'Prague: a Rumpelstiltskin shadow play'
PASSPORT: THOMAS ALLEN
Sunday 13 December 1998
I have gone through a fair number of passports in the past 30 years. Most recently, I went to Spain and Germany doing concerts with the Hamburg Orchestra. Just before that, I was in Amsterdam and Lisbon and before that, Australia and Brunei. I'm a bit of a gypsy. If you're not one to start out with, you become one.
I loved being in Australia recently. Years ago, when the opera house was first built in Sydney, most of the Australians who I was working with in the UK returned home. So, during this trip I managed to meet up with a lot of these fellows whom I hadn't seen for years and years. A wonderful experience.
When you travel with an opera you usually settle down in a place for two or three months, so you make it home and get to know the back streets - Florence, Madrid, or wherever it might be. I usually get to know the cities quite well, but I feel most at home in Australia.
I enjoy being in New York very much, too, but I'd like to go back to Australia as soon as possible. The people are wonderful. I only realised this when, as a cynical Brit, I found myself trying to work out what the catch was. You know, why are they being so nice? Well there's no catch. They are just nice people and it makes you realise what a convoluted society we live in over here.
I was in Prague recently with Channel Four Films doing a documentary called The Real Don Giovanni. We had one hell of a schedule. My first call was at midnight on the first floor of the Italian Institute. I had to put on a mask and climb out of a balcony, down on to the ground floor, clobber an old man with an iron bar and run up the street and escape.
I must have done this 20 or 30 times, working well into the wee small hours. We didn't have a budget for star treatment - flash trailers or anything like that - so it was a hard week in some pretty cold weather.
But I love Prague, it's one of the great cities of the world. It has got more colour than it had previously but it's definitely not spoiled. One of the wonderful things about Prague is you realise what the 18th century was like without it having to be reconstructed. Sitting in the restaurant of the Intercontinental Hotel overlooking the rooftops of Prague is fantastic. With the towers, steeples and minarets, it's like being in a Rumpelstiltskin shadow play or something.
Vienna is not a place I would want to hurry back to. I find it quite parochial. It sounds an awful thing to say, but it is so folksy. I always expect an oompah band to be playing around every corner.
A number of years ago I was there in a production of the Barber of Seville. We had just one day of rehearsals and it was a complete disaster. The set was a complicated dolls' house with multiple floors, entrances and staircases. I spent most of the times chasing the other baritone around the house, missing cues. It was like performing in a Rubik's cube. At points like this the blinkers come down and your experiences mar your perception of the country.
In South America I spent a lot of time amusing myself as the production I was in kept being postponed. The orchestra didn't like the temperature of the pit, so they wouldn't play. Sometimes this is justified and the orchestra doesn't play.
Early in my career I was on tour doing Cosi fan tutte with the Welsh National Opera. We were in Rhyl in a theatre on the sea front which was undergoing some serious renovations. The back wall had come down and unfortunately nobody had thought of putting a replacement one up.
Consequently, there was a howling Irish Sea gale blowing though the place, the candles on stage were blowing into the audience and when the orchestra did play, they had to wear overcoats and fingerless mittens.
Thomas Allen will be singing in two performances of Leonard Bernstein's 'Candide' with the London Symphony Orchestra on 18 and 19 December. Tickets are available from the Barbican Box Office (tel: 0171-638 8891).
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