L-plates soprano: A question of winning

Thursday 23 February 2012

Two sets of warring men

In my second morning as a fly on the wall in rehearsals of ETO’s spring productions, I started over at The Barber of Seville. I was wondering if I might sample some more girl power this week, but I was instead treated to two sets of battling blokes.

Director Tom Guthrie serves up a scene in which slander continues to be the name of the game. This week Andrew Slater’s (Bartolo) personal space was to be invaded not by Basilio but Count Almaviva (Nicholas Sharratt, pictured below) in disguise number two: singing teacher Don Alonso.


This week we’re not on Bartolo’s side because the invader in question is the lovely damsel-rescuing Count (swoon)! Guthrie and Sharratt are thick as thieves creating a knight-in-shining-armour complex for their Almaviva; the ‘confuse the old fool more’ tactic is no longer just the means to his ‘get the girl’ end. It’s all a wonderful cackly-laughed haze of ‘I want to win!’

Sharratt is granted licence to enjoy defeating Bartolo, which come to think of it is perfect. Why else would a landed and loaded Count stoop to two budget disguises if not for the pleasure of watching an old killjoy get into a flap? Either way, it takes chat and hard work and some squeaky-clean focus of intention for the team to bring Rossini’s choppy and changeable recitative into crystal focus. And I can confirm that professionals improvise too. Only a blocking blueprint and these seasoned gents hit the ground running. There was stopping, starting and discussing, and then … a breakthrough! It all made sense. Let’s hope they remember what they did.

Sauntering over to see how the Eugene Onegin was coming along, I contemplated how much warmer it was today; this was not to last. Bleakness and darkness reign in director James Conway’s windowless cell where Jaewoo Kim and Nicholas Lester (Lensky and Onegin respectively) rehearsed the duel scene.

Timing was everything; it’s those slight moves and looks, the moments where everything stands still, which hold an audience’s collective breath. Emotional investment and the living, breathing exchange of opera. Conway carefully crafts a dance-like physical exchange between the men. As Lensky’s frustration at his friend’s betrayal grows louder he stands facing Onegin and clutches the latter’s shoulder, spitting his words into his ear. They are close enough now for Lensky to show how hurt, confused and angry he is but Onegin fails to explain the actions that have injured his friends feelings: why does he insist on flirting with Lensky’s fiancée, Olga? The emotional confusion overflows, unsolved, into the public domain where it can only be a question of honour. Win or lose. Live or die.

Guest blogger Lizzie Marshall is an ETO networker and is observing rehearsals throughout the making of the two productions. She recently graduated from the University of York, and is a coloratura soprano with L-plates.

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