As someone at the very start of my professional career with so much to learn it always surprises me from where I can draw inspiration. As with everything in life when faced with something that is new to us it is important to draw on the experience from those around us, from Parents, Teachers, Coaches, and our peers. But sometimes inspiration can come from the most unexpected places.
During an audition or when performing on stage getting my makeup just right can be a bit of a hit or miss affair and can have a huge impact on how I feel on stage. As singers, we spend hours and hours practicing the many technical aspects of our craft but often when it comes to our stage appearances the way we present our selves can be a little daunting without the help of the many talented makeup artists that help out with an Opera production. So, when faced with this challenge on my own I can sometimes lack the skills to make the best of my appearance when attending an audition.
Over Christmas whilst at home with my parents and brothers we watched some episodes of a programme called Ru Paul’s Drag Race. It is a competition in which Drag Queens take on a series of challenges to demonstrate a range of skills that will ultimately make them the winner of the competition and enhance their performing careers. I loved watching the way the competitors rose to each challenge, gaining self-confidence and improving their stage presence with each round. What I never expected to discover however were makeup tips for stage performances, but that was exactly what I found.
Many of the performers recorded their makeup routines on YouTube which I have found so helpful. Their make up tips are brilliant for my job, they spill their secrets for how to hide unwanted blemishes and how to make it last for a full performance which can often be a problem as I found out in the heat of the Summer performances of Candide at the Minack Theatre. So, fingers crossed this is another skill I can continue to develop and with it give myself the extra confidence that is sometimes needed for an audition or competition.
Have you ever found inspiration in an unexpected way? If so, I would love to hear about it 🙂
I have some other good news to share with you, following the success of Waterperry Opera’s ‘Mansfield Park’ last Summer, Jonathan Dove has agreed to become an Honorary Patron for the festival and I can’t wait to reprise the role again this July. Last year the tickets sold out within weeks of going on sale so this year there will be two extra days. Once the tickets go on sale I will let you know in case you want to come along to Waterperry House in Oxford and join in the spectacle.
Last week, I invited my blog friends to ask me a question about my involvement in the world of opera that I could expand into an article for my weekly blog. I have set myself the challenge to try and answer these questions in the comments or allow them to inspire me to create a full article. So here it goes!
John W. Howell asked me: “How do I keep my voice in shape for a demanding performance schedule?”
My initial answer to John’s question was: “Years and years of the best vocal training by classically trained teachers, vocal warm-ups and cooldowns, lots of water to drink, honey and lemon and specialist teas. I don’t often drink alcohol, I’ve never smoked and I rest my voice when I need to.”
I would love to take the time today to expand on my answer and provide a more detailed response, so here goes!
As an opera singer, I can’t sing all day long. I seem to have been saying this on repeat recently to potential landlords and letting agents when they ask me about my job. I promise I am not noisy 24/7 and that I am conscious of my neighbours! I have to plan my practice and use of my voice in the rehearsal room, the amount that I can sing in a day does fluctuate but most days I actively sing for 2- 3 hours.
In order to sing operatic music, like an athlete, I need to warm up the muscles that become engaged when I am singing. I usually begin most days with a 20-30 minute warm up. This includes some gentle humming exercises, scales, and arpeggios progressing to coloratura exercises to maintain flexibility in my vocal range. This allows my voice to work at its best. However, sometimes my schedule doesn’t allow for a generous warm-up time, because of available space at the rehearsal venue or the time of the rehearsal/lesson. So, if I know in advance that I will have limited time to warm up my voice before I leave home I will try to do a simple yoga routine or gentle stretches so that my body is better prepared. I personally love using “Yoga with Adrienne” on youtube. She has had a channel for many years now and has built up a great selection of videos for beginners and regulars. In the rehearsal room, there may be occasions when you have to mark your vocal line, this can mean singing quieter, down the octave [the melody but an octave lower – closer to speaking pitch] or even speaking. The important thing is that you don’t lower your energy level or enunciation of the text as this can cause issues for your colleagues.
So what is my experience of a demanding performance schedule?
This summer I experienced a busy period working with professional companies. I performed in three Operas spreading over July, August, and September. Each brought with it its own individual challenges.
Candide involved a regular rehearsal period over four weeks. The positive outcome for this style of schedule allowed me to create the role of Cunegonde in great detail. I had time to learn and grow with the character, experiment with different reactions to the same series of unfortunate events, and her relationships towards the other characters in the Opera. [slipping in the title of one my favourite childhood book series there written by Lemony Snicket ]. However, my commute to the rehearsal venue was long and often I would return home very late in the evening. In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and my vocal stamina, I would try to unwind on my commute home, listening to music or downloading a TV program on my phone for the journey, this enabled me to relax so that when I got home I could still manage to get straight off to sleep. I would always try to bring a packed lunch and a prepared dinner if I was away from home all day. I would try to eat this at a similar time each day so that my body kept up a digestive routine. I found that this resulted in me feeling less fatigue and my voice was still supple for evening rehearsals, I didn’t feel restless because I knew that I would have access to a balanced diet. I could use my rest time on my dinner break to actually relax, rather than use the limited time desperately trying to find a place to eat, which was close to the rehearsal venue, that wasn’t too expensive, and which offered healthy food.
After the performances of Candide were over I went straight onto working on Mansfield Park production. Thankfully before we traveled to the Minack Theatre in Cornwall, I had a week of rest, [with no rehearsals scheduled by Surrey Opera]. Knowing that once we finished the performances I would have only one week before the rehearsals begin for Mansfield Park. I decided to get a head start on learning quite a difficult score by using my week off before the Candide performances to start my preparations for Mansfield Park. I recorded the libretto with two friends, both fantastic Mezzo Sopranos, Brigette and Hannah on an app. The app was recommended to me by my wonderful friend Frances Thorburn, who I worked with on The Little White Town Of Never Weary and who now plays Kim Monroe on River City, a very popular Scottish Soap Opera.
Frances has to learn a huge amount of lines each day for filming, she encouraged me to try this method because you can practise the whole script by yourself. It provides you with options to listen to scenes on repeat, isolate your lines or provide timed gaps so that you can speak your lines in. This style of memorising is very useful to me as an artist as I can learn the text, without having to sing too much. This allows me to use my singing time on specific musical goals and technically tricky areas. What I didn’t expect to learn from this, was that because I broke up the learning and began it earlier, most of what I learned had settled and made the week revising it musically before rehearsals so much more relaxed. It was still stressful, and I needed to work hard to learn the whole score off copy, but I felt positive and that I could achieve it because of the groundwork I put in. This kind of positive mental attitude and a relaxed mindset allows me to stay in top physical condition. If I become too stressed I know that my body is more susceptible to picking up a virus or other illness. I now always try to plan in break times and aim to finish my work for the day no later than 9:00pm, unless a rehearsal schedule goes over this.
Once the performances for Mansfield Park came to a close, I was then able to move onto preparation for BambinO. The benefit of having this opera at the end of a busy run was that I knew the music and the staging inside out, although the new team had changes that I had to adjust to quickly. I had a recording from a previous performance that I would use to run through the staging and I practised my part musically at the piano. During the week I managed to squeeze in a coaching session with Christopher Middleton where we worked on my current aria package, he is so insightful and I appreciate all his help and advice. This meant that I had a little extra breathing space to begin planning my next projects as I also needed to move out of my room at Student Halls and find somewhere new to live in London. I was so grateful that I knew this opera because I found moving lodgings quite stressful. I like to plan ahead of time, but the rental market in London moves very fast and I didn’t sign a contract for a new place until the morning before my flight to Aberdeen! Knowing that I knew the music allowed me to feel calm and in control. I hope that in the future I will be able to bear this in mind when planning work and projects.
I have had a great summer and feel energised for the upcoming months. I have learned how to multi-task projects better and I am thankful that I have been able to maintain my vocal health and stamina. What I didn’t expect to learn from this, was that because I kept up my vocal practise, i.e. singing for 6 days a week that my recovery time after taking a long weekend off was much quicker which allowed me to perform challenging coloratura arias with the fast runs sounding smoother, in fewer practise days, allowing me to work on my personal targets sooner. Whilst touring Scotland I took the advantage of meeting up with Judith Howarth, my singing teacher from my time at the RCS. She helped me with my bel canto phrasing and floating and after my time with her, I left feeling re-energised and motivated for the months ahead.
As the summer draws to a close and the autumn approaches I wanted to put together a short reprise of what I have been up to since graduating from the Royal College of Music Masters course at the beginning of July.
The Minack Theatre reviewer Jenni Barlow wrote that ‘her ears were ringing and singing with sheer ecstasy and my head is still spinning with delight after watching one of the Minack’s most exhilarating musical productions….the voices of its nine principle singers are sublime…, with Charlotte Hoather giving a remarkable performance on the opening night, effortlessly hitting the top, very high notes, as well as achieving perfect comic timing, in partnership with the impeccable Stephen Anthony Brown.’ I was thrilled when this was sent to me.
After traveling back to London for rehearsals, it was on to Waterperry House in Oxfordshire to perform the role of Maria Bertram in Waterperry Opera Festival’s production of Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park. The production received a five-star review in Bachtrack this week by Charlotte Valori, “Waterperry Opera Festival has broken new ground in its first season, opening with an ambitiously broad programme which presented four different works in four different spaces […] The jewel of these four was the chance to see Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park in the period-perfect setting of Waterperry House […] Charlotte Hoather’s precocious, determined Maria Bertram displayed a deep and sensitive understanding of her complex character […] Mansfield Park sparkled with wit and ingenuity from start to finish.”
Now having had such a wonderful summer full of learning, I have to start preparations for next year, starting the audition process all over again. I have a couple of smaller projects underway at present and can’t wait to share them with you as Autumn progresses. But until then I have my return to the role of Uccellina in BambinO for Scottish Opera in their tour this September.
One of the locations that we will be visiting is Lerwick in the Shetland Isles and I was excited to see my blog friend Cindy Knoke’s blog post today on the Town, the most Northerly town in the UK, with some amazing pictures.
What a fabulous week I have had at Waterperry House and Gardens, working with a great cast and creative team to bring Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park to life.
The company used the duck egg blue ballroom lit by natural sunlight and a twinkling chandelier to stage the production. The setting was inspirational, and once we got into our costumes we were taken back to a time of regency and romance. The audience enveloped the performance space in a way that felt quite intimate, enabling us to bring the story to life sharing close encounters and family squabbles.
On Saturday for our premiere, we were thrilled to see Jonathan Dove in the audience who said afterward that he thoroughly enjoyed the performance. I was interested to learn from him that he wrote the opera to be accompanied by a piano duet (also known as piano four hands), because Jane Austin was a keen piano player who loved to play piano duets with friends. He wanted to create a sound world that he could imagine her living within.
My family came to watch on Saturday too and my Grandad said how much he enjoyed the production. I remember trying to not break from my character and smile and laugh at his reactions as the story developed, I am slowly converting him to the world of opera as he now looks forward to each new piece that I introduce him to.
I had a wonderful time working with the company created by Rebecca Meltzer, Guy Withers, and Bertie Baigent, their other shows were great successes too! Don Giovanni, which was performed in the outdoor Amphitheatre was incredibly moving and the Peter Rabbit adaptation for narrator and string quartet that took place in the tranquil rose garden was exquisite and very humorous! Whilst on site, we lived in the house. I shared a room with some of my colleagues who were fabulous company, we told stories, shared sweets and movie nights. It was like the dormitory experience I had always wished for. The wonderful cooks Wendy and Kate provided delicious vegetarian meals throughout the day, I was astonished that I enjoyed my meat-free week so much! I think I may even copy a few of their recipes and add them to my own recipe bank.
Considering that this was the Inaugural year, Rebecca Meltzer, Guy Withers, and Bertie Baigent did an amazing job bringing everything together so smoothly, it was an enormous undertaking and I wish them every success in the future for their festival.
They have kindly allowed me to share some of their pictures from the production taken by Robert Workman.
LADY BERTRAM – Emily Gray
SIR THOMAS BERTRAM – Phil Wilcox
EDMUND BERTRAM – Milo Harries
JULIA BERTRAM – Sarah Anne Champion
MARIA BERTRAM – Charlotte Hoather
HENRY CRAWFORD – David Horton
MARY CRAWFORD – Eleanor Sanderson-Nash
AUNT NORRIS – Andrea Tweedale
FANNY PRICE – Flora Macdonald
MR RUSHWORTH – Lawrence Thackeray
DIRECTOR – Rebecca Meltzer
MUSICAL DIRECTOR – Ashley Beauchamp
RÉPÉTITEUR – Will Ford
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR – Margaret Ravalde
COSTUME MAKER – Jane Black
COSTUME ASSISTANT – Bronte Macfadyean
PUPPET MAKER – Jo Lakin
STAGE MANAGER – May Howard-Shigeno
PRODUCTION MANAGER – Guy Withers
We have had a productive week of rehearsals here in London for Waterperry Opera Festival’s production of Mansfield Park. Next week we travel over to Oxford to start the staging at the venue. I can’t wait to see where we will be performing and soak up the atmosphere of the house to see if we can bring a little something extra to our characterisations.
I will try and get some pictures over the course of the week and share them with you once the performances are over or put them on Instagram.
Scottish Opera are putting on a Scottish tour of BambinO this autumn and I have been asked back to perform alongside Samuel Pantcheff who will be taking on the role of Pulcino, with Andrew Drummond Huggan on Cello and Michael D Clark on Percussion, they are currently performing at the Edinburgh Fringe if you are in Edinburgh next week with your baby check it out with Hazel McBain as Uccelina.
Since graduating from the Royal College of Music at the beginning of July my summer has been full of new experiences.
This week rehearsals for Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park have started with gusto. The production for the Waterperry Opera Festival began rehearsals on Thursday 2nd August in London, led by our director Rebecca Meltzer. We began the process by exploring our characters, the social hierarchy, our character’s desires, and their relationships with the other characters throughout the opera. I found this exploration on the first day very useful because you learn how the others (characters) view your character and how each actor/actress has filled the gaps in their personal narrative. This then allowed me to build on my initial interpretation of Maria Bertram and inspired me to craft specific details to develop the character so that it becomes more sympathetic to the characters portrayed by the other cast members.
As a company, we began to plot out the staging for the opening scenes. Due to the complexity of the score, we began this by stepping away from the music and delivering our text like a play. This helped us to find the natural fluidity of the conversation which later influenced our musical interpretation. It also allowed me to develop layering to assist in my memory building. I learned where my positions were, my actions and movements, where the person I was talking to was positioned. Securing this level of information, meant that once the music was added I could comfortably concentrate on accuracy and interpretation of the score comfortable with the movement on stage.
I am very lucky (again) to be working with such delightful and talented colleagues, both within the cast and the production team. Everyone brings their own twist and flavour to the ensemble numbers which keeps the pieces fresh and interesting. This opera is unlike any others that I have done, in the sense that previously I have performed roles which have included the need to perform solo arias, duets, small ensemble and some large ensemble. However, for this opera, my role is far more ensemble-based. I sing alongside many different characters in passionate or scheming duets, melancholy trips and triumphant decreto (an ensemble of 10 people). There are odd moments of aria style singing but I am enjoying this new and exciting challenge being an integral part of these multi-layered harmonies and captivating storylines which beautifully portray the difficult and intertwined relationships of Mansfield Park.
We have two full weeks rehearsals together in Central London then a week in Oxford which I’m very much looking forward to as we’ll be staying at Waterperry Gardens which will be amazing I’m sure. I’m looking forward to watching the other productions Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and Don Giovanni if time allows. If I get any rehearsal photographs I’ll share them with you. You can follow the run-up to the opening of the festival on Waterperry Opera Festival’s twitter here.
Here is a YouTube video by Viv Green which gives you the synopsis of Mansfield Park:
I would like to announce that the Box office for Waterperry Opera Festival, located a stone’s throw from Oxford, is now open. I will be participating in the company’s inaugural production of Mansfield Park, a chamber opera in two Acts by Jonathan Dove, based on the novel by Jane Austen. The performances will take place on the 18th and 19th August 2018 at 2pm. The ticket will also include access to the splendid Waterperry Gardens where you can explore the estate, with its Riverside walk, numerous gardens, Medieval Church, Museum and much more. I am looking forward to trying an afternoon tea and the homemade cakes in their Tea shop between rehearsals.
In the opera, I will perform the role of Maria Bertram, who is the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. Fanny Price the novel’s protagonist, is Maria’s cousin, yet their relationship isn’t a close one.
During this snapshot of her life, Maria is engaged to Mr. Rushworth, an eligible match due to his wealth and property. However, Maria finds him tedious and his conversations dull. In contrast, she admires Henry Crawford, with whom after much flirtation, she falls in love. However, at times he is quite manipulative and uses her interest for his own gain and unfortunately, he does not love her back.
I’m looking forward to playing Maria Bertram as she is quite confident, at times arrogant, and her rebellious nature finds her in situations that cause a few scandals. Perhaps not always likable, but her involvement in the story allows us to glimpse the restrictions women dealt with during this period and how ‘ill’ choices can lead to a ruined reputation and being shunned by society.
I won’t continue to discuss the story in detail, in case you would like to read the novel that the opera is based on. I would certainly recommend it or perhaps listen to an audiobook. I particularly enjoyed BBC4’s dramatisation of the novel with David Tennant, Felicity Jones, and Benedict Cumberbatch performing.
I am on the lookout for a visual dramatisation of the novel at the moment so that I can study appropriate movements and gestures as well as fill my imagination with settings, costumes, and objects of the period. If you would like to share any personal insights I would be very interested to hear your voices.
UPDATE: Only 15 tickets left for the performance on Saturday 18th August.
The first week of rehearsals for Candide with Surrey Opera has started with a bang! I am working alongside such talented colleagues and I look forward to sharing the rehearsal process with you over the coming weeks, I’d like to try to get some photographs but its always difficult if you’re in the middle of the lively action.
You can listen to all my albums recorded in 2014 and 2016 on these popular streaming services, this will help me to keep up my singing and coaching training now I’m cut loose from the college environment, thanks in advance for any help you can give me by taking a listen: