Archives For Scottish Opera

Edinburgh-2017-04

It’s been an absolute dream to be part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer. I took part as a member of the Scottish Opera team, who performed an opera specifically created for babies aged 6 to 18 months, called BambinO! After our successful run in the Manchester International Festival, I was excited to be part of the team to take BambinO to a new venue in Edinburgh, enabling different families to encounter the wonder of this beautiful Opera.

Final-Shows-In-Edinburgh-03

Back Row: Laura Sergeant & Stuart Semple Front Row: Me & Timothy Connor

My role in the production is Uccellina, a bird who discovers an egg.  The egg grows and hatches revealing a baby bird, called Pulcino (Timothy Connor), he takes Uccellina for his mother and explores the world.  I’m initially happy though a bit annoyed at his hyperactive behaviour, we reconcile quickly being pleased to have found each other.  I tell Pulcino of the sky and its wonders and that it’s his destiny to fly from our nest, although also sad about the thought of being separated, we are caught up in our excitement of his first flight.  When Pulcino is ready to fly we sing our final duet of farewell, he soars among the clouds and I ponder his journey.

The show kept the original music wonderfully performed by Laura Sergeant on Cello and Stuart Semple on Percussion, drama, set and costume and we continued to make babies gurgle, laugh, squeak, sing and occasional cry! I couldn’t believe that our show sold out within the first couple of days and that many who missed out wanted details of the dates for our performances in Glasgow in the Autumn.

We began on the 8th August 2017 and continued until our last performances today. Our shows took place at 10:00 am and 11:30 am each day. I loved every minute of each show, and though we had early morning calls it was definitely worth it.  Joining us in Edinburgh to complete our gang were the delightful Lee Reynolds, Julie Burns and Paula Duncan. Their help was outstanding and enabled each show to go on without any troubles. It has been an absolute pleasure working with them. It was also wonderful to see the education team join us at the venue and share in the joy these performances have brought to their young audiences, and their parents, and grandparents, many of whom told me it was their first opera too.

Final-Shows-In-Edinburgh

Back Row: Me, Paula Duncan, Julie Burns Front Row: Lee Reynolds, David Sneddon, Audrey Blake

Final-Shows-In-Edinburgh-02

Lee Reynolds, Audrey Blake, Julie Burns, and David Sneddon

Waiting For David

Julie Burns, Lee Reynolds, Me, and Laura Sergeant

Edinburgh-Last-Day

Julie Burns, Me, and Lee Reynolds

I was also able to see some of the festival myself as an audience member as my super-duper family came up to support me and to celebrate my Mum and Brother Matt’s birthdays. We saw some fabulous shows and these were the ones that stood out.

 

HappyBirthdayMatt2017

Me and my Brother Matt

 

Edinburgh-2017-03

 

Ada Campe and the Psychic Duck

We fell upon this show by accident, having joined up with my Mum, Dad and brother Tom and his girlfriend Anna on Saturday 12th we decided to explore what the fringe had to offer.  Walking along we were approached by a persuasive assistant outside the venue and as the show was due to start we decided to pop in.  The show did not disappoint, Ada Campe was an entertaining and articulate performer whose act recounted stories of her life as a variety performer.  She kept the audience enthralled for the 50 minutes she was on stage, delivered adlib lines with aplomb, drew belly laughs from the audience and when she interacted with the audience you laughed with them not at them which is a tremendous skill.  We all enjoyed this little gem.

Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid

This was a late-night show which started at 10:30 pm so the only chance we had to watch it was on Sunday night as my day off was on the Monday.  So, I booked tickets for my two brothers Matt and Tom who came along with me to watch. The show was an enticing cabaret full of laughter, aerial stunts, music and singing.  We had a blast in ‘The Hub’ our seats were a fabulously situated in a fabulous purple booth in which we could truly relax and unwind after a busy day. It was an especially wonderful show for me as my fellow BambinO cast member Stuart Semple was playing! Goodness knows how he managed to juggle his late evening performances for this show with the early starts of our baby opera! He’s a true trooper!

Meow-MeowMeow-Meow-02

Velvet Evening Seance

To sample some of the drama of the fringe we decided on my day off to check out some of the shows on offer.  We liked the sound of this one man show, which was set in a Victorian court room.  The monologue was delivered eloquently with sufficient depth to draw you in as the story developed.  The script cleverly twisted in different directions providing enough misdirection to make you think about the guilt of the accused.  Would you send him to the gallows?

VELVET-EVENING-SÉANCE

Into The Woods

Though I missed out on this performance my Mum, Dad and brother Matt said they thoroughly enjoyed the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Musical Theatre department production. Maybe I will get the chance to catch it again as they were singing about it for a couple of days.

Into The Woods

It was lovely to combine my holiday with work and take some time to catch up with my family.

On our last performance day, today the cast and crew celebrated with lots of cake, homemade shortbread in the shape of birds (by the wonderful Paula), tarts, cups of tea and surprise party poppers from the marvelous Stuart Semple after our final bow.

I had such a blast and can’t wait to work with everyone again in October!

Please click on the above images to see a larger copy.

The Edinburgh Festival

August 6, 2017 — 78 Comments

Header 6th August 2017

Each year in August Edinburgh hosts what has become one of the largest Arts Festivals in the world, bringing together a diverse range of performers, from a huge array of artistic disciplines, converging in this historic and picturesque city.

The festivals first began in 1947, the brain child of an Austrian impresario, Rudolf Bing. From its early years, the Edinburgh International Festival brought artistic icons to the city each summer for the enjoyment of enthusiastic audiences, keen to be a part of this post war cultural revival.

As the popularity of the festival grew companies of performers unable to get on the main programme hired venues themselves and put on their shows outside of the area of the main festival.  Each year the number of these acts grew bringing both variety and vitality to the city.  The Scottish journalist, Robert Kemp referred to them as being “Round the fringe of the official festival” and the term seemed to stick.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival has grown dramatically alongside the main Edinburgh International Festival and is now seen as an integral part of the festival experience.  In 2016 the Edinburgh Fringe Festival hosted 50,266 performances of 3,269 shows in 294 separate venues around the city. In all 2,475,143 tickets were issued during the three weeks not counting those who attended the 643 free shows included in last year’s programme.

During the Festival, the main show grounds of Edinburgh Castle host what has become a firm favourite for many who visit the city, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.  This large-scale production brings together the different regiments of the UK armed forces who provide the audiences fortunate enough to get tickets with a unique festival experience.

It was great to catch up with the cast and crew of ‘BambinO’ as we ran through the production in Glasgow ahead of our run at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It is quite exciting to think that we are to be a part of the 2017 festival which is expected to be even bigger than last year.  Our first performance is on the 8th August running through to 20th August, with two shows a day at 10:00 am and 11:30 am.  The performances will be held at the Edinburgh Academy, 42 Henderson Row, Edinburgh, EH3 5BL.

Team BanbinO

Timothy Connor, Laura Sergeant, Me, Martin Wooley, David Sneddon, Stuart Semple

It is hard to believe that our time here in Manchester has come to an end.  We have performed in Manchester, Wigan, Hyde, Heywood, Oldham, finishing today in Salford.  The staff and Volunteers from the Manchester International Festival have been fantastic and made us feel so welcome at each venue.

MIF Volunteer

Me with Gwyneth, One Of The MIF Volunteers

Today we all said goodbye as we went our separate ways for a couple of weeks before we get back together again in Glasgow to prepare for the Edinburgh Festival.  We start our first performances there on the 8th August and run through to 20th August 2017.

Team BanbinO 02

Sam Phillips, Laura Sergeant, Timothy Connor, Me, Stuart Semple, Sophie Skellern, David Sneddon

This is one of the duets from the opera that I sing with Timothy Connor

 

Here are some links to press reviews of the production:

‘The payoff for an initiative like this is incalculable…rarely has innocent pleasure felt more vital.’  Please read this review as it is an insightful article which delves into the accessibility of opera and pretty much sums up how I feel about it.

★★★★★ Fiona Maddocks – The Observer

‘Full marks to BambinO. Opera can work for babies, and maybe one day they’ll come to enjoy it as adults, too…’ 

★★★★ Robert Beale – The Arts Desk

‘…it was genuinely moving to see a little girl of no more than nine months giggling with delight as the soprano, Charlotte Hoather, imitated bird sounds during a playful yet beautiful aria

Sam Jackson – The Times

‘…the joy of something like this is watching the joy in your little one’s face.’

★★★★ Dianne Bourne – Manchester Evening News

This video about ‘BambinO’, from the FaceBook page of the BBC, has received over 1.3 million views so far !!

 

 

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.

Guiseppe Charlotte and Phelim 02 07 2017_pp

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.

Emma Belli_pp

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.

 

La-Rondine-Act-1-16

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!

La-Traviata-15

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.

BAMBINO-1

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

 

 

Capture

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.

I am excited to share some wonderful news with you all, last December I was invited by Scottish Opera to participate in a week of exploration and development for a new project they were hoping to produce.  It was very hush, hush and I wasn’t able to share the experience with you at the time so that the concept could be fully developed before announcing their plans.  All I can say is that I had a fabulous week and enjoyed every minute of it.  I returned to London happy that I had been involved and excited for the production team as they had some wonderful ideas, I had no idea what was to happen next.  After a couple of months, I was contacted and asked to be part of production, and tour as one of the cast members this summer and autumn.

Bambino

Here is the press release that I was sent which explains a little more:

The long-awaited follow-up to Scottish Opera’s hugely successful BabyO performances, BambinO is a pioneering and unique piece of music theatre for infants aged 6 to 18 months.

A new co-production with Manchester International Festival and Improbable, the show premieres at Manchester International Festival in July, before traveling to Edinburgh as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe, then to Glasgow for performances in Scottish Opera’s Production Studios.

Written by Scottish Opera’s Composer in Residence Lliam Paterson and directed by Improbable’s critically-acclaimed Phelim McDermott, BambinO will be a celebration of the possibilities of music and the power of the infant imagination.

The show reinvents operatic language and traditions for children at an age when their minds are wide open to new sounds, images, and experiences. Babies are free to explore during the performance and to interact with the singers, musicians and each other.

Programme Bambino

Director, Phelim McDermott, said: ‘It is inspiring to create a new opera for what is possibly the most discerning – and important – audience there is. We all know that babies respond to music and we want to nurture and stimulate that relationship through their very first opera.’

Scottish Opera’s Composer in Residence, Lliam Paterson, continued: ‘BambinO will bring an operatic experience to a little audience with ears open to discovering new sounds. It is so exciting to create a colourful and vibrant work that can engage both babies and adults fully while conveying the drama and passion of opera. The opportunity for me to work with as imaginative a director as Phelim McDermott is fantastic and truly inspiring. He and design team Giuseppe Belli and Emma Belli will bring a beautifully crafted operatic world to a whole new audience!’

Scottish Opera’s Director of Education and Outreach, Jane Davidson, said: ‘Incorporating rich, exuberant colours and images – both musically and visually – we’ve created the perfect miniature opera. Complete with percussion, cello, and tiny pianos, all four performers fashion a magical soundscape that will enthrall and challenge both the babies and the adults who come along with them. This is not a ‘baby’ show in a traditional sense; this is baby baroque as you’ve never seen it before!’

BambinO is commissioned and produced by Scottish Opera, Manchester International Festival and Improbable.  It is supported by Scottish Opera’s New Commissions Circle and Scottish Opera’s Education Angels.

Capture3

Cast and Creative Team
Composer           Lliam Paterson
Director              Phelim McDermott
Designers           Giuseppe Belli & Emma Belli
Soprano              Charlotte Hoather
Baritone              Timothy Connor
Cello                     Laura Sergeant
Percussion          Stuart Semple
Stage Manager   David Sneddon

I can’t wait to join everyone on the 8th June when we start rehearsals and I will keep you posted as we progress and the tour gets underway.  It will be great to work with Stuart Semple again who I toured with last year in the Scottish Opera production of “ The Little White Town Of Never Weary”

I must admit that it was quite a buzz to see the production listed on the Scottish Opera website in this season’s events and to have the opportunity to work on this new composition which is to Premiere at the Manchester International Festival on 4th July.

Season 2017 2018