Castor & Pollux

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 Day 9

Our first day off!... (Kind of...)

After a wonderfully productive first week of rehearsals, our performers have enjoyed some time out today. No doubt we'll hear tomorrow what everyone's been up to!

But three of our performers - Erin, Hadleigh & Celeste - very kindly gave their time to an afternoon soiree for the Opera & Arts Support Group. The OASG have supported many current and previous Pinchgut performers in following their dreams. Guests from the OASG were treated to arias and songs by Weber, Bizet, Strauss, Puccini, Lilburn and Rameau (naturellement!).

Castor & Pollux Day 8

It’s Saturday and we’re coming to the end of our first week of production. We’ve made great progress getting into Act 4 (though not everything has been done up to this point). Today begins with an incredible scene between Castor and Pollux – where Pollux comes to take Castor’s place in the underworld, and to send Castor back to life with Telaïre. Even first thing in the morning, and just standing and singing this through, Jeffrey and Hadleigh are amazing. Very powerful and moving. Jeffrey says perhaps his favourite scene in the opera.

Later in this call the Act 4 Trio is worked on – Pascal (Mercury), Phébé (Margaret) and Pollux (Hadleigh) work together beautifully to bring this difficult piece off. Then in the afternoon the chorus is back in; this time working with the principals on Acts 1 and 2. Good progress is made musically and production-wise, and everyone leaves tired and happy. We have a very well deserved day off tomorrow, where some of us get to celebrate a very special birthday.

Castor & Pollux Day 7

What are other members of the Castor & Pollux team outside of the rehearsal room up to? Simon Rickard (bassoonist extraordinaire) gives a little insight into his preparations...

As a double reed player, you know it’s Pinchgut time again when you find yourself in a frenzy of reed making. Reeds are the life and soul of o

boes and bassoons. Not only do they generate the buzzing sound that drives our instruments, they act as the interface between us and our instruments. When we have a good reed it feels like we can walk on air. Every note is a joy to play. When we have a bad reed, our instruments won’t do anything we want them to. And, I’m reliably informed, we can be a bit difficult to live with. So it pays to have plenty of reeds on hand with an opera season looming.

Using all manner of chisels, knives and sharp objects we transform lengths of Arundo donax cane into highly specialised mouthpieces. This job is both excruciatingly boring and totally obsessive at the same time. At least there is a sense of camaraderie in it. Even without talking to them, I know that my double reed colleagues - oboists Kirsten and Owen and my bassoonist pal Lisa - are also spending hours hunched over a table hacking away at pieces of cane, just like I am. When we finally get together to play Castor & Pollux in the orchestra pit, all this irritation will be forgotten and we can simply enjoy each other’s playing.

Castor & Pollux Day 6

It’s quite a thing to sit and observe rehearsals. Moments of intense single-focus are interspersed with periods of hubbub and divertissements (in the true sense!). But at all times, there’s a strong spirit of creative process, explorations, experimentations and refinements.

Today’s rehearsals were focused again on Act I, with Antony hearing for the first time all the hard work our cast and Erin have done thus far on this crucial, drama-filled act. Antony, conducting all the while, also sings along, voicing the missing chorus parts, trumpets, even drums – whatever’s missing! A real Renaissance man… or should that be Baroque?

The evening’s activities offered the performers a chance to let their hair down. We were invited to what’s becoming our annual Welcome Party, hosted by the ever-gracious Annie & Anthony Whealy. The harbour side setting was superb, as guests enjoyed performances by Celeste, Hadleigh and Jeffrey (thanks guys!). Special mention to Annie’s passion fruit tarts and Florentines. The perfect end to a perfect evening.

Castor & Pollux Day 5

Antony arrived today, and true to form hopped off the plane, dropped his luggage off, had a quick shower and then came straight to the rehearsal room. It was wonderful to see him, and now the whole team is here. We thank Erin so very much for getting everyone thus far, and know that he will be a bit relieved to now be able to concentrate on his other role as keyboard continuo player extraordinaire.

Today was devoted to Act 2 – beginning with Phoebe and Télaïre, and then adding Pollux. A number of other things (as ever) happened around this – the gorgeous Bridget Elliot came in to take some rehearsal shots, Antony had a chance to work on music with the singers including Jeffrey, and the whole production team went to Angel Place to show the Angel Place staff what is in store for the theatre. So another very full day at the end of which Antony wasn’t even looking tired.

Castor & Pollux Day 4

The morning feels like we are starting to settle down into a pattern; even though various people had strange things happening to them all day – perhaps the solar eclipse getting in early?
The morning call saw the principals block all the way through to the end of Act 1; a great achievement and gives everyone a sense of what the piece is going to be. The afternoon was the first chorus staging call. It began with a presentation from Kate, then some physical warm-ups, then some singing. Then off into Act 1. Kate sees their role as something of a Greek chorus; and their general aspect and behaviour are different in each act.
These calls are extremely demanding on everyone. Especially the singers who are having to deal with musical and physical instruction, remembering placements and the score, and coping with the French as well. The chorus have less time than the principals on the floor, so have to use the time they are given as efficiently as possible. We finished yesterday at the point where the battle has broken out.

Castor & Pollux Day 3

The first day of staging rehearsals today. First up Kate, our director, and Andy, Jasmine and Luiz (the design team) explained their concept of the work and how it will be set. It’s very exciting, and quite different to anything we’ve done before.
Then some house-keeping things – head shots for the program, a bit more costume measuring, some music rehearsal and then blocking began with a discussion on the characters and how/why they exist in this world. Kate likes to begin at the beginning and so today was about Act 1. Act 1 sets up the basic dilemmas of the plot, which will be played out through the rest of the opera.
Everyone is in great voice and working beautifully together. It is truly amazing to see an idea that we first had not so long ago realised in the rehearsal room. The many decisions that are involved, and the work of many wonderful people being harnessed to pull in the one direction is humbling.
The first days of rehearsal often inspire such thoughts in me; pretty soon though we will settle into the charmed circle and separate life that are rehearsals. Tomorrow the chorus begins staging. Here’s a pic from the blocking today – with everyone in black because of the photos. We’re not normally so sober. - Alison

Castor & Pollux - Day 2, 11 November 2012

Today the chorus came in for two music calls; and it was terrific to see their eighteen gorgeous faces.
We have a number of new people with us this year, and a couple of people that we have waited a long time to find the right combination of schedules to entice them in. We say a big thank you to Roland Peelman for this. Nicole Dorigo was of course back with us, and much of the day concerned language and ornaments, as well as blend, notes and temperament (of the scale sort, rather than the diva sort!). Plus again some measuring for costumes.
Erin refers to voice parts by their proper French names of Dessus, Haute-contre, Taille and Basse, rather than soprano, alto, tenor and bass. The discussion of ornamentation is fascinating with each ornament having a different meaning, colour, position in the music and method of execution. A couple of these are the port de voir (a sort of sliding between two notes) and a tremblement (a short trill). Hadleigh said yesterday that a tremblement was described to him as putting aftershave on a cut – a quick indrawn breath and a head shake! Today’s calls give us an excellent basis for starting staging, and there is much to work on in terms of finesse and memorisation; but a great start and beautiful singing. The day finished with a few people going to Brett Weymark’s wedding. Brett has sung five productions with us, and we say many congrats and much happiness.

Castor & Pollux - Day 1, 10 November 2012


Today marked the start of Castor & Pollux rehearsals!
Very exciting. The harpsichord is in and tuned, the rehearsal room is marked up and we’re ready to roll. We start with a couple of days of music calls, which are wonderful. A chance for the singers to explore ideas with Erin Helyard, get language tips from Nicole Dorigo (our amazing language coach), and for us to hear where everyone is at. Plus a little bit of measuring for costumes. Erin has been here a number of times throughout the year, being so much closer in New Zealand, and has worked extensively with Celeste, Margaret, Anna and Paul. So today we were agog to hear Jeffrey and Hadleigh, and to hear Pascal Herington go through his newly acquired arias.
The sound world is extraordinary, and so immediately French. We are delighted to report that the cast is excellent, and it’s a joy to hear what they’ve been working on. As well as many wonderful sounds it was also a day of a lot of laughter; my favourite moment being Erin singing Happy Birthday in true French baroque style with wonderful ornamentation!
Tomorrow the chorus is in for music rehearsals, and on Monday we start production calls with Kate. And we’re all very much looking forward to Antony’s arrival on Wednesday. Here’s a pic of Jeffrey and Hadleigh, together as twins at last.