An industrial estate in South East London may seem a rather unsuspecting location to rehearse three Venetian operatic masterpieces. At least this was my impression when I was looking for English Touring Opera’s rehearsal venue on my first day. However, as well as having the practical advantages of a space where three operas can be rehearsed within metres of each other, it also supports the intimate nature of the productions.
The intimacy of English Touring Opera’s work inspired me to undertake an internship and it has been fascinating to explore how the productions take on this characteristic. I was fully aware that this intimacy wasn’t simply the result of the venues in which ETO performs, but that it was deeply embedded in the entire creative process. Even during the second week of rehearsals there is a sense of closeness and realness to the drama and the relationships between characters are extremely palpable.
Sitting in on rehearsals of Agrippina has been a fascinating experience. The process has been extremely organic and director James Conway has been working with the cast to give great depth and substance to each character. The themes of power, deception and love have been enriched with moments of great wit, sincerity and passion. It has been fascinating to see how well the da capo musical structure of baroque opera lends itself to adding great depth to characters. In the case of Agrippina, it has enabled Gillian Webster to develop an almost neurotic quality to her obsession with power. Within a single aria, containing only two lines of text, Agrippina goes from a person showing great compassion to a neurotic woman performing hopscotch across the stage!
It has been an extremely exciting point to work as a production intern. I have been involved in various different aspects from maintaining a production book to help staff director Olly Platt direct the cover casts to playing the role of Hercules in Jason! I am looking forward to seeing how the rehearsal process develops over the next few weeks and to see how the productions take shape when the sets and costumes are added.
PJ Harris is an aspiring director, recent graduate of the University of Leeds, and a production intern at ETO.