The diary of a Valkyrie

Glastonbury 2004: Morrissey, mushrooms, mud - and an electrifying piece of opera. Rebecca de Pont Davies, one of ENO's Wagnerian maidens, kept a journal
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Wednesday 23 June

Wednesday 23 June

I've just sung through my part as Siegrune, one of the Valkyries in Wagner's The Valkyrie, before tomorrow's rehearsal for Glastonbury. I'm starting to feel the first pangs of nerves. There has been so much press coverage of this event - I do hope the critics are kind. My extended family are having a special lunch together to watch the live TV performance on Sunday. Finally, my nephews will think I have some street cred.

Thursday 24 June

We've spent today rehearsing some staging with the director, Phyllida Lloyd, at the ENO rehearsal studios. Space will be limited, as the 91-piece orchestra will take up most of the stage. We will have only a tiny area at the front, with eight fixed mics, so possibilities for drama will not be huge. As rain is forecast, we have been advised to bring wellies. I have visions of eight Valkyries, knee-deep in mud, trying to get into costume. Forget "Ride of the Valkyries" - bring on "Slide of the Valkyries".

Friday 25 June

We've just had an orchestral rehearsal at the BBC studios. The build-up has begun - we have been given VIP passes and Glastonbury T-shirts. In view of the cramped performing-conditions, my biggest fear at this moment is of a violin bow accidentally contributing to more high notes than intended. The Yeovil Town Band are playing before us, and Joss Stone is after us, with "tba" in between - they are the only ones I've heard of, and I know they'll be great.

Saturday 27 June

The front page of one of the papers shows the portable-toilet situation at Glastonbury. As a result, I have decided to forgo liquid of any kind until tomorrow night. One of the Valkyries read that ENO is this year's wild-card entry into the festival - I'd have thought we were at least qualifiers! In my hotel room tonight, I watch Paul McCartney on the Pyramid Stage. That's where I'll be tomorrow. I don't think I'll get much sleep.

Sunday 28 June

I sweep out of my hotel room at 6.30am in full make-up, because we've been told the BBC will be filming us. Not a camera in sight. At breakfast, all the Valkyries are comatose, so on reflection we are glad that the film crew have decided to lie in.

By 7.45am, we are on the coach. We are interviewed by BBC2 about the plot and our characters. With every mile, our nerves mount. When we arrive, the artists' entrance is flooded, so we have to approach via the main entrance. That takes us past what seems an entire city made up of tents and camper vans. From the most basic to the highest-tech, all forms of life are in evidence. There is serious mud, so, forgetting sisterhood, I allow myself to feel smug as some of my colleagues tie plastic bags around their feet.

At 9.30am, we rehearse on stage. Already, people are vying for the best places in the crowd. We aren't singing out, and I am aware that the public may be thinking this is the best we can do. In no time, we are being put in our wigs and make-up in portable cabins behind the stage. Mine is next to James Brown's and in front of Morrissey's. We only get to put on our proper shoes at the foot of the stage, as we are going on.

As we wait to go on, all we can see is vast swathes of people stretching out to the horizon. My heart is leaping out of my mouth. As the orchestra tunes up, the audience roars. As a technician removes a mic, the audience roars. As each of us ascends the stage, the audience roars. However, within five minutes, the atmosphere has completely changed and you could hear a pin drop. The rest of the performance is a blur, but we are all shaking with excitement when we come off at the end. At the curtain call, the crowd is so enthusiastic, we have to come back at least five times. They are shouting for more - who says that people don't like opera?

I don't know if Brünnhilde has been given some of those mushrooms, but the last time we see her, she is heading off into the crowd. She misses the coach and is retrieved by Seán Doran, the artistic director and chief executive of ENO, from the Greenpeace tent some hours later.