A reflection on The Magic Flute journey

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.

One performance to go! See you there, 7:30pm Friday 19th June.

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Post by Calla Knudson-Hollebon, Third Guide

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.”

A Man’s Guide to Backstage Preparation

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!

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Post by Alex Lee, Third Priest/Orator

Two more performances to go! Wednesday 17th June and Friday 19th June

The Sounds of Backstage: Beth Goulstone turns up the volume for us

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In the dressing room

“Brrr! Brrr! Brrr!”

“Does anyone have a bobby pin?”

“Remember to sign in when you enter the theatre!”

“AaaaaAAAAAAAaaaaAAaaah.”

Welcome to the weird and wonderful sounds of the pre-show dressing room: vocal warm-ups, greetings, reminders, and more warm-ups. Constant doors and footsteps, as people rush to check costumes, set props, look for that water bottle that has to be around here somewhere. There’s lots of chatter- sometimes nervous, often hilarious – always excited.

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1st and 2nd Ladies, Beth Goulstone (left) and Julia Moss-Pearson (right)

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1st and 2nd Ladies…or Charlie’s Angels?

The orchestra can be heard warming up in the pit – the cast goes through hair and makeup right next door in the assembly area. During the interval, it will be stocked with tea and coffee, and maybe even cake (thanks Papageno)!

“Overture and beginners!” That’s the call – time to head on up, treading as quietly as possible on the concrete steps. Once backstage it’s whispers only, as noise from the wings will distract from the world we’re creating on stage. We can hear the audience talking and laughing as they settle into their seats. It’s fun to know that people are out there, and to wonder ‘was that my mum?’

As the house lights dim, all of the noise dies down and finally there is silence. These last quiet moments are always a good time to take a deep breath and ready yourself, or (if you’re me) to grin around excitedly at everyone you can see. The wait always seems unbearably long – we just want to get out there!

And then all of a sudden the silence is broken. We hear the first bars of the overture, and whisssk the curtain is rising, and we step out of the wings and into the world of The Magic Flute – Tamino, get ready for the fright of your life!

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Clockwise from centre: Beth Goulstone (Second Lady), Nikita Crosby (Second Guide), Calla Knudson-Hollebon (Third Guide), Robert Lindsay (Sarastro), Alexandra Clearwater (Papagena) and Julia Moss-Pearson (First Lady)

Photos courtesy of Beth Goulstone.

Post by Beth Goulstone, Second Lady 

CURTAIN CALL: What happens behind the scenes on opening night?

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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!”

“Quiet backstage!”

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.

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For more information: http://www.ticketdirect.co.nz/event/details/127613/the-magic-flute-presented-by-opera-otago

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Post by Linda Brewster, Stage Manager

Julia: The First Lady’s dressing-room essentials

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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.

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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!

434687439_e3a1f3e62b_oMaintaining 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!

Opening night is tomorrow! Have you got your tickets??

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Post by Julia Moss-Pearson, First Lady

Heleen Du Plessis: A perspective from the orchestral pit, literally!

Can you spot 'the pit'?

Can you spot ‘the pit’?

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!.

'The view from the pit'

‘The view from the pit’

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.

Turn right and duck your head to enter 'the pit'...

Turn right and duck your head to enter ‘the pit’…

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!

Heleen with her cello,  in the opposite of 'the pit'

Heleen with her cello, in the opposite of ‘the pit’

Post by Heleen Du Plessis, Cellist

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