Backstage with Jeremy Kleeman: Part 1

19 Jan 2016

Do you like crosswords? We need a verb with two syllables (with stress on the second), meaning 'to beg earnestly', and ideally ending with the vowel sound 'aw'.


You might be wondering what on earth that puzzle has to do with Voyage to the Moon, Victorian Opera and Musica Viva's upcoming Baroque pastichebut that kind of question actually became key to our workshop process. If you didn't already know, when opera is created the words are almost always written before the music is composed - I was often reminded of this fact throughout my training whenever I would neglect telling the story and only strive for beautiful tone - but a challenge that we found in the workshop stages of Voyage to the Moon was actually doing the reverse - fitting new words to pre-existing music.

To anyone that asks, I describe Baroque pastiche in terms of the modern form, which is arguably a jukebox musical - of which Australia is quite an exponent with The Boy from Oz, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert and now Georgy Girl hitting our stages. But the major difference with what we are doing is that, while we are also using pre-existing songs, we are completely changing their words and, in some cases, dramatic intention.

But as you would expect, Michael Gow, our director and librettist, is very good at it. I loved the chance to witness his language mastery in our workshops, as setting the text became as simple to him as solving a crossword, even with rhythm, word stress, and ideal vowel sounds to contend with. (To answer the puzzle I opened with, the word we came up with was 'implore').

It was very stimulating to be around the compositional process, and extra special as Voyage to the Moon is my first major role with the company I've been developing my craft with for the past 7 years. Victorian Opera has supported me since high school through their youth opera program and Master of Music (Opera Performance), before casting me in supporting roles on the main stage, and now showing the faith to cast me in my first lead. I feel very lucky to have grown up in a city with an opera company that places such a high value on talent development. 

Photo: Keith Saunders

Voyage to the Moon of course features two of Australia's leading opera performers in Sally-Anne Russell and Emma Matthews, who have already been a lot of fun to work with and very supportive of me - going so far as to alter their own parts to accommodate changes in sections that weren't sitting quite right in mine. I can't appreciate it enough, and am really looking forward to sharing the stage with them.

We are currently in the coaching stage, where I prepare my role one-on-one with our music director Phoebe Briggs, working on style, diction, knocking my Australianate Ls on the head, and much more. It's also a great chance for me to test my stamina for the role - coachings can be up to one-and-a-half hours of straight singing, and when you compare that to the 20 minutes or so I'll be doing in the show, we're well on track!

I'll be writing again when we are into the production calls, where I'll discuss the staging process, character development, and anything else that comes up!

Until then,

Voyage to the Moon was part of Victorian Opera's Season 2016. It was presented by Victorian Opera and Musica Viva in partnership with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

Read Backstage with Jeremy Kleeman Part 2 and Part 3.