Or should that be backstage…?
Growing up singing to an appreciative audience of sheep in my native Wales, I found I needed a similar inspirational public here to stave off the homesickness. There are now some very cultured chickens in Bavaria, where, surrounded by farms, I live with my husband, Franz. We are a musical family – even our dog, Tosca, had her own band. One of the chickens – I think an early-riser male one – really tries to compete with my opera and Franz’s broader range of musical genres. But the neighbours’ tractors are the clear winners. If there is any dispute, they just fertilize, and we’re done for.
Another bonus of being in the “most important part” of Germany (i.e., where the hops for the beer are grown) is that I’m just a couple of hours from Salzburg. No, not for the Festival (yet!), but because the film which led to my first solo appearance was made there. In case you missed it, I was eight years old singing “I am sixteen going on seventeen” at the Devon Coast Country Club. Unfortunately, I forgot the words after about six of them. I have had more successful performances since then, not least because I learn the text these days.
So, why am I in Germany? I always liked visiting foreign countries, starting with holidays on Greek islands. I remember hearing a maintenance worker in the museum in Olympia singing Verdi as he worked and being struck by that. Whilst studying for my degree at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama I worked in Italy as an English teacher each Summer (four in all). Twenty-five hours a day with wonderful, loud Italian children and afterwards exploring opera’s mother country with a back-pack staying at youth hostels. I managed to find somewhere to practise every day, each location more glamorous than the last – a bus stop, a train toilet and, truly lovely now, a garden metres away from Lake Garda.
My postgraduate studies brought me to Germany, and finding my husband in the canteen at the Hochschule in Mannheim kept me here. Luckily, he is also someone willing to pack up and live wherever the work takes us, picking up a great British sense of humour whilst living in London.
I often am asked if I like living in Germany. It took me a long time to feel at home here. Many things are different. Small talk with shop assistants, laughing about nothing in particular and the importance of Mülltrennung (recycling your rubbish to most exact specifications) were among the cultural differences that made me feel homesick. But now I’ve found my feet and here are some of the things I really love about Germany:
The wine – not for the locals the Liebfraumilch of bygone Christmas nightmares! Won-der-ful Gewürztraminer, Schwarzriesling, Spätburgunder Weißherbst. Spargelzeit is just an excuse to drink a delicious Silvaner or Riesling at lunchtime. So is Frühschoppen (marry a jazz musician and enjoy Sunday mornings, trying the produce while he plays the trumpet).
Driving to foreign countries (and back) without the need for a ferry ticket. Now driving in Germany deserves a special section all to itself, but to be concise, the following will explain the difference between GB and D. Whilst here for my wedding, my sister and her husband remarked on how friendly the German drivers were. When they indicated that they would pull into the fast lane to overtake someone, approaching German drivers would generously flash them with their lights. In Britain this means “please go ahead, be my guest”. On the Autobahn, I find that in the lane furthest right I am the slowest vehicle; in Britain, the fastest.
I am particularly impressed by the number of music festivals in Germany. I mean any excuse to tune up and there is always an interested audience. From early music to jazz, all music forms are celebrated and enjoyed. As for opera, with a thriving Theater in almost every town it is heartwarming to think of how many performances are taking place each evening at 19.30.