Amy Price talks to the production team of DOE’s upcoming ‘War and Peace’.
How big is the opera ensemble? Is there a set ensemble who perform in every production?
Will Ford (Musical Director): It varies production to production, but it’s always auditioned. This Michaelmas production has a lot of freshers in it, and its about getting everyone involved.
Josie Williams (Assistant Director): But we do have a group of people who are in most productions, especially a lot of second years in the big Epiphany performance.
Have you ever had a disaster where you don’t have a voice strong enough to cope with what you want to do?
JW: Well we normally think about who we’ve got before. That avoids a situation like that. It’s also why this first production is so effective as a compilation of scenes: we can take stuff out and put things in to deal with what’s coming in to auditions. By the second show we then normally have a good idea of who will be involved and what voice types we’re working with and we can go from there.
Holly Brunskill (Producer): Also, as an executive committee, we pick the operas keeping in mind that it’s a student body singing. That eliminates a lot of options, as there are so many operas that are just too big for young singers.
Ambrose Li (Director): The compilation does add in the challenge of needing so many solo singers. This has at least eleven leads in it, as there’s a soloist or a similarly small group in every scene.
How heavy is the choreography and production of the show? Is there a lot of set and costume?
AL: Because of the sensitive topic I didn’t want lots of dancing. There will be one fully choreographed scene, but otherwise its fairly simple blocking more relevant to the singing.
The setting of the Castle Hall is obviously great to create a bit of atmosphere?
HB: There’s always a draw to having a performance in the Castle, and it’s a black tie event, which always adds to the atmosphere. It’s also good to be doing some fundraising for the Poppy Appeal.
Is it quite explicitly linked to the First World War, or is it more abstract?
JW: It’s abstractly linked – even if we wanted to link it explicitly, it would be very difficult as most operas actually were written before the First World War.
AL: The scenes more deal with emotions, to convey a War feeling. It’s all very symbolic and minimalistic; there are elements of war on stage, but not a full Battlefield set.
HB: It may be remembering the First World War, but it’s dealing with war as a human experience.
What has been the most challenging thing of the process so far?
JW: It’s probably different for each member of the team. For me, finding a way through everyone’s commitments. It’s difficult because so many of our cast members are committed to other choral activities: part of choirs, musicals etc.
WF: It’s much easier one they’re all in the room!
AL: Time is tight – our show Darkness and Light, this time last year had less scenes and more time, to put it in perspective! But then there’s all the usual stuff of set, costume etc.
Do most singers have a background in the opera?
JW: There are very few opportunities to sing in opera before coming to university. It’s not something that schools do. Lots have choral experience though.
WF: That’s the most common question we get in auditions: “do we have to have sung opera before?”, and the answer is just a massive “NO!”. It’s amazing as well to see how they take to it.
HB: It’s really about getting involved and giving it a go. Not everyone comes as an actor – so it’s exciting to learn how to really perform, and to sing in a new way.
Do you generally manage to get a big audience interested? As there is an undeniable stigma surrounding opera:
JW: Last year our buzzword was ‘accessibility’. So we choose opera’s that are more accessible, and, for example, we did The Magic Flute in English. This hopefully encourages more people to come along.
Is there a person in the cast who you feel could really pursue this as a professional career?
All: Sophie Rudge,
WF: She came in and her audition was stunning despite having a cold. She has a solo. She’s singing Handel’s “Ombra mai fu”, from Serse, and she was just incredible in our rehearsal yesterday.
HB: It’s so refreshing to have all this new talent come in, and to be doing so well.
JW: Especially as we lost a lot of talent people at the end of last year.
WF: And some of those people have already gone on to do really impressive things. Maybe not at the Royal Opera House yet, but in 5 years time… Milly Harris, for example.
Anyone else from this cast?
All: Mariana Werdine singing Donizetti’s “Deh! Tu di un’umile preghiera” from Maria Stuarda.
WF: What’s so nice is that this is Mariana’s first big opportunity. She’s doing really well.
JW: Do we want to mention Marnie Blair as well? (“Che faro” from Orfeo and Euridice, Gluck)
AL: Marnie’s been featured in everything, she’s so good.
Is this a show for someone who is ignorant of Opera?
WF: This is the term to come, as it is the more accessible for both performers and audience members. The national anthem, for example, finishes off the night. Plus, because it’s a compilation, you don’t necessarily have to follow the plot either, as it only exists within each scene! It’s not as intense.
JW: It’s a lot of stuff that people won’t know that they know, but they will recognise.
AL: They will recognise the tune, if not know the name. Plus we will have some directorial notes in the programme to help explain what is happening in each scene.
Image: Holly Brunskill