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More news from Havana…

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Well, we’ve done it. We arrived at the theatre – an exquisite building – as the sound guys were setting up. We knew straight away that it wasn’t going to be easy. There were several trees on stage – young palms in big pots – and they were waving in the breeze. Aircon is the kiss of death for singers as it dries you out, but in this particular case it was the noise; it was so loud I couldn’t really hear Ariel’s lute from only a metre away. Could they lose the aircon during the show? No, because it was on the same circuit as the lights. OK, so we do it with aircon accompaniment.  We tried a song without mics while the sound men were doing their stuff and the sound stopped before it reached the edge of the stage (a dramatic reminder of how much power an opera singer would have to use). So we had to use the PA. In fact, it was a very sophisticated system (which seemed to be operated from an iPad) and we soon found a way to make things more or less work, though it wasn’t ideal for music intended for small rooms with an audience in single figures. The audience listened apparently in rapt attention; it was probably the first time most of them had heard a lute song and a whole hour might have been rather hard going. We slightly lost it in the last piece (Tony Banks’ Laura) when the lute was finally overwhelmed by the aircon and I couldn’t tell where the main beats were. But overall we were quite pleased with the way it went, and the theatre staff were charming and efficient (and made us the most drinkable coffee so far).

 

The previous night, as audience members we’d have given our eye teeth (whatever they are) for some air conditioning. It was also by some way the weirdest concert I’ve ever been to. It was the final concert of the world’s first (so they say) countertenor competition, with performances by the winners and members of the jury. We heard 8 countertenors in music ranging from cabaret that was camp in excelsis to a stunning realisation of the Erlkonig  with guitar and mandolin. All amplified, so there were quite a lot of countertenor decibels, and none of them shrank from giving us the full benefit of their (often very impressive) top z’s. The first thing to say is that the audience absolutely loved it (despite the crippling heat), and that each singer had a small army of very vocal fans. Secondly, for those of us used to European countertenors these were mostly not like anything we’d experienced before. All were full of character (some overpoweringly so) and some were wonderful musicians. There were too many ego-maniacs for my taste though (sometimes the gestures were bigger than the voices, and that’s saying something). One was so bizarre that a certain famous countertenor sitting next to me videoed him as otherwise his wife would never believe him. But it was an evening I won’t forget – and just one of the many delights in this extraordinary festival.

Now we’ve got the work out of the way it’s time for some proper Havana action, but I think I might start with a day by the pool.

 

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