Sunday, July 7, 2013

It's Never as Good as the First Time: Of Premieres and Other Demons

"Love and Other Demons"
Photo: Heiko Sandelmann

Sade said it best:
“[The] second time won’t live up to the dream ... It’s never as good as the first time.”

While Sade was singing about sex, a premiere opera performance shares those “first time” qualities. You spend weeks - maybe less, maybe more - leading up to it. You’re nervous. You’re worried if it’s going to go well. You’ve never done it before - at least not with this piece, this person, in this place, at this time.

The first time counts... 

It’s the real thing - not a rehearsal, not a fantasy. Maybe you’ve been talking about how marvelous it’s going to be, but now it’s happening. And hundreds of people are going to be watching (here is where the opera, hopefully, differs from sex). Once you start, there’s no going back. The bull is in the pen, and the Toreador must penetrate or be penetrated (this is not the case in opera, unless of course you are premiering “Carmen”).

There should be nothing more exciting than the first time, but those of us who have “performed” know that that’s not always the case. Maybe you’ve got other things on your mind, maybe you’re having a bad day, maybe you’re just not in the mood.

Unlike a romantic tryst, most operatic premieres can not be postponed on account of your disposition. Even if you’re vital to the piece, in most cases you can be replaced in as quickly as an afternoon’s time. This could apply to sex, too, but let’s just hope desire goes beyond just appendages and orifices and extends to connection of two human hearts and souls. Still, I’d think twice about feigning that headache.

The first time is awkward...

You’re self-conscious, suddenly aware of each and every flaw, wondering if your wig is coming unglued or if your cellulite is showing.

The first time is messy...

Fluids of all kinds when and where they shouldn’t be flowing. Just ask anyone who’s had to kiss Name-withheld-for-obvious-reasons on stage. Or how about that spitball that always manages to nestle itself right on your ... high F?

If you’re lucky, the first time is followed by a second and third time and many subsequent performances. In the case of my most recent premiere, the second performance was cancelled due to faulty equipment -- the revolving stage was in a jam that not even a Viagra could fix. So we all reconvened for a third time, two weeks after the premiere, feeling timid, trying to remember what it felt like; a bit devoid of passion and making a few new mistakes, we still had a feeling of confidence, and in the end a gush of exhilarating applause (yeah, okay, actually it was a bit meager - only 235 people in the audience, but size doesn’t matter, does it?).
When it’s over, it’s over. The first time only comes once, no matter if it was awkward and messy, or exciting and beautiful. Sade sings, “Were they as tender as we dare to remember? Such a fine time as this, what could equal the bliss of the thrill of the first kiss?” Will your premiere performance lead to bigger and better things (what was that about size?), will it just fade into oblivion, or will you reap the fruits of your labor? At any rate, it’s never as good as the first time.

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