Dunedin Opera Company – a.k.a Opera Otago – is 60 years old this year. We think we’re the oldest opera company in NZ in continuous existence. We’ve done over 100 productions, launched the careers of many young singers, entertained audiences with masterpieces of the repertoire – and presented more new NZ operas than anyone else in this country.
We celebrated last month with a Dinner, and then an Extravaganza Show at the Mayfair Theatre with everyone’s favourite extracts.
On April 8-9-10 we launch House Opera – a new experience of presenting opera in private homes. This weekend we are at Dunedin’s famous home Olveston, where we’ll perform Menotti’s favourite The Telephone and John Drummond’s Dearest Maurice.
We’ve also decided to close down our long-running Mayfair Costume Hire business. It used to raise money to help fund our productions, but those days are now gone; we were having to subsidise it from our opera takings! Most of the costumes have been bought, but a final auction will be held on the premises on Sunday 17 April. Go along for some bargains!
Our production at the end of the year is Philip Norman’s A Christmas Carol, a great musical version of Charles Dickens’s beloved story.
As with all stage productions, being part of a show involves learning new faces, new names, multiple lines, extensive music, different stage manoeuvres and becoming familiar with your own personal in-depth character development.
The Magic Flute has been an exciting journey and it has been a pleasure to see this wonderful opera spring to life on stage. What has been most interesting for me is seeing how the Magic Flute can be adapted to fit a modern setting, and how its story is adaptable for numerous different contexts.
John Drummond has done an exceptional job in developing this new interpretation. The most crucial part to creating a successful production is the ability of the cast and crew to work together as an ensemble, as each individual is a crucial part to the success of the overall show.
The biggest challenge for me as a performer in this show was being a soprano singing a mezzo role. Through this I got the opportunity to explore a range of my voice that I hadn’t delved into before.
It has been a pleasure working with Tianyi Lu as musical director and experiencing her natural musical style and grace first hand. It was wonderful once the cast was introduced to the orchestra and we had our first sitzprobe.
Despite only being a small ensemble of 10, the orchestra really managed to capture the mood of the opera. A turning point for every performer in any production is the first performance with a live audience.
The moment the audience is there, the opera takes on a whole different feel and each performer discovers a new energy which makes the production steps up a level.
Calla Knudson-Hollebon, age 18, current student at Otago University. “I have performed as “Cosette” in Taieri Musical Society’s “Les Misérables” in 2013, with the New Zealand Youth Choir and appeared as soprano soloist for City Choir Dunedin in their performance of the Messiah in 2012 and Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb in 2014. I was also a member of the 2011-2012 New Zealand Secondary Students’ choir and soloist for St Kilda Brass Band. I am currently training privately with Isabel Cunningham.”
The Magic Flute
Mayfair Theatre Saturday 13th June.
“It’s a brave and brilliant man of music who dares to take one of Mozart’s best loved operas and totally rewrite the libretto for this century. But Dunedin’s John Drummond did just that to (Open Italics) The Magic Flute(Close Italics), and Opera Otago’s opening night packed Mayfair Theatre audience loved every word of it.
Call it what you will – “morphed Mozart” or “Mozart makeover,” but 2015 English text worked splendidly for this 1791 comedy opera, as its fantasy plot and characters relocated to a world of corporate business and environmental extremists. Production was led by Drummond, and international conductor Tianyi Lu directed a ten-piece orchestral ensemble with stylistic excellence for the familiar arias and vocal ensembles.
The roar of a Harley heralds the entrance of leather-clad Queen of the Night (Ingrid Fomison-Nurse) C.E.O. of currencies and commodities company Night Inc., as three formally attired highly-motivated P.A’s jab frantically on their iphones (Claire Barton, Beth Goulstone and Julia Moss-Pearson). Papageno the Company Birdcatcher is played by Tyler Neumann, whose delightful antics produce much humour as the plot leads him to find true love with Poppy Gainer (Alexandra Clearwater).
Sophie Sparrow plays Pamina with confident vocal strength matching the more experienced singer James Adams, who as Tamino Prince sets out on holiday, but ultimately falls in love with Pamina – initially through her photo on a tablet! There’s a selfie, encounters with Girl Guides and Community members, but eventually he finds Pamina in the environmentally conscious Community of Isis and Osiris, led by Sarastro (Robert Lindsay) and security officer Monostatos (Ben Madden).
Brenda Rendall costumed with jeans, designer tops, business suits and heels, and plain monastic robing for Sarastro and his “community of greenies.” The young cast, mainly from University of Otago alumni and current students, displayed vocal prowess, dramatic interpretations and professionalism which are a credit to their tutors. With English diction and great music this unique operatic experience deserves a season of full houses.”
As someone who adores the stage you may think I’m the right ‘guy’ to tell you how to prepare for it. However in all honesty the things I do before going into the spotlight maybe aren’t the most productive. That being said, my main piece of advice would always be to do what works for you – every performer is different and every performance is different. Similarly the way you prepare for this show is always going to be somewhat different from the last, because that’s the beauty of the arts – it’s never static. So find your ‘zen’ – take whatever route you need to, to get yourself physically and mentally prepared to bring the roof of the house down.
A few ideas that may help:
1) Visualisation – a weird but good way to prepare yourself and your memory, you may look a little odd in the wings deeply breathing with your eyes shut, but imagining yourself doing your thing on stage prepares your mind to do it for real.
2) Physical warm ups – even if you’re only singing, remember that it’s not just your voice that needs warming up, now I’m not talking a 1500m sprint around the theatre halls or anything, but limber up your muscles and stretch out that diaphragm.
3) Don’t over think it! Whilst it’s good to read/sing over your bits or practice your cues, don’t freak yourself out – before going on stage you want to be a bit nervous but you don’t want to be panicking…this will happen if you start overthinking and working yourself into a state. Believe me when that curtain goes up you will remember your stuff and you will break a leg – just trust yourself and relax, take a deep breath and SMASH IT!
A run down from our Stage Manager, Linda Brewster…
Once the backstage door is open, I do a walk through and check the building. Running my eyes over every nook and cranny, ensuring things are in the right place.
I like those few quiet moments before the flurry begins. To be honest it is a lot calmer than you would expect, because we have everything in place. By now cast and crew are arriving and signing in.
There is a sense of anticipation, lots of laughs as faces we thought we knew emerge from make up, and lots of happy conversations going on. Costumes are being donned, last minute repairs; the crew are checking their props list, and that comms and lights are working.
An intensive warm up with our conductor helps us all get into the right space, and has the sense of bringing us together.
By now the orchestra has turned up and we hear the strains of them tuning and running through passages of the music.
Then the countdown begins. I will begin to advise the cast and crew of when the house is open, and how many “minutes to places.”
“How many are out there?”, someone asks nervously.
We are concentrating now, and getting into our ‘zones’.
“Beginners to stage”; “Orchestra to Pit”: now the adrenalin pumps in. There is a bit of a serious hush and some nervous giggling backstage now – “This is it guys, we are doing it!”
Check my crew is on standby.
House lights down, Overture starts and curtain up!
See you there tonight!! Tickets are available at the door, cash only.
Once you get into the dressing rooms during preparation for a production, you know it is all finally coming together and you see the collective work you and your cast mates have brought to life. You now rehearse in costume, you see what your hair and make-up will look like and you see what it’s like to sing in the space you will be performing in. It is the final stages of putting together a production.
Every performer has their own pre-performance ritual [read about Sophie Sparrow’s here!], just as we all prefer to have different things in our dressing rooms. Some love to be in the thick of the excitement, laughing with other cast members, and others prefer to have a little more space to internalise and prepare for the show ahead.
In the dressing rooms, each member of cast will, of course, have his or her costumes hanging – one of mine being an Onesie that is so cozy I never want to take it off! Most also choose to have some form of hydration – I like to have a big water bottle, that is frequently refilled. Personally, I always have a warm layer that I can throw on over my costume because going on stage when you’re a little chilly is no fun at all.
And I cannot survive a show without SNACKS. From the time of the cast’s arrival, to our departure, we are in the theatre perhaps five hours, and when you are preparing for performing in scenes throughout the opera, keeping up your energy levels is essential. Bananas and nuts are my super foods, but a little helping of sugar is always helpful too. My favourite ‘treats’ to have on hand are Gummie Worms. Pair these with a hot cuppa during the interval and I am well prepared for the second act!
Maintaining one’s stamina is crucial. Adrenaline definitely plays a part, but good food and even better company makes a performance come alive. As I write this, I am mentally preparing for our final dress rehearsal, and dreaming of Gummie Worms. Opening night will come around extremely quickly – I am excited to finally reveal this marvelous show all of the cast have been working so hard on!
Writing to you at 1:00am after our first dress rehearsal of The Magic Flute in the Mayfair.
With my observations from the perspective of an orchestral player in the pit I have to clarify that my point of view is not exactly based on having a viewpoint –with my back to the wall and the stage partly hanging over my head in this ‘lowered’ concert space, I can’t see a thing! As usual I am unable to sleep after a rehearsal/concert since I (pà!) continuo playing, counting, anticipating entries, getting (pà- pà) something stuck in my head – my own part, yam pam pam pam pam , or more adventurously, ha- ha- ha- ha- hah hah … haaaa!.
Entering the pit I recalled my early career as cellist in the National Orchestra of South Africa, playing for operas in the State Theatre, Pretoria – glamorous décor, costumes, standing ovations, internationally renowned singers, inspiring conductors (although some would have given me nightmares were I sleeping now), but also, a pain in the neck and acute sinusitis.
There are a few things pits seem to have in common…a lack of space and a draft! Soon I realised why experienced players brought thermometers to work and threatened to strike – nothing makes up for the discomfort of having to sit with your instrument, the stand and the conductor in 3 different directions while having to play all dynamics, expressive/ articulation markings in the middle of the bow, with little room to move to avoid a collision and nasty stares from fellow awkwardly positioned colleagues feeling the draft!
This and a previous experience in the Mayfair [Heleen played for Opera Otago’s This Other Eden in 2014] made me come prepared with wearing all the orchestral outfits I collected, making sure my socks are made of pure NZ merino wool. I am pleased with the amount of space, thanks to the small sized ensemble and arrangements allowing us to see, hear, move, and avoid stand lights from glaring into each other’s eyes! I find comfort in the confinement permitting glances, facial expressions and comfortable sitting positions, which might not be appropriate were we to be seen.
The ‘sweetest’ thing was Nick[Cornish – Bassoon]’s caramel slices that made me realise – it is about whom you know, choosing your friends wisely, no matter where you are. Here’s to an enjoyable 2nd dress rehearsal – pure intonation, articulation, ensemble, balance and turning pages in time without too many unwanted sound effects.
Have you got your tickets yet? Opening night is only two sleeps away!