I wrote this for The Wordsworth Trust website, all about the why and how of making The Rime of the Ancient Mariner into an opera:
Tidy desk, tidy mind...?
I'm experimenting with paper birds. It's easy enough to get a shape that's evocative of a bird, but funnily enough the tapered wings make it very hard to make the movement bird-like. A rectangular shape seems to be more effective.
I'm also reading this treasure (Logbook for Grace, by Robert Cushman Murphy):
It's the memoir of a naturalist who shipped on board an old-time New Bedford whaler and sailed to the Antarctic seas. He wrote: 'I now belong to the higher cult of mortals, for I have seen the albatross! ... Near by, in the morning sunlight, flew the long-anticipated bird, even more majestic, more supreme in its element, than my imagination had pictured.'
When I met artist Bruce Pearson yesterday he told me all about his travels in the great Southern oceans, drawing and painting albatrosses: 'Their flight so liquid, a free-flowing series of sweeps and arcs with barely a flap of the wings'.
It's all part of the preparation for a collaboration with Cambridge Conservation Initiative and Birdlife International: the making of a new opera called The Albatross with composer Kim Ashton.
There's a work-in-progress showing on 11 August, 7pm, at RADA Studios, as part of Tête-à-tête: The Opera Festival 2017.
London (Raphaela Papadakis) surveys one of her creatures - the Law Student (Alessandro Fisher).
A big thank you to our attentive and generous audience last night. Show #2 tonight (7:30pm); Show #3 tomorrow (6pm) at the Temple Church.
Photograph by Chris Christodoulou.
Today, my day went like this: in the morning - attaching reflective backing on to shards of mirror; sticky pads on the bottom of the orchestra chairs; camping lights on the pulpit staircase; pots of tea and plenty of washing up. In the afternoon, our final session of working notes with the singers, when we pared back some action and made the two ensemble scenes look a bit less crowded, to help the audience see more clearly. Then in the evening I got to do some simple bits of make-up (making London's feet dirty, for example!), which was great for calming my nerves, and then we did our final rehearsal - lights, costume, orchestra, singing, and a small audience of friends and family. My biggest fear was that the singers would be blinded by the lights, which were new to them, but actually the challenge was that the conductor and orchestra were under-lit - a massive challenge for them at the time but thankfully an easy one to solve for next time. After the rehearsal, we all breathed a big sigh of relief, then the lighting designer, lighting technician and I spent a couple of hours tweaking the lighting states and making the fiery glow a bit bolder.
Tomorrow - world premiere of *And London Burned*.
So, logging on is not the best way to wind down after a long day of rehearsal and a long evening of lighting, but that's how it goes at this stage - home to check emails, sleep, then back to the venue. Tech week for And London Burned at the Temple Church. It goes one step at a time - staging with piano; staging with piano and costume; singing (without staging) with orchestra; staging with orchestra; then finally staging with orchestra, costume and lighting. At each step, the overall goal might seem insurmountable, but we have to take them one at a time, and to remember that it always feels like this at this stage. The transformation of the beautiful Temple Church into a dramatic space has been amazing to watch. Soon we'll have photos to show you...
‘The Lord is making London ‘like a fiery furnace’! In his wrath, he devours and swallows up our habitations.’
- God’s Terrible Voice in the City, by Thomas Vincent (1667)
As the Great Fire raged, crowds gathered and cried aloud through the narrow streets that the French were invading, the Dutch throwing fireballs, the Catholics plotting. There was no way to verify anything, so rumour and suspicion ran riot. Enraged Londoners grabbed foreigners and beat them in the streets. Myriad reasons for the great disaster were set forth.
In Scene 8 - Marketplace - of And London Burned, a crowd gathers and one speaker after another offers their theories of cause and culpability. The people get worked up to a hysterical pitch of blame that moves from the Dutch to the French to the Quakers, and culminates in the cry ‘God’s Wrath!’ We're working on making the Marketplace a scene of whirl and change, with the singers switching characters to give the sense of a crowd.
Rehearsal photograph by Chris Christodoulou. Left to right: Raphaela Papadakis (London), Andy Rupp (diseased vagrant), Gwilym Bowen (numerologist), Aoife O'Sullivan (young wife).
We've got a cast of 5 in And London Burned, playing - so far - 16 characters (and counting). To make the show work, they've got to be able to work in tight ensemble - anticipate each other's actions, breathe together, move together. To help develop this capacity, we've been playing acting ensemble exercises at the start of each rehearsal. This picture shows two exercises in one - 'shoal of fish' and 'leading with different body parts'. In 'shoal of fish', the group tries to move together as one behind the leader, following changes of direction, pace, and so on. In 'leading with different body parts' - well, the clue is in the name. Here, Andy Rupp is leading with his nose, closely followed by (left to right) Raphaela Papadakis, Gwilym Bowen (hidden), Alessandro Fisher and Aoife O'Sullivan.
So far, these are our characters:
Alessandro Fisher: Law Student.
Raphaela Papadakis: London.
Andy Rupp: Duke of York, Dryden, a cloth merchant, a bookmaker, a tradesman, a diseased vagrant.
Gwilym Bowen: a jack-of-all-trades, a numerologist, a Civil War veteran.
Aoife O'Sullivan: a pregnant vagrant, a busy-body neighbour, a young wife, an astrologer, a prostitute.
Rehearsal photograph by Chris Christodoulou