Usually, the start of the new season would see a flourish of announcements looking forward to the exciting events ahead.
In a post COVID-19 world, so much has been cancelled that September 2020 is now less a time for anticipation than for reflection.
Those dark days over five months ago brought about a change in my life and that of my artists that has had long-reaching consequences artistically, personally and financially. And although, as they say, “Self pity begins at home,” I do not fool myself that these consequences have only affected the performing arts, even if it does seem that our particular industry seems to be taking the longest to find a way forward.
During those those darkest days, I was touched by the dignity and stoicism showed by the artists of James Black Management. As together we watched the unravelling of projects hard worked for and long anticipated, whether a major house debut, a major role debut, a beautiful concert of choral repertoire, an important concert, a return to conducting a major ballet company, I was moved sometimes to tears by their constant support of each other and of their kindness to me with gestures that I cannot make public but which will long resonate within me. I also wish to pay tribute to all those promoters who have tried in whatever way possible to make some compensation to those contracted to perform who were no longer able so to do, being fully appreciative of the vulnerability of the freelance artists’ incomeAnd now, wonderful initiatives are being explored. Here in the UK, with apologies to any I have left out, Garsington Opera at Wormsley, the Glyndebourne Festival, Grange Park Opera, The Grange Festival, Hampstead Garden Opera, Longborough Festival Opera (with JBM’s Lee Bisset), Nevill Holt Opera, Opera Holland Park (see below), the Waterperry Opera Festival and Welsh National Opera (one example featuring JBM’s Ross Ramgobin) found ways to present performance in some live form. There were broadcasts from the Royal Opera House and the Wigmore Hall; there were Roger Vignoles’ Distanced Lieder; Simon Lepper’s Music in my Garden; and now both English National Opera and Scottish Opera are presenting socially distanced performances of La Bohème, both casts of ENO’s Live & Drive featuring JBM artists.
As I write this I read that the London Symphony Orchestra will find a way to perform at LSO St Luke’s, the Orchestra of Opera North will be performing at Leeds Town Hall; and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra will return to live performance in front of an audience presenting a season. Artists are creative and resilient people: they will and do find a way.
As I experienced when attending one of Opera Holland Park’s boldly innovative concerts this Summer (and I was very proud that JBM’s Jennifer France, Anush Hovhannisyan and Ross Ramgobin were all performing), the need for people to engage not just with live performance but with each other remains firmly rooted in our collective psyche. This was brought home even more keenly to me when I taught for a few days at Jésus León’s Vienna Opera Academy in August. The process of working again on live music making with those wonderfully talented young singers, alongside superb colleagues, brought inspiration to my spirit. I watched with great pride the streams of their performances of Don Giovanni performed indoors with an orchestra and audience conducted by JBM’s Toby Purser at the Palais Eschenbach. As I did for the streams from Florence’s Re-Generation Festival, in whose curation JBM’s Anush Hovhannisyan played such an active role.
It will take a long time to return to normal, or even a new normal in our world, but there are ever more signs of a determination to find a way forward. Even as I write this, from within the JBM roster, one has just performed two concerts in Innsbruck, one is in rehearsal in France, two others begin rehearsals in the UK at the start of September. Two more begin rehearsals shortly in Germany and another in Portugal. I continue to explore options with promoters world-wide and will never again take for granted the excitement (I hope I never did) felt as an engagement is discussed, confirmed and a contract lands on the desk (or even in these modern days via a PDF on the iMac). Will these upcoming projects happen? Will there be another spike? As I lack Madame Arvidson’s insight, or at least her chutzpah, I’ll not speculate.
However, as Carmen (or was it La Carmencita?) says to Escamillo, “It is not forbidden to wait, and it is always sweet to hope.” We have waited, and continue so to do, but we also hope and, a cliché being a cliché because it is invariably true, “Hope springs eternal.”