Backstage with Jeremy Kleeman: Part 2
3 Feb 2016
3 Feb 2016
On the day I wrote this it was decided that one particular word was occurring a bit pre-emptively in the narrative, so we put on our thinking caps and slightly re-jigged the text in my second aria. This sort of tweaking has been happening quite regularly over the past couple of weeks, and it's certainly kept all of our eyes on the ball. As you might imagine, it can be challenging to change a line when you have been drilling it in a certain way for weeks!
Of course late changes aren't uncommon in new works – Mozart apparently composed the overture to Don Giovanni on the day of its première! But being involved in a new opera is certainly not the norm these days. I had a look at the statistics taken from 2009/10 to 2013/14 on 'operabase.com', and calculated that roughly 1 in every 62 opera productions is a world première. In contrast, Victorian Opera has on average presented a world première once every season since launching in 2006, about 1 in 5! I am so proud of the company's commitment to regularly producing new Australian work. I believe it is very important for the ongoing relevance of the art form in this country, and more often than not I find it very entertaining.
We are now into the staging rehearsals for Voyage to the Moon, of which we have exactly three weeks in total. I am really enjoying working with Michael Gow, and can see why he is a sought after director of opera. He gives us a very clear dramatic structure to work within, and is constantly researching ideas for all of our characters. He treats everyone on the rehearsal floor with a great deal of respect, which in turn has left me feeling free to improvise and create without the fear of judgement or stuffing up. And he is very accommodating during the most difficult musical moments which require paying greater attention to vocal matters.
I am also enjoying working with Sally-Anne Russell and Emma Matthews, who both bring a wealth of professional experience, beautiful singing, and a lot of fun into the rehearsal room. Sally-Anne and I are finding our character's companionship as we journey to the moon very entertaining, and Emma is relishing the chance to scare us both once we get there... And I love that every so often I get to just sit back and enjoy their world class singing.
What's more, I am learning a great deal about myself in rehearsing this role. It's the ideal role to be my first lead as I have had a say in shaping it to fit my voice, but I still have to be careful that I don't get too excited in these early rehearsals. When I staged my first aria, I threw myself wholeheartedly into the drama of the situation, and temporarily neglected some of the technical vocal elements I was striving to achieve in the piece. As you might imagine, after seven repeats I was paying the price! But since then I have been discovering the balance between inward vocal technical awareness and outward dramatic performance that I need in order to perform this role. Interestingly, it is different to the balance I found when preparing minor roles in the past, but I can see that in time, and even within this rehearsal period, the scales will tip to allow me more dramatic freedom.
I couldn't leave without mentioning our conductor leading from the harpsichord, Phoebe Briggs. Phoebe's incredibly on the ball with the music in this production, and I really enjoy her presence in the room. She anticipates any tempo or dynamic requests I may have, she somehow knows what is going on when I wink at her across the room after making a tiny mistake, and recently wove her magic to turn a trio we were unsure about into a fun piece to sing.. All this despite playing an instrument whose tuning is so sensitive to temperature change that we have had to keep all but one door to the rehearsal room closed! Jokes aside, it has been a privilege to get to rehearse with such a beautiful harpsichord, and we've just been joined by Molly Kadarauch on the cello, providing a stunning accompaniment to our rehearsals.
Everything's on track for opening night on February 15, and I will write again a few days after to let you know how I felt it all went!