Richard Burkhard as 'Sir Despard Murgatroyd' in Ruddigore. Photo credit - Robert Workman

Well, it’s the end of week 1 of rehearsals for Weinberg‘s ‘The Portrait’, and I am quite astounded by how much we’ve already achieved. After only 5 days, the production is already pretty much blocked, which is, in my experience anyway, unheard of at this stage. Alright, there’s still a lot of detailed work to do, but the basic shape is there. Now, I’ve not worked with the director David Pountney before, so I’m unsure as to whether this is how he normally works, (it occurs to me he is rather like a portrait painter himself, making rough sketches before filling in the detail), but the prospect of an extended break over Xmas and New Year could also be a contributing factor, anxious, as he must be, to get as much done as possible before we all go away for 2 weeks. Still, it’s been a demanding and rewarding week for all involved….the production’s going to be colourful and whacky that’s for certain!

For my colleague, tenor Nicholas Sharratt (also in The Portrait), and me, this week’s exertions have been with one eye on the other production we’re in at the moment, ’The Merry Widow’, which opens tonight for a mini revival of 4 shows over 5 days. I can’t think of a better show to see at this time of year, especially Giles Havergal’s production, which has received critical acclaim, as well as foot stomping approval from packed houses here in Leeds and on tour.

Performing/rehearsing 2 shows at the same time is something I’ve done quite a lot of at Opera North, and which I enjoy. As a performer I want to be performing as much as possible, and the challenge of switching between characters, and making them as individual as possible, is something I find very enriching. Especially when the characters, and sound worlds they exist within are so completely different. Kromov in ‘The Merry Widow’, for example, I portray as deadpan, sardonic and aloof, a sort of John Le Mesurier, whilst Nikita in ‘The Portrait’…well I’m not sure about him yet (too early to tell), but certainly he’s a much more physical and earthy character. What is vital with so many performances is to preserve energy and stay fit; in this job, if you don’t perform, you don’t get paid! I always find it amusing that if you tell a fellow singer that you’re suffering from a mild cold, you might aswell be telling them you’ve got the Bubonic Plague, such is the reaction.

Performing 2 different shows on consecutive nights can, and often does, prompt the question, do I ever walk out on stage and launch into the ’wrong’ opera? Well, the answer, perhaps boringly, is no. In this case, Lehar’s world of frills, champagne and Grisettes is as far removed emotionally, but also musically, from ‘The Portrait’ as is possible to go. However, you never know….. I suppose I could possibly burst out into a reflection on the demise of true artistic endeavour, I just hope it’s not whilst I’m doing the ‘Can Can’…….or the ’Can’t Can’t’ as those of us with tight hamstrings call it!

I should look at my dialogue scenes now. After all it’s been nearly a month since we last performed ‘Widow’ and it’s another full house tonight. In my experience these sorts of shows can throw up unexpected occurrences…watch this space. Have a Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Richard will be blogging once a fortnight in the build up to The Portrait and The Merry Widow which open in February 2011

The Portrait opens on Wednesday 2nd February 2011 – more info

The Merry Widow opens on Thursday 3rd February 2011 – more info