Saturday, February 4, 2012 3 AM
Sitting in my hotel room, unable to sleep, and aware that something magnificent has happened for all of the musicians of Opera Lafayette this afternoon.
We performers love what we do. We cherish the music we play, written by great geniuses and offering so much wealth for the spirit, so much understanding and meaning to our lives. We love being able to share this with audiences who are often moved, even surprised by the power of the art we recreate. We love the challenge of trying to live up to the potential of a Beethoven, Bach, or Mozart score. It fills us with humility because, at our best, we never reach the high bar of a master. Self doubt? Loads of it! We are advocates of something very grand, ancient, and generous. We love what we do and rely on the people who love us for doing it. This multi-faceted fulfillment compensates for the difficult, underpaid, and often underappreciated work we do. In America, most classical musicians do not live in the best of all possible worlds.
Yesterday, after some free time in the town of Versailles, exploring the side streets, the markets and the churches of the town, we all found our way to the artists’ entrance of the Opera Theater. It looks more like the entrance of an 18th century apartment house in Paris than a chateau doorway. We enter and are led to a simple stairway, with stone steps an iron hand rail and white walls. Up three flights and then down a corridor and past dressing rooms, the names of our cast now on each door. Signs direct us to the orchestra pit. There are spiral staircases down, catwalk like walkways on planks of wood in dimly lit backstage areas. We notice that the floor resounds with creaking and we look down through the cracks in the boards to notice that beneath us is empty air space, a drop of 30 or more feet. Then we reach a small door and open it, entering the opera house on the level of the musician’s platform (a better word than pit for this enclosure).
The hall is lit with electric candles and the gentle level of light is just as it would be if lit by tapers. As we enter, to our right is the hall. We mistake the chandeliers for constellations, everywhere suspended in the air above us. The colors, forms, textures, all hit us at the same moment and it is much to take in. But then we look to the left and see an English forest on stage. A forest painted and carved and cut and mounted in 1780 and there, now, ready for us to recreate Le Roi et le fermier.
We take our places in the pit, pluck or bow some notes and hear a sound so ideal, so rich and true to our instruments, we hear the sound of a great hall. We tune, Ryan leads us in the Overture, a fanfare in E Flat. Now, we are all pilgrims arrived at our Jerusalem or Mecca. We are all expressing our Hallelujah in the way we do best. And for the next hours of work, we have found ourselves in…the best of all possible worlds.