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:
Bright and early Saturday morning on 14th July I met up with my friend and fellow cast member Rosie Clifford before embarking on a road trip down St Levan in Cornwall. The time flew by and after 5 hours we arrived at The Land’s End Vineries which was to become our home from home for the upcoming week. We shared our chalet with two orchestral members Lily Beatrice Cooper and Bjorn Kleiman, who were both delightful and charming housemates. The chalet that we stayed in took me back to a world without WiFi and little mobile signal, we even had to put a pound coin in the electricity meter. I quite enjoyed this weird aspect and will remember playfully working out how to use the meter with Rosie.
Because we only had intermittent mobile service the four of us talked, laughed and bonded over great food, skilfully cooked for us by Bjorn who quickly became head chef of chalet 20. I was very happy to wash dishes, provide supplies and eat! It was during these periods of break (between and after the performances) that I learned that Bjorn organises a concert series in Sweden, Lidköping Music Festival which will have performances 5th-8th August. Lily will be playing cello and he will play violin there with other musicians. It sounded delightful and I wish I could be there to enjoy what I’m sure will be beautiful music.
The first day was long and tiring but the great atmosphere from the full cast, creative team and orchestra meant that we had a lot of fun. We began with a tech rehearsal in the morning at 10:00 then onto a dress rehearsal run at 2pm with me and then another dress rehearsal at 8pm with Lizzie. In the morning and afternoon, the sun was out and blazed during the rehearsals. This made the view of the Minack Theatre outstanding and rather breathtaking, with the crystal clear blue sea stretching as far as the eye could see behind the main stage. During the week we saw lots of wildlife such as seals enjoying the beautiful weather and even some fishermen and sun seekers.
However, this weather can cause a few issues to a performer, such as heat exhaustion and dehydration. Surrey Opera was at hand and offered wonderful advice throughout this process. We were encouraged to wear a lot of sun lotion, wear hats, shade bathe 😅 whenever off stage and drink plenty of water. It was quite tricky to get used to but by mid-week, I started building up stamina for this style of weather.
We opened the show on Monday night which was a roaring success, and as the week progressed gags got lengthened and we crafted the action to suit the audience that we had in, for example, if they particularly enjoyed the slapstick comedy moments we would play these moments for longer and with greater enjoyment. Giles Davies was a real pro at this and taught me a lot about comic timing. I was so impressed that by the end of the run he could get two raucous rounds of applause for his comic death scene! I was really blessed to share the stage with such wonderful colleagues, everyone brought something extra special to the performance and it reminded me how important it is to treasure our individuality. Joanna Gamble, Tom Kennedy, Giles Davies, Brian Smith Walters, Rosie Clifford, Callum Speed, Tim Baldwin, and Lizzie Holmes.
With a special thank you to Stephen Anthony Brown who played the role of Candide so effortlessly, it was a sheer delight to perform alongside him.
Lastly, I must mention the amazing 18 strong chorus who put so much energy into each performance and huge respect to each of the 29 members of the orchestra who played with such emotion and skill.
I enjoyed working with the fantastic Jonathan Butcher who directed the production as well as conducting it, a real multi-talented artist.
You can read a review of the opening night performance on the Minack Theatre website ( Link )
I was also very lucky to have my family travel down from Cheshire, Stoke On Trent, Glasgow, and London to come and support me. My parents, brothers, grandparents and future brother-in-law. Their support never ceases to amaze me and meant that my downtime felt like a holiday!
After completing the first run through of Candide with Surrey Opera last Thursday evening, I hastily returned home full of excitement for the day to follow. Friday began with an early start, checking my bags, which I had carefully packed the previous morning and downloading my pre-ordered train ticket for Buxton. Where I would have the pleasure of performing alongside my friends in the Tideswell Male Voice Choir in Tideswell, Derbyshire.
The weather was fabulous and made for a lovely journey from London to the Peak District, with its amazing views of the picturesque Towns and Villages. George Todica, who was to accompany me for the concert, had traveled down from Glasgow and luckily without delay, which ensured that we both arrived in Stockport within ten minutes of each other, ready to catch the train to Buxton together.
Malcolm and Alison Bennison with Me before the concert
We were met at the station in Buxton by Malcolm and Alison Bennison who had kindly agreed to drive us the final 20 minutes to the Village. Malcolm had arranged for the choir to perform an afternoon concert for the residents of Nicholson Court, a care home in the village, as many could not make it along to the evening performance. This concert was to celebrate the newly refurbished interior of the home. He asked if George and I would like to perform with them, we happily agreed, so our first stop was at Nicolson Court.
It was lovely to have the chance to sing for the residents, who were so friendly and made us feel really welcome. It was lovely when talking to them after the concert to hear how music had touched their lives in so many different ways. After a light lunch, it was time for a sound check in the Church before getting changed for the evening performance.
It was a warm evening with clear blue skies, such a difference from my last visit when the heavens opened and poured continuously during the concert. Nick Montague, the choir’s music director welcomed the audience and set the tone for the evening, which was friendly and relaxed. Nick is the new music director for the choir and also directs a ladies choir called the Knutsford Star Choir in Knutsford where I went to school.
The choir’s programme included a wide variety of songs such as Anthem, Let it Be Me, What a Wonderful World and an amazing rendition of Right Said Fred ornamented with props and percussive instruments to add to the joyful atmosphere. Their performances were full of heart and sang with enthusiasm and panache. They were skilfully accompanied throughout the evening by pianist Alison Wheeldon.
The Choir Singing Right Said Fred
Altogether After The Concert, the only person missing is Edwina Currie ( who was taking a picture too )
If you get the opportunity to go and watch the choir perform I would thoroughly recommend it, I believe they are going to provide some of the onboard entertainment on a Fred Olsen cruise to Scandinavia so if you happen to be on the same cruise you are in for a treat.
If you are from the local area and would like to try your hand at singing in the choir then you could go along to one of their rehearsals, which happen on a Tuesday evening from 7:30 pm at the old grammar school in Tideswell or give Thomas Eccles a call on 01298 872800.
I had an amazing time catching up Edwina Currie, the choir’s President, spending time with my friends and making some new ones, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and I hope that I get to sing with the choir again in the future. I wish them all every success in their future performances and I hope they continue to enjoy singing these beautiful songs as much as we all enjoyed listening to them.
Me With Maurice Hargreaves, a good friend, and an excellent singer
As I sign off tonight I do so in fond remembrance of my friend John Richie, he was a member of the choir for 30 years, a very talented musician whom I met at the Hazel Grove Music festival when I first started to sing seriously. His constant encouragement and kind words will always be remembered.
Rehearsals for Candide by Surrey Opera are now well underway. The scenes are starting to slot together like jigsaw pieces, and I’m looking forward to the coming week to finalise the blocking, (the setting of movements, character’s intentions and gestures) for the last few scenes.
It has been a real joy to explore the arc of Cunegonde’s growth through this process. She begins the operetta as the adolescent school girl, who is the daughter of a Baron and Baroness, she lives in a grand home surrounded by love and the comfort provided by wealth. Cunegonde is taught by Dr. Pangloss that ‘this is the best of all possible worlds’. A philosophy that the play questions dramatically throughout.
After Pangloss’s lesson, Cunegonde experiences the instant chemistry between her and Candide, which begins to bud and blossom into a sweet first love. However, the first love duet is quite humorous as they both list their desires for the future, without really listening to the other. If they had paid attention, they would have realised their dreams were quite dissimilar. If this was a different story, perhaps they would have had a discussion, found a comprise and lived happily ever after.
But sadly, that is not the case, this love story is interrupted by the horrors of war with their lives turned upside down, Cunegonde, now orphaned and without the means to support herself, is taken to Paris where she is shared between two men. Her innocence is quickly stripped away and she must learn how to survive using only her instincts, clouding the emotional heartache with her blinding optimism. These chaotic occurrences are interspersed with moments of hope each time her path crosses again with Candide. Unfortunately, time and time again she has to fend for herself and use her womanly wiles in order to survive.
Jumping to the end, in order to not spoil the plot too much. Just before the finale, Candide finds Cunegonde in a Casino in Venice, attending to the needs of the Male visitors and is appalled by what he sees. He asks in his aria if this is what he’s been fighting for and if her soul is dead. It is a heart-wrenching moment as Cunegonde decides whether to interject or if it’s better to stay silent knowing the awful situations she has lived through in hope that they would meet again and reunite their relationship. It is her strength at this moment that helped me to understand her character more deeply and realise the sincerity of her love for Candide.
It is a very complex story with multiple twist and turns, I do hope that I bring her character to life and do her story justice. I can’t wait to work alongside my brilliants colleagues in the coming weeks as we finally get to perform at the Minack Theatre, Cornwall
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:
On Tuesday, 22nd May I participated in my last opera scene at the Royal College of Music. It was so much fun and I learned so much from the process and from watching my talented peers.
Me and Marcella di Garbo
I sang the role of Governess alongside Marcella di Garbo as the ghostly Miss Jessel.
Henry James who wrote The Turn of the Screw in 1897 lived at that time in Sussex in a big Country house. He was interested in ‘spiritual phenomena’. Telling ghost stories at the time was a tradition during the Christmas holiday festivities. James had been told an anecdote by the archbishop of Canterbury of a couple of young children haunted by ghosts of a pair of servants who wish them ill. In the story the evil spirits of Miss Jessel the previous governess and Peter Quint formerly the valet try to lure the children to their deaths to get their souls.
The ghosts in the story are only visible to the Governess. Are the ghosts a figment of her neurotic imagination or is she the plucky saviour of her charges from damnation? This decision is usually left to the audience member to decide.
A new challenge that we both had to face together was singing in corsets for the first time. This is because our Director Stuart Barker placed our scene from Turn of the Screw in the middle of the nineteenth century, (fitting the original plot). It was fashionable at this time to wear a corset underneath your blouse/dress. Corsets during this period were shaped like an hourglass but were made longer to cover the hips. Luckily for singers, modern corset designs became more flexible, with less boning. This allows for a little more movement when breathing, but still, we have to adapt to the obvious restrictions still maintained by the design.
Marcell di Garbo and Me ( Photo Taken By Stuart Barker )
To make this work for me I had to be sure that I didn’t breathe out during my fitting, although I must admit that is was very tempting at the time. Luckily my singing teacher Rosa had warned me to take in a big breath during the fitting so that the corset allows for the expansion of the rib cage which is so important when singing.
When wearing a corset some movements become more restrictive such as bending over, (I was very careful not to drop any props!) and when changing levels from standing to sitting. This was very interesting and luckily our wonderful costume mistress Alice Lessing allowed us to take the corsets to our stage rehearsals to practice. In keeping with this theme, Alice recommended to us to put our shoes and tights on before being fitted into the corset, as bending down to do them afterward is quite a task. This proved a very handy tip!
( Photo Taken By Stuart Barker )
I personally found singing in a corset quite helpful, it encouraged me to sit and stand upright helping me to maintain good poise and posture. It also gave my character a sense of control and seniority, which was useful as I wanted to depict my character as a strong and determined Governess who could be trusted to look after the children of the house. The corset also gave me something to feel, as I could sense my muscles expanding and contracting during my vocal line helping me to focus on supporting my breath evenly, which in turn helps to create a sustained legato line. All in all, it was a very valuable lesson and one that has given even more to think about when performing in costume.
But don’t get me wrong, I was quite happy to take it off during my breaks from the performance and I’m glad that they are no longer a staple of modern fashion.
In the scene the ghost of Miss Jessel actually appears in my school room from outside along the passages and the stairwell. ‘The room is mine, the children are mine, be gone you horrible, terrible woman!’ I then take up my pen to write of my concerns to the guardian of the children telling him I have something I must tell him about even though he has warned me not to disturb him.
Me, Claire Swale, and Barbara Job backstage
Me with the amazing piano accompanist Lucy Colquhoun
On Friday, I participated in an evening of opera scenes along with my fellow students at the Royal College of Music. I had a lot of fun taking on the character of the ‘Controller’ in Flight and it was very exciting – but nerve-wracking as I had to sing a top F in a public performance for the first time. It was a great challenge, but one that I enjoyed immensely.
Zachary Neal, Me, and Jessica Cale
Ready For My Scene
It was lovely to see so many friends, colleagues, and family in the audience. I was especially happy to see my dear friends Hilary, Edwin, and Norman and it was lovely to be able to see them after the performance and share this experience with them.
These productions would not be the same without all the help that we get from Costume, Wigs, Hair, Makeup, and all the technical staff, and of course not forgetting the fabulous musicians who play for each of the scenes.
Hannah Crerar and Me In The Changing Room ( Photo Julieth Lozano )
Julieth Lozano and Me
The Whole Cast ( Photo Julieth Lozano )
Our next set of scenes are on this coming Tuesday at 5:30 pm in the Britten Theatre at the RCM.
On Monday 4th June at 11:10, I will perform my final recital of my Masters of Performance. The recital will take place in the Recital Hall at Royal College of Music. It would be lovely to see as many friendly faces in the audience as possible, so if you are in the area please come along. Entrance to the performance will be free, but because it is an exam please arrive early. George Todica will be accompanying me and we will be performing pieces by Massenet, Gustav Mahler, Lliam Paterson, Grieg, and Bernstein.
During my free time whilst working in Paris I have enjoyed reading your comments so thank you for taking the time writing them, I have also enjoyed eating delicious food, practicing my French, visiting galleries and walking my socks off. I thought this week I’d share some of my highlights and places to visit in case you may be planning a trip to Paris, or just wondering what it’s like.
The team and I stayed super central, near Les Halles, in the Citadine Hotel. Our rooms came with a little kitchenette which proved very budget friendly during a long stay. We were very close to bustling cafes and bars that populate Paris. I slept extremely well but that may be because I was running after crawling babies all day.
Louis, Me, and Matthew at Café Vigouroux
We quickly made Café Vigouroux on 10 rue des Halles our local. The staff there were friendly but strict with our French lessons that were to come. I will remember fondly, trying to ask Louis (one of the owners alongside Matthew) for the internet ´passwort’ in a wonderful mash-up of German and French. I quickly realised saying a word in a French accent with some conjugated verbs was not going to cut it. Louis then taught me to say ‘Qu’est-ce que les mots de pass pour le wifi?’ Which on my travels was very useful. Another great phrase for those trying to save some pennies ‘Je voudrai une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plaît.’ Which enables you to ask for tap water – l’eau du robinet. This was particularly handy during the beautiful sunny weather we experienced during our stay. If you are in this area of Paris I would definitely recommend you to stop by Café Vigourou.
The food in Paris was très délicieux! I visited a few restaurants for my evening meal. Amongst my favourites were:
Café Plume on 164 Rue Saint-Honoré, this restaurant and thriving evening bar served the most exquisite dauphinoise potatoes, that when Stuart (our percussionist) and I tasted them, we decided we simply had to bring the rest of company there to visit. This recommendation was very well received and confirmed with six empty plates.
Au Terminus du Châtelet on 5 Rue des Lavandières Saint-Opportune, is a beautiful traditional French restaurant, which I believe is in its 4th generation of family management. The Bambino team shared our first meal here and the food was outstanding. The menu is changed daily, responding to the chef’s inspirations based on the produce for the current season. A real delight for the palate!
Le 6 Paul Bert on 6, rue Paul Bert 😉(catchy and helpful name), a un tres goûteux menu (had a very tasty menu). The restaurant grows their own vegetables and take great pride in the produce used in their dishes. With great lighting and attentive service, this is certainly worth the walk.
In between eating and more eating, I was able to burn off some calories by exploring Paris on foot (hence the trainers). During my adventures, I visited many of Paris’ beautiful museums and art galleries. I didn’t realise, before Laura (our cellist) advised me, that I could visit most of these museums for free because I am under 26. (Make the most of this deal if you can, all you need is proof of age!) So as a true bargain hunter I tried to visit as many as I could. My all-time favourite was Musée d’Orsay, it was here that I was able to see Renoir, Monet, Rousseau (who I remember studying in High School ´Tiger in a tropical storm’ springs to mind) and more, my favourite piece of art in the gallery was Galatée by Morceau. I am now in search of a print of this image. The internet pictures do not give justice to the brilliance and sparkle that he has been able to achieve in the original to capture the mythical and magical subject it’s inspired by.
Exhibition at CentQuatre
Exhibition at CentQuatre
My favourite places to read, relax and study my music in the sun were the ‘Jardin du Luxembourg’, I will remember fondly the beautiful arrangements of tulips, the outstanding palace which now holds the Sénat, the beautiful water fountains, and the Grand Bassin, an octagonal pond where children can play with toy sailboats that can be rented. I lost many hours here and will miss this spot greatly. My other little spot was the little garden that surrounded Saint-Jacques tower. A peaceful place to people watch and listen to some great French jazz.
To get an amazing panorama view of Paris for free, visit the rooftop of the Galleries Lafayette! I was recommended the Pompidou Centre too, however, I thought the windows of the viewing deck needed a good scrub clean, but if you walk down to level 4 or 5 the view is very lovely there too.
If you love flowers don’t miss Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II. One of the marketers told me flowers have been sold there since 1808 and are the oldest market of any kind in Paris. I sadly missed this, but my friend told me that on Sundays it turns into an eccentric bird market, where one can purchase a fine creature of flight! Next time I visit I’ll try to go on a Sunday!
On that note, I will bring my recommendations to a close, if you are interested in anymore please do get in touch! These are just the tip of the iceberg, but my main piece of advice is talk to the locals take their recommendations and walk, walk, walk and soak up the amazing atmosphere that is Paris!
Next stop New York, I can’t believe I’m actually saying that 🙂
Me, David, and Alison on an open top bus tour of Paris
I arrived in Paris with the rest of Team BambinO and we were immediately welcomed by everyone at the Théâtre du Châtelet. The French audiences have been amazing and with the first few shows successfully completed I can’t wait to continue the run. It is crazy to look out across the city skyline from each of the venues and see so many iconic landmarks.
I have managed to practice speaking French and more importantly understanding replies and been happy to walk around Paris in the Spring sunshine. Here are a few photographs that I have taken for my scrapbook that I wanted to share with you all.
Tim Connor, Alison Reid, David Sneddon, Stuart Semple, Lissa Lorenzo, Me, and Laura Sergeant on the balcony of our changing room at the British Consul, Paris.
The set laid out ready for our performance at the Conservatoire Municipal, Les Halles, Paris
The three pictures above are from the Flower Market on the Île de la Cité, Paris.
Stravinsky Fountain, 2 Rue Brisemiche, near the Pompidou Centre, Paris.
This stunning iron-work sculpture is on the wall of the building next to the Le théâtre de la Tour Eiffel, Paris.
The view of the Eifel Tower across from the British Consul, Paris
Basilique Sainte-Clotilde, 23B Rue las Cases, Paris
At the bottom of the Rue des Dechargeurs as the Paris marathon passes on the Rue de Rivoli
The Metro at Place Colette, close to the Musée du Louvre, Paris
In the Jardin Nelson Mandela near to the Chatelet Les Halles, Paris
Inside the In the Chatelet Les Halles, Paris
Inside Galeries Lafayette,Paris.
The view from the roof of the Galeries Lafayette Paris