Finding our Stride Opera Bhutan

Finding Our Stride

By on October 7, 2013

After a week in Bhutan, we have settled into something of a routine. We eat breakfast at the hotel between 7 and 9 a.m., then walk about 10 minutes up the main street to the rehearsal spaces at the Royal Textile Academy or Royal Academy of Performing Arts. Rehearsal is usually from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Everyone is free to do lunch on their own between 1 and 2:30 or 3—and that’s usually barely enough time. For the most part, food is not pre-made in restaurants here, so when you order it, the cook starts it from scratch. Often it can take 30 minutes or more to get your food, and then another 15 minutes to get your bill when you remember to ask for it.

After lunch, rehearsals resume until 5:30 or 6 p.m. We usually have a crowd of onlookers during rehearsals—Bhutanese children playing in the area, tourists who stop to listen for a few minutes before or after a tour of the Textile Museum, and others who have heard about the opera and are curious to see what it’s all about.


Bhutanese children play the piano with harpsichordist Karl Shymanovitz during a rehearsal break. Photo by Jenn Crawford

The directors have a production meeting every evening around 6 and then email out the next day’s schedule by 8 p.m. We eat dinner in small — and sometimes large — groups at restaurants that others have recommended. Some go out after dinner, but many are wiped out from the long days rehearsing in the sun at altitude and go to bed.

Up until today, the singers and orchestra have been rehearsing separately. This morning, they began to put it all together on the stage. Playing an instrument outside is much more difficult than playing inside, I’ve been told. In addition to wind that blows music off the music stands built especially for this occasion, the hot sun causes the instruments to go out of tune. Since the orchestra is playing from behind the singers instead of in an orchestra pit in front of them, it is difficult for the instrumentalists to hear the singers and stay together with them. To add to the difficulty, the conductor is also behind the singers, who cannot see him until the stage monitors are set up in the next few days.


The Opera Bhutan orchestra rehearses on stage for the first time. Photo by Jenn Crawford

Bhutanese musicians also perform several pieces in the opera on their traditional instruments. Photo by Jenn Crawford

Every once in a while (about every other day), Mother Nature decides to make things even more interesting by bringing us rain. When that happens, as it did this afternoon, the stage is covered with a blue tarp, rehearsals move inside and the tech crew has to postpone their work. Let’s hope next Saturday afternoon is warm — but not too hot — dry and windless.

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Jenn Crawford is the director of editorial services for UTEP's University Communications Office.