The Audition

Large studio. Neon glare. Music stands. Chairs scattered from a rehearsal. Drum kit. Black Steinway, bruised bodywork, chipped keys, wine rings and beer stains, but heart and tone intact. Mid-afternoon. Final audition of the day.

A young woman. Tall, elegant, refined, expressively mobile, speaking eyes, alluring greys, greens and golds with a touch of sunset striking the senses. Someone of class from who knows where, with what stories to tell. Walking across the room, she might have stepped out of a Weigl film. Take her back the generations and she could be a figment of Tolstoy's dreams. The wife of an old general perhaps, princess of a mansion along Nevsky Prospekt, a salon on Vasil'yevskiy Island, countess of a country estate kissed by Baltic winds. Busying herself, she says little, a fleeting ghost of the alien in her voice. A brief half-throttle rehearsal. Outwardly cool. She moves well, has style, attitude. A performance is promised. Where on the Beaufort scale will she take us?

Sondheim ~ 'Green Finch and Linnet Bird', Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 1979. A beautiful girl sings at her window, Johanna … Meaningful. Unflustered, the words contoured and acted out, a shaped, punctuated narrative. Nothing hurried, space to breathe, an opportunity to embrace Sondheim's nuances. “My cage has many rooms damask and dark … If I cannot fly Let me sing.” Fourth wanderer … russet F … maggiore

G & S ~ 'The sun whose rays are all ablaze', The Mikado, 1885. Yum-Yum, musing on her beauty: “I am a child of Nature, and take after my mother” … Andante commodo says the music. Comfortably, spaciously, commodiously. Pendulum sixty-nine. Setting mood and scene, those chords at the start need time to unfold. Slower rather than quicker, yieldingly penetrating. Listening, enfolding, casements of summer sound softly open, caressing mood and place. Vocals courting Icarus, water-coloured cadences, galvanise the moment. Savoy Theatre left in the wings.

Satie ~ 'Jeux te veux', la belle epoque. Images surfacing from veiled, long blurred memory banks. Cabarets of Heaven, Hell, Nothingness. Guinguettes. Dance, song, bacchanalia. Trysts, passions, “human mysteries acting out their tragedies”. La Scala of the glass ceiling, Boulevard de Strasbourg, Porte Saint-Denis, 10th arrondissement. 1903. Paulette Darty. 32, actress. “Queen of the Slow Waltz”. Erik Satie, accompanist. “Made optimistic by alcohol”. Walking to Paris from Arcueil, Val-de-Marne. Tracing his way home, stopping at an occasional bar à vin. Alone between gas light and stars. “There shall burn in your heart, like a warm, glowing ember, one sweet dream set apart which we two ever shall remember.” Before us a remarkable cameo, beret à la française, waiting to be filmed. Movement, vocals, the faintest shudder, glimpses of desire within falling folds of a dress. This isn't the operatic Satie of Jessye N, more the cracked nostalgia of Juliette in a nicotined room, swaying lovers in dark embrace, a flicker of gauloises reflecting off empty bottles.

Dring ~ 'Song of a Nightclub Proprietress', Five Betjeman Songs, 1982. Post-war England, A Few Late Chrysanthemums. Unemptied ashtrays, unattempted cleaning, a sandwich trodden underfoot … “I'm dying now and done for What on earth was all the fun for? I am ill and old and terrified 𝄐 and tight”. Timing, air, dramatisation – immaculate. Eighth wanderer … cobalt G ... minore ...

Gift and personality. A dynamic, creative force. She holds the stage. She's versatile, courageous, determinedly directioned. Where might she go? Intimate cabaret? One-woman show? Musical theatre? So long as, Olivier's words, she's got “an old cigar box and somebody to take notice”, so long as she believes and has the fire, the world can be hers.  ANNALIISA ASVEIT. Tallinn.

July 2023