Archives For Opera

Save The Dates !!

July 30, 2017 — 63 Comments

[ This is a new promotional video from Scottish Opera for BambinO ]

With August, almost upon us and preparations for the ‘BambinO’ performances at the Edinburgh Festival about to start, I am busy working on my rehearsal schedules for the coming months.  One of the most important things that I have found whilst studying music is the need for good forward planning.  If you don’t sit down and spend quality time working out rehearsal schedules you can find yourself feeling overwhelmed quite quickly.  I try not to put things off, it is better to know what needs to be accomplished and set time aside to achieve the goals that you have set to complete.

I try and work through my diary and schedule my time as accurately as possible.  I set myself tasks for each day and then again for each week.  This allows me to be realistic about what I can achieve in the time available to me.  Knowing what concert and College commitments I have over the horizon is so important as these need to be introduced into my schedule with enough lead time to complete them.

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Back in December 2016 I received an e-mail quite out of the blue from Gary Waller, the chairman of the Gustav Mahler Society. Having read my blog and listened to my recording of Strauss’s ‘Zueignung’ he invited me to perform at a recital as part of their 2017 programme of events.  I was quite taken aback at the time and was thrilled to have been asked, the fact that the enquiry had come after reading my blog was just ‘the cherry on the top’.

Following the initial enquiry, we exchanged several e-mails, met on a number of occasions, and a date and location for the concert were agreed.  Over the months Gary has been wonderful, supporting my recitals, enthusiastic with his encouragement, and understanding of my work and college commitments. I am hoping to perform a mixed programme with a little something for everyone.  With pieces by Mahler, Strauss, Schubert, Wolf, Liszt, Grieg, Quilter, and Dvorak.  The date is Tuesday 10 October 2017 at St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate Church Hall, Bishopsgate, EC2M 3TL Tickets are available from The Gustav Mahler Society.

Gustav Mahler

To prepare a rehearsal schedule for an event such as this, there are several areas that I need to factor in and work on. For each new song, I have to translate the lyrics, both literally and poetically, trying to visualise in my mind what I think the composer or poet wanted to achieve with the song. I then learn the music and how this interacts with the accompaniment.  I then bring the lyrics and the music together working on the alignment and clarity of vowels and then concentrate on how to articulate each consonant so that the text can be understood, whilst making sure the legato line is not disturbed. Finally, it all comes together so that I have my interpretation of the song which I hope reflects a little of my own personality too.

To close tonight I just want to thank everyone who downloaded a copy of ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’ and I hope that you enjoyed it and that it made you smile.

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Update: Monday 31st July 2017, I’ve just received the very sad and quite shocking news that my friend Gary Waller died suddenly and unexpectedly last weekend. We had only spoken recently when Gary asked me to learn Schubert’s ‘An Sylvia’ for the concert as it was one of his favourites and I’ve been singing it today. I will remember him every time I sing it. Even though I’d only met Gary this past year in London, I feel we knew each other really well as he read my blog religiously and always sent me a supportive message to encourage me. Our concert has been postponed whilst the Mahler Society come to terms with his immense loss. We shall miss him, I send my sincere condolences to his family and friends.

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.

 

Bambino Cast

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

This week I had the pleasure of performing at the Britten Theatre alongside my friends in a set of Opera Scenes produced by the Royal College of Music, London. The scenes were directed by James Bonasconducted by Christopher Middleton and accompanied on piano by Ian Tindale.

I had a wonderful time performing the role of Aminta alongside the talented Yiwen Su as Elisa. We performed the opening scene from “Il re Pastore” by Mozart. For the performance, I had to wear a period wig, this was a completely new experience for me and I really enjoyed learning about the process and watching Shauna, the talented makeup and hair professional as she managed to hide all my hair under a cap ready for the powdered wig. To help me feel even more like a character from the 18th century, Shauna applied a layer of white foundation to my face which made me look quite pale. This was because in the 18th century both men and women would wear cosmetics to show social status. However, I wasn’t allowed to wear the fashionable bright pink rouge and lip colour as this would have been considered beyond the social ranking of my character for the scene. I found this really interesting and added another layer to my character profile and allowed me to explore how my character Aminta would react to meeting Elisa who in the first scene would have been considered higher than Aminta in social ranking. The performance was so much fun and I can’t wait to get back on a stage soon!

 

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On Friday evening I had arranged to go and watch the RAMBERT ballet company perform “Ghost Dances” at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. Because I could not get a student ticket my brother Matthew offered to pay half as he knew how much I wanted to go which was lovely of him and appreciated by me 🙂  This performance was really special for me because I analysed Christopher Bruce’s “Ghost Dances” for my Dance A level. Whilst writing my analysis I was only able to watch video recordings of the piece but enjoyed the dance so much that I fell in love with the chilling choreography and the powerful storyline of the dance. So, when Matthew told me that it was to be performed at Sadler’s Wells I did not want to miss out on the chance to see it performed live. I enjoyed the performance thoroughly and the company used the original choreography, music, costumes, and set, so my memory of this beautiful dance was re-enacted live before my own eyes. The company takes the performance on tour very soon and if you get the opportunity to go and watch it I would recommend the show thoroughly!!

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I would also like to share with you all that I will be performing my year end recital on the 7th June in the East Parry room on the 4th floor of the Royal College of Music.  My recital will be at 2:40 pm and if you are in London and able to attend it would be lovely to see you in the audience.

Connections

May 14, 2017 — 51 Comments

I’ve been thinking all day about making connections with others and how important it is for people, and about pioneers, people that leave their homes and Countries to look for a new life.  My Dad purchased the film “Passengers” and this weekend I got to watch it on my iPad.

Passengers

Without giving too much away if you’ve not seen it, the adventure story is about a man called Jim (Chris Pratt) onboard a spaceship transporting him to a new planet to begin a new life.  The journey takes a bad turn when his hibernation pod malfunctions and he wakes up 90 years before the spaceship is expected to reach its destination.  The spaceship is in danger and the 5000 hibernating passengers on board are all in peril.  He is the only human awake on the vessel and he only has a low-class security pass on the ship which limits what he can eat and drink.  His only companions are the robot cleaners, waiters and a charming and witty android bar-steward.

How long do you think you could last without any other human contact at all? The computer message that he sends will take over two decades to reach earth, and another 30 years for the reply to reach him, he was 30 years into a 120-year voyage with no way of going back into hibernation.  Would you be pleased or sad if other hibernation pods malfunctioned?

In a way, it was a little like when I first moved down to London, so many people milling around but not knowing any of them. I am quite a confident person but I could see how for some that it could be quite a daunting situation, to feel alone and unconnected.  I had the added advantage of connecting with like-minded people in a similar situation to me but I have the utmost respect for people who move away from home and the familiarity that it brings to make a new life for themselves and establish new friendships.

For me, I regularly started asking lots of people how they were, even people who I didn’t know, it might have been someone at an exercise class, or when visiting the adjoining university, or even in a shop.  I just love to engage in conversation, it doesn’t need to be long or thought provoking just something inclusive. I also take the time to call loved ones on the phone, FaceTime, or Skype. Bringing ‘Home’ to my new home. I also have a lot of international friends that I keep in contact with regularly on WhatsApp and Facebook and I always try and make time for my blogging friends on WordPress, some of whom I have even had the pleasure of meeting in person. The world is a big place but we can use the amazing technology that is around us to connect with those we know, but sometimes taking the time to talk to a stranger can be just as rewarding.

With the story and the dilemmas that it raised on my mind I was pleased that I’d planned to take a group yoga session at 10:30 am this morning and that I’d arranged to meet with two singer friends for lunch and a walk out in the sunshine, it’s been a beautiful day here in London and I’d spent most of yesterday practicing.

 

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Ida, Me and Sam

 

Sam Dewese is an American from Chicago on his first year Masters, his voice type is Baritone. Ida Ränslöv is a Mezzo-Soprano hailing from Sweden in her first year in the Opera School, she’s doing phenomenally well having just got through to the final of the Lies Askonas competition.

I’m sure you’ll hear their names again in later posts or in big bright lights in the future.

 

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We Found This Lovely Mews Street As We Walked Around

 

 

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Me, Ida and Sam

 

It is our penultimate rehearsals tomorrow for the performance in the RCM Opera scenes on Tuesday at 5:30pm in the Britten Theatre, my last chance to make a good impression in Opera scenes this year, I’m hoping I can get someone to take a couple of photos for you to see next week from the dress rehearsal.  I’m also busy preparing for my final examined performance singing recital for the first year, I’m learning a completely new program of music so that’s challenging.