I am thrilled to announced that I have been awarded a bursary for 2017/2018 from the Opera Awards Foundation alongside some very esteemed and talented colleagues. The Foundation awards annual bursaries to aspiring operatic talent and applications are encouraged from any artist working toward a career in opera, who needs financial support to achieve their career goals.
I took the chance and applied back in August and at first wasn't entirely sure what I'd ask for in terms of funding. Creating a show or production is the obvious idea of course, but with a limit on £5000 it would be tight to create a new show and produce it - and I didn't have anything currently in progress to add funding towards so I didn't pursue that. I also thought about taking the money to try to watch or observe some operas in the US or Australia where I have a few contacts but that didn't ring true to me either. I didn't want to apply to do something for the sake of it, and then be left with the possible realisation that I had made a poor decision. But then one day I was talking to a friend about how much I had enjoyed my Italian experience earlier this year and the thought hit me.
I went to Italy in February and March with the intention of learning Italian properly - surrounded by the people, culture and the food (important!) in preparation for Don Giovanni for which I was the associate director at Opera Holland Park 2017. Now, learning the language isn't a must for opera directing, you could just translate what you need and go for it and lots of people I know do just that. You can get by and still tell a great story with a good cast and that's what I did for a while. I first realised this wasn't the only way to prepare though when I was working with Opera Director Harry Fehr in November/December 2016. His understanding of the musical and linguistic languages in the operas he works on is at times mesmerising (a bold statement I know but it's true) and it was a pleasure to see someone take so much care and pride over the work that they make. There's something appealing about doing things properly - about knowing all the facets of the story you're working with and all the subtext that this language tells you about the characters and their context. Anyway, per farla breve Harry inspired me to give it a go - and begin to learn Italian ready for my work on a show in Italian. To say I found the process rewarding is an understatement - Italian is now a skill I cherish and practice daily (and eat as often as I can...).
My next big opera I'm working on is Ariadne auf Naxos which is a production in collaboration between Scottish Opera and Opera Holland Park in 2018 - part in English, part in German. So there you go - in preparation for this show I applied to the Opera Awards to go to Berlin, spend some time there and learn the language properly. It's a personal development adventure and one that I'm lucky to have the time to dedicate to at this point in my career. So a big thank you to the Opera Awards Foundation and the board who allowed me the time and space in December/January to really do things properly. What a pleasure that is.
Another huge pleasure is reading the list of recipients and recognising some colleagues and friends amongst them; Lauren Fagan, Ruth Mariner and Alex Stenson - congratulations ladies!
To see the full list of award winners and what they are up to click here. And if you know anyone I should say hello to in Berlin please get in touch. Danke!
I have been incredibly lucky to have observed back-to-back at the two major opera houses in the UK over the past three months and I thought it was about time I took a little moment to reflect. First of all I was in the English National Opera rehearsal room for Phelim McDermott's production of Aida (Latonia Moore and Gwyn Hughes Jones) - a multi-faceted production with a circus skills team and a stunning set designed by Tom Pye - lead with the inspiration from the Open Space principles and the general Improbable style and process. I then jumped straight into holding the Directing Observership at The Royal Opera House on Katie Mitchell's revival of Lucia di Lammermoor (Lisette Oropesa and Charles Castronovo) - a feminist perspective on this opera which features surprising little of the protagonist, beautifully designed by Vicki Mortimer.
Both of these experiences have been remarkable in identifying my own process as a director - and being in rehearsal rooms for such an extended period of time has reminded me quite how much I love the job I do. Although I greatly respect both directors in this instance (I've seen lots of work by both of them and have studied/researched their styles and processes) my reflection is mostly how important the role of the assistant director is in these rooms - and that a good assistant can really help make a show. I suppose I would say that. But as well as Phelim and Katie, I've had the pleasure of watching some fantastic assistants do their job and in turn, enabling the cast and creative team to do theirs too. This is integral to a fulfilling and successful show - and although you may not always recognise a good assistant from the outside - (the good ones are usually quite invisible until required) it's been a thrill to watch some of these people be outstanding at their jobs. Some of these people included; Heather Fairbairn, Lily McLiesh, Jamie Manton and Joe Austen.
I don't think good assistants always get credited enough so here's me doing my bit - I think we probably have to try and make those little changes from the inside to say thank you and give praise.
I've had quite an exciting summer travelling around and have again returned recently from a short trip in the States. With time to reflect I'm extremely pleased that my directing and assistant directing is beginning to take me around the UK and Europe. I have always loved travelling, exploring new places and meeting new people. It's really important for me that I continue this explo-working and over the next ten months it makes me very happy that I'll be part of theatre and opera productions in London, Luxembourg, Glasgow and Huddersfield. Between my jobs I currently also have the privilege of time and space to learn and prepare for each show ahead, which I'm planning on doing in different places and locations. So I suppose here is my early/new-season resolution: to find more reasons and excuses to travel and create across the globe.
Two weeks have past now since the Young Artist Performance of Don Giovanni at Opera Holland Park and I'm still extremely pleased with both the process and performance so I thought it was possibly due a little blog post.
It was an absolute pleasure to watch and work alongside the main cast rehearsals lead by Oliver Platt and Dane Lam. Olly created a room that was joyful to be in and extremely collaborative. For me, watching him and the fantastic cast navigate this beast of an opera was insightful and didactic - informing my decisions weeks before my rehearsal period actually began. Observing the opera on its feet in this way also helped dramaturge and make sense of it for me in a wider context as the creatives in the room were generous with their time. I frequently sat near Stuart Wilde (one of the fantastic repetaturs at Opera Holland Park) and presented daily questions or new curiosities I'd found in the score (why does it sound like there are bells in Mi Tradi? Does he think the Don has ever sung Deh viene il finestra before? Etc).
This is just one example of how the whole main cast and production team were incredibly welcoming even though I wasn't officially working in their room. They let me experiment, trying out some of my own ideas and they even let me play with the cast when I stood in for the absent performers (my guilty pleasure as an assistant director!).
It meant that after 6 months of my own research and planning and then a further three weeks in the room with this team I was not only ready but quite keen to begin exploring and rehearsing with my cast as we created our version of Olly's show. All the design elements were to remain the same (including the lighting plot - which in turn means the majority of blocking) and as well as this my cast all had to be ready and prepared to cover the main show from the 3rd June (slotting in harmonically to the main show if the situation arose - which it did).
So to say it was merely a challenge would be an understatement but the rewards have been thrice fold.
I am always interested in the processes that theatre rehearsals can offer a room of opera practitioners - and I'm pleased that by the end of our rehearsals I thought the young artist performers were a real ensemble - who played, worked, explored and performed together. Constant games and exercises through-out the rehearsal process were absolutely vital for this to work - and of course on the surface they just looked fun, but each different activity developed something whether it was our team work, focus, spontaneity, creativity or musicality as a group. My inspiration here comes from companies like Kneehigh and Improbable who insist on Play coming first in a room.
There were a few stand out moments for me in rehearsals where people made breakthroughs in their individual performances or even just their thoughts about the characters or the scene over all. These were particularly special when the performers thought they were familiar with the aria or had been performing it for a long time in recitals or concerts. In two situations this happened and we created really honest moments of story telling, which is always my main goal. Helping to facilitate these shifts in thinking are incredibly rewarding and are part of what I love about directing in this way.
Opera Holland Park had done some incredible casting, offering me fantastic performers but also a dedicated and skilled core team without whom my job would have been much more complicated. I hope that they'd agree that our process was a collaborative one and that they were also as pleased as I was with the final piece. I also want to say a huge thank you to Ashley Riches from the main cast show who performed alongside our company as Don Giovanni for our performance. We are also hugely grateful for Thomas Humphreys who was our Don Giovanni for the rehearsal process.
I am extremely pleased to have had the pleasure of developing a show with this talented team:
Associate Conductor Harry Ogg
Repetiteur Yu Su
Leporello Darwin Leonard Prakash
Donna Anna Julia Hamon
Don Ottavio Joel Williams
Donna Elvira Nardus Williams
Il Commendatore Vedat Dalgiran
Zerlina Eleanor Sanderson-Nash
Masetto Ricardo Panela
As well as directing the Young Artist show this year, I also lead the Opera for Thought outreach sessions at Opera Holland Park. I was the main facilitator for the six week project which works with local people living with dementia and their carers in collaboration with Westminster Arts. Running participation sessions and leading outreach work like this is a big part of what I do as a freelancer and hugely influences the work I make as a director too. For me, my question is always how can I make the art relate to the wider community and how can we make this project something for everyone to engage in. The opportunity to direct the Young Artist show and lead the concurrent outreach was a pleasure and I'd love to make more work that crosses over like this again. I have done similar work on a project I designed with Indomitable Productions called An Album of Memories.
We explored the opera Don Giovanni, learning about the narrative, characters and themes with singing and listening to music at the heart of every workshop. One or two of the Young Artist cast came in each week where we spoke to them about their journey as an artist, as well as of course having the pleasure of hearing them perform an aria or duet.
The sessions broke down like this:
Week one - Introduction to Don Giovanni with Vedat Dalgiran where we all learnt the famous lines of the Commandatore as he returns to drag the main character to hell.
Week two - Donna Anna
Week three - Women with Leporello. Darwin Prakash performed No.4 'Madamina' and the group used his adjectives and descriptive words throughout the aria to creat and draw new love conquests that Don Giovanni might have found.
Week four - Love and Marriage with Zerlina and Masetto. With Eleanor Sanderson Nash and Ricardo Panela the group formed the chorus in No.5 singing and performing the little scene in Giovinette che fate all'amore together.
Week five - Advice for Leporello. With Darwin Prakash back in the room we heard some of Leporello's other sections of music and text and looked overall at his character's journey. With a job he wants to quit, no satisfaction in his life and dodgy morals the group offered some advice and life lessons to the character of Leporello which we built and created into an art instillation which stayed up for the whole season at the Park.
Week six - Opera Holland Park. The group visited the Park this week to watch the Young Artists rehearse on stage with the chorus and attended a back stage tour with talks from the costume department. We also were able to perform our version of Don Ottavio's 'Dalla sua pace' on stage with the associate conductor Harry Ogg. The following week everyone returned to Opera Holland Park again for a picnic and to watch the matinee performance of Don Giovanni.
I have found myself being asked to answer lots of questions on the lead up to OHP this year and thought that it might be a nice place to put some of my replies... enjoy!
What age did you realise/decide you wanted a career in directing and what was it that ignited that spark?
have always loved theatre and remember being told by my teachers at school that I had an eye for movement and design. It was only recently that I realised that at some point in every director's life there is a courageous decision to be made; to make what we love into a career. It was only really then that I had the confidence to admit I wanted to focus on directing.
Was there any one person who inspired you/encouraged you to pursue what you are doing now?
No, not just one person, I am extremely lucky that there have always been lots of people who have encouraged and inspired me to pursue this as part of my career. My family, friends, teachers and mentors have always been supportive. The more advice you seek from other people doing what you want to do, the more likely you'll be to map out a way to achieve it. You are also able to check its actually what you want to do as well! Don't ever be afraid to ask someone for a coffee and get their advice- some of my best life decisions have come from just that.
Do you come from a musical family/background?
Yes, but not in the way you might expect. My dad worked in theatre and TV and he was also a old-school DJ, so I grew up with LPs and music from the Golden Era (the fifties through the seventies). My mum's family have always sung and love classical music, and I also had a grandmother in a G&S society back in the 1950s, so I suppose it was inevitable that I would find opera at the cross section of it all.
Do you have a particular directing style, or anyone’s style you particularly admire?
work in a way that is collaborative, inclusive, and cross-disciplinary with a focus on combining the skills and qualities of every artist in the room. I think it is absolutely vital to work this way. In terms of other directors and companies I respect artists like Katie Mitchell, Barry Kosky, Phelim McDermott, Annabel Arden, 1927 and Peter Sellars - they make the kind of cross disciplinary work that draws on and challenges all of opera's strengths.
How did you hear about/were selected for the OHP YA scheme?
t was the final night of Iris (directed by Olivia Fuchs and conducted by Stuart Stratford) and as the assistant director I had just finished giving notes to the chorus and was checking in with the principals. James Clutton called me outside and we spoke about the YA program and then he said he'd like me to direct it for 2017. It was a fantastic way to end such a beautiful show knowing that I'd be back at OHP the following year.
What part of the OHP YA scheme are you most looking forward to/nervous of?
I’m most excited to be working with some fantastic singers (and Harry Ogg the conductor) as part of the Young Artist scheme - you don't usually get to work like this where you're all still developing and able to share an experience like this together. I'm also keen to work with Oliver Platt as the director for the main show and Ashley Riches as the lead performer for both, but most of all I'm happy to be back at the Park and surrounded by the OHP family for another season.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment to date/what are you most proud of?
We had to do this interview remotely because I am currently in Italy. I decided to learn Italian in preparation for Don Giovanni and I don't believe in doing things in half measures. So instead of just joining an Italian class in London and learning the opera, I'm spending six weeks in Bologna to immerse myself in the language, culture and importantly the food... although I'm in it right now I think it might be one of those things that I'll be proud that I did for a long time to come.
What opera would you most like to direct and why?
t's currently difficult to think of anything other than Mozart! As an artist I am particularly drawn to surrealism, I love stories that are absurd or magical, of which opera has lots to choose from. These genres also invite cross disciplinary work where you can aid the musical language with other visual art forms like movement, puppetry or multi-media. The other thing I usually look for is a relevance or connection to today, I always ask 'why should we be doing this production now?'
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
'Dare to be adequate'. In a world where we're all obsessed with working hard and glorifying being busy it's important to remember that there are other things to focus on too. Being ordinary in one thing may make room for you to be extraordinary in another. Also, when someone suggested I start meditating it completely altered the way I see the world and how I interact with people. Saying that, I also read Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata everyday so would recommend that too.
What three qualities should a director have?
This is very subjective of course, but for me three of the most important qualities are developing clear and universal communication skills, a curiosity to play with whatever form and media has the potential to exist in your rehearsal room, and to have strong empathy for other people and their stories - that is all drama is after all.
If you hadn’t followed directing what would you be doing now?
’m very lucky that directing isn't the only thing I do or love, it just forms part of my career. I love making and leading outreach/community projects and in the Autumn I plan to start a course to become a massage therapist too - it's always been something I've been interested in.
What is the oddest thing that has happened to you?
I'm not sure about odd, but I've done lots of unusual things for charity like when I shaved off my hair, did the tallest bungee jump in the UK and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
Interview conducted by Opera Holland Park 2017
After giving myself a week to regain my balance in London, I'm finally coming to terms with the fact that I had the pleasure of spending the last month or so in one of the most beautiful countries in the world; Italy. It is rich in culture and architecture, and has a language as velvety as it's cream pastries - which food aside, was the main reason for my trip. I packed up my self-employed mind set and took my part-time rent job (working for a fantastic education Social Enterprise called Push) away to Bologna where I had found a family to help out in return for living rent free.
It was a great way to immerse myself in all the things I loved and wanted to try and test. I attended a language course which has given me a solid foundation in Italian and I still practice everyday to expand my vocab and improve my confidence. I sampled amazing food and sat in coffee shops mumbling recit to myself, getting strange looks from all the locals. I traveled lots and this time made it to Rome and Verona as well as becoming very familiar with the beautiful rustic, cobbled streets of Bologna. I even made it in to observe some rehearsals at an opera whilst I was away... I am very grateful to Teatro Comunale Bologna and Emma Dante who invited me in to observe rehearsals for La Voix Humaine and Cavalleria Rusticana and offered me some insight to their process and how they like to work.
To see my visual tour through this trip check out my Instagram page here.
We're quickly approaching the second version of An Album of Memories (which was the outreach project we created alongside our last show, but now has a life of it's own) as part of the Bloomsbury Festival 2016.
It's all sorts of exciting, and Interlude HK even interviewed me about it which was great. Sometimes you don't give yourself credit for something unless you talk to someone else about it - and I'm currently feeling very proud about the whole thing.
I've spent the last two months in conversation with our partners, with local businesses and with our IP team to dream up what this project could be which has been exciting to have so many excellent people involved. Camden Carers and Age UK Camden have been great partners again, bouncing ideas around, providing cakes and people for me to talk to which is so valuable. Over the last six weeks I've been producing the event - making sure all the right people know about it, and putting it in the places where they might come across it. Working with such a specific demographic can be a blessing and a curse, but it certainly does come with perks. Some of these perks have been what I've spent my last ten days doing. I've been to 'Singing for the Brain' workshops, Memory Cafes, Health events for the Over 60s, drop-in centres, day-care centres, hospitals and even a 95th birthday party to make sure I'm meeting the right people. It has given me so much joy to take part in some of these activities and events and to find out that there are so many things to do for people reaching the phase I fondly call 'Elderhood' , especially if you're living in London.
It's been beautiful seeing familiar faces, some who recognise me and some who don't, but all who sound excited about 'An Album of Memories' whether it's the first or fifth time I've told them about the event. This warms my heart greatly. My colleagues and I have worked very hard, and put in lots of preparation to make this event bigger, better, and more multi-sensory than the last. So much so that I'm even inviting my friends to the concert, because irregardless of whether you have Dementia or not, we're created a joyful, personal and high quality event. I'm looking forward to attending as much as I am hosting it.
For more information click here.
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