Sunday, 22 January 2012


Travelling used to make me feel desperately lonely sometimes. When one is working it's fine, but once you get a day or two off to your own thoughts and devices, it can feel like you are a long way from anyone or anything comfortingly familiar.

When I first started travelling for work it was to be somewhere for 5 or 6 weeks and one would wait eagerly for the occasional letter from home. For those of you too young to know what a "letter" was, ask your parents. Letters would be devoured again and again and became like holy relics in which one would place one's trust that there was a way back home to the familiar.

Later, when I was with the Swingles and we were on the move to a new city almost every day, one relied on faxes (likewise, ask you parents) which seemed a miracle at the time. I remember on tour in Japan going to sleep every night hoping that I would be woken up at 5am by a call from the concierge to tell me that there was a fax waiting downstairs and padding down, my jeans and jumper over my pyjamas, to retrieve it. Those faxes are now faded and tissue-thin but represent a feeling and a time which I will never have again.

Now of course we are terribly spoiled - mobile phones, Internet, email, Facebook - there is no reason other than laziness or utter remoteness not to be in touch.

I must also be used to being on my own more and am, to be honest, a lot busier when I'm working as a Director than when I was a performer. I rarely feel lonely now, in fact I'm usually clamouring to get MORE time on my own rather than less.

Occasionally though you just need to touch something tangibly familiar.

I have been in France for two months now and am loving it. I feel very at home here, enjoy the lifestyle very much and (though my French is pretty dire) manage to communicate on a day to day basis relatively easily.

But I just needed more. A taste of home.

Now I can get baked beans, Yorkshire Tea, Marmite, in fact all of the major food groups (;-)) in the local supermarket. And to be fair, the food in Lyon is outstanding so one never need go short of something good to eat or somewhere lovely to be whilst doing so.

But I really needed more!

I've always scoffed at the Irish Bars which have spread like measles to every major city in the world. I have never wanted to go into one. Why be in a wonderful foreign city with a whole world to explore and go to an Irish Pub?

But I gave in. Gave in to the warm embrace of a pint of Guinness, an Irish Breakfast (no I can't tell you what made it Irish per se) and a barman who spoke colloquial English. I can't tell you the joy. Thank you to the St James pub in Old Lyon, you bucked me up.

And thank you too to the miracle of Facebook, another modern trend at which, until 18 months ago, I scoffed. I posted the above picture and within minutes had several "likes". These little finger touches of contact with friends can be tremendously encouraging.

I didn't need to call anyone, I didn't need to talk, I didn't want company, I just needed to know people were there.

Thanks everybody.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Saturday, 29 October 2011

Serial Monogamy

I'm in the middle of 6 months working with the same director. Normally I go from project to project with a different boss on each and I've always liked that. In fact, when I started, I couldn't imagine wanting to work with the same person more than once (and there have been a few with whom I've been very glad I haven't had to).

There is a lot to be learnt from working with different people; different styles, different approaches to the music and the art form, different ways of working with artists, and the different teams they have around them. Those differences have always been immensely enjoyable and challenging.

Most of my work over the past, and coming, few years has been with three or four particular directors, and it has been very enjoyable to be part of their teams. I've learnt something tangible from each of them and also felt I have been able to offer something different to each one. There seems to be a silent agreement that I am allowed to see other directors and they are permitted to work with other assistants, but we never speak of them!

The director I am currently working with is someone whose work I have known well and loved since I first became infatuated with opera 25 years ago, and with whom I have had the privilege to work several times over the last 8 years.

During that time I have learnt the benefit of working regularly with the same team. There are a certain amount of short cuts that can be taken because of an awareness of their personalities and knowledge of their style, but most of all I feel I get closer to the nitty gritty of what they are aiming at and feel I am increasingly able to offer them valuable help and utilise my own skills to a good end.

I always feared this would stop me getting my own work as a director and perhaps it has. There is certainly that danger. People assume you are somehow involved full time with each director, living in their pocket, married even, and with a direct line into their inner mind which (sometimes) I know full well they haven't made up yet. Thus all the questions they don't quite dare ask directly to the man himself come flooding to me. People also assume that you are totally satisfied by being close to these great people and that that will have replaced any ambition or creativity one ever had oneself. Well, I'm incredibly lucky and grateful to work with these people and hope to continue to do so, but that isn't the case.

Having said that, I am enjoying these collaborations more and more and feel that they are equipping me with ever more valuable skills. I look forward to each further job and the continued relationship I have with each director. And particularly to the shows which it is my privilege to revive - each is a valuable gift.

I feel as if this time is something of a 'golden time' - either a time that I will look back on and think "that was when things were at their best" or " that was when things really began to happen.". Who knows. Time will tell.

Location:New York

Monday, 17 October 2011

New York, New York

To New York for the revival of Kommilitonen at the Juilliard School of Music.

I mentioned a few posts ago that my former passion for big cities has wained massively. Whereas I used to devour each new city voraciously and revisit known ones enthusiastically I have found my interest severely diminished. I have scarcely been bothered to explore recently and have endured rather than enjoyed my time in places which I once loved.

It was with some trepidation that I arrived in New York this time as I have adored this city since the first moment I stepped of the bus onto Madison Avenue and walked across to Central Park. Every street sign, every district, every building was familiar to me from TV and film and to discover how they fitted together was immensely exciting. What I discovered was a huge city of little villages. A crowded metropolis with lots of space. A manic city that never sleeps which was nonetheless relaxed. A city of contrasts.

I was afraid that this time I would find that the love affair was over.

New York, however, is a cleverer lover than I had given her credit for. She turned on the sunshine, polished all the windows and swept the sidewalks welcomed me into a ridiculously trendy and gorgeous hotel, and made me feel revived passion for an old love.

New York, New York - so good they named it twice.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Farewell... the London Coliseum and all the wonderful folk at English National Opera. The revival of The Passenger  was a great working experience for me and the audience reaction to this remarkable piece and production truly special.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Almost there

The Passenger at ENO - Concert Scene

We're in the final stages of preparing the revival of The Passenger at English National Opera. Last night was the Piano Dress Rehearsal and tomorrow the Orchestral Dress Rehearsal, so my job is all but over.

It has been great to revive this show with an almost totally new cast and a new conductor. The differences between this revival and the original production are subtle and interesting, with new aspects of the score and the characters coming out. This makes me very lucky - far from me being the one to 'teach' the show to a new cast, they have taught me more about it. I have gathered more depth of knowledge about this fabulous piece which I will carry with me to the next revival in Tel Aviv in 2013. As with the other show which I have revived several times, Death in Venice, each revival is more rewarding and fun than the last so I a looking forward to the bigger journey with The Passenger; after Tel Aviv to Houston, New York, Chicago and beyond.

The experience has been made all the more rewarding by the calm and experienced hand of conductor Sir Richard Armstrong and by the unsurpassable stage and technical team at the Coliseum. It has been a great experience.

As to the production, well I'm very proud of this revival and I can't wait to see the London audience experience it.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Here's a link to a piece in today's Guardian about The Passenger.The Passenger - English Nation Opera

Friday, 26 August 2011

The Passenger preview

Rehearsals are going well for The Passenger at English National Opera.

This piece is humbling to all of us involved so there is a very special atmosphere in the rehearsal room - a mix of excitement, concern to get it absolutely right, and awe at the subject matter and strength of the piece.

The production is also stunning. An intelligent, grown-up show. We are all feeling the pressure to do our utmost.

After two weeks in the rehearsal room, and with three principal singers tooing and froing to other opera houses for performances, we have reached a point where the whole show is on its feet and working. The excellent, and incredibly quick, ENO chorus have take to their role with enthusiasm and attention to detail. The excitement for us all is growing.

I have had enormous fun being responsible for the production up to now. I enjoy putting a show back together for a revival, and I love being the one in charge (doesn't every director!). The original director comes next week to add his magic to the mix and I'm excited to see his reaction to this cast. I'm confident he will have lots to say, as is only right, and I am looking forward to seeing the show grow further under his guidance.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


I moan a lot about my job. There are downsides. I don’t get home for months on end. I don’t see my partner for months on end. I rarely see my partner AT HOME. It’s difficult and many relationships don’t survive that stress. Many of my colleagues also have the added complication of children and I am in awe that anyone manages to make that work in this crazy business.
However for me there are rewards. I travel a lot and see the world from a unique perspective ie not as a tourist most of the time but as a temporary resident of each location.
Occasionally for my partner or I there is the reward of visiting each other whilst we work and for me, this week, that means a cruise on the Mediterranean. Yes I know, not bad thank you very much.
I’m on board the Disney Magic, flagship of the Disney Cruise Line, and quite the prettiest vessel out here in the azure sea at the moment. There are some ugly bricks afloat and, though many must be spectacular inside, few are beautiful ships. Each time another vessel comes into or out of port by the Disney ship, their decks are full of jealous punters taking pictures of the beautiful lines of the Magic. It was modeled on the classic British Cruise Liners of the 20’s and 30’s - the Queens - so it can’t go wrong.
The name Disney raises a smirk amongst most Brits and the comment ‘what on earth would you want to do that for?’ However to Americans Disney is a trustworthy brand and a guarantee of quality and service. The Americans are right - it is exceptional, with every member of the family from toddler to Gran expertly catered for. So as I write I am sitting in the adult only Quiet Cove area, replete with pool, jacuzzi, bar, coffee shop, a classical guitarist playing nearby, a matchless view of the Mediterranean, and a martini by my side. There are all sorts of kid-centric crazy things going on barely yards away (and I’m delighted for them) but since I can neither see them or hear them I am very happy thank you. Why would I want to do this? Let me count the reasons!
The Med Cruise has been a reminder of how lucky I am with my other travels though because, of course, it is something of a whistle-stop tour. At most one has a few hours in each destination and with the best will and the most energy in the world, there is only so much of Rome one can see in a few hours. And one is not seeing it at its best in the crowded August heat, cheek by jowl with the rest of the world’s tourists. The circumstances do not endear one to one’s fellow man.
Much of my early travel were done when I was with the Swingles. Then we would often fly into a city in the morning, check in to the hotel, and have a few hours to sleep or explore before the sound check and concert. Frequently we would be on our way early the next morning. I became expert at haring round a city in two and a half hours, seeing all the sights, taking in a museum of two, and generally getting my bearings. In truth, it worked and I would take in a great deal in these short jaunts. I vividly remember something of almost every room in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, despite staying barely 45 minutes.
Much of the world I saw this way and it has at least given me a firm impression of where I would like to revisit when I have the time and the money - yes well let’s not dwell on how likely that is, but it was a great opportunity none-the-less.
Perhaps now I am older I don’t have the energy or thirst to devour a city this way. Perhaps they all become alike in a way when you can’t really get under the skin of them. I prefer the way my job now allows me to gently feel my way into a different lifestyle and enjoy the near-reality of being a temporary resident of many places in the world.
But will I pass up the opportunity for another chance to taste-test the world aboard the Disney Cruise Line? You bet I won’t! Another Martini? It would be rude not to!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

London again

I'm in London for 24 hours. A quick visit to audition extras for the upcoming production of The Passenger at English National Opera. Much much more about that later, but I wanted to quickly share this talk from the always excellent by the artist Janet Echelman. This helped keep me occupied on the tedious journey from Zurich and is a reminder to keep ones mind open to new and challenging creative possibilities.

For more, visit her website


Monday, 25 July 2011


Bregenz Lakefront in late evening

My time in Bregenz is swiftly drawing to a close, and I haven't blogged since the very beginning of it.

I've been working on the world premiere of Achterbahn (roller-coaster in German) by British composer Judith Weir, and a roller-coaster it has been indeed.

Judith chose a Sicilian folk tale for her subject, a tale of Tina and her journey to understand and accept the role of Fate in her life.

As with all new pieces, when there is no bank of knowledge or performance tradition behind it there is a difficult journey of discovery to make. When it is the very first time the public will see this piece, the choices one makes take on increased weight. So not an easy process, but one which has resulted in a charming piece and beautiful production. I will revive it in London next year at Covent Garden and it will be interesting to see how a little time changes both the process and the final result.

The Summer in Bregenz has been a bit of a wash-out, like much of Europe so I haven't made my usual cherished trips into the mountains. The countryside here is stunning and the Bregenzerwald and the Walsertaal are both well worth the effort to visit. Waking up to the distant sound of the bells on goats clanging down the mountain, the bubble of a mountain stream, and someone chopping wood miles away is a rare reminder of the true pace of life now sadly sped up in most of our existences. I'm sad to leave here without a fix of mountain life.

Also taking my time and mind has been another ending.

I began this blog 18 months ago for the reasons I outlined in my first post, but primarily as a way of keeping in contact with my Father, who was undergoing chemotherapy at the time.

Dad enjoyed travel immensely, though didn't get to see as much of the world as he would have liked. He was amazed and delighted at the places we, his children, were able to visit and the way in which we became citizens of the world. He often said that he was part of a transition generation. He came from a smallholding on the Isle of Wight and the expectation was that he would work on the land and lead a life with a small circumference.

Education, increased communications, and National Service gave him a thirst for more and he educated himself over many years to become a fully qualified architect and member of the professional classes - quite a journey from his basic beginnings. When he was small the few miles to next town was a journey and the trip to the mainland and adventure. He lived to visit much of Europe, Israel, and planned to travel to Canada - things his parents and grandparents could barely conceive.

This blog was a great way of sharing with him things that I had seen, done, or was experiencing, and I was able to talk about things which we would never have discussed. He enjoyed it immensely and always commented on each new post.

Sadly my Father lost his battle with cancer - a cancer ironically brought on by exposure to asbestos, part of the process of progress from which he benefitted so much - two weeks ago. In sorting through his effects we have found many items of family archive - photos, birth certificates, documents and letters - which help build the bigger picture of our family life. These are wonderful and tangible things which we will continue to cherish.

However, how much of our records today will reside on a hard-drive and who will bother to go through them? A folder of e-mails is hardly tangible or wonderful.

It seems to me that things like blogs become more important as, although they are electronic, they are documents which gather experience, emotions, and human life in a way that few other things do today.

So my resolution to myself, to the memory of Dad, and to the archive of the future (should anyone be interested) is to try to be more disciplined and regular with my blog entries. Some may, like Dad, enjoy an insight into my experiences which they cannot share physically, and someone in the future may find it a quaint window into a time gone by. And I will keep benefitting from the often cathartic and always positive process of documenting my weird and wonderful passage through this life.

David Kearley 1930 - 2011