The ‘Welsh National Opera’ is a company which is celebrated for its storytelling. A blend of music and drama the company produces a variety of stunning opera’s performed all over the world with each being just as captivating as the next. Having never seen an opera before I was incredibly excited to hear that WNO’s 2017 Tour would be making its way to the Theatre Royal Plymouth and this past week we were invited to attend Q&A sessions with members of the company as part of the TRP Bloggers scheme who kindly offered to tell us a little more about what it’s like to be a part of WNO. Something, entirely new I couldn’t wait to learn more.
Arriving at the Theatre Royal Plymouth we were introduced to Andrew Greenwood. Currently working on Joachim Herz’s ‘Madam Butterfly’ Conductor Andrew explained to us that Opera is dictated by music but each production is unique in its own right,
‘Each is different but spectacular. There is nothing like live music’.
Opera is designed to captivate the audience; the performance is accompanied by a live orchestra and performed with no amplification. As a conductor, you are in control of the pace of the music, the drama and in a way the narrative with each story being told purely through the music, speech is replaced with lyrics known as the ‘Libretto’. This allows for the drama to build and carry on building before creating an overwhelming sound. Something which Andrew stated you never tire of.
Speaking to Andrew who previously worked on this piece for the ‘English National Opera’, we learnt a little more about the rehearsal stages and how it compares to past experience. Andrew explained that he is a freelance conductor who started his career as a rehearsal pianist a route which many conductors take, before working on multiple productions. Invited to join the company a few weeks before rehearsals were scheduled to begin, the conductor will usually meet with the director to discuss the narrative of the performance. From there numerous sessions will take place. The orchestra, performers and covers rehearse separately preparing for what is known as a sitting-rehearsal, where the entire company comes together to run through the performance.
No two shows are ever the same and the sound is something which is completely different to other forms of theatre. Describing the production as timeless Andrew definitely agrees it’s a must see, “Everybody should watch it”.
Finishing up our interview Andrew offered to give us a tour of the pit, situated underneath the stage, and all set up for the following show we were able to see a little sneak peak of the orchestra and learnt how everything comes together. It was amazing to stand between both the stage and the auditorium as it was completely surprising to see how much you can actually see. Everything is bigger and to imagine that the sound travels from that point was surreal becoming a definite highlight from the day.
The following day we had the exciting opportunity to meet with two of the ‘Welsh National Opera’s’ performers’ Rebecca Afonwy-Jones and David Kempster who kindly offered to share with us a little bit more about their roles within the company and what it’s really like to be a singer on tour.
Telling us about what first inspired each of them to pursue singing, Rebecca who trained at ‘The Royal Opera House’ Covent Garden shared that singing is something that she has always wanted to pursue. Training throughout her twenty’s she explained it becomes a part of who you are which makes performing even more enjoyable. No matter what you choose to do, it has to be something you are passionate about.
David agreed stating that opera being such a big part of his background encouraged him to pursue it as a career. As an opera singer you are always a student, always learning and that is definitely a favourite part of working within this genre.
Speaking about training and how that translates into the performance, both Rebecca and David agreed that opera can be quite physically demanding. Performing with no amplification in addition to a live orchestra, singers are taught to project but have control. It’s about finding the balance between the music and the song, “It becomes engrained in the culture. It becomes a natural part of who you are”.
Often with opera cover casts are brought on in place if the production is scheduled for more than two consecutive nights in a row. Covers are occasionally brought onto the stage quickly and cast changes occur throughout the course of the tour. Rebecca shared that having gone on to the stage as a cover at the Theatre Royal Plymouth back in 2013 she was excited to be returning as a principle. Additionally, David who has taken on twenty-eight roles with the ‘Welsh National Opera’ explained that it’s a peoples company; the productions seem familiar in a sense even if you’re watching them for the first time. Music especially, is an expressive art and the historical context of ‘Madam Butterfly’ is quite powerful and impacts everyone differently, it’s personal and it’s lovely to see what people take away from it.
It was amazing to hear how enthusiastic both Rebecca and David spoke about their careers. Sharing their experiences and advice they kindly gave us a genuine insight into what it’s like to work within their profession and it was wonderful to hear their perspective. Inspiring, I think we all left feeling even more excited to see what the evening’s show had in store.
We were invited to watch Giacomo Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’, another of the Welsh National Opera’s productions. Something entirely new, I could definitely see what the company had been describing. Sung in Italian the music and narrative were truly moving. Stunning from beginning to end, I enjoyed every second and would definitely recommend.