Other Voices – ENO Community Project – the performance

As mentioned briefly in a previous post: https://thalieknights.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/other-voices-eno-community-project/ this weekend was the opportunity for myself and other ENO Opera Works members to finally get to meet the full troupe of ‘Other Voices’ members from Streetwise Opera (a charity using music to help homeless people making positive changes in their lives), The B.I.G Choir (a training choir with a repertoire of popular Gospel), a children’s choir from Corpus Christie Catholic school and ENO Community Choir.

Directed by Stevie Higgins and Clare Whistler, Saturday’s workshop was a great introduction to each group’s retrospective music offering – covering Bach’s St John’s Passion, John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer, Bob Marley’s Get up Stand up, to name but a few. The energy which each group put into their music was infectious, and it didn’t take long before we were all learning small segments of the main musical numbers – a great way of including everyone as much as possible (as someone who is more often found practising Handel than Bob Marley, a particular favourite was the ‘whyoooaaah’ section preceding Get up Stand up – I gave it my best Gospel wiggle!!) Such involvement was a welcome distraction from feeling the pressure of having Peter Sellars (director in residence at ENO) and John Berry (Artistic Director at ENO) quietly observing!

On Sunday we were joined by the children’s choir, and we now had all vocal forces in place for the afternoon’s performance in Windrush Square, Brixton. Clare Whistler’s direction had ensured we use as much of the features in the square as possible without ever compromising our delivery of the music, and this enabled us all to focus on the themes at the heart of ‘Other Voices’ (which aims to retell personal and shared history perspectives using our voices). Though the weather may have been on the chilly side, the reception by the local community and friends and family who came to support was warm and welcoming.

Singing is such a genuine expression of feeling that the weekend was a humbling experience to remind each person that regardless of age, race, beliefs and abilities – music is something that everyone can share.

Here’s a few pictures of the day:

image1 image2 image3 image4

Photos by Rob Tyson Knights Photography (http://www.robtysonknights.com/)

Other Voices – ENO community project

A few of us in ENO Opera Works are currently involved in Other Voices – a community project developed in response to Peter Sellers’ residency at ENO (he is currently directing John Adam’s new work The Gospel According to the Other Mary and Purcell’s The Indian Queen). The project is a celebration of the power of the human voice, and looks to retell personal experiences and shared history through multiple perspectives.

As well as singers from ENO Opera Works, the ENO Community Choir will also collaborate with The B.I.G Choir, a choir from St Martin in the Fields school, and an ensemble from Streetwise Opera. All participating musicians are looking over a wide range of music – ranging from Bach’s St John’s Passion to John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer. We had our first music call last Friday with Stevie Higgins (Music Director), and worked on a first few bits of choreography (turns out my music-reading & choreography skills are to be desired after 7pm)– it promises to be something very different, and very special.

The first performance date is the afternoon of the 30th November at Windrush Square, in the heart of Brixton. Come rain or shine we will be there, and hope that you can come join us!

For further details: http://www.eno.org/communitychoir

Response weekend – Handel, Handel and more Handel.

Finally, the weekend where we got to put our weeks of music preparation into practise! Our scenes (music from Semele, Alcina, Orlando and Agrippina) had been chosen, prepped and individually preened, and it was time to explore and apply what we’d learnt in our Input weekend with Mike and Polly ( https://thalieknights.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/input-weekend-1-11-12th-oct/ )

Day 1

Today was all about detailed discovery. Working in our groups, we shared the key points we felt were applicable to both the libretto and our scene:

The Libretto

  • Given circumstances and facts
  • Character research – who am I? What is indicated in the libretto? Are there thematic qualities in the music which represent my character?
  • What is the through-line for my character?

The scene

  • What are my possible objectives? What is my super-objective?
  • Actions: what are the possible actions?
  • What are my obstacles?
  • Are there any turning points in the scene?

We worked with Martin and Rob Bottriell (repetiteur) on our scenes throughout the day – sometimes just with spoken text, sometimes sung, but always clearly indicating what our objective was. We then broke the scenes down, exploring different actions which may be applicable to our characters. I found this a really effective method of making us consider what the character wants in the scene, what they are feeling, and acting upon these sentiments.

Having a clear insight into our individual characters meant that as the day progressed, our performances became a lot less ‘generic’ – even simple objectives such as ‘I want to leave this room’ are important and give our characters a sense of purpose throughout the scene.

Day 2

We were joined by the lovely conductor Robert Howarth who specializes in early and classical repertoire. Having Rob at our disposal was such a learning experience – we explored our music in a stylistic context, and he really made us consider the text and the different ways in which it can be varied (especially in Handel opera where so often we sing 1 line and it is frequently repeated). For example, a line that was often sung in the Semele excerpt could be emphasized in three different ways:

You always complain

You always complain

You always complain

My scene – Alcina (I sang Bradamante) – had 3 Alcina’s. This meant that, despite the objective I had chosen remaining pretty much the same, I was fortunate enough to experience firsthand how differently each individual imagination shapes a scene; not one of my three Alcina’s had chosen the same objective or actions, and this resulted in the overall outcome being different each time. Some worked, some didn’t, and this was ok. As Martin kept emphasizing – the purpose of the weekend was by no means to ‘stage’ these scenes, and as the day progressed I noticed that we were all a lot more keen to take risks, to try new approaches and see if they worked. Knowing that there was no right or wrong installed a real sense of confidence in the group, and our feedback to one another became bolder and more constructive.

I look forward to seeing what challenges we face in Module 2!

Input Weekend 1 – Mike Alfreds, Polly Teale and Stanislavsky

Our first input weekend was spent with the awesome Mike Alfreds and Polly Teale (http://www.sharedexperience.org.uk/) exploring the groundwork behind the Stanislavsky technique; how to apply this to text, character research & development, rehearsals and eventually a performance.

I was a bit apprehensive about this weekend to start with – I would hardly consider myself a natural born actress, and Stanislavsky was something which had been somewhat thrown at us at college without any real explanation as to what it was all about, thus rendering it’s first proper introduction as a tad overwhelming.

Prior to our session with Mike, we were asked to read ‘Different every night’:

Different Every Night

and  were also given a short extract from Chekhov’s ”The Seagull’ which we had to have memorized for the day. With Polly, we studied an excerpt from Kindertransport (a play by Diane Samuels which describes the life in World War 2 of a Kindertransport child),

The scenes were broken down into main concepts:

Want: Objectives Self explanatory, what does the character want? I.e he wants to find someone to love, to lead an honourable life, to avoid confrontation, to find the meaning of life etc.

Scene Objectives What does a character want, and tries to obtain from other characters throughout a specific portion of the text? A character can have more than one objective during a scene, and what each character wants from one another, fundamentally gives the scene it’s structure.

Through lines This is the character’s main objective throughout the story – it generates plot, and functions in response to the plot.

Super Objectives Usually very general, and deal with concepts i.e to conquer the world, avoid commitments etc.

* Who is my character? What do they say about themselves? Do I say anything about myself? What are the possible objectives for the scene? What is the through-line for my character in the whole opera? What is my super-objective? What are my actions / wants? What are my obstacles in the scene i.e external, internal conflicts and even other characters themselves?

I’ve spent so much time thinking about characters in opera based around feelings, rather than looking at hard facts, that this weekend with Mike and Polly really came as a revelation. So often we ‘play sad / play happy’ and this leads to a generalized performance which fundamentally isnt honest and frankly, rather dull. Openly exploring sounds, mannerisms and potential actions associated with certain emotions has made me realize just how much involvement we need as actors in order to fully understand how to portray that character.  As a self-confessed ‘over thinker’, I’ve always found it difficult to just let go and ‘be’ a character, but after the work we all put into this weekend session and the feedback that was given, I think its much easier to understand what is absolutely necessary, and trust that knowing these foundations will serve your truthful portrayal of the character in itself.

We’ve been allocated our music scenes for this term (all Handel, HURRAH!). Our homework prior to the response session is to study the entire libretto and use the techniques learnt over this weekend in order to better understand our individual characters and our scene itself.. Watch this space…

ENO Opera Works – An introduction


There’s always that one question that fills any final-year student with dread – “So, what are you plans for next year?”.

As someone who loves to organize things, possibly too much, this question filled me with dread. I had no plan. My two years at music college had been somewhat turbulent – had I gained enough experience? Was I ready for auditions? Did I feel I knew exactly what kind of a performer I was? I knew what music I wanted to sing, but how do I go about tailoring things? I wasn’t sure of any of these questions. What I did know was that financially, an opera course was out of the question and that I didn’t want to find myself in another institution in the potential position of being side-lined because there was nothing in the school opera that suited my voice.  I still felt I had things to learn, and that being in a more individually-tailored environment would be of more benefit.

I’m fortunate to have had constant support at college (musically and mentally!) from my lovely teacher Gail and my coach Michael, both of whom encouraged me to apply for Opera Works (“You just never know what they’re looking for…”) and I’m so very glad that I put my self-worth gremlins aside and listened to them.

Introductory meet, greet, sing

That awful moment when you have to sing in front of your classmates for the first time. That. We were all summoned to ENO for our first introductory day with Martin Constantine (director) and Jane Robinson (vocal coach), suited and booted in our audition attire for what felt like the final board meeting with Lord Sugar.  It was great to finally put faces to email addresses, to talk openly about our experiences so far, and to see just how different we all are in terms of age / music education / vocal quality / preferred repertoire etc. It was refreshing to hear that we were all nervous about singing to each other – as if it were still an audition, rather than Day 1.  With the worst over, I look forward to seeing where this Opera Works journey takes me.


The lovely ladies, and gentleman 🙂