Last night was at Opera Holland Park's great production of Verdi's La Forza del Destino (see the review). Extra spice was added to our evening by the fact that we were in the second row, about three feet away from the trombone section and eyeball to eyeball with them, since the setup at Opera Holland Park doesn't have an orchestra pit. To be precise, the instrument directly in front of me was something rather splendid that I'd never heard of: a cimbasso. It's a sort of ultra-long angled trombone: you rest the end of the long pipework on the floor, the bell end goes over your shoulder and the keys are at around chest height. The cimbassist (if that's the right word) explained that it's an instrument unique to the bel canto opera repertoire and that it plays like something between a bass trombone and a tuba. Wikipedia claims that it was first used in 1831 for Norma. In the score for La Forza del Destino, the part was labelled "Bombardone" (the Italian for tuba).

Cimbasso player
Cimbasso player

Being that close to the trombone and timpani section was interesting. It's the right opera for it: the first six notes of the overture are two triplets of huge brass chords denoting the onset of fate, and there are some more big trombone moments later. But also, hearing a couple of the parts so clearly gives you a real feel for the way in which Verdi adds colour and harmony: it's like watching the last few brush strokes that fill in the missing parts of a picture.

Of course, it can also be a little unforgiving: at one point, a series of quiet rolls on the military snare drum were a beat out of time on their entry, which was far more painful where we were sitting than it might have been elsewhere. And being that close to the stage means that the amount of voice that you hear depends very much more on the direction in which the singer is facing, especially as this was a tented outdoor venue with almost no reverberation.

All in all, though, a great and new experience!

30th July 2010