Neale family: Extracts from Julia's diary: August 1999

Neale family: Extracts from Julia's diary: August 1999

Have been invited to sing at a birthday celebration for Frau Kreuzer from Rosenthal by Richard R., Chorvorstand. Have to learn a song from Phantom of the Opera and duet from West Side Story. The party is in the cellar of an old SchloƟ in Selb complete with swimming pool but no piano. Drag John out to the Festspielhaus this morning to record the piano part on tape for me, so I can sing along ''karaoke style''. Have never done anything quite like this before, John says that it will be a test of my professional competence...

Drive out to Selb with Richard for the birthday celebration, bring John along for the ride. Our singing is to be a surprise so we hide upstairs for 2 hours until they have finished the meal.

Wednesday 11th August - Total Eclipse of the Sun

Today is the day we decide to tell people the good news. John heads off on the 6am train to get the full experience of the eclipse in Munich. I stay in bed and try to sleep but am woken every 30 minutes or so by the telephone - John ringing to report in. Eventually I get up and turn the tv on, why do all the eclipse lunatics (dancing around fields in long white dresses) seem to be the English ones in Cornwall? I go outside with my Sonnenfinsternis Schutzbrillen and occasionally catch a glimpse of the moon eating the sun.

I ring home but there is no answer, so I go to Real and buy some champagne. Eventually get through to mum in the early afternoon and tell her: she is surprised I think, very emotional and happy. Keeps saying tearfully ''whatever you want, just say and we are here to provide for you, you''re not having anything secondhand''. Tell John this later and he rubs his hands together in gleeful anticipation. He comes home and we go to Sybylla''s party and tell the assembled company, nobody had guessed that I was pregnant. We drink the champagne in celebration.

When we get home Dad rings: ''what have you been getting up to then'' - should have thought that was obvious '' you''re in for a big change then, enjoy your singing it may well be your last''. Feel it is pointless to explain that I will be carrying on with my career while John helps look after the baby at home. ''Tell that husband of yours he''d better get a job then'' Through experience I can tell he is pleased, even though he doesn''t show it.

The news starts seeping through and colleagues come and congratulate me on the news. Sieglinde, Garderobe assistant, hugs me tightly but now goes to great lengths to make sure none of my costumes are too tight.

Sandy had suspected, the only one. She had noticed me walking differently and seen that my tummy was becoming larger than usual.

I go into Walter''s office to tell him I''m officially pregnant. ''So...and'', he plays with me ''I''m just telling you now so that you can be especially nice to me for the rest of the season'' I joke. ''oh, I see, you don''t want me to ''einteil'' you for anything'', 2 days later and I am ''eingeteilt'' for something.

The weather has turned cold and my normal trousers are getting very tight so I return to the Storchensnest shop for maternity trousers and come away with 2 pairs, one beige, one black from a range called Noppies, made by a Dutch company. They are as near as possible to the type I normally wear.

John admires them but jokes ''they look a bit like leggings'' ''no they don''t, I''m not going to wear leggings and t-shirts'' I assure him.

Klinikum concert, devoted to the music of Strauss - Johann and Richard. I am singing the Presentation of the Rose duet with Alice. I go in to the Festspielhaus early to warm up and watch Barenboim conducting the end of Act 1 of Tristan, my last opportunity. This tanks me up with energy and inspiration.

There is a large audience at the Klinikum, including Professor Balatsch sitting right in the front row. Despite this our duet goes well, we act it out a little and Alice produces a beautiful painted rose from somewhere.

At the meal afterwards, Torsten (who sings in the chorus at Dresden) says ''I didn''t hear it sung like that in Dresden'', I treasure the compliment.

Chorfest. I wear my best chorfest dress, bought in Munich, it may be the last opportunity I have to wear it for a while. We sit next to Jennifer and Martin on a table with the Manchester contigent and have a great time. The food is wonderful - Asien, prepared by Meng, Bok Hee and Tomoko. It is Professor Balatsch''s official farewell and the emotional speeches and singing go on until almost midnight. I have a photgraph taken of John, me and my bump.

Last Meistersinger and Professor Balatsch''s last performance. He isn''t up in the tower as usual for the Festwiese and soon we discover why - he comes on stage in full costume and make-up with the Schneiders for a final special guest appearance.

We head off for Prague on the 7am train for a weekend of tourism combined with singing lessons for me. Arriving at the central station tired and stressed, we find it impossible to obtain change for the metro and end up arguing, even more tired and stressed.

Eventually find our way to Pension Bonaparte and both collapse onto our beds for snooze.

That evening I have a lesson with Frau Denygrova in the Nationaltheater which goes well. She notices an improvement in my voice and we work a lot on breathing in Konstanze''s first aria.

Rains most of the day, we hang out in the Cafe Patio, in the centre of town and I have another lesson. Feel very tired and chesty cough. Don''t know if it is pollution or some infection. John has been feeling under the weather since before the Chorfest.

A beautiful sunny day, but we must leave Prague. I head off early for a lesson at Frau D''s flat and meet John in town. The train journey home takes us through the highways and biways of small provincial Bayerische railway stations - Kirchenlaibach, Weiden....

We pack up, hire a car and leave Bayreuth at 4pm. I spent an hour in the morning at the Landesratsamt trying to sort out my subscription to Bayms - they''ve sent me the bill instead of my landlady. Arrive back in Freiburg around 9pm, it''s wonderful to be home.

Spend the rest of the week pottering around and looking at washing machines - ours appears to be broken. After failing to find the perfect new model, John announces that ours is not in fact completely broken and he will attempt to mend it, or break it completely...

I book an appointment with Dr T, Frauenarzt recommended by my Allgemeinarzt.