On Saturday, I had the pleasure to watch the opening night performance of Benjamin Britain’s ‘Owen Wingrave’ at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
I must admit that it isn’t one of my favourite operas but I thought that the singers performed very convincingly and kept me engaged. I particularly enjoyed the four female characters in the ensemble pieces, their voices blended beautifully and created an interesting dynamic against the backdrop of the spooky grey mansion setting.
I was intrigued with the set design and lighting which was very atmospheric and interacted well with the performance space to create effects of new rooms and corridors. This gave the stage the look of a large country mansion devoid of warmth and coldly diseased due to the emptiness caused by the loss of family to ‘War’.
As a contrast to the visual setting it was lovely to hear the voices of the children’s choir in the second act, as they provided an eerie colour to the already tense storyline.
The direction of the opera was excellent and I found the use a young boy actor in the prologue intriguing as it helped set the scene by explaining the story behind the haunted room within the mansion. Another directorial highlight for me was the use of six young soldiers, who entered the space to suggest the night terrors Owen experienced about War.
There are further performances on Monday 9th May, Wednesday 11th May and Friday 13th May.
The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Opera for this term is ‘Sir John in Love’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams it is an opera in four acts based on Shakespeare’s ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’. In the preface to the score Vaughan Williams stated his ‘chief object’ was ‘to fit this wonderful comedy with, I trust, not unpleasant music’.
Jessica Hurst and Eva Macfarlane in costume and ready to start
The opera premiered at the Royal College of Music in London in their ‘Parry Opera Theatre’ in 1929. The first professional performance was at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in Islington, London in 1946. It has also been performed in 1978 and 1988 at the Bronx Opera in New York City.
It is so much fun to be involved with the rehearsals. ( Photo reproduced with permission of Gordon Munro )
It’s been a treat seeing the Opera and Master’s students rehearse and to be part of the ensemble. I’ve listened to ‘When Daisies Pied’ hundreds of times in music festivals but didn’t realise it was from this opera. ‘Greensleeves’ a traditional English folk song and tune also features in the musical score. Often people remark on the use of folk songs a genre of music that you know I love.
The performances start on Saturday 9th May with the final performance on Friday 15th May.
I first met Charlotte McGuinness in my first year at the RCS during a cross discipline collaboration and she ended up strung up like a puppet 🙂 Whoever said that blondes have more fun was obviously hanging out with the wrong brunette.
I was so pleased CharlotteM agreed to let me quiz her about her course and hopes for the future:
Charlotte, as you’re in your final year of your three year BA Acting degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS), it must all be getting a bit real for you now, so when you finish your degree have you decided what your next step will be? What would you like to do next?
I really want to do acting with writing as an add-on, it is obviously hard as an actor to have that that as their only job and wait around waiting for a phone call every day. So you have to have a secondary job, in London before I started my course, I did a foundation course and I did all the phone jobs and retail jobs to supplement that, so I want to get into writing as that is still creative and I hope to make my own work with our company ‘Ink Dolls’. The world is so big with social media and social networking and everything you’ve got to be ready to take on every aspect. I was really inspired by the women who wrote Upstairs, Downstairs they wrote it and put themselves in it. The same with James Corden and Ruth Jones the creators of Gavin and Stacey to stop getting themselves typecast they wrote for characters to give themselves acting challenges outside their usual casting, they wrote it, developed it then put themselves in it as the actors. It’s just another way into acting.
Sometimes you do have to create your own opportunities, it’s the same for singers, so how do you know where to start in your speciality?
I think if you want to get into it, you just have to be brave and leap, we started this summer at the Edinburgh Fringe, we were looking at how to develop new stuff we were writing. I did a mini internship recently at the Channel 4 Glasgow office producing in their creative diversity unit, making sure their creative programming is varied. I read lots of projects that have been put forward and it is interesting to see there are funds to create new and exciting projects. For example have you heard of Scrotal Recall, the program was written and developed using funds from C4? It is now a successful big programme.
What are you doing at the moment at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland?
I love comedy, I love to do that, at the moment we are rehearsing for ‘The Country Wife’ my role is Lady Fidget, she’s a Tory MP’s wife, very coiffured the original version of the play was written before even Shakespeare wrote his plays so when you first hear it you think this is odd. It was banned at the time because it was too outrageous, the lead man is Master Horner who is very horney, which is not very subtle, the modern equivalent is the Russell Brand sort of character, the story is from France and he, Master Horner, claims he’s an eunuch . It’s a lot about public face and private face and my character reflects rich people’s perceived obsession with how they look, honour, dating the right man, upper class, then you see what she is really like underneath.
So you are keeping it quite farcical or realistic?
It is quite farcical which is hard with a modern interpretation. You start thinking its high style and ridiculous, possibly Oscar Wilde style and then you get into it and there’s no truth in that at all. You’ve still got to develop the acting, get into character.
Is it true that some actors develop the character from the shoes they’re given?
It’s funny you should say that we had so many challenges with shoes in the last week, we have these costume parades, when you come in front of the Director and they see all this stuff and ideas get developed, so you parade yourself out in this catwalk thing and about eight people are just staring at you and ideas get thrown around, people are readjusting your sleeves and adding or taking away from your costume. Robert Carson our Director is quite fabulous anyway and he was into detail, for example, he wanted my character in a bigger heel because my costume was quite conservative and he still wanted my character to be sexy and believable. I was like oh heck because I’m running around all over the stage in 4.5” suede pink shoes (Charlotte M’s smiling back at me now “I knew you’d like that” – “Oh wow I do!”). So now I have to glide in and be very dignified and it forces me to take smaller steps, very birdlike, so I guess it’s all helping characterisation. You can’t just move without reason you have to think about heel toe, heel toe.
In singing we don’t get our costume till late and we’re told it’s all about the voice, all about the voice. But I think costume is so important, when I went to see Cinderella at the Opera last week I was quite disappointed with some of the costumes.
Your degree is in Drama, if I was 17 and asking you about what to expect what would you say?
The majority of our work in the first and second year is skills classes, movement which is different to dance; animal studies; colours; personalities and exploring all aspects of those. Voice lessons how to reach the deep parts of your voice and how to have more gravitas, Shakespeare pronunciation. We have classes in singing, choral and personal and participate in dance sessions.
That sounds jam packed!
We also do acrobatics, Cirque du Soleil, I was asked to do things I’ve never ever done before, but we started with stuff you’d do when you are about 11 like cartwheels, balancing. I did parkour instead of acrobatics second year, getting grounded. Workshops including improvisation which is great, you have to fail and get it wrong and explore, it’s the only way to learn to fail and fail again and work on getting things right. Then we do a big project, ours was ‘Russians’, you start with ‘The Seagull’ laid back understated it’s all about what’s not said. Then in the second year we carry on with skills classes and a Shakespeare outreach where you teach secondary school students with workshops and games on how say Macbeth develops. Everybody has energy boards and we develop that on the stage and get into a scrum, we did this project with ‘King Lear’. We did a big show ‘Coriolanus’, a Shakespeare tragedy about a Roman leader, we took it on tour to Russia. You have to go for it but it’s crazy and you can’t be afraid to explore Shakespeare large. Then we build into our high style and Oscar Wilde style which is bigger and we have a Panto which is even bigger, we have the archetypes, the lovers and all of that and a full exploration. Finally we go back into Film in February, so we go from the glitz and glam of Panto to solid acting pared right back.
Gosh the course can’t be accused of being stale and sticking with say Stanislavski!
It’s important to be versatile.
Do you see yourself as being an advocate for Shakespeare and Drama in say the school curriculum?
Absolutely! I went to a High School that was put in special measures who gave no encouragement to go on to higher education and they have now converted into an Academy, we did Drama but then only at 13 and 14 it wasn’t part of the English curriculum. Aside from the fact that for people with reading issues like dyslexia drama and play acting so helps to relate to problem issues in a different way and helps with understanding text. For a lot of people they would otherwise not come into contact with plays and drama productions if it wasn’t covered at school.
I read about you getting into photography in this article , how did you get into that was it something your Mum was in to?
My Mum went to a similar school to me and they were encouraged to go into offices or shops, people got married and didn’t really consider an arts career. So my Mum wasn’t part of that world, she was very artistic but she went off to be a secretary and secretarial college, so eventually she retrained as a teacher and now she’s into politics. But I love art and I sketch and draw, and photography is just an extension of that and it’s something we could develop together and she encouraged me. I did fine art and photography and carried it through to ‘A’ level. I did a lot of dark room stuff. I love fantastic images I researched Annie Liebovitz photography a lot and a guy called Tim Walker, Gregory Crewdson very colourful images, but I like black and white too. My friend Rob and I used to photograph each other for projects, he’s in Les Mis. at the moment on the West End. I’m glad I did develop it because I can use those skills to create headshots and posters and I know how to use Photoshop so we can cover lots of our own marketing. We were clear about what we wanted our logo to look like we used a designer in Greece. We helped create the poster for ‘Flat Pack’ our play we created for the Edinburgh Fringe. Em J my partner in Ink Dolls came from a background in the arts as well and it helps with staging, costumes and just how we want things to look, I’m getting quite involved with typography at the moment.
What do you feel is the most important characteristics for an Actor?
Be aware of what makes up your soul, be aware of your character, be aware of your unique characteristics; be sure you represent your quality – whether it be sly, charming, crazy, or romantic. People can audition for three to five years just to get into schools like the RCS if it’s something you’re serious about you can’t just have a quitting nature. Maturity, confidence, experience, love, loss, having a presence , foundation courses, rep years, get experience on the Fringe, mini courses, NYT just getting experience and what the demands are and being around other actors, its relentless. A good memory is helpful you have to remember monologues with just one day’s preparation. Go do all the crap jobs to build your character and meet some great characters, see the world around you, and don’t just stay in the rarefied environment of the classroom. Audition tutors are a good idea too, it does cost quite a lot but so is the cost of auditioning and re-auditioning, they will tell you to concentrate on your strengths and give your critical feedback. The top Universities like Oxbridge are sometimes easier to get into than the best Drama schools and they have organisations who offer Oxbridge application training to get into those organisations, it’s something you shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid to do I wish I’d have known about it. It is all about you and they help to teach you how to make yourself shine and hope that someone needs the character that you are.
I think a thing to remember is that no Actor, not even someone I admire like Leonardo DiCaprio started out perfect, they will have a back catalogue of less than perfect performances that have helped to hone their skill over the years, until today when he isn’t type cast and can trusted to truly represent a variety of roles, it is unrealistic of 21 year olds to expect to be perfect from the off.
Were there any days you thought you couldn’t do it?
There have absolutely been times where the pressure and the multi-tasking for example when we lived with everyone who did ‘The Flat Pack’ project with us, we didn’t have our internet set up, we’d just given everyone the script, sometimes the hours are so long, so little time for sleep and the house was so mental you forget to eat and we were so busy that it seemed the project might not get done, had we taken on too much? I can’t believe I thought it was a good idea to write, direct, produce, one of us act in it, market it, raise the funds, there are days where you are so exhausted that you just think I can’t do this. With all big projects I would imagine there are days where you think the monies going to run out, people aren’t auditioning, it’s just a game sometimes of whose the last person standing. Just remember have faith, keep on going, pick yourself up, get some sleep, if you have a modicum of talent its often those who can handle the most, have great friends, family and remember to be a regular person and that this is a job, you are a person first and foremost and don’t lose sight of that.
I took part in a vocal improvisation master class yesterday ( Wednesday 1st October 2014 ) at the RCS in the Agos Opera Studio. The class was given by Anne-Liis Poll and Anto Pett two fabulous teachers from Estonia.
Anne-Liis Poll is one of the most leading improvisational singers of Estonia. She is also an eminent teacher of singing and improvisation. She has taught singing at the Estonian Institute of Humanities (theatre students), singing and improvisation since 1996 in Drama School of Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre (docent) and since 2001 at the University of Tartu Viljandi Cultural Academy. Anne-Liis Poll is also improvisation pedagogue at Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre.
Anto Pett is one of the most well-known free improvisators and improvisation teachers in Estonia. He graduated with piano studies from the Tallinn Music High School in 1978 under the guidance of Ene Metsjärv. He continued studies at the Tallinn State Conservatoire in piano class of Virve Lippus, studying also composition with Eino Tamberg and improvisation with Hugo Lepnurm, and graduated in 1983. He has developed original teaching method and introduced it in several music academies in Europe (Helsinki, Stockholm, Leipzig, Odense, Paris, Riga, Marseille, Bordeaux, Vilnius, Glasgow, Gdańsk
The main concept that I took away from the lesson was to be aware of how you can portray emotion through your consonants. Your consonants initiate your vowels so if you work on the emotion you project it will encourage a dramatic tone in your vowels too, which hopefully creates an exciting text for the audience 🙂
Here is one of the exercises that we were asked to try out. We used a Syllabic language ( made up sounds ) using a consonant followed by a vowel. You could use any consonant sound from any language that is the best thing about improvisation.
For example :
LO YA EIV QUO PEH SUH
We began by changing every syllable on a crotchet at a slow 4/4 tempo. Then we were asked to speed it up, changing every quaver, every semi-quaver and so on … This helps to improve your articulation and your speed of imagination.
When you try this exercise it sounds a little like beat boxing. We began by passing around the room sounds in a call and response manner.
We then explored the difference between unvoiced and voiced consonants
Unvoiced consonants. – unvoiced consonants are consonants which rely on the air being disturbed by the teeth, lips, tongue without using the vibration of your vocal chords
Voiced consonants –as the name suggests are consonants which require the vocal chords to play their part in the production of the sound.
Many consonant sounds come in pairs. For example, P and B are produced in the same place in the mouth with the tongue in the same position.
The only difference is that P is an unvoiced sound (no vibration of the vocal cords) while B is a voiced sound (vocal cords vibrate). Put your hand on your throat as you say the pairs below to feel the difference.
This leads us on to other partner consonants such as
F and V
T and rolled R
S and Z
K and NG (nasal)
You use similar placement of the tongue in the mouth which allows these partnered consonants swift movement between the changes. So you can produce the sounds very quickly and efficiently, which is so helpful for a singer.
For example the tip of the tongue creates the T on the top ridge of the mouth and the rolled R is rolled behind the top teeth.
It was great to see the development of these exercises as we all joined in.
Having fun with the improvisation exercises
As the lesson progressed we touched on tuned percussion, the speaking voice and then the singing voice.
The class helped me with my understanding of how vocal improvisation can be used in the development of my singing technique and help my warm ups and vocal exercises.
I wrote about being thrilled to be asked to join the rehearsals of La Rondine in “My First Opera” if you didn’t see it. It’s been my first opportunity to take part on the opera stage and I was cast as a ‘Party Girl’. Please excuse the bullet points below but as you can imagine I had a thousand different thoughts and emotions running through my head and it was the easiest way for me to share with you all how my first performance day went.
At Home Preparation:
• I was counting down the minutes excitedly, planning every five minutes so I could fit everything in, I had an essay to finish for my arts leadership and fund raising module. I’d been working on it during downtime in rehearsals so I had to put all my notes together.
• Cooked my dinner – chicken and mushroom and green beans as I required lots of energy.
• Put my hair into curlers so I looked like Medusa, quite scary but definitely worth it. However next time I think I will sleep with the rollers in so the curls stay in my hair for longer.
Warm – Up:
• The chorus came together in the AGOS opera studio at the RCS and we sang through the opening of the Act. It was fabulous to hear everyone have fun and mime through their own stage actions. The atmosphere was on fire and everyone was electric ready for the show. Our conductor Ollie Rundell was fabulous and very excited too.
Svetlina Stoyanova and me
Backstage (Changing Rooms):
• The ladies chorus changing rooms received a good luck card from Jonathan Cooke (Ruggero), which lifted everyone’s spirits and as a group we were feeling very appreciated by the main cast and by the conductor.
• The room smelt of hot curling tongues mixed with hairspray and a collage of perfumes.
• The walls have a banner of mirrors with light bulb borders to add to the changing room finesse. However we had to turn these off as they produce some mighty heat!
• Two fabulous hair and make-up ladies were at hand to give the chorus finger waves in our hair and advice.
• At the end of the room were our costumes neatly racked and each dress flew off the rail as time reached closer to curtain call. Our costumes covered all the colours of the rainbow and multiple fabric textures. Each member had a personal flavour to the costume to inspire creativity and personality to the acting.
• As the first act began we began an excited chatter, which covered various areas of the act as well as the plan for the evening’s celebrations.
Thanks to the production staff for all their help
Backstage (Rehearsal Room):
• Like ants in a line, we entered the backstage rehearsal room, trying to be as quiet as mice as this room lead straight to the stage.
• We stood there in suspense knowing that we were about to go on!
• When the curtain went down for Act 1, the stage crew whooshed onto the stage like Tasmanian devils and cleared and re-assembled the stage in two minutes. The efficacy and quietness of their work was outstanding.
• Then we got our call to take our places.
• I crept on stage, fast paced, but on the tips of my toes. And reached my chair. Double checked my prop and I got into starting position. There was a ‘buzz’ in the air.
• My tummy started to have butterflies and I knew it was only a matter of seconds before the curtain went up and the ‘Party Girl’ took over me.
Then the orchestra began and as we’d rehearsed I let out a huge stage cackle and the performance began! Oh how I love this 🙂
Audience and Onstage connection:
• I will tell you more about this after the last show, I don’t want to spoil it for people who will see it later (examples being my parents, which makes me very excited!)
I can only manage a short post tonight but I am having a fabulous time in rehearsals for both “La Rondine” and “Mahler Symphony No 8 – Symphony Of A Thousand”. The only problem is that I have used up my 3G allowance and it is really difficult to keep in contact with everyone when I’m not in a free wifi area or at home, which hasn’t been very often 🙂 .
This will be my first time on stage in the chorus of an opera and I am so excited about being involved. I have only been involved with the RCS tech support helping out with the surtitles.
There are still some tickets left here if you are quick 🙂
Here is a selfie that I took this afternoon today in the dressing rooms for “La Rondine”, I just love my outfit but it is still under wraps 🙂
Then tonight I was in rehearsals with the RSNO as part of the RCS choir that will be joining them for their season finale which promises to be a fantastic evening for those that manage to get tickets.
Here are some of my upcoming events for this Summer 2014, I will post further details about them as we get closer to the dates:
La Rondine Chorus at RCS Glasgow 10, 12, 13 and 15th May ( 7:15 pm )
The Highgate Singing Competition at RCS Glasgow 15th May ( 10:00 am )
RCS Choir with RSNO, RSNO Chorus and Jnr Chorus at Edinburgh Usher Hall 30th May ( 7:30 pm )
RCS Choir Glasgow City Hall, Glasgow 31st May ( 7:30 pm )
Les Sirenes Female Chamber Choir ‘Songs of the Four Seasons’ 6th June
Lunchtime Recital with Russell Lomas in Rochdale 2nd July
Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod Competition Vocal Solo Over 18’s 9th July
Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod Competition Voice Of The Future 10th July
Tideswell Male Voice Choir and guest soloists at Gawsworth Hall Manor House, Macclesfield 10th Aug.