Leipzig is covered in a blanket of snow. It's lovely, until you have to go outside then it's a matter of getting to the cafe or theatre or wherever without your ears freezing. I keep forgetting to put on my hat before I leave the apartment so my ears have been numb a couple of times today.
I'm here directing Donizetti's Don Pasquale - and this is our last week in the rehearsal studio before we move into the theatre. The Leipzig Opera House is a monumental DDR theatre with fabulous 60's decor in the sweeping foyers, a huge backstage nervous system, a great big stage and a surprisingly intimate auditorium. It's about 1200 seats - a perfect size for most operas (wouldn't it be nice if we had one this size in Brisbane?) and ideal for Donizetti's gentle comedy. This week I have my first rehearsals with the Leipzig Opera chorus, but of course I've seen them on stage while I've been here, and they make a great sound. But the biggest treat of all is having Leipzig's famous Gewandhaus Orchestra in the pit - for Don Pasquale!
In between rehearsals designer Dan Potra (who designed Cinderella for OperaQ last year) and I are enjoying everyday life in this city of extraordinary cultural history. Most days I walk to the gym or the theatre past the Thomaskirche or Nikolaiskirche where Bach's most sublime works were first heard. Leipzig was also Wagner's birthplace. Mahler was a Music Director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. Goethe studied and wrote here - Leipzig's Auerbach cellar, which features in Faust, is still a great place for a drink after work. And of course, until the mid eighties, when the Monday protests against Communist rule began in the square outside Nikolaiskirche and gathered momentum across East Germany, eventually forcing the collapse of the East-West division of Europe, Leipzig was the heartland of the DDR. It's hard to reconcile this beautiful city, with all its beauty and cultural riches, as a place of Stasi surveillance and daily personal oppressions.
The team I'm working with is delightful - my small cast is led by the Portugese buffo baritone Jose Fardilha, who brings a wicked sense of humour, elegance and decades-worth of exquisite stagecraft as both Malatesta and Pasquale into every scene. Jose loves comedy and has made these great characters - Pasquale, Bartolo, Dandini/Magnifico, Falstaff and especially Leporello - his life's work. Jose makes me laugh out loud every day. The rest of the singers are also lovely, hailing from Russia (Norina), Germany (Malatesta) and the Phillipines (Ernesto), and English/German conductor Anthony Brammall.
Germany's train system is brilliant and I'm planning some train journeys while I'm here to nearby Dresden and Berlin, of course. And I'm off to London this weekend to catch up with friends and see some theatre. Tonight Dan and I are going to a musical service (Bach, of course) at the Thomaskirche - only 2 Euros but we need to queue, and it's snowing. Brrrr!
I'll write again closer to opening night, and meanwhile, here's a picture I took of the Nikolaiskirche on the way home yesterday. So pretty - but I do miss Brisbane's glorious sunlight!