A young(ish) opera singer's random thoughts and observations.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Polish theme for the week

Over the last couple of days, thanks in no small part to my new iPad (I will soon write a post about how it serves as a musician's tool), I have found myself bombarded with information about English National Opera's production of Mieczysław Weinberg's The Passenger. While this does not strictly speaking have anything to do with the subject matter of this blog, I nonetheless feel compelled to share some of my sources, as this year seems to be bringing Polish-born composers into the limelight (apart from ENO's gambit with Weinberg, there is also Wexford Opera's production of Statkowski's Maria, an opera that I've heard great things about from David Agler himself, and also Dan Joy, who will be singing the Kozak), which makes me ever so slightly proud, and makes for more interesting conversations about Polish opera (thank God it's not just Moniuszko and Penderecki anymore), but these articles are (in my humble opinion) simply worth sharing!

First off is one of my favourite blogs, that of WNO's new Artistic Director, and famous British opera director, David Pountney: click here. The more recent post also concerns Weinberg's opera.

And then, thanks to a medium I've only recently started tentatively exploring, namely Twitter, I found this article in The Observer.

Needless to say, next time I'm back home in Poland, I will be hunting for the book... As for the opera, it's doubtful I'll be able to see the ENO production, but if it's as stunning as it supposedly is, then it's surely only a matter of time before it 'comes to a theatre near you'.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Saying goodbye to Glasgow

As I write this, my stint at Scottish Opera has drawn to a close... Or perhaps I should say that the rehearsal period has, as I will still be on standby for another couple of months (the girls even reckon we should have suitcases packed and ready just in case). It has been an eventful couple of days, and I know that some people would like to find out how the incident I last described developed, so here we go!

Thursday, September 8th

We have rehearsals in the morning, and these have been moved from Elmbank Crescent (SO headquarters) to the Citizen's Theatre, to give us more time to work on the set (hugely helpful, and probably inspired by last night's accident, which thankfully didn't have any drastic consequences, so I now feel better about touching on it here). We are told that Nick, the principal Orpheus is fine, and that he will be going on, though Adrian will have to take over gimp-anzee duties (apparently after the risk-assessment Nick will be treated as visually impaired for a week or so, after being hit in the eye with a bottle).

Opening night goes well. Nick's eye looks slightly frightening, but gets worked into the dialogue very well, and he gives a great performance, so obviously it looks worse than it is. The audience react well, though some gasps of shock can be heard every now and then, which is probably what the director was going for, and laughter dominates throughout anyway, so no harm done in challenging the audience. It's all far too silly to be taken as offensive anyway (at least by a Glaswegian audience).

At the company reception after the show we have a chance to chat to the cast a bit, which is nice. Nick is in very good spirits, especially when recounting his recent taxi ride:
Driver: So what happened to you then?
Nick: I got stabbed in the eye in the Gorbals. (the area of Glasgow where the Citz theatre is located, a fairly rough neighborhood)
Driver: Ah well, I've picked up worse...

Friday, September 9th sees us running the show for the first time in its entirety. We do a messy job, but it's secure enough that it never gets close to derailing, so although there's thought to be put in before tomorrow's covers' run, we all know where we went wrong and how to fix it.

Saturday, September 10th

Our last day, the covers' run (cue ominous music or fanfare as you see fit). We all convene at the theatre quite early to warm up, focus, walk the set, etc. It might seem being a bit precious, but it's our only full run on the set with props and elements of costume, plus management will be in the audience.

Although, on that last point, Derek Clark said something reassuring yesterday. The covers' run is not an audition, he as head of music has seen us working, other key people auditioned us and we already got the job. Treat it as a rehearsal, focus on the technical stage elements, as it'll be our last chance to go over them in relative calm.

The run goes pretty smoothly, I must say, and it's a huge relief, to be honest. I now feel that if I was to go on, I wouldn't be a risk or extreme hinderance to the cast! A quick lunch, one last notes session, and... That's it! We're ready to step in if need be. It's been intense, fast and furious, but we did it. It was an incredible team effort, and one couldn't ask for a better team than the people I had the pleasure of working with here. Thank you all!

It's not over though, I've got to find a workable way to keep all the staging in good shape until December, including the dances... And there are arias I want to learn, a Mahler song cycle to prepare, and college is starting in a week! Bring on the fun!

The cover cast, minus Adrian (gimping) and Laura (taking the photo)

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Always be ready to go on

A cliche? Read on...

It's been an uneventful couple of days, including a day off, some friendly catch-ups in person and over Facebook, some fruitful clothes shopping, and of course more rehearsals (both watching and doing). Nothing really worth mentioning until...

Wednesday, September 7th

Dress rehearsal day. And at that very rehearsal, which was open and attracted an audience, one of the principals got injured and had to be replaced in the 2nd half of the show. I won't go into detail, it's still very fresh in my memory, as I only just got home and am already writing (I confess to being slightly in shock, and that's only having been witness to the whole thing). I will however write a bit about the dynamic in the theatre as the scene unfolded.

It was a prop-related accident, not everyone saw it, as it was a busy scene on stage. Even when the principal walked off, not everyone in the cover cast caught on to what was going on (I don't know about the audience, we were in the circle, apart from them, but as we knew the show we had the best chance of noticing any mishaps, and it still took a while to permeate our ranks). The whispers did however slowly spread, so when a frantic woman came up to where we were, we knew that Adrian was going to have to go on. So as he went off to get into costume, we were left there fretting about the accident, wondering how bad it was, and stressing over the fact that Adrian would have to do the one scene we hadn't set yet, so essentially being directed from the wings. When he did step onto the stage, I sneaked a glance at our row. We were all leaning forward, our hands over our mouths, eyes open wide. Thankfully it went well, very well considering the circumstances, with the cast being very helpful in subtly guiding our colleague through the staging (they had also done a great job of covering the lack of their respective colleague in the immediate aftermath of the accident). We all relaxed up in the circle and even went through a bit of group hysterical elation at how well it went.

Afterwards I went to take Adrian's things to him backstage and to find out how bad the injury was (seeing the ambulance at the stage door did nothing for my nerves). No one was forthcoming with specifics, Adrian was released and told to be ready in case he had to go on tomorrow for opening night, so we headed home, bumping into the rest of the covers on the way out. Much speculation and worry understandably ensued (after everyone had expressed how impressed they were with Adrian's performance), but as we had no chance of finding out anything more, we all went our separate ways. I got to chat a bit with Adrian on the way home, he said the feeling he got was surreal. That's the only word he could find to describe it. I can't even imagine...

I got home only to realize, that I myself felt very unnerved by the experience. I'm on edge, restless, hungry for news, worried, anxious... And I wasn't even directly affected! How must everyone in the cast, backstage, etc feel? Again, I can't even imagine, but my thoughts are with them.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Reflecting on the nature of the beast

Sunday, September 4th

I'll spare you the details of this morning's rehearsal of Scene 3 (as tempting as it is, but I just can't find the right words to describe my anal rape scene), let's just say that we're moving forward with the blocking at a swift pace.

I will focus instead on the sitzprobe, which took place this afternoon. It was interesting for 2 reasons, the first of which is that there was an invited audience of teenagers, presumably as part of Scottish Opera's educational projects. Not only did the conductor have to run a rehearsal, but also address the audience with brief explanations of the plot.

The second interesting observation has more to do with what I'm doing here, namely covering. Two of my understudy colleagues sang at the rehearsal. One knew that she would be singing for some time, as her counterpart had arranged to miss the sitz due to another engagement. The other had to step in on much shorter notice, as his counterpart had a car accident on his way into Glasgow. Luckily it was nothing serious, and he rejoined the cast just after the halftime break... just as Toby (the cover) was about to sing his aria. It's disconcerting to think that we can only go on in the case of unfortunate circumstances, and also that not only may we be required to step up to the plate on short notice, but also to step down on even shorter notice. It's a strange thing, this covering. What I write may of course seem obvious, given the nature of the job, but oddly enough I hadn't spent any time thinking about how I might feel about the whole thing. A friend asked me today if I'm silently hoping to go on at some point during the run, and to be honest, I hadn't even considered the possibility until today. And after today, I think that if it should come to that, I'm going to make sure I could do a good job of it, but as far as hoping is concerned... I'll refrain from even thinking about it. The stress would be tremendous, but more importantly I'm afraid I may feel as though I'm stealing something (nonsense of course, but I'd feel like that anyway).

Monday is our day off, and I'm looking forward to having lunch with Catriona in Edinburgh to catch up with her and keep the spirit of Banff alive.

Working fast

Thursday, September 1st

A day of relative laziness, as it is decided that the rehearsal I was planning to attend is to be closed to covers. The evening, however, is a completely different story. We have a session with the choreographer and get started on the dances. There are 2 main dance sections, a minuet and the infamous can-can. As an added twist, because the production moves the action to modern times, both these dances have to be adjusted to fit a rave scenario ( Hell is a nightclub ). This is reminiscent of the Fledermaus production we put on this year at the RWCMD, but here there is a lot more specific choreography. The minuet is turned into a line dance, which is made quite tricky because of the translation from the traditional line dance 4/4 to the minuet 3/4. The can-can retains its basic step, but adds 'rave' elements. While the line dance is fairly manageable, the can-can is so fast and furious, that even with the MD allowing us to refrain from singing a verse, it is a struggle to catch ones breath to sing. It may have been different if we had a chorus, but as it is, our job is to make this scene as loud and busy as we can, and there's only 8 of us.

Friday, September 2nd

Today we watch the whole show for the second time, as the principals have their floor run. This gives us the opportunity to take in more of the background action, which is often racier than what happens in the main focus. There is quite a large audience gathered for this run, with management and company employees taking advantage of the last chance to see the production before it leaves this building and moves into the Citizens Theatre.

The evening covers' rehearsal sees us plowing on with Scene 1, and I get to do my Aristeus song, complete with slightly pervy pilates session. We reach Eurydice's death song and dialogue thereafter. It's tricky insofar as we are meant to strike some of the set, but as covers we don't have access to the actual set, props and costumes until our final run. There's only so much you can do with miming...

The hall / break room, where we end up spending quite a lot of time, despite the fast pace

Saturday, September 3rd

We spend the morning with our choreographer, going through some more of Scene 4: raving, pills, Rohypnol, cocaine, myself DJ-ing, and a gimpanzee to top it all off... And in the afternoon we pick up where we left off our chronological work through, getting to about halfway through Scene 2.

Our director keeps saying what a terrible thing covering is: only a week or so to prepare what the cast had 3 weeks to work on, having to work at a hectic pace, not being able to go back and polish things, if we get a scene to a decent state it's time to move on, etc. However, everyone agrees we are doing well, and it's a good learning experience (good thing I'm still a student), plus it's reassuring to see that I am capable of working this fast.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Coming down with a bad case of hemiola *

Tuesday, August 30th

It's been a couple of days since I arrived in Glasgow to undertake my first engagement with a professional opera company in the UK. First off, a few words about how it's all organized, as for a long-time student it's all a bit magical to me.

I got the schedule for this week last Friday, with all the calls I'm expected to attend, but no mention of what's happening in each call other than whether we're doing music or production. The details are left to be worked out as we go along, but at least we know when we've got free time in advance (which is useful as some covers are already scheduling Alexander Technique and singing lessons). We start off on Monday afternoon with a tour of Scottish Opera's beautiful building and then a coaching session on the solo numbers and duets. The evening call sees the entire cover cast together for the first time to go through the big ensembles with Derek Clark, Head of Music and the conductor for the Orpheus shows with orchestra. On Tuesday he works through the entire piece with us, thus concluding our music calls. From now on it'll either be production or sitting in on the principals' rehearsals.

Our contract limits the number of calls we can have a week, and the schedule so far does not include too much observing, probably because from what I've heard from the principals, the show is pretty dance-heavy, so they want to get us stuck in and practicing the choreography as soon as possible. We were told that we're welcome to sit in on rehearsals outside our calls, but apparently there's no emotional blackmail involved. It's somewhat tough, as most days we are set to finish at 10pm, which will make it a tiring process and have us wanting to sleep in as much as possible. Still, after Banff it shouldn't be too bad.

The show itself, from what we've gleamed so far, is quite risqué. The text we're working with is a new translation by Rory Bremner. Well, I say translation, but in fact it's more a brand new libretto woven around the basic plot of Offenbach's operetta. Being newly commissioned, it is still undergoing some refinement, as we found out the very first day. A fair amount of the text is different from what we were given originally, which will make the next few days quite busy, what with all the unlearning and cramming we now have to do (thankfully there are quite a few cuts, though these too have to be learnt).

Once again I found myself in a heightened state of tension, having to sing in front of a new group of people. What makes it worse is that it's a professional environment now (and frankly I don't feel particularly professional, I'm still the same person I was in college 2 months ago...), with some of the other covers having sung for Glyndebourne, Grange Park, Buxton, etc. Still, once we get into it we find that we gel quite well as a group (this is confirmed later in the pub as well) and I even get a few compliments for my falsetto (I'll spare you the details of what happens in the scene that prompts the falsetto, let's just say it's quite graphic). I'm not really sure what I was expecting, but I'm pleasantly surprised by how friendly the atmosphere and people are here. I'm beginning to think that perhaps this business isn't as bad as some people say it is, I seem to always find myself surrounded by nice people...

Wednesday, August 31st

All the covers decided to watch today's afternoon rehearsal, which just so happened to be a full run of the show. Having heard so much about it, we were ready for most of the shocking moments. Most, not all... It's a provocative production, but funny. Some of the dancing may require stagger-singing though. We'll see how we get on, we start production in the evening. We don't get far enough for me to even appear on stage, but at least our director is realistic about what can be done in one session and lets those who aren't needed go early.

* a paraphrase of Derek Clark's comment about how the word 'hemiola' sounds a bit like a disease...