One of the great things about working as an opera singer is that I get to collaborate and work alongside so many amazingly creative and artistic people, who like me are passionate about what they do.
Whilst working on The Fire Of Olympus with Radius Opera this year I have had the opportunity to work under the baton of Ellie Slorach, a wonderful conductor who brought the opera’s music to life.
During a break in rehearsals, I asked Ellie if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions so that I could share a little of her insight into the world as a conductor. I hope you enjoy what she had to say.
1 How did begin training as a Conductor?
I began training aged 18 at University of Manchester because they had a student conducting program and I auditioned for that and managed to conduct all of the student music society ensembles in my time there, which was amazing as the best way to learn is just to do it, with people in front of you, much better than standing in front of a mirror or alone in your practice room. Then I went on to do my Masters at the Royal Northern College of Music.
2 So how did you know you wanted to specialise in conducting before you started University?
I didn’t really know I thought it looked fun and I’d done a tiny bit at school with primary aged children, I’d led the rhythm sticks group rehearsals and warm-ups for chamber choirs, it was on my mind to do it as I really enjoyed it. I am naturally a leader so I thought that was a good aspect of it. When I got to University it had a great conducting program so when I auditioned for that at the end of my first year I didn’t look back.
I used to play the piano, the oboe and I sang, playing and singing in ensembles – Mark Herron and Justin Doyle were my conducting tutors at the time and they were the heads of choir and orchestra at the time and very inspiring teachers.
3 Who were your musical influences?
My teachers at University I mentioned and definitely my teachers from where I studied at High School Anne Boult (Piano) and Jenni Phillips (Oboe) they were real influences on me at the time. I guess the big music world right now, we were really lucky at the RNCM to have Sir Mark Elder who came in to do masterclasses, he is very inspiring.
4 I saw on-line you were involved with New Adventures can you explain your role in that company?
My role is for the production of Romeo and Juliet, a new production, I was the young associate conductor so I shadow the main conductor on tour to see how he worked with dancers and had little bits and bobs for myself, such as rehearsals, rehearsals with the cover Romeo and Juliet dancers in the different touring locations.
5 Now you are working with Radius Opera on the Fire of Olympus what would you say are the major challenges or differences between conducting for contemporary dance and conducting for opera singers?
I think there are many similarities. For a start you are standing in the pit with the orchestra who can’t see the dancers or singers and you are the messenger. So the music isn’t the only focus of what is going on, it is the whole drama or the whole dance that is going on so the whole of the arts as a collaboration. So I feel that the role is similar in trying my best to accompany what is going on stage and equally, I have my own musical ideas to add to that and the dancers and singers bring their own ideas so I have to respect that too.
The artists also have logistical things such as the singers need to breathe, dancers need to breathe too and sometimes they need longer to take a breath, the logistics are similar but the main difference is that in the opera world the music Director has a say about what the singers are doing and will coach the singers, in the ballet world the music director is not a director and I’m not expected to tell the dancers how to dance. So, in the contemporary and ballet dance world, I’m more accompanying the dancers in a helpful role as a vehicle to help them dance better without coaching them. I can breathe well like a singer and in the opera world, it is more of a coaching role I can feel when a singer needs to take a longer breath. To see if dancers are falling out of turns etc. ballet conductors sit in a studio and watch for weeks and weeks.
6. What is your view on this opera we are doing now, what challenges did it bring and what do you like about it?
The challenge of a brand new opera is there are no recordings and no-one has ever done it before so the good thing about that is we have some ownership over it as the first people to do it. This Opera is a kind of pastiche of Handel’s operas. So there are stylistic traditions but we’re not quite sure what traditions to keep and what to break. From a musical directors point of view, the music is quite complicated and hard for singers to memorise so I am trying to be as clear as I can with queues and word entries and I have to think about that more than an opera people know such as the Magic Flute.
7. As a conductor how do you bring the story alive through the music?
I’m driven by the drama in Opera, so when the orchestra arrives I have already had the privilege of sitting through the three-week rehearsals so I know what the drama requires from the music. For example where I need to shorten notes because there is a bang on stage or we need to lengthen a note because the singer needs time at that point to express their feelings more slowly and so on. So when the orchestra arrives I have formed my opinion of the drama so I know what needs to be done. The orchestral rehearsals are actually quite practical and become expressive as we build on our understanding of the on-stage action.
8. To finish what is a fun fact about you?
My hobbies aren’t that cool I have very standard hobbies, running and I really enjoy baking. I’ve just started bread making so fresh bread each week is my new thing I love the smell of it. I guess that’s a fun fact to finish on.
On 28th September 2019 at 7:30 pm you can catch our performance at the Royal Northern College of Music