Tag Archives: Guest Blogger

Dress rehearsal / ENO Julietta blog

17 Sep

Last week we talked about the stage rehearsals, tonight is the opening night and all the hard work will be up for the critics’ and the public’s scrutiny! Claire tells us how the dress rehearsal went and we can agree the culmination of six weeks of preparation has reached its final stretch.

So, we finally reach the dress rehearsal. It’s been a busy week but we’ve made it. Such an early start too, on Saturday morning. Some of the singers and actors have been in make-up & wigs since 8am! There’s a nervous but excited buzz around the theatre.

The opera starts and Peter Hoare, singing the role of Michel starts his mammoth journey through the Martinů score.

Michel is dreaming…who will he meet in his dreams? Where will his thoughts take him? To a strange town where everyone suffers from chronic amnesia.

The villagers try to feed off Michel’s memories. The orchestra has a rich texture and depth, almost cartoon-like at times. The quirky set design compliments Richard Jones’ production, which is slick and stylish.
The stage is one enormous piano accordion, which has doors and windows. Characters appear inside and pop out of the vast, concertinaed instrument throughout the opera.
Everyone on the stage is an individual character and hunt in a pack-like group, to drain Michel of his memories in order to feed their minds, albeit for a few minutes before amnesia sets in and all is lost.

There’s a lot of running, dancing, jumping from those on-stage. It’s a fast moving production, full of life and energy.
I have to run right across the front of the stage near the start of act two, with the rest of the chorus and actors sprinting in different directions at break-neck speed too which is frightening. There have been a few bumps and bruises in rehearsal but nothing too bad!

The costumes are shades of green silk based loosely on the 1950’s style. The colours blend in with the set & lighting. The wigs are quirky styles also loosely based on 1950’s styles.

Julietta meets Michel and they immediately fall in love. She has shining red hair and her dress is pattered with miniature piano accordions but I don’t think the audience will be able to see that (you can surely spot them in the shot in the slideshow below).
She has some beautiful musical passages with Michel. They promise to meet again and throughout the opera Michel searches for her. No-one else can see her or knows her. Julia Sporsén sings the role so well. Her unique soprano voice suits the role perfectly. She has a folk-like unaccompanied verse off-stage which bewitches Michel and I’m sure the audience.

Ed Gardner steers the orchestra and singers through the lush, textures of Martinů. Richard Jones directs specific moves and noises during particular musical sections, which add to the drama and gels the characters to the score.
It has been a tough but enjoyable experience, creating such a masterpiece. This could be a ‘marmite’ opera but my guess is that the majority will come out with nothing but positive comments. Hoorah for Martinů! Hoorah for ENO!

You can follow Claire on Twitter, her handle is @ClaraButt .

Dress rehearsal shots in ENO’s Flickr account

Stage rehearsals / ENO Julietta blog

10 Sep

Last week we talked about the sitzprobe, this week we are getting closer to the opening night by another week! Claire tells us how it went.

So, here we are on stage, rehearsing with full set, props, costumes & lighting. I was very excited, walking on set and being bowled over by the enormous accordion which dominates the stage. It moves open & shut during the opera, sometimes on its side and for one section it splits in half to reveal a dark, star-lit forest. The rest of the stage is black with open wings. This is a problem for singers as the voices get lost as soon as you turn facing across the stage. We’ve had to resolve balance problems with the rich texture of the orchestra against the singers being heard. The Coliseum stage is very deep so we have to ‘cheat’ and sing out sometimes. We’ve such a great team working on the show. Martin Fitzpatrick, Head of Music has been up in the dress circle, listening for the difficult sections to get across to the audience and then relays it to Ed Gardner in the pit. Ed works hard to correct the colour and balance of the orchestra, to fit the staging and voices.

The chorus have some off-stage sections in which we’ve worked hard to get the right balance. Some sections are just echos of Julietta‘s voice. Others are the thoughts of Michel.

The costumes are a mix of cute and quirky. We have villagers, young and old, a blind beggar, bell-boy, man in pith helmet, a horn player, commissar and commander of the city, amongst other characters. Each has an individual personality which Richard Jones; the director is very good at creating.

The direction and choreography is very specific, with soloists, chorus and actors moving, freezing, glancing, running etc. at key points in the music. It makes for a typical Richard Jones quirky trade mark in my opinion and brings the opera alive. Never will you find characters just standing and singing to each other. There’s always movement. The direction has great pulse, which complements the score.

The lighting is still being worked on and will put the finishing touches to creating the right ambience during the scenes. This is a unique production, which will have the audience laughing and sighing with great pleasure.

Richard Jones and Ed Gardner are a great team. I feel lucky to be part of it.

You can follow Claire on Twitter, her handle is @ClaraButt .

The trailer for the production

Sitzprobe / ENO Julietta blog

3 Sep

Last week we talked about the start of rehearsals, this week we are getting closer to the opening night by a week! Claire tells us how it went.

The sitzprobe took place at LSO St.Luke’s (the London Symphony Orchestra’s rehearsal and education space) which is a fabulous venue (a converted church with a great acoustic and space to fit the chorus, singers and orchestra). The orchestra and singers were on fine form. The score is such fun. There are some gorgeous, romantic passages interspersed with what I would call filmic/cartoony writing. There’s real humour in the music. It’s the type to make everyone smile at some point. There’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Ed wanted a specific colour from the orchestra. Sometimes needing a dry sound from percussion, rather than that of a bierkellar. Also the strings needed to find a smoky, sensual sound to aid the storytelling. The piano accordion passages are a fun and unusual addition, it’s such a distinct sound. It also links the score to the on stage action, by having a set that is a huge accordion. Ed was great at conveying the story to the orchestra, giving them an idea of emotion in which to find the right colour. This is the time when the balance between the voices and the orchestral playing starts to getting calibrated making sure the final sound at the Coliseum is as tight woven as possible.

In Julietta, the soloists and chorus need to spit the words out in the fast sections. Diction is key in this piece as it’s such a strange and sometimes confusing story. Peter Hoare sings the role of Michel and has some stunning music to sing.

I’m always excited to hear the orchestra at a sitzprobe. Rehearsing with piano accompaniment in this particular piece has been alien to what the score really sounds like. You can’t get the mood and colour of the score without having the orchestra to bring it to life. Martinů’s character music is expressive, humorous and quirky. There’s lots of fun, percussive sections that were lost with solo piano.

The opera has now come alive for me and we start to rehearse on stage in the actual space, with the set, costumes and props. This is the point where Martinů’s imagination, the beautiful orchestral sound under Ed Gardner and Richard Jones’ direction will become one and take us to the final straight to the stage and dress rehearsals.

You can also follow Claire on Twitter, her handle is @ClaraButt .

Claire’s shots from the rehearsals

Beginning of rehearsals / ENO Julietta blog

27 Aug

Last week I introduced you to Claire Pendleton a soprano with the English National Opera Chorus, who will take us through the rehearsal process for  Bohuslav Martinů‘s Julietta which is opening on 17 September 2012. This week she looks into the musical preparation before the first week of rehearsals and the first contact with the director of the production and the chorus master.

This is a little insight on how we start rehearsing for an opera – specifically, Julietta.

The chorus started looking at the score during the last couple of weeks of season 2011/12, in July. We do not have a chorus master/mistress at the moment so Martin Fitzpatrick (known to all as Fitz); the Head of Music has taken over the hard task of preparing us for all operas until a suitable candidate has been found.

Fitz is very knowledgeable and well-regarded by all at ENO. It is such a privilege to have him putting us through our paces for each opera. He is very specific in what he wants to hear and how we should sing it, this is invaluable with an opera like Julietta as the chorus sections are small and sporadic, so detail is important. There are no long, legato lines. It’s all punchy, little lines interspersed with the soloists.

Only six female chorus members are on stage in act one and act three. Act two has eight female choristers and during the rest of the opera, the chorus sing off-stage.

As we sing every opera in English, the diction is very important but it mustn’t get in the way of the musical line. We spend rehearsals working through the score, marking up difficult rhythms, tempi and key changes. We continue to repeat sections in order to memorize chunks of the opera, and then we can put them all together and get ready for the first production call. Hopefully by that time we have managed to memorize the whole opera.

We have had costume fittings which for some of us have been made by external seamstresses. They bring half-made creations in for the first fitting and make adjustments whilst we wear them, other times they adapt existing costumes. This method helps produce a fabulous tailor-made costume that fits perfectly and is very comfortable to perform in. I will take pictures of my costume once it’s finished and we’re rehearsing at the Coliseum. I have long hair so it will probably be styles rather than wearing a wig. I’ll know more once we get into the theatre and everything is ready!

We’ve started production rehearsals with the director, Richard Jones. The venue for the rehearsals is the Lilian Baylis Studio inside Sadler’s Wells Theatre. We have a wooden mock-up of the different parts of the set, which is helping us to get used to the exact space that we’ll get on stage. Richard is a man of great detail, he is also very easy to work with and is one of the favourite directors of the chorus. He has specific moves, gestures, noises for us on certain parts of the music and scene. It is so helpful to work with a director that knows the score so well. In my opinion Richard’s operas have lots of mad-cap ideas. Always exceptionable, a little dark and totally off the wall. I love working with him. He has a great sense of humour too. We always laugh at something he says every rehearsal, which is fun and lightens the atmosphere during the long days in the studio. During the rehearsal we get to run through chorus sections with the music director. Our esteemed leader, Ed Gardner is conducting Julietta.

We’re coming up to the sitzprobe* this week (Wednesday 29th), which will be the first time the singers get to work with the orchestra. This is always a magical experience for me, the opera really comes alive then. I am looking forward to it so much! Watch out for the blog next week to see how did it go and what comes up next.

You can also follow Claire on Twitter, her handle is @ClaraButt .

*Sitzprobe (German) is a term used in opera and musical theatre to describe a seated rehearsal – which is the literal translation of Sitzprobe – where the singers sing with the orchestra, focusing attention on integrating the two groups. It is often the first rehearsal where the orchestra and singers rehearse together. The equivalent Italian term is prova all’italiana.

The trailer for the production

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Claire! / The ENO Julietta rehearsal blog starts here

20 Aug

I have only had one guest blogger so far in the form of @Mirto_P who wrote a beautiful account of an early encounter with the uncomfortable side of an opera recital, which you can read here.
Thought it would be a great idea, to ease everyone in the new opera season with a blog written by a singer. And this time I thought it was time we gave it a little twist, we have all read blogs about preparing for a role by one of the soloists, but this time we will focus on a chorus member as a way to communicate their important contribution and equally intensive preparation. Sometimes singing on stage with the rest of the cast and others being the off stage voice of the people or the neighbours,a chorus is an essential element for most operas.
In particular the chorus of the English National Opera is well known for the variety of repertoire they perform and also about their genuine dramatic engagement, so I was delighted that Claire Pendleton one of the sopranos of the ENO chorus agreed to join me on the blog to take us through the six week long rehearsals for Bohuslav Martinů’s Julietta. Every Monday we will look into the progress of the rehearsals and also any particular stages/processes that Claire finds worth highlighting.
Following is a brief biography and also a few questions to get to know her a little bit better. You can also follow her on Twitter, her handle is @ClaraButt .

Claire Pendleton studied at UCL/Birkbeck College, where she received distinction in Opera Performance and was awarded an Ottakar Kraus Memorial Scholarship. She then gained a Postgraduate Diploma at Trinity College of Music, studying with Wendy Eathorne and Geoffrey Pratley; winning several scholarships including the Ricordi Opera Prize and Beatrice Taylor Memorial Scholarship.

Whilst at college Claire sang as Madame Lidoine (Dialogue of the Carmelites), at Spitalfields Opera conducted by Andrea Quinn and received critical acclaim for the British fully staged premiere, in the title role of Barber’s Vanessa, at the Bloomsbury Theatre conducted by Gregory Rose.

Since leaving college, operatic roles have included Tetka cover (Jenufa) and Giulia cover (Gondoliers), Lakme soprano (On the Town), Vendor & Young Woman (Kismet) for English National Opera, Mimi & Musetta (La Boheme) for ENO’s Baylis Programme and Mabel & Gianetta for ENO Friends evening, Anna Bolena for Swansea City Opera, Rusalka for ‘I Maestri’ and Opera Box, First Lady (Magic Flute), for Opera Project and Opera à la Carte, Helmwige cover (Die Walküre) for Northern Wagner Orchestra, Aminta (Schweigsame Frau) for Garsington Opera Educational Project, Anna (Nabucco) at Blackheath Concert Halls, Mimi (La Boheme), Countess Almaviva (Marriage of Figaro), Michaela (Carmen) and Queen of The Night (Magic Flute). Gilbert & Sullivan roles include Yum-Yum, Rose Maybud, Celia, Gianetta and Fiametta along with Frasquita (Carmen), Madame Silberklang (Schauspieldirektor) and High Priestess (Aida).
Recently with English National Opera, Claire has sung the roles of Solo Woman in Puccini’s Turandot (2010), Old Woman in Alexander Raskatov’s A Dog’s Heart (2011), Suburban Mum in Nico Muhly’s opera Two Boys (2011) and off stage solos for Detlev Glanert’s Caligula (2012). She also covered the roles of Mrs Naidoo in Philip Glass’ Satyagraha (2010) and Flower Maiden in Wagner’s Parsifal (2011).

Claire has performed in many venues around the UK and abroad. She has recorded the role of Blush of Morning, in Arthur Sullivan’s Rose of Persia, with the Hanover Band, which is now released on the CPO label. She has also recorded for Chandos, BBC television and BBC Music Magazine. She studies with the distinguished soprano Marie McLaughlin.

A short Q&A

When did you realise you wanted to be a singer?

I sang in the senior school choir at secondary school, which introduced me to oratorios and Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. I remember Catherine Wyn-Rogers coming to sing the mezzo solo in Verdi’s Requiem. I was blown away. I then joined a weekend youth club & was introduced to my first singing teacher, Norman Welsby. He was encouraging, supportive and brought opera into my life. The first arias I worked on were Cherubino’s (Voi che sapete + Non so più from The Marriage of Figaro). I was totally transfixed by Mozart and became an avid fan. I saved up to go and see as many operas as I could. I queued up for the stars’ autographs too! I carried on with lessons and sang roles with operatic societies in and around London. My teacher at the time was Keith Bonnington, he sang in the ENO chorus and persuaded me to audition for extra chorus. My first opera at the Coliseum was War and Peace in 2001. The rest is history.

How long have you been part of ENO’s chorus?

I was an extra chorister from 2001 and was contracted to sing 2 or 3 operas a season. In 2005 I was employed on an annual contract to cover maternity leave so that was my first taste of full-time chorus work. It was SO hard! I covered annual contracts for 3 years then in 2007 I auditioned for a permanent soprano position and was lucky enough to get it, so for the last 5 years I’ve been full-time.

What has been the most challenging (physically or musically) work you have performed?

Gosh! Where to start. There have been a few. Nixon In China was a tough gig. I had to cover all the sopranos in the chorus. They all had a different physical gesture on each word in some of the scenes. That was tough to memorize. The music was tough too but I adored it, especially as I got to work briefly with the director, Peter Sellars. One of my favourite and challenging operas is Satyagraha. This was a great achievement to learn and memorize Sanskrit. You need good vocal stamina to sing the high, long phrases. The production was stunning and when we revived it I got to cover Janis Kelly. Doctor Atomic had some numbers that were tough to memorize musically. I grew to love it more than Nixon In China, which I never thought possible. I was positioned in a high box being harnessed in and having to lean out whilst singing. I realise now that I could never do that again. I was terrified every night.

Last season we performed The Death of Klinghoffer. The music is stunning but the opening scene starts with the women in a very tricky number to memorize. It was almost like a vocalize. I think that was demanding vocally and physically. I also played a hostage and that was physically tough but very enjoyable.

What is your music of choice at home?

I love a lot of different music. French cafe songs – Charles Trenet, Edif Piaf, Leo Ferre, Yves Montand, Maurice Chevalier …

Columbian & Cuban bands, Buena Vista Social Club, traditional jazz,
American rock & metal bands – Guns & Roses, Aerosmith, Black Crowes, Bon Jovi, Poison…

Easy listening pop – Abba, Queen, Brain Adams, 1980’s…

There’s a lot I’ve missed like northern soul or Burt Bacharach songs but I could listen to pretty much anything.

What was the strangest costume you had to wear?

Where to start at ENO? Ha! I can picture me as a geisha, prostitute, nun, vestal virgin, wet nurse, pirate, school girl, factory worker, a French revolutionary, little girl/dolly but my utter favourite was dressing as a gentleman in a pinstripe suit in Richard Jones’ Tales of Hoffman last season, complete with a beard and moustache. I think all the female chorus had such a giggle being a man.

The trailer for the production

Guest blogger @Mirto_P / The night Evelyn Lear looked right at me

3 Jul

I can never see or hear the name Evelyn Lear without flashing back to a night in 1967 when I humiliated my mother at a recital by the soprano and her husband, the late baritone Thomas Stewart.

So when I first saw Lear’s death, at the age of 86, reported this weekend, I was immediately transported back 45 years to a front-row seat in the auditorium of a Bergen County, New Jersey, vocational high school, the unlikely home of a local classical music series. That was the venue for a recital with piano (John Wustman, the go-to accompanist of the time) by the then-recent Metropolitan Opera sensation — she had debuted earlier that year at the “new” Met as Lavinia in “Mourning Becomes Electra” — and her husband, soon to star in a highly touted new production of Wagner’s “Ring.” (Sound familiar?)
By this time, despite my youth, I was a veteran of two years of opera-going, and this was my second vocal recital. So it’s not like I didn’t know how to behave at these things. But I was still, after all, a kid.

The opening set of the recital’s second half consisted of four songs sung by Lear, the fourth being Villa-Lobos’ “Canção do carreiro (Song of the Ox-Cart Driver).” The refrain includes a funny little high-pitched shriek that instantly struck me as hilarious. As it repeated, with Lear making a “cute” face each time, well, I totally lost it.As I felt persistent jabs at my left arm from my mortified mom, I shook harder and harder, sank lower and lower in my seat, and turned redder and redder as tears streamed down my face — all as I vainly tried to suppress my attack of the giggles. And all the while there was Lear, standing onstage maybe 20 feet directly in front of me and staring straight at me as she sang, looking, well, ready to run me over with her very own ox cart.

And at the end of the song, what did I do but stand straight up and applaud as my mother tried to hide her face with her hands. “Sit down! She was looking right at you!” Mom said over and over again, trying to pull me back into my seat. But that to me meant, “Cool! Evelyn Lear looked at me, wow!” But she wasn’t looking “right at” me as I stood and clapped. I recovered from my laugh attack, and the recital continued, concluding with two encores: “Bess, you is my woman now” and “La ci darem la mano,” which ended with them leaving the stage together. We got it, time to call it a night.

Of course I insisted on going backstage to see them in what passed for a green room. My mother was horrified at the very idea (“She was looking right at you!”) and refused to go with me. But: I. Would. Not. Be. Stopped. There was more of a group crush than a line per se to see them, and it puzzled me that Lear, who was more the center of attention than Stewart, seemed to be urging everyone in my general direction over to her one by one but me — and noticeably avoiding my eager glance. Was I just too short for her to see among the grown-ups? (Hm, don’t think that was it …) As the crowd thinned and I became unavoidable, she kind of looked through me as she greeted me, icily, and half-smiled, wearily, while I told her how wonderful she was, etc. Thank goodness for Stewart.

I’m not sure who he was rescuing more, his wife or me, but suddenly this big (huge, to me at the time), dashing international opera star pulled me over to his corner of the room and, after hearing me out about how much I enjoyed the recital, spent many uninterrupted minutes with me, asking who I was, how old I was, why I was there, how long I had been listening to opera, etc. He treated me with patience and kindness, but did see to have a genuine curiosity about how the youngest member (clearly) of the audience had come to be there — to, among other things, laugh at his wife. I left smitten — by both of them.

Of course I later saw Lear and Stewart sing many, many times at the Met. But to this day, whenever I come across either of their names, I’m right backstage at that vocational high school, full of wide-eyed, youthful enthusiasm for this pair of remarkable and much-loved artists. And Mom’s hiding out in the car.

This is the first time I am hosting a guest blogger on here, so please show some love and follow him on Twitter: @Mirto_P . Evelyn Lear passed away on 2 July 2012,  have a read at the obituary published by The Washington Post

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