Edmund Whitehead, 2016/17 Répétiteur
On our arrival we were shown around the Edington Street building where most of Scottish Opera’s rehearsal studios and costume, props and set-building departments are located, and had a “Meet & Greet” with senior staff from the company. After some final studio rehearsals and the opportunity to watch Pelléas et Mélisande, which was running while we were there, we moved into the Theatre Royal on Wednesday. Our scenes were performed on Rae Smith’s brooding set from Pelléas, inspired by Vilhelm Hammershøi’s paintings. With different lighting it was exactly the right sort of flexible setting for our varied scenes.
Having heard the Scottish Opera Orchestra performing Pelléas on Tuesday evening, we were all excited to start rehearsing with them, and the very first run-through of the first scene in Wednesday’s Sitzprobe put smiles on everyone’s faces. Even in that first rehearsal every note they played was exquisite, and they supported and accompanied our singers with incredible sensitivity and energy under the baton of Derek Clark (Head of Music at Scottish Opera).
When director Max Hoehn came to observe us in rehearsals last term to cast these scenes, his premise for the project was “big gutsy romantic pieces”. Most excerpts were from the Bel Canto repertoire, a genre dominated by feats of vocal virtuosity, which allowed the singers to show all the “bells and whistles” of their extraordinary vocal abilities. Watching the show from the pit on Friday was a truly exhilarating experience. The detail in which Max rehearsed these scenes really came through, and the dramatic intention behind every word sung was clear. Perhaps unusually for a Young Artist Showcase we drew a sizeable audience, and the singers were greeted with whoops, cheers and laughter at all the right moments.
After modest celebrations and a warm farewell from Stuart Stratford after the show, we made our way back to London to perform the same scenes at Hoxton Hall, a 19th-century music hall in Hackney which is now an edgy East London performance space. The contrast could not have been greater in a 14m x10m room, with piano instead of orchestra and virtually no acoustic. However, as Emily Gottlieb (Chief Executive of NOS) put it when introducing the show, “opera is everywhere nowadays”, and the experience of working in small fringe-type venues is just as important for us as working in large opera houses. And it was captivating - what we lost in terms of grandeur was made up for by the amount of detail that came through in the staging, being able to clearly see the singers’ facial expressions ,and to hear even the quietest of dynamics. For the three répétiteurs it was a chance to fuel this drama through our playing, which is always great fun.
From start to finish this project was an absolute pleasure, and I can say with confidence that everyone benefited from the experience whilst enjoying it at the same time - it’s made us all want to get back to Glasgow as soon as possible.