Updated: Jul 1, 2020
In June 2019, I travelled to Berlin to take part in the Berlin Opera Academy. It was a truly rewarding musical experience but I also had a great time exploring the fascinating city of Berlin!
I applied back in March via video audition - I recorded the Prelude to Bach's Suite No. 3 for solo cello and also excerpts from the operas to be studied on the course - Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and Die Zauberflote. At the start of May, I received an email to say that I had been accepted onto the course and awarded the 'Elizabeth Luxton Memorial Scholarship'. I was so excited!
Next came the process of booking my flights... Now I'm sure I don't have to tell you that flying with a cello can be difficult at the best of times. I try to stick to flying with British Airways as they have a specific cello policy and provide great customer service to me and Cabbage (cello is marked as "Cbbg", short for "cabin baggage", on flight booking so "Cbbg" becomes "Cabbage" - so from here on in, "cabbage" is my cello!). When booking a flight with a cello through British Airways you have to call the customer service team, you can't book online. I rang, to book my flights, 5 weeks ahead. As the cello doesn't pay tax, you have to make your booking request, then wait for them to send the details to the fares department, them to check it all and then ring you back with a quote. However, after 2 weeks I still hadn't heard anything. I rang up and apparently my booking had been cancelled as the dimensions I had given were 2cm too big. I gave new dimensions and continued with the booking. After another 2 weeks I still hadn't heard anything, so I rang back. The booking period has elapsed and my booking had once again been cancelled. I eventually spoke directly with a lady in the fares department who understood my request and got it all sorted for me in under 24 hours...! Despite all of that, the crew onboard the plane were, as always, lovely!
I decided to arrive in Berlin a few days before the course began. I've always wanted to visit Berlin, with its huge amounts history and culture. I was eager to explore. The first evening I walked into the city centre and went to Checkpoint Charlie, which was both fascinating and humbling. The following day I visited the 'Memorial to the Murdered Jews of the Holocaust', the Brandenbug Gate, the Reichstag building and the Kultur Forum, followed by a concert performance of Thomas' 'Hamlet' at Deutsche Oper in the evening. The next day was very music orientated. I went to an incredible chamber music concert at the Philharmonie, where members of the Berlin Philharmoniker performed Mozart's String Quintets. I also went to a chamber music concert at the Hochschule for Musik "Hanns Eisler". The third day was a hot one! It reached 38 degrees! Needless to say - I stayed inside for the majority of the day before heading out to the Staatsoper to watch Verdi's 'Rigoletto' - amazing! I rounded off my few days of sight-seeing with a second trip to the Staatsoper, this time to see the ballet, including a terrifying performance of Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring'.
Then came the course itself. We had 3 weeks in total to learn and perform (each three times), Mozart's 'Le Nozze di Figaro' and 'Die Zauberflote'. Figaro was conducted by Peter Leonard and Flute by Tom Seligman - two very different conductors, with different approaches to the music and rehearsal style. It was great to be able to understand the differences in style between the two operas, despite both being composed by Mozart and having been premiered only 5 years apart.
As part of the course we also had German language classes. Although these were scheduled primarily for the singers, and therefore the orchestra were only able to attend a few of the classes, it was still a great opportunity to be able to practise my German in a class setting, with a specialist language teacher.
Whilst on the course we also had a strings masterclass with violinist Helen Weiss. I performed the exposition of the first movement of Dvorak's Cello Concerto - a piece which I am currently working on in preparation for an audition. This was my first time performing the piece to anyone, so I was fairly nervous but was still able to gain lots of advice as to what to do next with the piece.
As the performances grew closer, bits of set and props were beginning to appear around the building. I have to say - the design team at BOA were particularly amazing - the Queen of the Night's dress in Die Zauberflote was epic!
Then we got into the theatre. As a former silent movie theatre, 'Theater im Delphi' provided a unique location for the performances. Dress rehearsals all went smoothly and before we knew it, the shows were over! It was a whirlwind week of performances but extremely rewarding.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Berlin, both exploring the city and working on the two masterpieces that are 'Le Nozze di Figaro' and 'Die Zauberflote'. I learnt a lot from the experience and can't wait to go back to the beautiful country of Germany and explore more of its musical cities!
Danke schon Berlin!