Sunday, 22 January 2012

Three steps to the right and sing.

I promised in an earlier post that I would write about my experience of my first solo role in an opera. That makes it sound as if I have sung in lots of other operas as a chorus member but I haven't, in fact only one which was Canterbury Opera's production of La Boheme where I had the pleasure of seeing barihunk Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Marcello. And incidentally where I first met mezzo Sarah Court who I then ended up working with many years later in Hansel & Gretel.

For Hansel & Gretel I was asked to sing the dual roles of the Sandman and the Dew Fairy. The director  and conductor was Ravil Atlas, Mother/Witch - Amanda Winfield, Hansel - Sarah Court, Gretel - Rebecca Ryan and Father - Ian Reeves. Ian has had many years of experience as a musical theatre performer and all the rest have sung professionally. And then there was me. No acting experience. Limited solo performance experience. Can you say nervous??!!

Firstly, I was afraid that I would embarrass myself by sounding like the wind in the willows when I sang compared with all those voices around me capable of filling a large concert hall, but worse still that I would embarrass my teacher who was singing the role of Gretel. What if all the others pulled her aside after the first rehearsal and demanded to know why she had asked me to sing?

As it turns out, that was the more minor of my worries. As musical friends who have known me for a few years will know, when I sing a solo I have a tendancy to stand there like a stuffed duck, afraid to move or make the slightest gesture. So first rehearsal and Ravil paints for me a whole back-story for the Sandman character. And then proceeds to give me instructions on where to move at which beat in the music. And until then I also had no idea how many different ways you can say "I am!" (my opening spoken line). Oh and did I mention that all this moving and emoting had to be done while wearing a voluminous floor length cloak? I was so busy muttering "raise up on toes, four steps to right, stop and pretend to throw sleep-dust" that any thought of a) proper singing technique and b) coming in at the right time went right out the window.

But here's the lovely thing about this first-time experience: no-one rolled their eyes and muttered "Bloody amateur!", instead I received nothing but help and warm encouragement from people who had far more things to think about than some nervous, neurotic amateur with two small arias to sing.

And so by the second performance I was able to surprise (and judging by his expression, delight) Ravil by adding a little ad hoc bit of acting to my role. So to Ravil, Amanda, Sarah and Rebecca - a huge thank you for making my first solo experience one to remember for all the right reasons.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Alleluia, it's 2012!


It’s always interesting, contemplating what singing challenges might be around the corner. One of the things I’ve always had a secret desire to sing in public is the Mozart ‘Alleluia’.  Two terrors lie within in its relatively short span of time – coloratura and a top C. No terrors for a professional singer, but for a more ...ahem… mature, Johnny-come-lately singer, some buttock-clenching moments. I amuse myself on a relatively regular basis singing along with various versions I have on CD, turning them up loud enough so that the soloists drown out my more flagrant failures of technique.

Then a phone call the other day – ‘We’d like you to sing in a concert in March, can you pop over and chat about it with us?’ The organisers are good friends (and Mrs Organiser is an excellent baker), so I arrive with lightness of step and smiling happily at the aroma of freshly-baked muffins. I am handed a copy of the proposed programme. The concert is a special one – Number 100 in the series and therefore all participants have been asked to sing or play items which have been performed in previous concerts. I look down at the page, and leaping out at me is my name and Mozart: Alleluia. I suspect I  missed at least a couple of sentences of whatever was next said as I tried to coax my heart-rate down from 220 bpm to something approaching normality.

Part of me was touched by the fact that the organisers just assumed that I am capable of singing it, and singing it well enough to not let the side down. The other part was rapidly calculating the number of days left till concert date. I noted that I was also put down to sing a solo version of Praetorius’ ‘Est ist ein Ros’ entsprungen’ which cheered me up somewhat as I know it is something I can do well – although I will have to learn the German, having only sung it in English.

It’s the coloratura bits  of the Alleluia that worry me – I understand the concept, it’s the execution that is somewhat lacking. Nothing like a deadline though to hasten one’s learning!

And on a happy note, I have my next speech therapy session on Tuesday and have arranged to catch up with ‘Hansel’, the lovely Sarah Court afterwards. I wonder if she will have any coloratura tips for me?