkejekta sailed on the fjord in dancing sunshine with young singers and old stories. Rachel Nicholls held us spellbound – both as soloist and speaker – and BNO´s own Nicolai Riise spun fabulous stories of scandalous divas. The brave and fit ran up mountains. Others kayaked. The young singers were everywhere, in masterclass, in concert, entertaining at dinner (and what dinners…!) We held a glorious produce and craft market where the wonders of local makers glowed as brightly as the morning sun, and closed with Rachel and Andrew’s howlingly funny and beautiful show The Diva which revealed everything from Nessun Dorma to the Liebestod in text which may make it exceedingly hard to experience the original before a timely break.
The crowds departed. We packed away the bunting and lowered the tents. Rachel left for Tokyo to sing Isolde. Åmot’s brilliant Steinar and Yngve made us final elegant cups of tea. Next year, we said… and drove sadly home.
Then to Edinburgh Festival. Androgenous figures in spangled tights are handing out flyers for a 4am Fringe shows outside venues of Georgian splendour. Distinguished American cellists in full evening dress lean against the stage door smoking herbal cigarettes. An elderly Festival patron of ancient wealth, says to a young artist ’You’re staying in that charming street in Leith? Darling, didn´t we used to have a cleaning lady who lived there…. ?’ There is staggeringly beautiful Schubert in the Queens Hall from the Arcanto Quartet; zany, fabulous Magic Flute from Barry Kosky and Komische Oper with a tough little ink-clad Pamina as from the Weimar Republic. Then precise, slightly chilling dancing from Zurich Ballet in the reciprochally grim Playhouse. It´s great International Festival in a great city. There´s not a hint of glamping, more the sense that we perch respectfully at a distinguished feast.
Back in Bergen, we launch a new season with Britten, Puccini, Eötvös, Bartok, Schoenberg – and plot and plan with artists both famous and well known. There are twenty small boys misbehaving in rehearsal, and a Korean conductor who hasn’t signed her contract.
I’m thinking wistfully of Engelbert, and bonfires and Caro Nome and a sad little song about love, sweetened by macaroons. Mimí will be back. Pamina’s off to Berlin to change her black dress for Handelian robes. Can’t wait to see them both again next summer.
4 September 2015