How to stage Schubert on a mountain?
But the project only survived because so many participants believed in it so strongly. There was no time to lose, as the five-storey Julier Tower, erected in 2017, must go digital under planning rules by 2023. Winter 2020 was ruled out by closures, and a year later Covid was still a substantial risk but any delay would mean losing our TARDIS.
During reconnaissance in July, we realized that the building resonated uncomfortably. So, to dampen the acoustics, we ordered a carpet nine meters in diameter to cover the circular stage, and a massive black curtain (10 square meters) to hang above. I asked Appl if singing at 2,300 meters would affect either her voice or her breathing. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I have a lot of stamina.” He also needed a lot of courage to face the weather.
We chose to beat the early skiers by filming in early November, a dead month in the Swiss mountains, with most facilities closed. We had persuaded the wonderful family run Hotel Solaria in the village of Bivio to host us for a week – 15 minutes down the valley, but the nearest source of hot food to keep us going. But would there be snow? The visionary who built the tower, Giovanni Netzer, was (quite) confident there would be, but by the end of October Switzerland was still sunny, hot and dry. It wasn’t until the day we arrived that the temperature dropped.
The new carpet was then in place, imported from Belgium, as well as the brand new Bösendorfer 280VC grand piano, magnificent in its oak case – the delight of Urs Bachmann, piano genius at the Verbier Festival. As the curtain was hoisted overhead, my cameraman, Jonathan Partridge, and I went outside to scout. The lake behind the tower was slightly frozen – perhaps a place where the Wanderer could carve his beloved’s name on the ice at Auf dem Flusse.
A nearby stone tower could be the hut of Rast’s coalman. But the snow had started to fall, so heavily that Appl and our pianist James Baillieu broke down while returning from the airport, and had to wait two hours in a rest area before being rescued. Eight centimeters of snow would be ideal, I thought, but instead we had 80, and as the plows intermittently kept the road up to the pass open, most of our off-road locations became impassable.
We continued filming inside the tower, but once we had enough material for the reading, we seized the moment of a snowstorm to venture outside and ask Appl to to sing. However, most singers would categorically refuse to be filmed in such conditions, even less to sing. Appl probably would have liked to do the same. The temperature was minus 14 degrees and the contours of the landscape were rapidly disappearing.