For the past three weeks I have been working to develop the role of Prince Aiden in Mahogany Opera Group’s newest operatic adventure for children, The Rattler.
I feel very lucky to be performing with a company that believes so passionately in the artistic form of opera, and its ability to move everybody in wonderful ways. This is a company I have admired for a long while – working at the vanguard of contemporary opera and theatre-making in the UK, they produce compelling productions that are extremely varied in theme and form, but are always tailored specifically for audiences. The Rattler embodies this ethos.
This may be a children’s story, but its subtleties run deep. Stephen’s music – from wistful melodies to funky Rattler dances – drives the narrative forward, and in this very integrated piece the cast all have a role to play in this. Five performers not only portray characters, but multi-role as singers, narrators, and puppeteers to bring this strange and fascinating world to life.
Working closely with a small group of such talented and kind colleagues has been incredibly exciting for Kirsty McLean, who plays the young spinner, and me as the two youngsters of the team – I’m sure she would agree that this has been the perfect preparation for venturing into the shifting landscape of opera singing in the UK.
While studying music at university, children’s theatre never crossed my mind as a possible career path, but it is something I fell into through work in physical theatre and puppetry. I am so glad that my life took that turn: performing for young people has been one of the most rewarding and artistically fulfilling experiences of my career so far.
With children, there is no pretence. They are the most honest audience you could wish for, giving back as much energy and commitment that you put in as a performer. If they are enjoying a show, you can feel the enthusiasm bouncing back – but equally, if they aren’t, they will certainly let you know! It is this authenticity of experience and collaborative feeling that makes me want to do much more in the future to produce work with community its heart – something that I am already doing with my own company, Indomitable Productions.
I find the work of groups like Mahogany Opera truly inspiring, as well as a great opportunity to learn new skills – this is the first time that I have ever been required to play percussion on stage, for example. Our fast-paced and intense rehearsal schedule – including an initial residential week in St Bees, Cumbria (the spiritual home of Hobsmoor!) – has also been a steep but satisfying learning curve. Frederic Wake-Walker, our director, put great emphasis on play during the development phase, and I have never been given the chance to discover my character like this before. It’s something that I know has really benefited my performance, and I wish we saw more of this open and reasoned creative process in opera-making.
To those of you readers who are also hoping to forge a career in singing, my advice would be that, now more than ever, in order to be successful as a musician and performer you need to diversify your skill set. Funding for major opera houses is sadly decreasing, and as more and more graduates emerge into the working pool, it is important – and exciting! – to be able to set yourself apart from the crowd.
Since graduating from Cardiff University in 2013 I have worked hard to build up a diverse portfolio, splitting my time across a variety of projects and performative areas. I do a lot of work on the oratorio circuit, and I am also soon returning to the Opera Holland Park (OHP) chorus, where I worked last season. The stage is my real love, and I cannot recommend OHP highly enough to recent graduates – it is a great way to work for a major house and to learn the ropes of what it means to be an opera singer. Many of my other opportunities have come through word of mouth and personal recommendations, and so I can’t stress enough how important it is to be professional, punctual, and passionate as a fledgling singer. You will get more work if people are confident that you will commit to their project wholeheartedly.
I hope you enjoy seeing The Rattler, and that the piece lives on after our nine-month UK tour. I go to bed singing its catchy tunes and wake up every day ready to jump back into that world. I hope Hobsmoor never leaves me.
The Rattler is touring throughout the UK in 2016.
Image by James Berry