L-plates soprano: from the rehearsal room

Thursday 16 February 2012

Three Mills, two operas and a lot of snow

A bitterly frosty morning in East London, and Three Mills Studio was just about the coldest place I could have spent it. It was in the cavernous barn of Studio B that I found James Conway directing Sarah-Jane Davies in the first rehearsal of Tatyana’s mammoth letter-writing scene from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. It was absolutely freezing inside but that wasn’t going to stop them.

The two artists plunged straight in starting with some rather rigorous blocking of the scene (Conway’s production is a revival from 2007, see Amanda Echalaz in the original letter scene below), and then the exciting challenge of transforming these plans into opera’s Technicolor; Sarah-Jane engages breath and voice with text and melody and the fun begins! Here is Tatyana, a girl who sets out to put her deepest desires into a love letter, and who in doing so discovers an emotional crisis raging inside herself which she must explore. She stays wide awake all night. Tchaikovsky’s sweeping, timeless night. This is Sarah-Jane Davies’s double-debut: Tatyana and ETO, and before rehearsals began she came at Tatyana with a romantic innocence which is a stretch from Conway’s darker vision of the lonely bookworm. As a result, Davies has had a lot to think about. It will be a treat to watch this Tatyana find herself across the course of rehearsals and the tour itself.

Meanwhile, over in Studio 8, Thomas Guthrie has been busy shaping and plucking Bartolo and Basilio (Andrew Slater and Alan Fairs respectively) into streamlined comic perfection. This sandwich of recitative and aria serves as the perfect vehicle to bring two deliciously different buffoons into focus with clear intention. Needless to say this scene forms quite a stark contrast to the antics over in Studio B; Perhaps it was the sheer size of the place and the lack of windows but the draughty cold of Studio B had seemed to entwine itself with Tchaikovsky’s desperate drama. Now, maybe all the natural light has gone to my head, shoulders, knees and toes, but the easy warmth over at rehearsals of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville was inviting as it was amusing.

It wasn’t all fun and games mind. I watched while Guthrie sculpted two already marvellous comic performances into clear contrast of purpose. Basilio develops a new level of weird, and Barolo an entrancing crescendo of bamboozled disgust. To convince his employer to start a bad rumour about his rival Lindoro, Fairs’s Basilio introduces the sensual side of scandal in the hope of winning over a potential partner in crime. He sells it like his soul, delicately groping his chest and then Bartolo’s as if it’s all just too perfect to express without some physical demonstration. The results are hilariously oily. Equally chortle-worthy were Slater’s continued and useless attempts to deal emotionally and physically with Basilio’s consistent invasions of his personal space, with the help of an imaginary fat-suit. Deliciously baffled he was. I prithee more next week!

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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