Just a fun story.... in the form of an email I sent to several friends.    -   Laura Aikin

Making lemonade in Paris
by Laura Aikin

Dear Friends and Family,

I hope you are all well. The last week here in Paris has been pretty crazy, and I thought you might find the story amusing. Some of you are already informed of parts of it, but in any case I'll start from the beginning.

As you may know, I have been here for a month rehearsing for my long awaited three act Lulu at the Bastille. The atmosphere was wonderful. I was doing my usual running and jumping around the set like a monkey, thoroughly enjoying myself. Last Tuesday we had a great Piano dress where I sang full out, savoring every note of this wonderful score. This was followed by a lovely dinner with colleagues... sipping champagne and enjoying the Parisian life... which was very good indeed. The next morning at the final stage orchestra rehearsal, we ran the third act, which went beautifully (Thank you, Cerha!), had finished the first scene Act one and were preparing to start scene two, when I noticed a crew member setting up a prop incorrectly. So I stepped off the red lip shaped sofa I had been seductively draped upon, a move I did at least a thousand times during the month of rehearsals, to fix it. In the process I made a slight funny twist of my ankle, heard a small snap (I wasn't the only one that heard it), felt my ankle and knew something was very wrong. Within seconds, seemingly countless doctors, nurses, firemen were all called on stage. Lulu was down. My cover and friend, Marisol Montalvo, rushed on stage where ensued one of the most melodramatic scenes in all of opera, many cries of "No, it can't be true!!!" "You must go on!" "You can do it!!" "Take my costume!" "Oh, my God!" Very serious stuff at the time. The conductor, Bernhard Kontarsky, unaware what was going on, was yelling impatiently through the still closed curtain that the rehearsal should continue. So I gave Marisol my rehearsal costume, she took my position on the sofa, I was rolled weeping from the stage in a wheel chair to the waiting ambulance, and within seconds the music continued. Maestro Kontarsky was quite surprised to find a different Lulu singing, and only later did he learn of the seriousness of the situation.

Emergency room Hopital Saint Antoine.... Not exactly a private clinic, and it seemed that every person passing us by in the corridor found it essential to knock my poor swollen ankle no matter how hard I tried to protect it. I was wiggling my toes, convinced that meant everything was going to be all right, frightened but calm. Everyone did all their hospital things while I was busy planning how we could change the staging to accommodate what was probably just a slight sprain. Then the x-ray showed I had snapped off my ankle bone... the bump that sticks out of the side of your ankle. Lulu was over. Surgery was scheduled for the next day. I was admitted into the hospital orthopedic ward, sobbing and generally quite upset. That is when my luck started to change. I had the great fortune to be introduced to my roommate, Elise Le Horovitz. A lovely British/French woman in hospital for a broken hip, Elise is a passionate music lover, having played the piano all her life, and even took voice lessons for 14 years beginning at the age of 60!! We hit it off instantly. As my French leaves much to be desired, she also became my voice with the nurses and doctors in the ensuing days. Gianluca couldn't come to Paris, as he had a very important meeting in Rome on the same day as my surgery, so we agreed he would come a few days later to help me move out of my apartment and fly home. The next day I was awoken at 6 for surgery prep, and proceeded to wait NINE HOURS until they finally came and got me. Needless to say, by the time I was taken to surgery, my nerves were shot. Luckily just before the orderlies arrived, two of my colleagues stopped by, expecting to see me recovering from surgery, and gave me a much needed boost. As the surgeons began their work, still crying I said to the anesthesiologist in my horrible French, "Je prefer chanter." With a very sweet smile, he said simply "Nous aussi." While I was gone, the rest of the cast and others came by to wish me well leaving me for my return a room full of flowers, perfumes, notes, chocolates and love. I dare to say, the moment I was rolled back into my room was one of the most beautiful of my life, and their gifts certainly the most meaningful ovation of my career. As I lay there being poked and prodded bt the nurses, tubes and syringes everywhere, reading the notes from my colleagues, the reality of the situation set in, and it was OK. I was going to go home sooner, have more time to spend with Marcello, Gianluca and Lilly, our dog, and all my girlfriends and their kids. I had made my mark during the rehearsals, so I could move on satisfied I had done my best.

In this good mood, I called to tell the story to my dear friend, and Deutsche Mama, Hella, and found out that her cancer had taken a sudden and horrible turn for the worst. We had last spoken two weeks earlier, planning my Thanksgiving visit to Munich, and she was in quite good spirits. She was not in any condition to speak on the phone, but I did send my love and told her son to give her a kiss from me, which he did. The next morning, she died at home with her grand daughter Nini at her side.

My recovery continued, boosted by many visits from colleagues, Gianluca and Dany from Berlin arrived, morphine kept the pain at bay, and Elise and I chatted away. The days actually went by VERY fast! I was sleeping better I could remember having slept for ages.

The day of the first performance arrived, and hoping to avoid falling into a blue funk, Elise and I planned a day of massages, hair dressers, sushi and champagne... all in our hospital room. The nurses thought we were mad, but we had the family support to make it possible, so we were going to go for it. Then the phone rang at 11 o'clock. It was Pal Mo from artistic administration of the Bastille. He explained that Marisol was sick, and couldn't sing, but she could act the role. He asked if I would be able to sing the role from the side of the stage, while she did the staging. A common emergency solution in the opera world, but an improbably turn of events to say the least. Marisol and I have spoken so many times about Lulu, considered ourselves "Lulu sisters". I can think of no one else I would prefer to share her with. It meant though getting an early release from the hospital, which required what seemed like hundreds of phone calls, and my doctor was no where to be found. Everything was is complete chaos, but with exquisite team work, we managed it. At first the doctor on duty said I had to return to the hospital immediately after the performance, but then, taking one look at me in bed bursting with healthy excitement, he changed his mind. I hated to leave Elise so suddenly, but she understood. Her two children, Daniel and Olivia, went to the performance, as did Nini, Hella's grand daughter who studies in Paris, Gianluca and Dany. The massage and our sushi dinner were cancelled, but not the hair dresser. Paolo, a delightful freelance hairdresser, arrived at four and began to work his magic, transforming me from a bed ridden blob, to a Diva, all in the tight confines of our hospital room, rinsing my hair over the toilet! 45 minutes to show time, Gianluca was holding the taxi, release forms were signed, Dany had all my things, the nurses waved goodbye, my crutches and the walker I would use for the performance were in the trunk, and we were off to the theater.

I expected some attention when I arrived, but nothing could have prepared me for the outpouring of love from cast, crew, extras, orchestra.... just everyone. I was rolled to the stage where I was shown where I would "stand" on one foot with my walker, slightly to the left of the proscenium. Marisol and I had a quick tag team hello, where we discussed how to best make dialogues work, and the show started. Barely having had time to warm up, it wasn't until the second scene that I even believed I would get through the performance, and in the end it was one of the best of my career. At the final curtain, two Lulus stood on stage holding on to each other literally for strengh. We were both sad for the other, but also proud of what we had accomplished. So now, I will stay on in Paris as Marisol's vocal cover for the next two weeks. It is very unlikely I will be asked to sing again, but I will get part of my fee, and have a bit of a holiday in Paris. With the wheelchair, I'll get VIP treatment at all the museums, so "What the heck?!" In the meantime, I'll travel with Dany to Munich for Hella's funeral. My goodness...she would have loved this story.

Much love,

November 2003

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