As Jerome Pillement continued talking, what he said seemed muffled, drowned out by the noise of my brain realizing that I’d succeeded.
I was in Opera Junior.
In a mix of exhilaration (and a small amount of outrage and not having been able to sing my second aria), I thanked him profusely and waited for him to make the next move.
Jerome asked me to follow him out of the room, and as we were about to leave, another man entered and made straight for us. He had a fantastic tan and crinkles next to his eyes that come from a lifetime of smiling, which was exactly what he was doing right then.
“I’m Nicholas Rivenq” he said, I expressed my delight at meeting him and presented myself in turn. He realised I was English and so switched languages, which was a pleasant surprise.
“Nice to meet you, I’m a singing teacher here at Opera Junior, I expect I’ll be seeing you soon!” he said with a radiant smile.
He bid me farewell and left. Just as he did, Jerome finished saying something to Vincent and gestured for me to follow him. We went and joined my parents.
As I came back into the hallway, I found my two parents, Martin and Allison, looking rather confused, since they’d seen six or seven people rush past them in the last twenty minutes. Before they had time to ask any questions, Jerome was shaking their hands enthusiastically and congratulating them (for what I don’t know, although having a son that could sing would be my personal guess) and explaining my success in the audition.
I stood there and grinned for the entire conversation, translating when necessary, until Jerome seemed to be hit with ambivalence on whether or not we should sign the inscription documents now or give them to us to sign at home. He went back and forth on the subject until finally deciding that he should take us to the Opera Junior office to sign them immediately (I was starting to think he was worried I was going to run away) so that’s where we went. We went up a flight of stairs, through a corridor over to another elevator, down a floor, to another corridor that then finally led to a door with Opera Junior written on it. I was starting to realize quite what a labyrinth an opera house can be.
Like this, but with somebody playing violin in the background and at least one coffee machine that's out of order.
We entered into the office and I couldn’t help but be taken aback by the amount of Apple logos assaulting my eyes. There were no less than five iMacs in the small office.
We were welcomed by a woman with very curly hair and glasses who introduced herself as Fabienne Masson, who was in charge of the Opera Junior administration and was no doubt the person who’d arranged the audition for me after I’d called. She seemed pleased that I’d succeeded.
Fabienne passed us the documents as Jerome continued talking about what Opera Junior was and passed Martin a pen to sign the documents without skipping a beat.
When I wasn’t busy internally celebrating (partying in my head was fine as long as nobody spilled champagne on the cerebral cortex) I gathered that Opera Junior was fairly unique in as much as it was the only group that took teenage amateur singers and offered them the chance to be in professional productions with the National Opera of Montpellier (also one of the only ones in France, but I lived in Montpellier so who cares about that part right?).
Well, I couldn’t help but think that was pretty cool.
My parents finished signing the documents and handed them over to Fabienne. Jerome then turned to me.
“When can you start rehearsals?” he asked.
“Um” I said, taken aback “Whenever works for you.”
“How about tonight?” he asked, looking at me expectantly.
“Sure, that works” I replied, grinning.
“Well then come back at eight and you can start the rehearsals with Vincent Recolin and Nicolas Rivenq” he said, deciding everything was settled. I agreed.
He showed us the way back out of the building, for which I was grateful, since navigating the place was like trying to find something healthy at McDonalds.
We stood outside. Still shocked by the whole thing, but all grinning and laughing with relief. I had never been so proud of myself and I was brimming with excitement.
As I looked back over the last hour since I had entered the building compared to where I was now I could only think one thing.
That escalated quickly.
Only an hour and a half later and I was already making the return trip to the Opera Berlioz artist’s entrance.
I’d changed into something a tad more comfortable so I was now sporting a polo shirt and some sneakers I’d decided were just about fancy enough for an opera rehearsal.
I walked through the doorway and was immediately greeted by Vincent, who had been passing through the lobby that acted as a hub with paths to each part of the Opera. He seemed pleased to see me, and told me that the rehearsal would be starting soon. A tall boy with a scruffy hairstyle and musical pins through his jumper was walking past with a purposeful gait.
“Ah, Gaspard!” Vincent called out to the boy “This is Tormey, if you wouldn’t mind accompanying him to the rehearsal, make sure he doesn’t get lost.”
Vincent walked off in a different direction and Gaspard introduced himself again and told me to follow him.
He was pleasantly eccentric and grandiose in his manner of speaking, and he used his hands a lot when expressing himself. I liked him straight away.
He led me to the same elevator I’d taken less than a couple of hours ago and I realized I could probably have managed to navigate myself on my own (but hey I’d rather have help when I didn’t need It than none when I did). As we headed up the elevator I asked him how long he’d been doing opera.
“About seven years” he said nonchalantly, “before being in Jeune Opera I was in the younger class. I’m more of a theatre actor though really.”
I laughed nervously “That’s quite a lot.” At least I’d done seven years of theatre, and looking back on it, I realized that might have been the thing that tipped the scales during the audition.
He shrugged and asked me about my audition. I started explaining it and carried on once the lift arrived and we walked out. He looked pretty impressed that I’d only had to sing one aria.
We encountered a few girls leaving the last audition Gaspard introduced me to them and they smiled and said hi. They seemed in a hurry and took the stairs going down so I just waved.
I walked through the same door as when I’d been heading into the ballet room (which I’d discovered was named, with great originality, “The Ballet Room”) and came face to face with a group of more girls. Most of them just said hi and kept walking since they were in a conversation but a girl who’d been looking at her phone saw me and walked up to me. I put out my hand to shake hers just as she bent forwards to do the French greeting of the kiss on each cheek.
I suddenly realized my mistake but it was too late, she looked at me in a slightly affronted manner and shook my hand. I smiled awkwardly, she mimicked me and then left. Funnily enough, she would later become my fiancée, but that's a story for another time.
I didn’t have too much time to dwell on the whole thing since Gaspard had simply carried on walking for the door, so I tailed him and entered once again into the ballet room.
About five boys were standing around and talking, which was slightly underwhelming after the stream of nearly thirty girls I’d seen leaving. I could see why they were so enthusiastic about a boy auditioning.
I waved at the other boys but I didn’t really have any time to talk to them before Vincent walked in and told us all that we were in the wrong place (I later discovered that this was a tendency of his) and told us to go to “Salle des Choeurs” (With “Ballet Room” and now “Choir Room” I was starting to see a trend in naming) and set up there.
I followed the other boys through to the other room just on the other side of the corridor and through another set of soundproof doors. It was more interesting in design since the whole room was like an overly large set of stairs leading down to the middle of the room where there stood a piano and a table. I sat to one side and waited for further instructions.
Vincent walked in again, this time accompanied by a man in a light blue polo-shirt and an incredible tan who I now knew was called Nicolas Rivenq. Vincent told us that we’d be working with him for an hour and then we’d start rehearsing for the opera that I’d been given the partitions for, “L’Enfant et les Sortilege” by Maurice Ravel.
It turned out, we still weren’t in the right room.
We were heading to “La Salle Noir”.
I wondered what colour the room was going to be.
You guessed it.
We were now standing inside a huge room with black walls (what a shocker) and a grand piano. There were props from all of the different productions lying around the room, varying from medieval swords to Uzi’s (and most importantly a squeaky inflatable chicken). The room had a heavy atmosphere since there were no windows and was only illuminated by bright lights in the ceiling, but I didn’t pay too much mind to that since I was focused on the props. Despite having been doing theatre for seven years at that point, I’d never worked with such professional props and it gave me a hint of what was to come with Opéra Junior.
Nicolas had us all gather around the piano and he ran us through some basic warm up exercises that I did with great enthusiasm. He then taught us how to breathe.
Now, still being alive at this point, I felt sure that I knew how to breath. After all oxygen is one of those annoying things like water, sleep and chocolate that are unfortunately crucial to our survival. I should definitely have noticed if I was lacking one of these crucial necessities (I’m always lacking chocolate).
However, as it turned out I was doing the whole breathing thing wrong (silly me). Nicolas explained that in many ways to use your lungs to the fullest capacity you had to “breathe with your back”. This basically consists in using your lower lungs in such a way that it pushes your stomach out, since this was the path of least resistance. If you inhale completely in this way, you would also feel your sides expanding and giving you a lot more air than, for example, if you breathe by lifting your shoulders, since that is where there is the most resistance, because the upper ribcage is a lot less flexible than the lower ribs, also called “floating ribs”.
At least that was the general gist.
And the easiest ones to break are- Well, that's for another lesson.
Over the evening Nicolas taught us all sorts of things such as smiling while you sing (lifting your cheekbones makes the sound richer by lifting the soft palate) and how important it is to relax the muscles in your neck and throat while you sing in order to create a better resonance.
After an hour of that, we went back to Vincent in the ballet room where he was waiting for us. He launched straight into the lesson. The opera we were learning was called L’Enfant et les Sortilege and the auditions were tomorrow (I may have managed the audition for Opera Junior in three days, but I felt like one evening might have been a bit much for the solo roles audition so I immediately stopped thinking about it) but what he was going to be teaching us that day were some choir pieces from the opera. We would also be starting work on our first concert that was going to be in the Lodève Cathedral.
It went relatively well, all things considered. I discovered while working a previously unknown gift for music that meant that despite the fact I didn’t know what was written down on the page, as long as I listened to the piano I could imitate the rhythm and notes incredibly well. To the point that when Vincent asked me to sing a page of music to him and I was too embarrassed to mention I didn’t know what page we were on, I bluffed my way through it by flawlessly (as far as I was aware at the time) singing the notes I’d heard the minute before back to him from memory. Since I didn’t know how to read music (I was still half convinced that when the partition was talking to me about “Andante” it was telling me how it wanted its pasta cooked) I was at least happy I had a good ear.
During those couple of hours, we also worked on the opera. From the way Vincent talked about it I could tell it was a bit unusual as far as operas went (I didn’t exactly have a baseline so I just nodded with the occasional “Ah yes” and “Of course, that makes perfect sense”) but I was enjoying it immensely.
There then came a point in the lesson, fairly close to the end, where he told us about a role called “Le Petit Vieillard” and said that since they didn’t have anybody auditioning for it he had to pick amongst the boys. It turned out it was very high, so there was no chance I was doing it since I’d discovered I was a Bass, he still tried us all out nonetheless. When it came to the last (but not least) person, it was Elysa’s turn. I didn’t know them very well, but when they sang they did a great job and had a fantastic tenor voice. Vincent was clearly satisfied.
“Well that’s settled then!” He said happily “Elysa, you get the role.”
The rehearsal ended shortly after that.
I walked home through the park, the street glowed a comforting yellow and there was the background noise of the fountain splashing in the distance as well as a light drizzle that was slowly wetting my hair.
I felt giddy with excitement as I replayed each moment from the rehearsal back to back, there was the moment Vincent laughed after he asked all of us to do a vocal exercise involving singing back some notes to him and I’d belted them out, he’d said “Without wanting to offend some of the men in the room I think you may be the most virile one here!”.
There had been so many moments where I’d felt overwhelmed with excitement (or slight embarrassment when Vincent asked me incredulously how I’d forgotten to bring a pencil) and I couldn’t control the yearning I already felt for it to be Friday again so that I could experience it all again.
I’d found something I wanted to invest myself in, I’d found a previously undiscovered passion. I’d never felt as good as when I’d been singing that night, not even winning karate competitions compared for me.
I finished the walk home humming “I’m Singing in the Rain” and kicking the slowly forming puddles, imagining myself as Gene Kelly.
Of course the water was real water and didn’t have any milk in it.
Also I didn’t have an umbrella.
Nor, for that matter, was I Gene Kelly.
But those are just minor details.