So it’s the start of rehearsals for English Touring Opera’s Spring season and I’ve been plunged into the world of opera for the first time. I am currently on a Stage Management internship as part of my final year at LAMDA and was drawn to ETO for its high reputation and diversity of productions, and I have not been disappointed.
Kettles at the ready on the first morning of ETO rehearsals
From my first day here there have been fun opportunities and exciting dynamics, from erecting a gigantic swing in the rehearsal room to arriving one morning to find the stage floor “broken apart” like an explosion. The ETO team have been hard at work and I have been given an amazing insight into the world of touring opera.
I have mostly been working rehearsals for Donizetti’s little-known opera The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and it has been very interesting to explore director James Conway’s and designer Samal Blak’s vision for the piece. This was actually the one show out of the three that I really struggled to research for my placement as the most recent production was an amateur performance in the 1990s. Being somewhat sceptical before I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by what a truly moving and inspiring piece this is, full of beauty as well as sorrow.
The attention to detail that James Conway gives to his work is truly inspiring. His vision is beautifully brought to life by such an amazingly talented cast; from Helen Sherman’s valiant Aurelio to the remarkable chorus members, not one performer can be overlooked. This show is shaping up to be a real tear-jerker and I feel so privileged that I am able to observe and participate in its creation.
Season designer Samal Blak
However, I must not neglect to mention the current educational performance of Laika the Spacedog, which has just finished its sell-out first week of performances at the Science Museum in London before preparing to tour to various schools and venues in the coming weeks. I was lucky enough to be able to work alongside the ETO technical team with their “get-in” and “get-out” last week which was a fascinating experience. The team worked extremely hard, with only a handful of people working tirelessly to build the stage and set, help set up the orchestral section, rig lighting equipment and organise a vast array of props and costumes, all in one day.
A scene from Laika the Spacedog at the Science Museum (photo by Robert Workman)
The opening performance of Laika was a tremendous success, with school children eagerly engaging with the action. More than one cry could be heard as the teachers tried rounding up their children to return back to school! Although I will no longer be working on this production, I enjoyed the opportunity immensely and wish all of the company members, creative and technical teams luck on their upcoming tour.
This placement is my first real insight into opera; I have only ever seen the odd piece and, to be honest, I have never really understood the genre. My time here has already shown me what I have been missing out on all these years. Before I started on my placement I was nervous that, although I was eager to explore this new art form, it would sail straight over my head because I subconsciously believed the stereotype that opera is only for the “higher classes”. ETO has proven that this isn’t the case whatsoever.
Even though I can’t speak one word of Italian, I challenge anybody to watch a performance by the ‘Calais’ company and not be moved by their work. Not only is the drama incredibly poignant, but the vocal quality even in our freezing rehearsal room is absolutely astounding.
I hope that ETO can continue to bring this gift to others around the country because I can guarantee that even the cynics will be amazed by the level of quality and talent presented onstage. I have learnt so much from my internship already and I can’t wait to see what surprises the next few weeks will bring.
Christina Hostad, a final year student at LAMDA, is currently on a Stage Management placement with ETO.