Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Mad Dash to the Opera

I’ve been in a bit of a storytelling mood lately (as reflected in my last post), so I thought I’d share another crazy happening from last month.

It was a Friday, and I was in the middle of a Philharmonic block under Peter Schneider. I was playing principal on Josef Suk’s symphony Asreal, which is actually an interesting piece. We had an evening concert that was to begin at 7:30, and since we were performing in the historic Theater an der Wien rather than in the Musikverein, Schneider called for a 6:30 acoustic rehearsal. Even though most of us groaned at the announcement, it turned out to be a very good thing.

We sat on stage and ran through some of the tricky spots, and by 6:45 I was sitting on my travel case backstage preparing to go get some food. The first piece on the program was Dvorak’s Biblische Lieder, which has no trombones. Then there would be an intermission, so in all reality I wouldn’t have to be dressed and ready to go onstage until probably 8:15.

As I was packing up my trombone, my phone rang. On the other end was Dietmar, and he sounded panicked. He was at the opera, scheduled to play principal trombone on Tosca, and no 2nd trombonist had shown up yet. Hmmm. OK. Let’s talk about this…

Dietmar asks, “Who was scheduled to play tonight?” I told him who was supposed to play, and he said, “Well, I tried calling him and he won’t pick up.”
     “That’s weird. I bet he forgot.”
     “Are you in Vienna?”
     “Yes, just finished the Philharmonic rehearsal at the Theater an der Wien.”
     “Do you play on the first half of the concert?” he asked.
     “Could you come over and play the first act of Tosca in order to give time for a  substitute to show up?”
     “Sure, what time does the performance begin?”
     “In 7 minutes…”

WHAT!!?? Yes, that’s right. The opera was to begin at 7:00. (I would like to take this chance to say that my colleague who was scheduled to play 2nd trombone had a very good excuse for not showing up. Happens to the best of us…)

I immediately leapt from my seat backstage and began running with my trombone strapped to my back. The Theater an der Wien is not that far from the State Opera House, but when you’ve got only 6 minutes to get there it seems A LOT farther! Also, my less-than-adequate physical stamina did not aid matters.

It must’ve been a funny scene, me sprinting down the sidewalk with a big instrument, whipping in and out of pedestrian traffic and trying my best to avoid knocking over any tourists or old ladies in fur coats (both of which are plentiful on the sidewalks of the old city). I also had my iPhone plastered to my ear, breathlessly giving Dietmar updates on my progress:

"I am… HHH, HHH… about 2…HHH,HHH… minutes away…"

I made it into the backstage door with about 2 minutes to spare. Dietmar had pulled my black suit out of my locker and as I changed into it he put together my trombone. We all rushed upstairs and into the pit just as the concertmaster gave the tuning note. I had done it! In the span of 8 minutes, I went from calmly relaxing backstage at one theater to sitting in the pit performing in another one.

I was completely out of breath and very sweaty, but was nevertheless able to play decently… until… the asthma that has been plaguing me since last September decided to rear its ugly head. Apparently my sprint to the opera had angered my bronchial tubes, and about 10 minutes into Tosca they decided to go ahead and swell up. I started wheezing pretty badly, which developed into a cough just in time for a really quiet section of the music. I had to eventually sneak out of the pit to take a couple puffs on my inhaler so I could make it through the rest of the act.

A substitute showed up in time for Act Two, so I headed back over to the Theater an der Wien to play the Philharmonic concert. I got there just as the first half was finishing, so I had some time to catch my breath and cool off before taking the stage for the Suk symphony. I found myself wondering if other professional musicians deal with things like this…

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