A passion for touring and all that goes with it
Q: Coming back to your core business of touring, apart from being an expert in Handel, you must be a world authority on touring, not just with ETO but before that in Ireland and even Bengal, what are the particular challenges financially and in keeping a large number of people on the road both sane and entertained, rather than a fixed-base company?
JC: I’m devoted to it. I’ve worked at it most of my working life, because I think it’s important. I didn’t grow up in a metropolitan centre, or in an affluent setting, so things that I could see were touring things. There is an elegant provision for people who live in metropolitan centres. It’s wrong to think that many people have the money to travel to metropolitan centres to see art like opera.
I can understand why it’s there. Opera takes a lot of people to put on. You don’t do it with a soundtrack of the orchestra—well some people do, but I don’t see what would be the point of it. It’s a live performance, with a lot of people backstage, in the pit and on stage. So it does make it expensive.
Q: How many people would you normally be taking on the road?
JC: It depends on the season—in spring it could be 80, in autumn 40, 45. That means you are paying people who travel and something towards their costs to stay somewhere and eat—we don’t pay nearly enough. That basically doubles the cost. That makes touring quite expensive. That sounds like a lot of people, but a company like ours is quite lean, and if one of the bigger companies were out on tour it would probably be twice that number.
If I’ve got an assistant conductor on tour they are probably playing the keyboard part in the pit, they are doing all the balance calls, they are playing for masterclasses, they are also the music director for the performance for children that goes on in schools, and they might just have to do surtitles. One of the problems with surtitles is that if you have one person dedicated to being surtitlist as in the Metropolitan Opera, you have to pay them their fee for the week, and their travel and subsistence. So if I go out, I do the surtitles, the staff director who is supposed to be watching the show does surtitling and she’s also clearing the orchestra pit. Everyone multi-tasks, everyone keeps very busy, so they don’t have an awful lot of time to worry about being bored on tour.
We are really also very committed to professional development. When I came, I saw there was an opportunity. We are not rich in anything except art. So when you have that many artists outside London, I thought whatever you are wealthy in, use it to the maximum. That’s why on a given day, there will be as well as the performance in the theatre, a performance in a school of a newly-commissioned opera for young people that’s curriculum related, a performance that’s multi-sensory for children with profound learning difficulties, a masterclass where someone who is a senior singer with a lot of experience will be coaching younger singers in the company, a recital perhaps for older people who don’t like going out at night and in-service training right down to someone who’s really good at web sites helping younger artists on how to get their web sites up-to-date, offering a session on how to deal with agents or tax.
And we are really concerned that their vocal health is looked after while on tour, so that when they finish the tour, they are stronger and fresher than when they started, and also we hope that they have learnt some new dramatic skills through coaching during the day. It’s an obsession of mine to make the opportunity of working with each one to give a holistic opportunity to become a better artist.