Thursday, 8 September 2016

Operatic Acting at Oberto 2016

Today I attended the Oberto 2016 conference at Oxford Brookes University on Operatic Acting. Five sessions and a round table with a dozen papers delivered: there’s a lot to digest and report on.

One striking thing though: youth. Throughout the day optimism bubbled to the surface in reference to younger practitioners. Often this came in the accidental prefixing of many mentions of the word ‘singer’ with ‘young’. Some operatic institutions were spoken of disparagingly in comparison with local competitors who use young choruses, unshackled by long standing rules about working practices (however good the reason for those practices may be).

It was also interesting to hear younger delegates using technical language more in tune with the precision vernacular of academia than the mysterious, elliptical language of my, older generation, the alchemists of lyric drama.

The system is geared to reflect this now. Young people get opportunities to develop, showcase and work. Mid-career performers can get overlooked by employers for simply not being below a certain age.

The profession, when it gets down to it, values what it can work best with. Development at all stages of one’s career requires openness, flexibility and common sense both as an artist and in the more prosaic but equally slippery arts industry. So when we talk about ‘young singers’, lets assume we’re talking ‘young-in-mindset’.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Grimeborn 2016

It was a lot of fun - full disclosure here. But 'manages not to be too lecherous/Tim nice-but-dim' Mozart aside, I did have the opportunity to go and see at least two other shows (it's not finished yet, so there's still time for more).

Naturally I'm not going to attempt to appraise the hard work of my colleagues in Rimsky-Korsakov's Mozart & Salieri and the reckless abandoneon of Maria de Buenos Aires. There was admirable singing in the peculiar traverse of Studio 1 of the Arcola Theatre (and the Piazolla band drove the composer's opera with energy).

I do appreciate the hard work of everyone who tries (and succeeds) in scrumming a dozen fully-produced operas with instrumental ensembles in two studios over a month. The staff manage to keep their smiles on and there is sufficient backstage room for everyone, if you look for it. The singers work in a theatre with a fluctuating acoustic, according the size - and temperature! - of the audience. One notices that sound is directionally biased (especially in a production that simultaneously uses amplification, as in the Maria de Bueons Aires - utterly assimilated in a stand-out turn by Matthew Wade). Even with consistently good singing one can be forgiven for feeling a little isolated in the back by the sunken nature of the stage area. With, typically, only a day for a get-in and technical rehearsal after studio preparation adjusting to radically elevated sightlines can become a luxury. I never quite conquered it.

Finally though - the audience. it's quite a mix, with a sizeable older, middle-aged contingent but plenty of younger people and notable smattering of outré types, expected for this established artistic outlier of the City. But the BAME contingent appeared low... considering that the Arcola operate a decorously open policy front of house. This is richly mixed ethnic neighbourhood and there is considerable local traffic in the foyer and bar both interested in the theatre but also dipping in for its amenities. Yet my experience (of three years attending) is that it doesn't translate in moving from foyer to footlights. That's the challenge facing any one of us trying to crack the nut of dissolving the real or presumed threshold of the operatic auditorium. I suspect the persuasion is not done in the theatre at all, but probably in the classroom, or some equivalent.