So, I’m sitting on a plane somewhere over Hungary on my way back from the Malaysia experience. How did it all go? Did I learn much? Was it worth taking opera to a country with very little interest in it?
Theatre isn’t a particularly prominent art form in Malaysia, and opera is hardly ever performed there. Shopping malls seem to be more of a development priority for the government than building a thriving arts community and scene. As an experimental tour, sounding out the scene, I think the Merry Opera and Gardner and Wife collaborated fantastically well to get the whole thing to happen and to take La Traviata to the people of Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Ipoh. I think people like our promoters are doing a great job trying to increase awareness of our western art forms in the East.
Audience figures, at between a third and half full must have been disappointing though, on a financial level, especially as the shows were well promoted. What WAS really positive however was the eclectic mix of people at the shows, from muslim Malay, to Chinese, to British and Antipodean expats. Many of them were experiencing opera for the first time, so even though the audience figures weren’t great, we were planting seeds for more opera in Malaysia in the future.
One can’t help wondering if a collaborative Carmen or Madam Butterfly (with local musical groups or choirs, and the Philharmonic orchestra) would be rather a big event in the future if someone chanced on it.
For us as performers, well, it was a marvellous tour. To be in a tropical country like Malaysia for three weeks, as autumn turned to winter in the UK was great. Like a combination holiday/tour/hang out with mates/foodie extravaganza. Oh yes! Some of the street food in Malaysia is quite exquisite. And there are a plethora of scrumptious Dim Sum to try as well.
Being on tour is always a mixed bag. You live in a hotel room, have breakfast together most mornings, then go off and do stuff like sightseeing on your own or in little groups, before convening at the theatre again in the evening and spending a lot of time in the backstage area together before and during the show (we all shared one large dressing room). So there are times when the camaraderie and fun is brilliant, contagious. And there are times when you just want to get away and have some peace.
Luckily, as a large portion of the tour was spent in KL, where we were resident at the lovely Boulevard Hotel with our own rooms, privacy was easy to find when we needed it. And if you felt like a drink after the show, there would always be a few people sitting outside in the pool/bar area enjoying a late night tipple.
I often wonder what it’s like for big rock bands who spend one or sometimes two years on the road non-stop though. I can see how it would begin to get trying after a long time, and why band members often come of tour numb and exhausted. It is a somewhat surreal existence, and you need to find ways to earth yourself, whether it is working out, yoga, going for a massage or finding a nice park to reconnect with nature.
Experience wise this will leave its footprint with some great memories. I got to sing in a country that few of my colleagues will ever get to sing in, and to sing the Germont/Violetta scene with two such talented sopranos as Claire Egan and Anna Jeruc-Kopec was, as ever, an absolute pleasure.
The stage crew and staff from Malaysia were never less than courteous and professional, and Natalie, who liased with us for Gardner and Wife, the promoters, was lovely and became a great friend of everyone in the company. She even got to come on stage in a cameo for a couple of the group scenes on the last night.
Watch out for a couple of new videos in the next couple of days about sights in KL and Ipoh. I will post them up on Youtube with a link from The Baritone too.