Isabelle Culkin talks to the cast and crew of Durham Opera Ensemble’s upcoming production of Emilio de Cavalieri’s ‘Rappresentatione di Anima et di Corpo’ in collaboration with Andrew Lawrence-King.
Is this production a lot more collaborative than previous ones?
Gabriel Finn (Director): We’re working with Andrew Lawrence-King, who is an early music specialist, and this is his music, his show, his edition of the score, so he will have and does have very definite ideas about how he will want it performed. So although I am director, I don’t have free run of everything, which is interesting because it’s nice to work with and collaborate with someone who has as much experience of this sort of music as he does.
What’s your direction for this opera?
GF: The music of the Renaissance is completely different to the music of today. The direction in which you sing is dictated by what you’re singing about. For our staging, I thought it would be really nice to pay tribute to some of the early operatic traditions, so costume wise we’re essentially all-white with masks. We wanted to play with the idea of Renaissance art at the time, a lot of which is a sort of allegorical exploration of good and evil, heaven and hell. It was very much popular culture at the time to have these weighty philosophical discussions about the nature of good and evil. To contrast this white, minimal costume, we’re making it really big and colourful.
What made you want to get involved as part of the production team?
Janelle Lucyk (Producer): I was really curious to see what goes into putting a show on. If you’re working with the right group, it really shows you what humans can do. Everybody has their different strengths.
GF: I’ve always wanted to direct, because I like being part of a team of people which brings something together.
JL: I know a lot of people said they wanted to get involved in this production because they wanted to work with Gabriel, seriously, I didn’t tell him that yet. It’s refreshing to have someone so down to earth to work with.
Is this opera particularly challenging to sing?
John Patrick Turner-Smith (Corpo): I just think it’s particularly different to anything else we’ve done, because it’s so early, it’s like the start of the operatic tradition. It’s not really an opera in the sense that we understand it now. The notation in this differs a lot compared to the standard notation now.
Sophie Rudge (Anima): There are some tricky bits, there are some fast notes. It’s not how we would read it modern.
Is there anything else which is particularly challenging?
SR: I think for us as singers, we have an instinct to create a melodic line, we want everything to sound beautiful. We have to understand that the text is so crucial to interpreting this performance, you have to make everything historically accurate, and finding a different form of expression than we’re used to with opera now.
How would you explain the premise?
JPT-S: Basically it’s a personification of the good, the bad, the evil and the ugly, it’s like the fall of the human race. It’s a walkthrough one’s life in the spiritual sense. It’s separating the soul from the body.
How have rehearsals been going?
JPT-S: It’s been exciting working with various people from different departments. We’ve been getting used to the music, the language and the tradition.
GF: The real challenge has been putting on a show of this quality in the timescale. It’s very all-consuming, but it’s been really great. You have to make sacrifices and it’s very much burning the candle at both ends. It’s all fun basically.
SR: We’ve basically had two weeks from when we were given the parts till when the actual performance happens, so it’s been a very quick turnaround.
Do you think this opera is quite alienating to certain people?
JPT-S: It’s very different in concept, it hasn’t got that standardised staging. The idea of baroque orchestra might alienate certain people. Hopefully people will take an interest in it, and find it insightful. There are people who will think it’s a specialist thing for specialist people, but people would easily enjoy it, for sure. It’s different, it’s more dignified, graceful and less heightened.
SR: But it shouldn’t alienate people. There’s going to be so many period instruments, which is so special, and not everyone gets the experience to sing or see these instruments. I think this is something which even my parents, who aren’t very classically minded, would enjoy.
Finally, how would you sell this show?
GF: It’s just a really exciting show, the music literally dances. All the rhythms are taken from dance, and it drives the performance. The music just goes, and the singers fit in against this orchestra. It will be very easy to get swept up in it.
‘Rappresentatione di Anima et di Corpo’ will be performed at Castle Great Hall, Sun 31st May, 8:00pm.
Tickets: Standard £12.00, Concession £10.00, Student £6.00.
Photos: Isabelle Culkin