Sophie’s ‘Diva Diary’: Preparing for her Debut

Debuting in an opera in the town that you studied in is a great honour and an amazing opportunity. I get to put four hard years of university classical voice training to the test. But it’s only just the beginning hopefully, with many more years of training to go I’ve only just started singing after four years at university.

So a diva diary I will write. People often call sopranos divas and it’s always said with a negative connotation too: a Prima Donna they say. However, if the term diva originates from the Sanskrit word ‘deva’ meaning radiant or shining referring to a god in both Vedic Hinduism and Buddhism, I’m fine with being called a diva!

Performance days are time to breathe and chill out. I would usually sleep in and have a good meal for brunch but nothing that’s going to make me feel bloated or sluggish. I need to feel energised and alive.

During the day I would normally warm up slowly and quietly to get the voice moving and prepped for the big sing about to come. I may head down to the practice room to sing through a song to do some more warming up, just lightly though and nothing that could tire out the voice.

The call time might be around 5.30pm so I will make sure I’ve had another light meal before that that would keep me going through the evening. I find it really hard singing on a full stomach and eating before a performance. Everyone’s very different in that aspect.

While in the dressing room, I like to keep to myself a little bit just to think through my character and what and where the character is going throughout the opera. I would then relax and once again breathe so I don’t feel too stressed on stage.

This time it’s a tad different during the day, as I have exams to prepare for. My lead up at the theatre will all be the same but instead of chilling out during the day and sleeping in I will be at university studying for my accounting exams for the first 3 performances. It may be stressful but it keeps my brain on high alert and active.

No matter what the situation that this diva is in, the opera is so much fun and is going to be a great show! I can’t wait to get into it…

Buy your tickets now if you haven’t already, you don’t want to miss it!

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From left: James Adams, Sophie Sparrow and Robert Lindsay in rehearsal

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Post by Sophie Sparrow, Pamina

Who is Monostatos?

“Girl meets boy and Boy meets girl. Love will fill our hearts with joy.”

This quote from Act I sums up a lot of the action in Opera Otago’s upcoming production of the Magic Flute. But this blog is to introduce you to a much less loved character from the world of Mozart’s Magic Flute, Monostatos.

Everyone knows and loves the good guys. Tamino singing “Dies Bildnis” or Pamina singing “Ach, ich fühls.” On the other side of the fence, the Queen of the Night sings arguably the most famous aria in the repertoire “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen.” But who on earth is Monostatos?

Monostatos is the character tenor of The Magic Flute. Much like Basilio in the Marriage of Figaro [also played by Benjamin Madden in Opera Otago’s 2012 production], Monostatos appears at strategic moments to propel the story forward. When he appears he is a catalyst for action onstage. Isolated from the rest of the cast to a degree, he is equal parts exciting and terrifying.

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Monostatos singing while Pamina sleeps – early stages of rehearsal

A lot of his time on stage is spent trying to force himself upon a certain female lead. Poor old Pamina (Sophie Sparrow) spends plenty of the first act running from the terrifying Monostatos. Monostatos isn’t a comedian, but one finds oneself laughing at the sheer outrageousness of his character and the silliness of some of the things that happen to him!

Monostatos is challenging character to portray for many reasons. The character is angry, and resentful. Mozart marked all of his music allegro to emphasise the energy he brings to the stage. There’s no time for thought on stage. His impulsive manner of moving through the world is aggressive and balancing this with the demands of singing is at times difficult. Time as Monostatos flies by in a storm of syllables and chase scenes, but it has been a pleasure learning to juggle the many facets of performing as Monostatos. From the moment he bursts into the world of the Magic Flute, Monostatos is a firework on stage. Come to Opera Otago’s Magic flute and enjoy the carnage that follows in Monostatos’ wake. [Buy tickets here!]

Post by Benjamin Madden, Monostatos 

Charming the Ear: A Perspective from our Musical Director

Each time one opens the score of The Magic Flute, one discovers a freshness and energy that is both immediate and profound. Add to that a storyline full of magic, mystery, drama and wit, and you begin to understand why it has become one of Mozart’s most beloved and popular operas.

Being the last member of the team to join Opera Otago’s production of the opera this week, I was excited to see John Drummond’s ‘renovation’, bringing the 223-year old work into 21st century New Zealand. The incorporation of modern-day technology, Shakespearian nods and contemporary humour were aspects I particularly enjoyed, and the delivery by a wonderfully talented cast made me laugh my way through most of the first run.

What I didn’t expect I’d enjoy most though, were the New Zealand accents throughout the dialogue (with the exception of our imported Papageno, Tyler Neumann from the U.S. via Palmerston North). Being around down-to-earth Kiwis reminded me of just how much I miss New Zealand whilst abroad, despite my first earthquake experience and extreme flooding within days of arriving in Dunedin!

It has been a privilege and joy to explore the music with the orchestra, to whom Mozart has given a vibrant and virtuosic score. [Read more about this in Tessa Petersen’s post and Kurt Murphy’s post]. Aside from the fun, there are real moments of heart-racing drama – the rollercoaster-ride of young love, heartbreak and loss, and the struggle of revenge and reason.

Even in these more serious moments, Mozart’s music never seems to succumb to despair. He famously said himself: “Music, even in situations of the greatest horror, should never be painful to the ear but should flatter and charm it, and thereby always remain music.”

Mozart’s The Magic Flute still speaks to us today because it reminds us that we all need a little magic in our lives, and that perhaps music is the most magical art of all.

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Post by Tianyi Lu, Musical Director

P.S. Have you bought your tickets yet?? Opening night is only a week away! Buy them here 🙂

A bird catcher in a modern world

For me, Papageno is one of those characters that you can’t help but love. In many ways he’s the classic bumbling and reluctant sidekick, but his sheer quirk and ultimately self-preserving nature puts him at the heart of the opera’s comedy. In a story full of strong-willed, duty-driven characters, his rather “liberal” approach to morality sees him put at odds with nearly everybody around him.

As such, many of his moments of comedy gold stem from his uncanny ability to point out the finer and all-too-convenient aspects of the plot. However we as an audience can’t help but laugh at Papageno’s oddly intellectual attitude to the fanciful story he finds himself in. The Magic Flute, after all, is a fairytale.

But where does that leave Papageno in a renovated opera for the modern world? A simple man assigned to capture birds for a mysterious sorceress seems like a plausible enough character in a fairytale, but such a profession would seem rather more out of place on a modern CV.

This ultimate question was a source of fascination for John Drummond and I from the moment Papageno made his first appearance on the rehearsal stage. Maybe he grew up on the rugged West Coast, becoming well educated in the ways of the land if not in social etiquette or academic smarts. In any case, he one day finds himself earning his keep catching birds to act as playthings for a mysterious boss obsessed with control.

He’s content enough, being far more at ease out in the open with plants and animals than he is with his fellow humans. At least until he meets a strange traveller and his simple life is turned upside down. And amongst the ensuing chaos he earns a new lease on life at the prospect of having a “bird” of his very own..

Post by Tyler Neumann, Papageno 

Don’t forget to book your tickets!

Audience Engagement and Mozart’s revamped ‘Magic Flute’

‘Opera can be fun’. ‘The Magic Flute’ has been renovated for Opera Otago to bring it into the world of today. Even though the music remained untouched, this version is sung in English and includes high-tech stage effects. Thank you John Drummond – it’s a marketer’s dream!

We need innovative approaches such as these to broaden, deepen and diversify our audiences in today’s world. Some will be seeing this innovation as ‘a potential risk’. The bigger risk though, is not to reach out to new audiences and by doing so, not cultivating new opera fans for life.

Our audiences have more artistic choices than ever before, giving the arts practitioner and marketer more opportunities to be creative. It encompasses the entire creative process from programming via artistic creation, performance, outreach and marketing of the production. As in the case of the renovated ‘Magic Flute’, we should be creative and innovative to open arts such as opera to all and not to a selective few ‘opera connoisseurs’ – the opera belongs to everyone!

The question arises, how should we achieve this? Some pointers: innovative marketing methods using technology and the internet to reach out to younger audiences; innovative productions with young fresh faces and voices, such as in ‘The Magic Flute’; using new language (and a little bit of swearing in the script!) to reach and engage a younger audience. In my experience as a marketer, appealing to traditional audiences and relying on familiar methods of audience connections are no longer enough – we must become more creative on how to connect with the public.

We should understand the emotional landscape of and develop our audience as ‘custodians of the arts’ to ensure buy-in and survival of our art form. Opera Otago’s ‘The Magic Flute’ has all the ingredients to achieve these goals. Long live the Opera, long live our renovated ‘Magic Flute’! See you at the show!

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Post by Pieter du Plessis, Marketing Manager – Opera Otago

Claire Barton: From London to Dunedin

My daughter perks up when she hears me rehearsing my music for The Magic Flute. I’m not surprised, really. The last time I sang the role of the Third Lady, I was living in South East London, travelling a two hour round trip to Camden for rehearsals and in the early stages of pregnancy. Luckily, I wasn’t yet suffering from the all-day morning sickness which made travelling to rehearsals for my next operas so…challenging.

Claire with her daughter Margaret
Claire with her daughter Margaret

It’s a bit ironic to come home to Dunedin after so long, only to find that, lo and behold, the first opera role I take on is one that seems to have followed me in my three years living in the United Kingdom. I studied the role of Third Lady at Trinity, work-shopped it with director Simon McBurney, and sang it English with Brent Opera.

The Three Ladies are fascinating characters to play. These women are seething with lust towards Tamino, but they are constrained by their work from doing anything about it. Mozart does not give them names; they have no place in the opera beyond their servitude to the Queen of the Night. This means that directorial interpretations of these characters can vary wildly.

In Opera Otago’s production, the Three Ladies are traders on the international commodities market. I’ve been part of a trio of ladies who have been glamourous 1940s figures. I’ve sung a Third Lady dressed in harem pants and dancing Bollywood-style. In one scene while work-shopping, our director suggested the Three Ladies were almost Maenad-like, and had the three of us attempt to tear an unconscious Tamino limb from limb. The theme running through all of these different interpretations is that normally, the three ladies are doing something fairly energetic on stage…

Handy then that I can keep fit by running after an energetic 14 month-old.

Post by Claire Barton, Third Lady

On High Fs and Modern Evil

Evil is present in all societies, but nowhere is evil expressed quite so wrathfully as in the character of the Queen of the Night. She is consumed with the desire to control all in her world, letting nothing stand in her way.

dollar-exchange-rate-544949_640This production sees the Queen running a company and making millions, with any legal or moral qualms left in her dust. Her desire for money is only matched by her need to always win, lending itself to a rather twisted story. She can cleverly manipulate people to do whatever it is she wants, resulting in a personality perfectly reflected in the music, with passages of beautiful longing contrasting rapidly with wrathful vengeance.

It is in these arias of the Queen that we clearly hear what she is like, with stratospheric spells as she reaches high F6. Composed for Mozart’s sister in law who had an extraordinary upper register, both arias were written specifically to showcase those high notes. The effect is incredibly difficult to master, but what music eventuates!

John Drummond’s depiction of today’s Queen of the Night is a fresh look at the character in modern time, whilst being able assisted by Mozart’s athletic and beautiful music…With her entourage of shady traders, John Drummond’s Queen showcases the ruthlessness of modern commerce. 

Post by Ingrid Fomison-Nurse, Queen of the Night

Tessa Petersen: Concertmaster on ‘Why we love/hate to play Mozart’

Performing music has a lot in common with high level performance sports. Picture the line up of All Blacks as they pass off the ball one to another to score a try; the tennis player acing a serve; the basketball effortlessly dropping through the hoop without touching the rim; Lydia Ko guiding a golf ball across the green and straight into the hole. Of course, we all know the hours of preparation that go in for great sports people to make their sport look effortless.

There is nothing I hate about playing Mozart, but to make his music sound as it should does demand of the musicians great refinement of detail and the highest level of physical and musical synchronisation. Only then can we create the purity of sound and the seemingly effortless simplicity and clarity of classical musical expression at it highest that Mozart’s scores demand. Playing Mozart is utterly revealing as not one note can be out of place without one noticing- no pressure!

As I write this blog, I am contemplating the hours I am about to spend bowing the string parts in preparation for the first rehearsals of the orchestra. Articulations and bowings in classical music were, and are still, very particular because certain bowings create and reflect particular sounds and phrasings. In this way I have to be sure that the strings synchronise their bowings and speak as one musical voice.

However, this is only the very first step in crafting a Mozart orchestra to accompany the opera. In the pursuit of pure chamber music, my colleagues and I will strive for the perfect balance of melody, countermelody and accompaniment in a way that supports and enhances what you see and hear on the stage. I look forward to revisiting and continuing my relationship with Mozart’s “Magic Flute” in this latest version created by John Drummond.

Twenty-four years ago I toured the original work around the UK with the company Opera North, performing in delightful old opera houses of a similar size to the Mayfair theatre  and loving every moment of the experience. I just have to remember to keep my eyes on the music and the conductor, rather than the glow of the stage!

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Post by Tessa Petersen, Concertmaster

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