Matched donations

If we can - he will!

I bumped into Graeme Wood in the foyer of Angel Place last year, after a performance of Giasone. He had what I call a “Pinchgut glow” about him, common amongst our audience after a night of amazing music- and theatre-making. ‘How was it, Graeme?’ I asked. All he could reply was ‘It was great Gen. THAT’S what it’s all about!’ Enthusiastic words matched by a great big grin.

Pinchgut has much to be grateful to Graeme for. He’s a man who puts his money where his mouth is, supporting activities in which he truly believes. We have been incredibly fortunate to receive this support over the past three years. Graeme has again stepped up to the plate to help us launch our fundraising drive for 2014. And now we’re asking, will you join us on this adventure? – Genevieve, Pinchgut General Manager

We announced last year that Pinchgut would, for the first time, mount two productions this year. This step brings with it a mixture of excitement and not a little trepidation. As you know, Pinchgut has a very distinctive approach, which places music as the centrepiece, while also presenting performances in a spare but creative and engaging design on stage. We know from your enthusiastic feedback from Giasone that Pinchgut is living up to those aims.

Two productions will inevitably incur additional costs in this, our first year. We’re a small close-knit team, which avoids all unnecessary costs, and doesn’t depend upon government grants or subsidy. We rely almost entirely on the tickets we sell to our performances, and funds from our loyal group of donors. We honour these people – our Heroes of Pinchgut – as part of the Pinchgut family who have made our productions possible for the last 12 years.

In acknowledgement of the added challenges of staging two productions – The Chimney Sweep by Salieri, and Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride – we are delighted to share with you that in addition to his continuing contribution, Graeme has offered, through the Graeme Wood Foundation, to further match new donor gifts up to $40,000 for 2014 raised by 30 June.

We are appealing to you, our amazing supporters, to help us achieve new funds of $40,000 to fully realise this extraordinary offer. This is your opportunity to double your impact by either joining our group of Pinchgut Heroes, or increasing your existing support. We’re also calling on you to activate your networks and friends to help us achieve this goal of new (fully tax-deductible) donations.

Thank you in advance to everyone who responds by taking up the challenge. We hope you agree this is a terrific opportunity, which has been so generously presented to our company.

Genevieve is available to answer any further questions you have or supply information you may need to persuade others in your circle to join you. The simplest ways of making donations is via electronic transfers online (Pinchgut Opera Public Fund BSB 012003 Account No. 198883733), or cheques made payable to Pinchgut Opera Public Fund, PO Box 309, EDGECLIFF NSW 2027.

Thank you.

Restoring Salieri's good name

Pinchgut never shies away from a challenge. This year, we plan to dispel one of the most stubborn myths in classical music. Curious? Read on...

An Italian chimney sweep seduces the women of the household in which he works, in order to bargain for his future. Composed by Antonio Salieri, The Chimney Sweep is a sexy, fun comedy filled with characters all shamelessly indulging their appetites.

Bribery and blackmail, anarchic domestic affairs, and venality reigns. But most of all, more wonderful music from the 18th century that you’ve probably never heard before.

The Chimney Sweep (Der Rauchfangkehrer) gives Pinchgut audiences another opportunity to hear a rarely performed opera. And for those whose knowledge of Salieri comes from the excellent film Amadeus, Pinchgut is compelled to report that much of the story in the film is nonsense. Mozart’s murderer? Pah! Pinchgut’s production of The Chimney Sweep will restore Salieri’s good name, and his music!

Tickets now on sale.

Harpsichording on...

Carey Beebe runs a harpsichord building and restoration workshop in Sydney and is an important part of the Pinchgut family. We caught up with Carey to talk all things harpsichord…

Carey Beebe

What drew you originally to harpsichords?

I found something instantly captivating about the harpsichord sound. Like many, my first experience of the instrument was probably that played by Lurch in The Addams Family. I’d already been learning piano from the time I was five, but it wasn’t until my teens that I played a single note on a harpsichord! When I started my BMus degree as a piano major at the Sydney Con in the late 1970s, I discovered that 13 of the 32 students in first year were piano majors. I particularly loved baroque music, so it was a relatively simple step to change to harpsichord. The only way I could get an instrument to practice on was to build one, which I did with the help of my father. I had no idea at that time that it would become my life’s work.

How many instruments do you build per year? Is there a variety of types?

While I’m a harpsichord maker, only part of my work is physically making. Much of my time is spent in maintenance of all early keyboards instruments—either in my own workshop or out in the field—and tuning or hire of my instruments for concerts and performances, so I’m lucky to complete one new instrument a year. My latest delivery was a Ruckers (Flemish) Double harpsichord commissioned by Pymble Ladies’ College, and opened by Paul Dyer in June. That style is my most popular model, but I also build spinets, virginals and clavichords in various traditions.

You were just in Shanghai. Do you often travel for work?

Yes, I seem to enjoy spending at least four months overseas each year. I have my business card printed in ten languages, and harpsichords took me to 15 countries in 2013. This most recent short trip was at the invitation of the Middle School affiliated with Shanghai Conservatory, to bring their near-new harpsichord of European make up to standard in time for an early music week they are having later in the month: Four specialists from Oberlin including the harpsichordist Webb Wiggins are making their second trip there to work with the young students.

Harpsichords seem to travel with an entourage, needing careful maintenance, tuning, and time to rest after travel. Why is that?

Any stringed instrument player will have noticed how sensitive their instrument is, particularly when conditions change dramatically as they can during and after travel. The harpsichord has the added complication of being a machine, so it’s not only the wood and wire being affected by change in temperature and/or humidity, but there are moving parts to consider as well: its mechanism must work faultlessly. Harpsichordists obviously learn how to tune their own instrument, but for critical applications it’s essential for a specialist like myself to be around to help prepare the instrument and make sure it is functioning and sounding as best it can – a great stress reduction for the conductor and other keyboardists because such work is, by its nature, rather time-consuming, and disruptive to their normal pre-concert focus.

Which harpsichords will be featured in Cavalli’s Giasone? Can you tell us a bit about them and what kind of instrument would have been used in Cavalli’s time?

Well, it’s not just a simple case of plunking any harpsichord in the middle of an orchestra and hoping for the best. The harpsichord was the central instrument for more than three centuries of Western music, but each era and region had their own requirements. To Pinchgut’s credit, substantial care is taken in the selection of appropriate keyboards for each production. The Italian harpsichords have a very distinctive sound because of their all-brass stringing and rapid “crunch” of attack. The differences are very obvious when compared side-to-side with the voluptuous sounding late French Double we used last year for the Rameau. Most early Italian operas are continuo-intensive, so we will using two Italian harpsichords, a wooden-pipe organ and a regal – the latter being a snarly reed organ whose sound was particularly associated with the Underworld. 

You're pretty involved with pre-production and performances during Pinchgut seasons. Why is that?

To mount an opera in a month is no easy task as you know, and the keyboard instrument preparations certainly ramp up when we proceed into the orchestral calls with the extra instruments and players coming into the picture. Part of the problem is that as the temperature rises as it always does during performances, the stringed instruments go flat whereas the wind instruments (including the organ) go sharp. The audience will certainly see me making my regular cameo appearance in the City Recital Hall pit during every interval!

Are there many historical harpsichords in Australia? Have they arrived recently in our history?

Australia is a relatively young country, established at the time when the popularity of the harpsichord was being eclipsed by that upstart, the piano. It is believed that the first harpsichord which reached our shores was brought by the gentleman convict John Grant in 1804, and probably returned to England with him when he was pardoned seven years later. The exact details of his instrument are unknown: It was almost certainly of English make, but could have been a spinet rather than a full-sized harpsichord. The few historic plucked keyboard instruments that are here now, have arrived more recently. There are a few English harpsichords (Sydney, Melbourne and Perth), one or two English spinets (Sydney), and a particularly rare small Ruckers virginal (country NSW) that I know of.

What would be some highlights for you in your career as a restorer/builder?

Ooh, it’s been a buzz. There’s been so many highlights, and I’m only halfway through! But if I think of just this past year, I’d have to name the opening of my 2011 Ruckers Double in March for the Royal Opera House in Muscat, Oman by Ton Koopman and his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra; the inaugural Hobart Baroque Festival; my fifteenth year as tuner/technician at the Carmel Bach Festival in California; and my being humbled at witnessing the amazing eighteenth century workmanship of my original 1773 Jacobus et Abraham Kirckman harpsichord during its restoration.

It's all in the design

Another Pinchgut first ;)

We had our design presentation on Thursday. Wonderful young designer Katren Wood talked us through all the elements - set, costumes, props - that will go towards supporting the amazing music of Cavalli's Giasone. We don't want to give too much away, but words like 'sumptuous', 'luxuriant' and 'beautiful' were getting a real work out. Naturally the navy is going to play a part in all the adventuring, what with so many Argonauts on stage. And our Isifile and Medea will be resplendent in their costumes, as be-fits our two queens.

Behind the scenes we also have a team of researchers currently working out the surface tension of bubbles. Why? Well, you'll just have to come along to find out!

Hearing double

We're excited to announce that in 2014, for the first time, we will present two operas in a single year. Alongside our now well-established December season, Pinchgut will bring another neglected operatic gem to life, this time in the middle of the year in July.

We’ve been thinking about this for a few years. Lots of our audience members have asked when we are we going to add another show. And Antony Walker and Erin Helyard, our artistic directors, are always reminding us that there are many unfairly neglected works from the 18th century that we could do. The time is right.

On Saturday 5 July 2014, we will open with Antonio Salieri's Der Rauchfangkehrer (‘The Chimney Sweep’). First performed in 1781, it doesn’t seem to have been presented professionally anywhere in the last 200 years. Also, it’s never been recorded. Erin has championed this work for a while now, and he will conduct it from the keyboard.

Then from 3 – 8 December, we’ll present Iphigénie en Tauride by Christoph Gluck. Antony Walker, who is widely considered an expert in French baroque music, will conduct this opera.

After 12 years of presenting a single opera per year, Pinchgut has proven that an audience exists for these rare gems. We think one of the reasons Pinchgut has been successful is that Erin and Antony choose works that they really care about. You, our audiences, can tell that from the performances.

We think it's an honour to have your trust in bringing to life works that have fallen unjustly into neglect and haven’t been heard in Australia for a long time, if ever. With this next step, we’re on our way to establishing a full calendar of Pinchgut performances, and really looking forward to taking our audience with us.

Details of principals for both operas and box office open date will be announced in November. In the meantime, tell EVERYONE!

Chatting with Chas

Chas Rader-Shieber_sml
We welcome back Chas Rader-Shieber to direct this year’s Giasone. Here’s your chance to read his thoughts about all things Pinchgut, Cavalli and opera... naturally!

When the invitation to direct Cavalli's Giasone came, it was an easy decision to want to take on the project. First, it tells a terrific story with some familiar elements, as well as some new thoughts about our intrepid hero. Second, regardless of the many locations and fantastical events – ranging from a battle to grab the Golden Fleece from a fortress guarded by monsters, to a woman being thrown from a cliff into the sea – it is essentially a story about fidelity, and the resilience of the human spirit. That said, I think it's always better to err on the side of making theatre about people and their emotions, rather than about places and events. Audiences really want to know more about themselves, not watch a travelogue.

One of the hallmarks of this opera is the way that Cavalli and his librettist have managed to mix the dramatic elements of Isifile's story (an abandoned woman, on the verge of madness over her lost husband) and the more comic side of the adventure (with a conniving Medea and an oversexed Giasone). It's really a wonderful romantic drama, held in the arms of a charming and slightly risque comedy; and it's a very loving embrace! I just love the proximity of the drama and its associated element of danger, to the lightest, sweetest comedy. There's a kind of electricity and theatricality to that juxtaposition.

Right now, we’re in the midst of the design process, where one can’t avoid the really delicious possibilities for creating a physical production that will allow the emotional story to be told. The big job at hand is finding the right look and feel for the production to allow both sides of the storytelling to work well. How do we show all the locations for the story, from sunny shoreline, to terrifying shipwreck, to the crowded streets of the big city? How do we make sure the audience knows the remarkable people who inhabit this world; who they are, and “how” they are? Finding the answers involves lots of research, discovering inspirational images to work with and, more than anything, taking our cue from the music itself.

Erin Helyard has created an edition of the score that hones the plot down to its most essential and beguiling moments. It gives us a great starting place for defining these characters clearly and efficiently.

At last, come November, it will be a matter of joining my ideas with those of the cast members playing the roles. I love the collaborative element of working on a piece like this one, leading the cast, but responding to their ideas and motives. And then there’s the simple unadulterated glee of knowing that I’ll get to return to Sydney, and more important to Pinchgut, which represents for me, the very best kind of opera-making; collaboration, community, and a spirit of joyousness.

Working with Pinchgut in 2008 for Charpentier’s David & Jonathan was a really, really amazing experience for me. The opera itself was like a beautiful puzzle to work through. The whole company/family of Pinchgut was on board in such a profound way, and although it wasn’t the most cheery of operas, the process of making the show was so lovely and happy.

When I first approach an opera, it usually starts the same way each time – listening to the music. That’s where the first inspirations come from. Then it’s about studying the story itself, and determining a point of view. Without a strong point of view, one isn’t giving the composer and librettist the attention they deserve. Operas are alive today for the audience sitting in the seats today, and it needs to be made for them.

As for the rest of the process, it’s ever changing. That’s the fun part! Certainly, it involves study, research, and preparation. Then in rehearsals it’s about responding to the cast and conductor, who have a whole set of intriguing ideas of their own that they bring to this crazy final part of the process. It’s always re-exhilarating to start rehearsals, as it really shakes up the thoughts you’ve had swimming around in your head for so many months of preparation!

And on opening night? …it’s mostly about excitement and fear. One hopes that all the work pays off in an immediate way for the audience, but of course, there’s no way of really knowing (hence the fear part!).

I fell in love with opera as a kid, and like most good romances, I couldn’t really tell you why or how. It just happened! I went on to study scenic and costume design in college, as well as directing in graduate school. By then, I knew I had to be a part of the art form.

I think that being introduced to opera in a chamber setting at Opera Theatre of St. Louis back in my hometown was very important for me. It has always informed the way I make opera even in a large venue. I love the intimacy of how opera can work. The big spectacle is fantastic, but it’s the sweet, small emotional spectacle that really intrigues me.

I try never to create an opera alone; it doesn’t produce such good results! Most often I think of having to find a common goal with a lot of other people, and try to guide the “ship” that direction. But I do believe that the ultimate goal of the theatre is to make the audience feel more human on their way out of the theatre, than they felt on the way in.

I approach singers and audiences with respect. Singers aren’t puppets to do one’s bidding. They inspire me every day with the ideas that they bring to the process, so I’m very dependent on smart, savvy singers. They deserve attention!

And the audience is the reason any of us do what we do. Opera without an audience is just a very expensive rehearsal. Not every opera will speak to every audience, but the goal is a noble one. Just to trying to “humanize” is a good thing. It’s a little bit like Giasone himself; he can’t be all things to all women, but he certainly gives it a good try!

A fundraiser for fundraising

Do you believe in Pinchgut and what we do? Do our productions give you great joy, stimulate your senses, and continue to delight with their freshness, originality and excellence? 

Most importantly, do you realise how important you are to all of this? We hope so.

This year’s fundraiser on Monday 2 September promises to be a whole lotta fun. You’d expect nothing less from Pinchgut, right? When the first fundraising committee was formed, chaired by the ever-wonderful John Pitman (a familiar Cantillation face and much-valued Pinchgut board member), it had three main aims:

1. To raise awareness of Pinchgut and build our relationships with the Pinchgut family (that’s you);

2. To fundraise to support each year’s production;

3. And to have a fun doing 1. and 2.

We think we’ve done a pretty good job on all three fronts, and we’re grateful to you for your part in all of these. As one of our supporters wrote in to tell us last year: ‘Pinchgut, you do make fundraising so much fun!’

Joy is our currency. We trade in your delight at hearing unheard opera gems for the first time. And share in the rewards of supporting young Australian talent so that our singers and players can reach appreciative audiences around the world. If only the world could turn on joy alone!

We need your support, and there’s a myriad of ways you can lend a hand. Here’s just five:

  • Buy a ticket to our fundraiser on Monday 2 September
  • Make a tax-deductible donation to Pinchgut
  • Buy a ticket to come and hear Giasone in December (call the box office 02 8256 2222)
  • Purchase a book of raffle tickets ($160). Visit for prize details
  • Donate to Pinchgut LIVE and help us capture this extraordinary opera for future audiences here and around the world

Please contact Genevieve if you would like to make a donation and lend your support. 02 8007 7153

Pyramus & Thisbe - another Pinchgut first

When you think about it, opera can be really quite silly, can’t it? Sopranos trilling out the same word over and over again in overblown costumes; tenors belting out “I die, I die” for a full ten minutes; ridiculous disguises that wouldn’t fool a three-year old; and impossible tales of long-lost sons and daughters being magically reunited in a single line of recitative. 

For all their magic and splendour, opera plots and opera singers are also delicious sources of satire and parody. Following a rich tradition of small comic operas that flourished in England beginning with The Beggar’s Opera, John Lampe’s Pyramus and Thisbe was a bit hit in 1741. To the delight of packed houses, it mocked the excesses and ludicrousness of Italian opera and opera singers. Using as a basis the play-within-a-play of “Pyramus and Thisbe” from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the opera itself follows Shakespeare’s story pretty well, and Lampe’s music lampoons all the silly conventions of opera seria, with its over-the-top ornamentation and dramatically inert repetitions in da capo arias.

You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! Come and be an exclusive guest at Pinchgut’s next fundraiser where we send up, in classic British fashion, the very stuff that we do best!

This will be another Australian premiere (how many’s that now for Pinchgut? Seven? Eight? I think we’ve lost count! – Ed.) to be performed for you by some familiar faces, and others not so familiar. May we introduce you to…

Tenor Christopher Saunders will be flexing his comic muscles (in anticipation of his role of Demo in Giasone later this year) when he performs as Pyramus at our fundraiser. Chris will be familiar to many from Griselda in 2011, when he played the not-altogether-likeable character of King Gualtiero, responsible for casting out poor Griselda from the castle. In real life, Chris is one of the nicest people you could meet and we’re glad that as the heroic, love-struck Pyramus, he’ll have a chance to restore his good name!

We’re delighted to introduce to you soprano Alexandra Oomens who will be taking the role of Thisbe. Alex is also making her debut with Pinchgut later in the year as Alinda in Giasone. Alex is also studying at the Sydney Conservatorium and has been singing for year, and years, and years. Much of her training was done with the wonderful children’s choir organisation, Gondwana Choirs. We are 100% sure you’re going to love her.

No doubt you’ll remember tenor Pascal Herington from his athletic vocal feats as a soloist in last year’s Castor & Pollux, bringing the house down just before interval with high ‘c’ upon high ‘c’! Pascal has been busy with studies at the Sydney Conservatorium, and also a season of performances in Benjamin Britten’s Owen Wingrave. We’re very happy that he’s agreed to join the fun as Wall and Moon, and also offer his astounding vocal services as a prize for our silent auction. More on that below.

We needed to find a shy-and-retiring type to play the lion. When you work in the theatre, it’s a lot easier said than done, as you might imagine. Lovely, lovely Corin Bone, whom many of you will recognise from his regular appearances as baritone with Cantillation, has promised us he’ll work on his social anxieties and anthrophobia to truly get into character as the Lion. You’re in for a treat!

Announcing Cavalli's Giasone

David Hansen is GiasoneThose of a certain age will remember the ABC radio program The Argonauts' Club. It was loosely based on the mythical story of Jason's search for the Golden Fleece. As his parents told it, a young Ken Nielsen wore a hole in the cloth covering the radio loudspeaker, so closely did he listen each afternoon. Little did any of them know that some years down the track, the opera company Ken helped found would be tackling a baroque opera on the same subject…

Francesco Cavalli composed Giasone (‘Jason’ in Italian) a few years after L'Ormindo (which we presented in 2009). First performed in Venice in 1649, Giasone became the most frequently performed opera in the entire 17th century.

These days it is rarely performed. Our production will be the Australian premiere. While we’re confident that it’s not going to spark a revolution and upset the Big Opera applecart by knocking Bohème out of the No.1 spot on the Most-Often- Performed-Opera-in-the-21st-Century charts, we happen to think it’s rather good. And entertaining. And full of the most glorious arias for ‘our’ Jason – David Hansen. Oh, and it’s a little bit naughty…

In our coming newsletters you’ll find out all you could ever want to know about this unfairly neglected opera, as well as Pinchgut's plans for its performance. We’ll also be introducing all our wonderful cast, and give you a chance to meet some of our players as well.

Our dates will conflict with the last cycle of Opera Australia’s production of Wagner's Ring in Melbourne, so if you want to see both Giasone and the Ring, we hope you heeded our advice last year and booked for one of the other two cycles. (So far as we can tell, there are 24 productions of the Ring around the world next year, but only one Giasone).

Pinchgut welcome

It’s a new year – where has the time gone? – and we’re so looking forward to bringing you a new (old) opera. Cavalli's Giasone will be our twelfth production. Over the course of this year, we’ll be sharing lots of information via these newsletters about the opera, our cast, and the music. We love to hear from you, so if you ever have any questions or comments, please do contact Genevieve on 0412 559 320, or email

Pinchgut Unplugged


You might have noticed in our production of Rameau’s Castor & Pollux that the soloists wore small microphones taped to their cheeks. Some people have asked us whether their voices were amplified. 

Certainly not! 

The mikes were to capture the voices for the ABC Classic FM broadcast as well as our Pinchgut LIVE recording. What you heard in City Recital Hall was the music in the natural acoustic of the hall – unvarnished and unamplified. 

We asked our recording producer and resident sound whizz, Tom Grubb, to give us a better understanding of the necessity for these microphones. 

Tom: Every new Pinchgut production presents us with new recording challenges. The placement of microphones is a compromise between achieving the optimal sounds for an exciting and engaging live CD recording, and interfering as little as possible with the set design and lighting. At City Recital Hall we are only able to hang eight microphones from the ceiling to cover the orchestra and the performers on stage. And those microphones cannot hang too low or they will be too obvious to the audience. A number of floor-standing microphones along the front of the stage also cover the performers when they are singing in the front half of the stage, but unfortunately these also tend to pick up a lot of extraneous foot noise and movement. 

It is for these reasons that we also use radio, or ‘lavalier’, microphones to record the principal singers. These help with the balance in the final recording where, for instance, someone may be singing at the back of the stage, or in an area not covered by the main microphones. It also allows us to reduce stage-noise by reducing the level of the front-of-stage microphones in passages with a lot of movement. 

A good live recording has to convey to the listener what is going on onstage, but naturally lacks the visual element that helps identify sound sources. Radio microphones are helpful in defining where a singer is on stage or how quickly they move across the stage. In mixing the sound for the CD, we will ‘pan’ the radio microphones to follow the performers, thus creating a more solid stereo image. 

In an ideal studio environment, where microphones and the cast can be placed anywhere, radio microphones would not be needed. In a live performance however, they are essential in creating a recording that is both listenable and enjoyable. 

Pinchgut: Tom is, by the way, an accomplished musician (organ and harpsichord) and is one of Australia’s most experienced recording engineers. See for yourself at We are proud to work with him. This year we will try to disguise the mikes a bit more so they don’t bother people. And, by the way, the Pinchgut LIVE recording of Castor & Pollux will be available mid-year. Stay tuned (pardon the pun) for more information.  

Castor & Pollux Day 22

The first day with the orchestra! And what a day it was. A sweltering Sydney summer day (around 36 degrees in the middle of the day) – various players who have arrived from overseas or interstate looked quite shell-shocked by the heat and humidity, but fortunately the beautifully air-conditioned studio (thanks Opera Australia) was at times even a little chilly for some.

As well as the lovely people of the orchestra it was the first day with several new instruments. Firstly - Carey Beebe’s beautiful French double harpsichord which Erin will be playing for the shows. This is a gorgeous combo of dark green and vibrant gold, so much so that you almost need sunglasses on to look at it. Come and have a peek at the performances.

Secondly our two newly minted bassoons are being given their first workout – and very fine they sound too. More on these tomorrow.

And lastly the pair of tenor violas made by Simon Brown that we are using for the taille part, being played by Nicole Forsyth and Charlotte Burbrook de Vere. These are amazing – significantly bigger than the regular violas being played by John Ma and Valmai Coggins, and sounding excellent. You can see on our facebook page a pic of one of each viola side by side. No forced perspective there – this is genuinely how much bigger the tenor viola is. Very impressive. We had two very productive calls with the orchestra today (the music is so beautiful) and looking forward to seeing them again tomorrow.

Elsewhere the bump in is happening at Angel Place (!!!), and Jeffrey and Hadleigh moved to our sponsor hotel Radisson Blu. So another big day, and hoping it will be cooler tomorrow!

Castor & Pollux Day 21

It’s been a very busy and very productive day; to be followed by another huge one tomorrow. And so hot too! We did the studio run today – that’s a run through of everything go to whoa – and I’m very pleased to report that we made it! We got through everything in pretty fine condition; we did have to stop occasionally, but all things considered very little. And the rehearsal was made more terrific by the presence of Danny Yeadon again, and also Alice Evans who is leading the orchestra. It was excellent to have them there – it gave a real sense of what is to come. The pic is of Erin, Danny and Alice in the rehearsal studio.

Elsewhere the triangle party was happening – very successfully, another great story came out in Sounds like Sydney, the overseas/interstate orchestra members have started arriving, more costume fittings were done, and the production team is readying for bump in tomorrow! Can’t wait for the orchestra to start to begin in the morning, and for bump in to happen.

Castor & Pollux Day 20

A quick one tonight – we’ve had a very big day, as well as a very hot one. And even hotter for the next two days apparently.

This afternoon we went right through the whole opera with the eight principal singers, and tonight we went through the whole opera – skipping some of the arias – with everyone! Principals, chorus and dancers! Of course there were lots of corners to negotiate but we made it through to the end. A big congrats to everyone, and terrific to have the dancers there too – their work is lovely. Here are their headshots – Sean and Adam.

Castor & Pollux Day 19

It is very strange being in the rehearsal room (or in the immediate surrounds) constantly. Even though we have a great view over Surry Hills via many windows (courtesy of Opera Australia), the weather, time and the day passes one by. It’s very disorienting; I’ve been convinced all day that it is Friday – which I’m very glad it is not, as we still have lots to do.

Today was another busy day – the morning was with four of the chorus men working on a particular set element which you will see; very beautiful and calming, and probably one of the reasons why today was so confused for me! In the afternoon we had the gorgeous and talented continuo cellist Danny Yeadon come in to play; and he, Antony, Erin, Jeffrey, Hadleigh, Celeste, Margaret and Anna worked on recitative (the sections of sung dialogue that link arias or choruses). Being sung dialogue these sections move along very freely, and both the cello and harpsichord (Danny and Erin) need to be able to follow the singers perfectly. It was terrific to introduce the cello into the music; this gave it quite a different dimension, and is a great foretaste of the orchestra starting on Saturday.

Castor & Pollux Day 18

Another big day – though not as frenetic as yesterday thank goodness!

The morning was spent first with Anna Fraser, who is singing a number of small roles – Cléone, a Follower of Hébé, and the entertainingly named ‘The Other’; and then with Jeffrey and Celeste working on their scene in Act 5 – very moving.

Then this afternoon we spent some music time with the covers (or understudies) for the principal roles. As we have so many very talented people singing with us we have mostly cast these from the chorus. Télaïre is being covered by Anna Sandstrom, who is newly returned from the UK; Phébé by the multi-talented Anna Fraser; Castor by the lovely Pascal Herington; and Pollux by the also newly-returned-to-Australia Simon Lobelson (who is not singing in the show). Simon sang the Drunken Poet for us in Fairy Queen, and Joabel in David & Jonathan, and it’s lovely to have him back in the family.

There were also costume fittings for Cléone, Mercury and The Athlete, The High Priest and Jupiter. I – sadly – didn’t get to see any of these so can’t comment!

Castor & Pollux Day 17

And we’re back from the weekend, refreshed and ready to go.

Today was a super busy day – as well as two very full rehearsals, we had the lovely Bridget Elliot visit us to take some more rehearsal shots, video interviews for the website taking place all day, costume fittings for the chorus, the chorus call split into men and women with dancing, a media interview, and a visit from a very dear long time friend during the lunch break. Much was achieved and everyone had a good day.

Castor & Pollux Days 13 & 14

We’ve almost made it through to the end of the blocking now; most of Act 5 is done. There’s a bit of Act 3 and 4 still to do, and that mostly involves the chorus. The chorus was in on Thursday evening, and there was much positioning of themselves and various bits of stage furniture on the floor. As is usually the case the chorus do most of heavy lifting in terms of the scene changes(and in this case we literally mean heavy lifting). They have many, many things to think about –what they are singing, French, ornaments, where they are on stage, what they are doing, what large prop has to go where etc. I don’t know how they process all of this info, but process it they do!

On Friday we began a work through of the whole piece with the principals. This was slow and sometimes painstaking, but it’s great to be able to start stringing things together, and for everyone to realise how all the scenes sit side by side both dramatically and in terms of stamina. We can start to see the overall shape, and it’s looking terrific. Anna Fraser and Pascal Herington worked particularly hard singing their own parts, and also the choruses throughout the day.

We now have the weekend off – a chance for everyone to internalise what has been done over the past two weeks, and to further commit everything to memory. And to rest and recharge. We’re at the half way point now in our rehearsal period – which is both scary and exhilarating.

Castor & Pollux Days 11 & 12

Happy St Cecilia’s day – the patron saint of music. Also the day on which Benjamin Britten was born 99 years ago. And happy Thanksgiving too! We have two Americans in our cast, and one who now counts the US of A as also his home.

Apologies for the silence – we’ve had a couple of very busy days.

We’re on to Act 5 now and Act 5 is possibly my favourite act. Kate has blocked through to Jupiter’s re-entry, and it’s very moving. The arc of the story is coming along beautifully.

Meantime lots is happening in every aspect of the show now; Anna and Gen are doing lots of media work; Neil, Andy, Jasmine and Luiz are all working very hard on their various parts of the design and production; the program is being put together, surtitles being worked on, costumes being dyed, structures being made, dances being learnt, instruments being re-strung for the lower pitch, seats being sold, study groups being taken, talks given in schools etc etc. All is happening. We are a little over a week away from the orchestra starting which is very exciting. Erin has met with Alice (Evans – the leader of our orchestra this year) to talk about bowings, and he and Antony are planning on spending the weekend marking up the orchestral parts. So we are in full-on mode, and looking forward to seeing everyone soon!

Here are some lines from my favourite poem from W. H. Auden, set gorgeously by Britten in his Hymn to St Cecilia.

Blessed Cecilia
Appear in visions
To all musicians
Appear and inspire.


-- Alison

Castor & Pollux Day 10

Today it's Jeffrey's turn to share some of his thoughts about rehearsals so far. One thing you need to know about this guy is that despite his protestations, he's an absolute pro. And also modest and honest to a fault. And absolutely delightful.

"Today I sang the whole opera right through, on my own, with all the pauses in the right place. Often the first time a singer actually sings through the whole thing is only at the first dress rehearsal and that’s when they discover that they don’t have the stamina for it! So now I know that if I give all my balls out at the beginning, there will be nothing left by the end. Like ‘oh oh, I can’t sing this last mad scene…’ [Lucia] You know?"

"I’m kind of incredibly terrified of my big Act IV aria ‘Sejour de l’eternelle paix’. Why? Because we’re doing it *incredibly* differently, unlike any way it’s been recorded before. Let’s just say I might need an oxygen tank. The phrases are so loooong…"

"Earlier today I was also experimenting with my physical position for some of my trickier lines. Here’s an insider’s tip: when you see me leaning backwards, that’s a hard phrase. But as soon as it gets easier again, you’ll see me moving around a whole lot more."