By Roberto Barbaro, tenor 2018/19

25 February 2019


Time to warm up and put all our learning into practice… time to put on a show and explore the operatic repertoire…throw in a bit of rope, and the result is a moving, enjoyable and seamless concert of operatic scenes. So...what is one to expect when faced with a concert of ‘opera scenes’? Ordinarily, the audience is presented with a menu of grand opera hits, garnished with colourful ball gowns and tailored suits. This was not to be the case on this occasion… after all, NOS was celebrating its 40th anniversary!

National Opera Studio

I turn to the month before the project, when we were allocated our scenes and roles. This comprised both expected repertoire as well as some real surprises. Being asked to sing Ferrando (from Mozart’s Così fan tutte) made sense to me, but, as is so often the case with NOS, I was also asked to push the envelope and discover new vocal and artistic territories: this 40th Anniversary Concert would introduce me to Benjamin Britten, namely the title role in Peter Grimes. In rehearsal, Charles Peebles (our conductor) would mention to me on occasion how delighted he was that such an interesting and powerful scene like the duet between Balstrode and Grimes would feature: “…after all, such duets seldom feature in opera concerts”. On a personal level, presenting the scene was not only uplifting and satisfying but also fuelled in me even more passion for this wonderful art form. Charles’ approach - calm and encouraging - emphasised clarity and staying true to the text. There was a certain freedom permitted to us as artists to explore our skills and experiences, all the while maintaining a collegiate atmosphere and staying on the same team as the conductor and orchestra. The rehearsals were also an opportunity for the NOS répétiteurs to get some air-time conducting. As I observed this process, I found it refreshing to be able to work on and consolidate the music with répétiteurs, whom we have been getting to know well during the Programme. 

Production rehearsals began at NOS HQ in Wandsworth, which became the domain of director Orpha Phelan (whom I would briefly describe as charming, exploratory, clear in her vision and extremely efficient!) On Day One, she introduced her concept of the rope, in its various forms, which would be present in all the scenes. My interpretation was that the rope created a sense of continuation and connection between contrasting items: this potential gimmick became a storytelling additive to the drama in the moment. Yes, I may have had to practice my lasso for a few minutes each day to make it look seamless and natural onstage… but performing in opera is all about learning new skills.

ENO Orchestra at Cadogan Hall

Performing at Cadogan Hall is bound to be a real treat for any performer, and this concert was no exception. At first, being onstage in front of the orchestra was a daunting task as we would be doing our scenes with little or no visibility of the conductor. However, we had prepared for this during rehearsals at NOS. The scenes were ready, and yes - so were the ropes! All we had to add now were the class-act sounds and responses of the ENO Orchestra. This step brought the project all together: there is a natural growth one makes with such an experienced orchestra as the ENO Orchestra behind them. None of our repertoire was foreign to them, and this put us all at ease. We got to really ‘go for it’ on Performance Night.

The show was followed by a champagne reception with speeches by the Chair of NOS, Sir Vernon Ellis, and Chief Executive Emily Gottlieb. The performance was well received: this positivity was palpable, and made for a rather exciting post-show reception. It was also a chance for all performers, creative team and special guests and donors to come together and share in this special milestone - the 40th anniversary of the National Opera Studio.

Time to take the show on the road and head to Scotland…

Scottish Opera

So here we are - all arrived in Glasgow. For many of us, it was the first time we had been to Scotland. The beauty of having already performed the show was that some thoughts could be had about whiskey, shortbread and haggis. But not so fast!! On the very first day of the residency, after initial introductory speeches by the administrative and creative leadership at Scottish Opera, we were allocated times to audition to the creative/casting panel of the company. Later that day, we would begin rehearsals to both consolidate our scenes and also make new adjustments. The King’s Theatre Concert would be on a theatre stage, with an orchestral pit. We had gained a lot more depth onstage, and now had Charles in front of us, with a number of screens to help us follow him.

After a few days in Glasgow, we travelled to Edinburgh to bump in the scenes, continue rehearsing onstage and keep massaging the show until the performance. We were, in every sense of the word, Scottish Opera Artists during this rehearsal and performance period. With that came the responsibility and respect one is to expect in such a situation. To add to the immersion within the company, we were able to watch a performance of Anthropocene, the set of which we had already become familiar with during our rehearsals onstage. The performance was jam-packed with wonderful artists, making the difficult music seem like a walk in the park. To know that we as NOS Young Artists were performing in the same theatre as those artists was the perfect inspiration to go onstage the next day.

The final performance was a ringing success, and we managed to keep improving on the scenes we had already performed at Cadogan Hall, having adapted to the setting of a more traditional theatre layout. After the performance, Scottish Opera hosted a pleasant champagne reception, with a kind and warm speech from SO Music Director Stuart Stratford. His sincere words of encouragement and invitation to keep in contact with Scottish Opera showed that the ‘people’ aspect of working in the performing arts was a priority for the company.

From the inception of the project to its final execution in Edinburgh, these opera scenes were another step forward in our development as emerging young artists.