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

Monday, 20 February 2012

Enterprise (the venture, not the starship)

Last week was full of Figaro rehearsals, obviously. We got to the end of Act 2 and I have to say it's looking great! March 15-18 in Cardiff, if you can make it...

But there were other things of note last week that I feel deserve mention, namely college had REPCo week. The Repertory by Entrepreneurial Performers Company is an institution at college that provides start-up loans to student-led enterprise at the RWCMD. Apart from these loans, college also accommodates the student companies that fall under REPCo's care with rehearsal spaces, and a week when these companies can perform in college venues at highly discounted rates, while also having a certain priority in terms of schedules (basically, REPCo can take precedence over regular classes). All this creates a fantastic platform for students to put on events for themselves, providing invaluable performance opportunities for those involved, giving budding entrepreneurs a chance to test their ideas in a safe environment with support from a well-established institution like the college.

The largest REPCo companies are as follows:

The REPCo Orchestra, which gives students a chance to play in an orchestra when in normal college life they wouldn't have that opportunity, so either on their second study instruments or the youngest students in college. Last week they put on an operatic concert performance double-bill called Mozart vs Salieri, recreating one of the most famous musical showdowns in history, when Mozart's
Der Schauspieldirektor was pitted in competition against Salieri's Prima la musica, poi le parole. With actors playing the roles of the composers, and singers from all levels the vocal department, from undergrad to opera course, conductor Ian Peter Bugeja (artistic director of the orchestra) created a great opportunity for everyone involved to play and sing the challenging repertoire that is opera in the stunning venue that is the Dora Stoutzker Hall.

Sinfonia Newydd, a company dedicated to performing world premieres (only!) of new works by young composers. What started out as a small chamber ensemble putting on infrequent concerts with pieces by composers studying in college has grown into a beast putting on symphonic concerts (possibly the only opportunity for Cardiff based composers to have their large-scale pieces played), branching out into jazz, and holding an annual week-long festival where music merges with visual art. I have had the privilege of premiering a work with Sinfonia Newydd, namely a musical-theatre song by David Harrington, patient readers will find a recording of this work at the bottom of this post ;)

Opera'r Ddraig, a company very dear to my heart. This opera company gave me my first opportunity to sing a principal role in the UK in their very first production, The Magic Flute in 2010. Since then they have managed to put on a successful show every year. This year's double bill of Acis and Galatea and Dido and Aeneas (so many 'ands' there) was the first time I've not been involved in the company as a singer. I have to admit it was difficult to watch the stunning piece of theatre they created and not shed a tear of regret about that fact. Being company treasurer however means that I get a bit more insight into how huge an undertaking it is to put on an opera! And how risky it is... Despite critical acclaim, impressed audiences, excited cast members, technicians and players, and even sold out shows last year, the company is ever in danger, with only the sheer force of the core team's determination keeping it alive. In its third year, I think many people in college, or even Cardiff take Opera'r Ddraig's existence for granted a bit. Has some of the excitement gone? Is it not something new and fresh any more? Is it ok to wait until next year to get involved? If that's what you think, then you're wrong. Every year is a new team, a new fight to get the company on its feet, find a cast, pick an opera, get money, negotiate with college, the venue, find orchestral players, sort out a technical crew, source costumes, props, design marketing tools, try and schedule rehearsals in a way that makes it possible from students from different places to come... Every year could be the last. All it takes is for one key member of the team to have to drop out and the whole thing unravels. A bad audience turnout, that's it... And it would be a shame, because if you ever got to see an OD show, you know that they are excellent. The energy of young people on stage, it's electric and irreplaceable! The effort that everyone, from director, conductor, through the cast down to the ushers put in to make these shows work makes them really special, polished yet fresh. It's a joy to watch even when the operas themselves are sombre and depressing ;)

In this financial climate it's a miracle that these companies exist! Don't wait for these things to fail before you get involved. It doesn't take much, even going to the shows is a big help, a visible show of support. If you can, then join your local youth company in any capacity (there's nothing worse than companies failing because no one can be bothered to sing/play/help), let's keep these things alive, because they have something to offer that the big companies don't. Intimacy, freshness, youth, excitement, and all this while maintaining high artistic standards.

A huge well done and fingers crossed from me to all the REPCo companies! Keep doing what you're doing, you make Cardiff exciting :)

As promised, Modern Song, with yours truly at the mic, Paul McKenzie on the piano, and the composer himself, David Harrington turning pages:

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