Follow Opera North’s production of Così fan tutte from rehearsals and first fittings to singer’s insights and first night nerves.


Week three, Tim Albery gives an insight into the first week of rehearsals from a director’s perspective.

With some operas, you want to get the shape of the whole thing done quicklyand then go back and look at the detail. But in Così fan tutte, you need to make your way step by step.  You don’t want to rush through it, because it’s the little details that make up the bigger story – in fact, the bigger story doesn’t exist until you’ve got the little details in place.  So we’re trying to work through the piece slowly and chronologically, because it’s important that the performers know exactly what emotional state they’re playing second by second.

As Opera North has a number of large productions on at the moment, two of our six singers are going to spend most of next week in Bregenz, Austria in another show (Skin Deep).  So our desire to work chronologically will founder but next week we’ll jump into Act II, which becomes more like making a film, where you might shoot your death before you shoot your wedding.

We start each day, and each new scene, around the piano, focussing on the recitatives – the sung conversations that come between the big musical numbers that are accompanied by the orchestra.  In some ways the recitatives are the most interesting parts of Mozart’s operas.  They give us a lot of freedom because at those moments it’s more like doing a play.  We have to decide what the shape of it is, where the pauses are, how each person is feeling, because you don’t have as much musical information to go on as you do in an aria or a duet.  So there are a lot of choices to be made.  We can be around the piano for an hour or so, working through 3 or 4 pages, before we get up and put it on its feet.  And by then the singers have so much information about what they’re thinking or feeling at any particular moment that the moves come naturally.

When we put it on its feet the director tends to be in control, because it’s a production rehearsal – in the same way that a music rehearsal belongs to the conductor and I tend to shut up!  But around the piano, singers, conductor and director very much have equal status – it’s a group of people all pitching in their thoughts and exploring ideas.

We have four weeks in the rehearsal room before we move onto the stage and now, at the end of the first week, we’ve worked through about 85 or 90 pages of the score.  And although numbers of pages mean very little, it’s still a rough marker in a piece which I think is about 360 pages in total, so I guess we’re about where I wanted us to be.