I have wandered the hallways of Opera North since the beginning of September 2010 and I have loved (and am still loving) every single minute of it. I came to Leeds from New Zealand as the first PDIPS (Pettman Dare International Performance Scholarship) scholar, without much knowledge of what this scholarship actually entailed and what I would be doing, but ready and eager to learn as much as possible about design and the often unseen production processes in opera. Before leaving, I never imagined that my time at Opera North would be so rewarding; I have been part of so many amazing experiences and have had the chance to meet countless fascinating people. Although at times I need to remind myself that it is actually all really happening, I never have to remind myself of how lucky and grateful I am to be here.
As part of my research, I attended classes at the University of Leeds and was heavily involved with their production of Taneyev’s opera Oresteia. At Opera North I spent time observing rehearsals, watching shows (I have seen The Merry Widow more times than I can remember), seeing the activities that happen backstage and interviewing creative teams and members of the Company. In December I assisted with A Ghost Story for Christmas, which was performed in the Howard Assembly Room. Rehearsal week went well, but the day before the show there was just one small problem, a statue – that came to life while the chorus sang Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius – hadn’t been cast yet. I did have my suspicions that I would be called in at the last minute and I was right. I ended up changing places quickly during a blackout with a mannequin draped in a white sheet, and then, after slowly removing the sheet I had to walk down the length of the hall in a very stately manner while the chorus sang.
A few days later I got the strangest phone call; Opera North’s Company Manager rang me to ask whether I would consider auditioning for a mute role in Opera North’s new production of Weinberg’s The Portrait. She had seen me in the Ghost Story and reckoned that I may have the look the director was after. I auditioned the next day and got the part. All of a sudden I was no longer an observer, but an active participant!
My character, Psyche – the protagonist’s muse – appeared on stage every now and then, dressed in a man’s shirt and red heels, in order to remind him of his shortcomings. The final scene, however, was quite intense because she filmed his death in extreme close up while the image is projected live on the back wall of the set.
It was so exciting! I loved being part of the incredible process that makes an opera a reality (this is after all what I am here for); witnessing all the different departments working together to create synthesis on stage. It was great seeing the fabulous costumes backstage and getting hair and make-up done before the show. Nevertheless, it is also an amazing feeling when the orchestra starts, the curtain goes up, and it becomes all about the performance. The set transforms into a piece of art; it responds to light in the most incredible ways, the cast display their amazing talents, and then there is Weinberg’s music. I would never have imagined that his tunes would ever be so firmly lodged in my head, but here I am, humming them constantly. And, I’ll have all this to come again in April when I perform the role with Opéra national de la Lorraine in France.
PDIPS scholar Hedda Oosterhoff