Down The Rabbit Hole

July 23, 2017 — 24 Comments

Down The Rabbit Hole- Cover Art

My third and final album from my time studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is now available to download at Amazon and iTunes, or to listen to on all the streaming sites. It’s my attempt to fund my living costs for my second year of Masters of Music Performance in London (my 6th year of study).  You may remember George Todica and I dressing as Alice and the Mad Hatter from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to get into character for the cover of our English Speaking and Song concept album.  Pascal Barnier used those photographs to imaginatively create the artwork that now hangs on my Mum’s office wall and is used on my ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ album cover.

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All of the songs are classical English Art Songs and the spoken sections are prose and a monologue from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’.  It’s quite bonkers and a bit ‘off the wall’ but I didn’t want to lose it, so we recorded it live last year.  ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll is the epitome of nonsense literature and fills our heads with imagination.

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The album is my reimagining of adventurous Alice exploring ‘down the rabbit hole’. Using the vast depth of English song repertoire full of wonderfully illustrative poetry and Lewis Carroll’s prose to rework the tale of one glorious golden afternoon’s adventure, where everything is imagined as the only weapon in the war against reality –with a philosophy of life to finish my program when a girl goes through that awkward stage of transition, imagined by her sister at the end of the book, and how she hoped Alice would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood.  If you want to know more about what happened in Wonderland you will need to read the wonderful book.  I tried to tailor the songs to express my ideas and emotions about the start and end of Alice’s Adventure and in the words of the King of Heart’s ‘Begin at the beginning…and go on till you come to the end: then stop’.

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1. Sweet Chance That Led My Steps Abroad

‘Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and having nothing to do: when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her’.  I selected Michael Head’s ‘Sweet Chance That Led My Steps Abroad’, using the poetry ‘A Great Time’ by W.H. Davies to create the scene.

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Punting In Cambridge

2.  A Piper

 Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and, burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge’.  I imagined the White Rabbit was rather like the Pied Piper leading Alice astray so follows ‘A Piper’ also by Michael Head from O’Sullivan poetry. It’s one of my favourite English songs.  

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3. Do Not Go My Love

“Why, how impolite of him. I asked him a civil question, and he pretended not to hear me. That’s not at all nice. I say, Mr. White Rabbit, where are you going? Hmmm. He won’t answer me and I do so want to know what he is late for, I wonder if I might follow him. Why not? There’s no rule that I mayn’t go where I please. I– I will follow him. Wait for me, Mr White Rabbit. I’m coming, too.”

Do Not Go My Love’ without asking my leave by Hageman with text by Tagore.  This is an English song I’ve sung for a couple of years and was included to represent the dreamlike fall into the unknown.

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4. Monologue

‘I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?  I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth…  I wonder if I will fall right through the earth! How funny that would be. Oh, I think I see the bottom.  Yes, I’m sure I see the bottom.  I shall hit the bottom, hit it very hard and oh how it will hurt!’

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5. Let the Florid Music Praise

At this moment, Five, who had been anxiously looking across the garden, called out “The Queen! The Queen!”, and the three gardeners instantly threw themselves flat upon their faces. There was a sound of many footsteps, and Alice looked round, eager to see the Queen…… “And who are these?” said the Queen, pointing to the three gardeners who were lying round the rose-tree; … How should I know? Said Alice, surprised at her own courage.  It’s no business of mine.”  The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, screamed “Off with her head! Off___

Only one song could fit this moment of chaos at the end of the day ‘Let the Florid Music Praise’ by Benjamin Britten with the words of WH Auden.  I chose this dark humourous song because it’s so full of energy and excitement I think it fits that moment of panic, with a bold opening flutes and trumpets, imperial standards flying, hot sun raising temperatures.  The unloved Queen of Hearts with too much power.

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The three final songs were chosen from works by Roger Quilter (1877-1953).

6. Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal

“Wake up, Alice Dear! said her sister…why, what a long and lovely sleep you’ve had’.Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal’ now the white. The beautiful sonnet poetry of this song is by Lord Tennyson.  Tennyson discloses in this poem the stillness of the twilight, beautiful rest and stillness of sleep.  That time in sleep opens your heart and mind to new adventures with an emphasis on what you can see.

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7. Dream Valley

“Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!” said Alice. And she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange adventures’.   Alice got up and ran off, thinking while she ran, as well she might, what a wonderful dream it had been. Memory, hither come, begins Dream Valley’ with words by Blake .  Lewis Carroll’s adventures included: happy and sad tales with lots of morals.

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8. Love’s Philosophy

Lastly, her sister sat still just as she left her… till she too began dreaming after a fashion:

‘As Alice remembered her dream, her sister, …. pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman… ‘.  ‘Loves Philosophy’ with poetry by Shelley that describes how different parts of nature interact and depend upon one another and is a classic story of unrequited love using natural imagery.

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I was very fortunate to have George Todica as my accompanist, he has now completed his Master’s degree in Piano at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and is undertaking several large competitions this year to launch his career; he also has an engagement next year ( 2018 ) at The Wigmore Hall, London.

Team BanbinO

Timothy Connor, Laura Sergeant, Me, Martin Wooley, David Sneddon, Stuart Semple

It is hard to believe that our time here in Manchester has come to an end.  We have performed in Manchester, Wigan, Hyde, Heywood, Oldham, finishing today in Salford.  The staff and Volunteers from the Manchester International Festival have been fantastic and made us feel so welcome at each venue.

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Me with Gwyneth, One Of The MIF Volunteers

Today we all said goodbye as we went our separate ways for a couple of weeks before we get back together again in Glasgow to prepare for the Edinburgh Festival.  We start our first performances there on the 8th August and run through to 20th August 2017.

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Sam Phillips, Laura Sergeant, Timothy Connor, Me, Stuart Semple, Sophie Skellern, David Sneddon

This is one of the duets from the opera that I sing with Timothy Connor

 

Here are some links to press reviews of the production:

‘The payoff for an initiative like this is incalculable…rarely has innocent pleasure felt more vital.’  Please read this review as it is an insightful article which delves into the accessibility of opera and pretty much sums up how I feel about it.

★★★★★ Fiona Maddocks – The Observer

‘Full marks to BambinO. Opera can work for babies, and maybe one day they’ll come to enjoy it as adults, too…’ 

★★★★ Robert Beale – The Arts Desk

‘…it was genuinely moving to see a little girl of no more than nine months giggling with delight as the soprano, Charlotte Hoather, imitated bird sounds during a playful yet beautiful aria

Sam Jackson – The Times

‘…the joy of something like this is watching the joy in your little one’s face.’

★★★★ Dianne Bourne – Manchester Evening News

This video about ‘BambinO’, from the FaceBook page of the BBC, has received over 1.3 million views so far !!

 

 

I have had a truly special and humbling week! It was the premiere week for Bambino as part of the Manchester International Festival. We have performed in 12 shows with over 258 babies, their parents and family, and some very special guests. It has been an exciting experience and I can’t stop smiling.

The Whole Cast and Crew

The Cast and Crew

I arrived in Manchester on Monday evening in Scottish Opera’s people carrier along with the team and the wonderful Stuart Semple who had driven us down from Glasgow. We settled into our apartments after being welcomed by the magnificent Manchester International Festival team (MIF). I have been working closely with Angela, Sophie and Tracy and many many wonderful volunteers over this week, all of whom have made the show a huge success.

For the first couple of days, we performed in the centre of Manchester in the Pavilion performance space, in Albert Square. It was wonderful to be performing at the heart of the festival and the vibe of MIF was incredible, hosting great food, drink, and music accompanied by a wonderful atmosphere. If you are in the area during the Festival it is well worth a visit.  It was here that I met Emma and Giuseppe Belli’s sweet and fantastic children. They came to watch the first performances in Manchester, making it extra special.

The babies in each show are very inquisitive and engaged in the performance. There is at time some crying but it rarely lasts for longer than a few moments so perhaps they are just overtaken with emotion 🙂    But as my Mum pointed out, there are a lot more chuckles, laughs, claps and plenty of singing along. Whatever their reaction you can guarantee that every show is individual and very special. And as our director Phelim McDermott said, ‘My hope is that in later years, there’ll be adults who are asked, when they’re at the Opera, what was the first opera you saw? and they’ll be able to say, Well, I was 11 months old when I went to see an opera” and they won’t be pretending when they say that.  It will be absolutely true’.

Drawing By Eva

I was thrilled that Eva Belli ( Aged 4 ) , Emma and Guiseppe Belli’s daughter, drew me this beautiful picture of Bambino.

Sophie, one of our producers, helped organise tickets for two other shows for us to attend in the evening after our daytime performances. I was able to go to Bridgewater Hall to watch the BBC Philharmonic perform ‘The World Was Once All Miracle’, and ‘Available Light’ a dance choreographed by Lucinda Childs at the Palace Theatre. It was a wonderful performance and took me back to my contemporary dancing days at Knutsford High School.

Available Light

After completing our performances in Manchester City Centre we started taking the show to places outside of the city centre such as Wigan and Hyde. These shows are so important and it brings music out to communities and venues that aren’t usually used for these events. Everyone deserves the chance to experience live music and theatre. I hope that this can continue!

In Wigan, I had the wonderful treat of my best friend Ellie and her family, Rory and baby Annabelle, come to watch the show! This made it extra special for me. I’m sure I’ll be visiting them again soon and we can sing the songs together. Ellie said Annabelle was mesmerised and that as well as Annabelle it was Ellie’s first opera too!

I’m having a day off at my family home tomorrow to recharge and then I’m back into a busy week ahead. I can’t wait!  We have performances in Heywood, Oldham, finishing in Salford.

To finish I must admit that it was very exciting to see the production mentioned in interviews for BBC radio and for the BBC Regional News I’ve shared the links in my facebook if you’d like to take a look.

 

Here is a picture of me with one of the designers, Giuseppe Belli and the Director, Phelim McDermott.

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Giuseppe Belli, Me and Phelim McDermott

One of the best things about getting involved with Scottish Opera on projects like ‘BambinO’ is that you get to work with a great team of amazing people.  Everyone has an important part to play taking the project from concept to final production, the Director, the Composer, the production team, the creative departments like costume and set building to the Designers themselves.  So much goes on behind the scenes to give us, the performers everything we need to bring the production to life.

To give you a flavour of the diverse range of skills used in an opera production one of the designers, Emma Belli kindly agreed to take part in an interview with me so that I could share a little insight into her world.  Emma works closely with her husband Giuseppe and they have been involved in many fabulous projects together.  Those of you who follow my blog may have seen some of their work before as they designed the sets and costumes for ‘La Rondine’ and ‘Sir John In Love’ whilst I was at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

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Designer Emma Belli

Emma – What are the best things about your current job?

When I was about to start University, I saw a show at West Yorkshire Playhouse called ‘Shock Headed Peter’. It was one of the most enjoyable and stunningly visual things I’d ever seen at the theatre…. full of invention, music and dark comedy. It was Phelim’s show. So eventually getting to devise a project with him is a gorgeous thing. I feel so lucky that I get to work with lovely talented people and that I get to share this with my husband. The tremendous support of the Creative departments at Scottish Opera actually make the job rather easy. They can achieve anything you think up… and what a lovely project. It’s quite a gift to us as designers.

Is this work what you wanted to do whilst at school?

I come from a family of artists. My grandad advised me not to be one or marry one! …. because it is hard. You have to be very self-motivated and determined. So I thought I’d choose a job in the Arts that would allow me to use my wider creative skills…. But where I could get a job. I also liked history and English and was a frustrated musician. So, I started to think that theatre might be good. Then I went to a Pet Shop Boys concert. It was really theatrical and over the top. It was designed by a theatre designer David Fielding…. and I thought, ‘gosh, this is his job! I want a little bit of this’. So, at about 12 years old I started to tell people that that’s what I was going to be. When I was training, the landscape of theatre design altered and it was no longer possible to get a residency at a theatre. So actually, it’s been as hard as being an artist after all…. and I married one too! (I later worked with David Fielding on an opera production for Bregenz). I’ve never regretted pursuing it as a career.

What were your favourite subjects at school?

Art. Design Technology. English Lit. Drama and History. But I loved sport too…. and find it has lots of parallels with theatre.

Did you go on to further study, where, and what path did you take?

I did A levels at Bradford Grammar where David Hockney had given some money for a theatre. They gave me a key as I was so keen! I then went to Leeds College of Art and did a foundation year. Followed by Theatre Design BA Hons at Betton Hall which was part of Leeds University. I started an MA there too but in the same year won a design competition to design King Lear at Cambridge Arts Theatre and another competition where I won a training position with the BBC in costume. I didn’t complete the MA but moved to London to work in TV Costume… it felt like I just needed to go and get on with it.

 

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The set for ‘La Rondine’ at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

 

How did you meet your partner/husband? Do you always work together? How long?

I met Giuseppe at Bretton Hall. He was the Resident Designer on my degree. After university, he was working on a low budget feature film and needed a costume designer. He called me as I had just finished some training with the BBC. We were working closely together but neither of us wanted to mess up our friendship. It took a year of meetings for tea and cake, art galleries, theatre trips and London parks before we got together. We just wanted to make sure it was going to be right and have longevity. At first, I was working long hours in TV and Giuseppe was doing mainly film special effects. We started not wanting to be apart so much and finding filming was totally exhausting and pressurised. We began to seek a way to work together. It’s been about 18 years working together now.

Do you work all around the world?

I haven’t traveled that much for work. Some designers do…. our work has traveled more widely than we have! Once a show is designed, you don’t really need to go with it when it tours. I would find it very difficult to travel outside the country at the moment as I need to be around to be a mum too.

Where do you get inspiration for your designs?

Inspiration is part research, part experience and part gut instinct.

What’s your favourite part of the design process?

I like making models and getting them to look as perfect as possible…. and the anticipation of sharing the design for the first time with the Creative team and cast. Then I like opening night when the work is finished and the pressure is off!

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How difficult is it to manufacture what you visualise?

We carefully design to fit budgets and the support teams available. However, it’s surprising how often we do need to step in to finesse things. Between us, Giuseppe and I can do most things. We are very practical. We always pull it together even if we are let down. We are perfectionists and our own critics, and we keep our standards high. If we find a talented collaborator, we hold on to them for good! Over the years you find companies you trust and makers with a true talent in interpretation and realisation. Working at Scottish Opera is a joy because the skills and experience in the whole building shine.

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Has there ever been anything that you visualised that couldn’t be made? Did you make adjustments?

Part of the designer’s job is to consider practicalities and technical solutions, rigging, construction etc. It involves objects but also the space around objects, the way things move and work. If something wasn’t completely thought through, it wouldn’t leave the studio. This avoids costly mistakes and time wasting later.

What’s the work that you’re most proud of?

We made West Side Story in Wandsworth Prison with Pimlico Opera. Great piece, challenging environment, an enormous impact on all of us. Theatre as rehabilitation is an extraordinary thing. We were very proud of this production.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future?

I just want to remain interested in my work, earn enough doing it and share the best bits with my husband. I hope I can pass on my love of theatre to my children as I feel it’s made my life very rich.

Do you have any hidden talents? E.g play an instrument, sing, yoga teacher, mathematician?

Hidden talents…

I’m brilliant at soldering?! (which I use model making)

I’m a great swimmer, played netball and hockey for my county. Represented Leeds at rounders and long jump! Hmmm…. very competitive!

We have a great and full kitchen garden…. which I love to do with Giuseppe. It’s bursting with produce right now.

I’m a parish councillor.

I make special birthday cakes for my children….. using all my model making skills!

I’m an expert on Angry birds, Minecraft, Dr Who, Lego, and Playmobil.

 

Thank you, Emma, for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope that you all enjoy reading her fascinating insight

You can check out more of Emma and Giuseppe’s work on their website.

Here is a link to Scottish Opera’s Facebook page with some pictures of the costumes designed by Emma for ‘BambinO’

 

 

 

 

Blog Post 25th June 2017_pp

This has been a very eventful week, rehearsals have been blossoming with energy and imagination as we experiment with how to block ‘Bambino’. Our wonderful director Phelim McDermott uses a fantastic method which allows us to combine the qualities of improvisation and movement, to act instinctively and tell the story. It has been wonderful to work in this way as it is full of freedom.

I had my second costume fitting, which is beautiful and I am very excited and I can’t wait to see it when it is finished!  I’m not sure how much I can reveal just yet, but there are feathers! I can’t wait to get to wear it next week. We also had the pleasure to invite some babies along to our rehearsal on Thursday, for this, we focused on the music and performed it in a concert format. In rehearsals leading up to an opera there is a session where the cast and the orchestra finally come together to play through the score, this is known as a ‘Sitzprobe’ It was great fun to think that Bambino’s ‘Sitzprobe’ included babies who would be able to openly react to our music making and decide whether it was enjoyable.  Luckily, we had no crying! but we did have the occasional singing along which was adorable.  Next week we have our dress rehearsal and preview performances. I can’t wait. It’s getting very exciting.

 

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The Cast Of ‘BambinO’ : Stuart Semple, Timothy Connor, Laura Sergeant and Me

 

 

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Picture From The Rehearsals ( MIF Twitter )

 

As the week progressed it did get me thinking though on how important these education programmes are to the future of Opera.  Finding interesting and innovative ways to connect with a new audience is so important for any Opera House and there are many now which are fully involved taking opera out into their local community.  Scottish Opera, for example, take opera out and about using a converted articulated trailer.  This version of a pop-up opera allows small taster shows to be hosted in a much wider area and introduce the artistry and storytelling of opera to those that want to give it a try.

Through the Connect Company, with whom I performed in “The Walk From The Garden”, Scottish Opera provide a programme of classes for teenagers throughout the year culminating in a fully staged production.  The connect company allows both instrumentalists and singers the chance to work with some amazing coaches and learn about what makes opera such a vibrant and absorbing art form.  This also introduces the families of the students to the intricacies of a live performance and encourages them to maybe go along and watch one of Scottish Opera’s main stage productions.

There is also a programme ‘Opera for Schools’ which provides primary school teachers with educational activities along with a full day of immersive participation which ends with a performance for friends and family.  I would have loved to have been a part of one of these days when I was at primary school.

These are just some of the ways that Scottish Opera are trying to broaden the appeal of opera within the wider Scottish Community and I am excited to be a small part of it.  It is the responsibility of all of us who wish work in this wonderful industry to help where we can to explain why we love it so much and with our passion and enthusiasm encourage as many people as possible to give it try.

Happy Father’s Day 

June 18, 2017 — 52 Comments

 

Me and Dad

Me and My Dad

It’s that time of year when we can thank someone who is very special, for their support, love, and reliability. In the U.K., today is Father’s Day and my dad is my superhero. He has superhuman powers of dedication and supports my crazy dream of becoming an opera singer. Especially on days when I need reminding that the final push or the hard work is worth it and that I can achieve anything I put my mind to. The belief he has in me is magical and I swear he gives phenomenal pep talks that he could tour the country giving to people. He has the power to make anyone feel great and always finds the positive in any situation. He is proud of the smallest achievements and always reminds me that when they are all added together these tiny tasks come together to make a huge accomplishment. What seemed insurmountable at the beginning, broken down into smaller tasks is suddenly not so bad and the sense of accomplishment on completion can be breathtaking. I love my dad so much and I’m so thankful that he is my dad.

He is also courageous and he has a fighting spirit that encourages him to never give up. He has taken many risks in his lifetime through business and life choices. Sometimes they pay off and other times they don’t, but he would never regret trying something and once started would never give up.  It reminds me of when we all (my dad, my brothers and I) went to karate and we were training for fighting and he got kicked in his side and broke a rib, but he stayed for the whole session because me and my brothers were having so much fun and were learning new skills, he just got on with it and always encourages us to do the same.

 

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My Dad and Me on my graduation day

He has the strong moral code of a superhero and will help people in need, he has taught me right and wrong in life. He also had a keen sense of motivation and a sense of responsibility in which he wants to provide for his loved ones so that we can do anything we dream of as long as we all work hard for it. He is extremely intelligent and honest, even though I joke that this was soaked up by my elder brother Matthew who is incredibly smart. My dad loves Manchester City Football Club and this love and dedication continue in my younger brother Thomas. My dad’s undying love for my mum is also something from a fairy tale, and did I mention he makes the most amazing mash!! (Mash potato)

Keep being amazing Dad!!

In London At Christmas 2016

School’s out for summer!! (Well at least for me), on Wednesday 7th June I performed my end of year recital program at the Royal College of Music. I sang a program of Mozart, Liszt, Strauss and Moore.

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Amelia Widjaja, Prajna Indrawati and Me

My delightful singing teacher Rosa Mannion reminded me to think of it as a performance rather than an exam.  I thought this was a wonderful sentiment and reminds me to stay positive and share music with those around me.  My recital celebrated all that I have learnt this year and showcased some of the beautiful music that I had the pleasure of preparing with Rosa and my wonderful repertoire coach Andrew Robinson.

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Rosa Mannion and Me

On that note, It was a real treat to be supported by my friends and family who were able to make it to the performance and for all the many kind thoughts sent to me from those unable to attend. You all added to the magical atmosphere and boosted my confidence to get out there and shake a tail feather!

However, after a few photos, hugs and a quick celebratory lunch with my wonderful duo partner Prajna Indrawati and our friend Amelia Widjaja, who kindly turned pages at the piano, I jumped onto a train with my family heading to Glasgow ready to begin rehearsals for BambinO!

On Thursday morning I arrived surprisingly fresh-faced and full of energy for a day of music calls at Scottish Opera lead by composer Lliam Paterson. Laura Sargeant (cellist), Timothy Connor (Baritone), Stuart Semple (Percussionist) and myself started to work through the score scene by scene, marrying each independent instrument together. We continued our work on Friday morning and then in the afternoon, I had my first costume fitting with the wonderful designer Emma Belli. The costume looks fantastic and I can’t wait for my second fitting when the next layer of details can be added on. Plus anybody that has worked with me before technically, knows that I adore costume and the first fitting always gets me ridiculously excited!

On Saturday we were given a sneak preview of the set design by the fabulous designer Giuseppe Belli (who is Emma’s partner in crime). The set is in the final process of being built and should be ready for our production rehearsal beginning on Monday. We then continued our music calls by performing a little mini taster for the director Phelim McDermott and Assistant Director Lissa Lorenzo. So that they could hear the new music and allow their imaginations to begin bubbling with inspiration.

I will find out how much I can share during the process but one thing for sure is that I’m really excited and can’t wait to perform the production at the premiere in Manchester on the 4th July!  If you are in the Manchester area please check out the schedule.