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

Week seven, Justin Doyle, Assistant Conductor, gives an insight into the “sitting” rehearsal.


On Thursday we had the ‘Sitz’ rehearsals for Così. This is literally a “sitting” rehearsal, in which the singers are not on stage, and the focus is purely musical; it is the first opportunity for the cast and chorus to sing the piece with the orchestra. The transition from rehearsing with piano to singing it with the orchestra is always a fascinating one; although it is strange to remove the piece from the stage and sing through it without its dramatic context, it does give everyone a chance to remind themselves of the musical detail.

Most of the players in Opera North’s fantastic orchestra will have played this piece more times than I’ve let my dinner go cold. However, it’s always interesting to see how it can still feel like a brand new piece – for example, the orchestra hears for the first time the text that the cast is singing, which makes it easier for them to accompany a melodic line, and they are getting to know the singers’ voices. Rehearsing in the Howard Assembly Room allows everyone to hear each other’s lines, phrasing and articulation and so on in detail. We have a great cast for Così; it isn’t always that you see singers taking as much interest in the orchestral writing as these guys do. Most of the time. When comedy doesn’t get the better of them.

The singers have been rehearsing for the past four weeks without musical scores. That means everything was memorised before they started to discover the production. Coming back to a rehearsal without a stage on which to run around is often quite a strange experience for singers – they re-open the score they haven’t seen for all that time, and discover all sorts of exciting things in there – and, most amazingly, they get to gaze at the conductor all day! So, today was an opportunity to be relished; tomorrow they’ll be in the theatre and much more excited about their beautiful hoop skirts than anything else.

I have to be an extra pair of ears for Andrew Parrott during his rehearsals. This week, I will be checking that the singers’ text can be heard at the back of the theatre, because what Andrew hears in the pit isn’t always exactly what the audience will hear. When you’re conducting, it’s pretty much impossible to write anything down, so I am also Andrew’s extra memory, taking notes of things he might want to rehearse again. And much of the time I am the ‘bad cop’ to Andrew’s ‘good cop’ – if there’s any bad news to be broken to the singers, I usually have to do it! Sensible delegation on his part. Then, when the show goes on tour, I’m conducting a few performances, so I need to ensure that I know exactly how Andrew is conducting the piece in order to take it over smoothly.

Joanna (Assistant Director), Annette (Repetiteur / Harpsichord) and I have also started to rehearse the covers (understudies) last week. They would need to be able to replace the singers if anyone is ill; rather than blindly copying what the first cast does, we need to be able to help them understand why everything is performed as it is. Actually it’s just a test to see how much Joanna and I have been watching / listening in rehearsals so far!