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First night nerves

There always has to be a First Night of course, but the celebratory, hope-filled kind on which the theatrical industry has become so focused is particularly profound when it not only ushers in a first production, but an entire collected, carefully curated season, as ours does tonight at Opera Holland Park. All of the festivals in Britain will understand; we essentially vanish for nine months and pop up again. In our case, an entire theatre reappears, teased from the ground up, dressed, primped and hopefully improved each year. Having to recreate the space in which we work adds a dimension of anxiety that isn't there when one is opening a production in a "normal" theatre.  So when you visit us tonight - if you are lucky enough to have a ticket - you will be entering not only a world that Puccini created, interpreted and put together by James Clutton the producer, but you will be enjoying it in a place that didn't exist three months ago and over which countless people have, in envisioning and enacting its physical effect, sweated over. 

The venues in which human kind has sought cultural enlightenment over the centuries have always been part of the experience: from the Greeks and Romans to the lyric theatres of the modern era, the  theatre would overawe as much as the art on stage. Our theatre isn't quite as inspiring as the amphitheatre in Ephesus, or La Fenice or countless other vast and ornate houses, but it was created with aesthetic gratification in mind. And the technical challenges of joining its various elements on a small and challenging Grade 1 listed site take us into the minutiae of wood colour, carpet texture and paint; from a pig's ear emerges a silk purse and we hope the theatre is admired too. From an architectural pot pourri of Jacobean ruin, Frei Otto inspired high tensile fabric, steel and truss dripping with LED technology will emerge the western American desert and a bandit to steal Minnie's heart. If I wrote it down, they would never go for it on Dragon's Den would they?

So tonight, as everybody gathers, James will immerse himself in the traditional backstage hullabaloo of nerves and excitement and I'll probably shout at someone for not raking the gravel properly. That is the nature of created spaces in which we invite immensely talented people to do their thing in front of a thousand expectant patrons who not only trust us to offer artistic value for their entrance fee but give no quarter to the fact they would have been sitting on a lawn a few short weeks ago.  At the end of the night - hopefully - our only concern will be the volume of applause, smiling faces, the body language of attendant critics (yes, critics, we read your body language) and a welcome celebratory glug of something strong. But if anyone mentions the gravel, I shall get very cross indeed.


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