Director in Demand | Cameron Menzies, Tait Music Board Profile @cammenzies @helpmannawards @LimelightEd @DivaOperaUK @VictorianOpera
Moving into the theatre with Opera Australia
The stage rehearsals are here. After 6 weeks in the rehearsal studio, 12 months of planning, preparation and meetings, and 3 years since the first performance of this Cycle, we’re in the State Theatre in Melbourne, ready to throw everything we’ve done in the rehearsal rooms onto the stage.The stage rehearsals bring their own special kind of magic that isn’t possible in the confines of the rehearsal room. Suddenly, after weeks of being figuratively (if not literally) staring up the noses of the singers, the directing team is perched at the production desk about half-way back in the stalls and we’re able to see the full height, width, and depth of the set and its surrounds.
The stage sessions are (almost) always my favourite part of the production; there are many worse places to be in the world than nestled in the red velvet comfort of the State Theatre. For me, there’s nothing quite as exciting as sitting bleary-eyed late at night in an otherwise empty theatre, and staring at the set as the all-important, yet subtle, nuances of lighting are achieved.
Heading backstage at Opera Australia’s epic Ring Cycle.
In the month leading up to opening night of Opera Australia’s epic Neil Armfield production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, assistant director Greg Eldridge is taking Rehearsal Magazine readers behind the scenes. 12 months before rehearsals. It’s the email with the subject line that every jobbing director loves to see: “Enquiry for future season”.
I’d met with Lyndon Terracini (Artistic Director of Opera Australia) while he was on one of his frequent trips to London and we’d talked in the bar of his hotel about the possibility of me returning to work in Australia after my time as Jette Parker Associate Director at the Royal Opera. It had been 5 years since I’d uprooted and moved to London, and I was keen to find a means to come back home for a time.So, from that meeting in February 2015, here it was in October and I’d finally received an email from Joanne Goodman (then Senior Artist Manager) to ask me to hold dates.
I was in the middle of stage rehearsals for my production of The Lighthouse at the Royal Opera, so there was a lot going on, but there’s a secret joy that never diminishes whenever an offer of work comes in (Public Service Announcement – spread happiness today by making me an offer of work!).The offer is to assist Neil Armfield (original director) on the revival of his 2013 production of Der Ring des Nibelungen (better known as The Ring Cycle). My main responsibilities are to be the third and fourth operas in the cycle – Siegfried and Götterdämmerung (each in excess of 5 hours) – as well as working on parts of Die Walküre. I had worked on a Ring Cycle a few years previously, assisting Alan Privett in the Longborough Ring conducted by Anthony Negus, and had found it one of the most intense and amazing experiences in my career. The Ring is the biggest undertaking in opera, and it requires a lot of rehearsal time to get through all the studio, stage-piano and stage-orchestra rehearsals and so the company was asking for me to be in Australia from the end of August 2016 until the end of November – all up 14 weeks. The opportunity to return home for a decent amount of time and to work with the company I’d grown up watching are very strong pull factors, but it is a long time to give up being in amongst the theatres in London.
As always with big projects, there is a bit of an existential crisis – would I be forgotten if I left my adopted home in the UK for 3 months? I’m just about to direct my fourth production at the ROH, is it the right career move to return home as an assistant or would I be better served to stay in Europe directing in my own right? Then again, how many opportunities would I have to return home, especially to work on one of the greatest projects in the operatic world? I asked my colleagues at the Royal Opera what they thought would be best. I asked my friends and family in the UK and Australia what they thought. I weighed up the financial consequences, the emotional arguments, the logistical implications.
I said yes.
9 months before rehearsals
My Christmas present from Opera Australia arrived in a nondescript brown box. It was delivered to the Staff Directors office at Covent Garden, where my desk is already overflowing with documents relating to Jonathan Kent’s Tosca which is being rehearsed over the Christmas break. Inside are all the things that make a director’s heart leap (apart from stationery – sticky tabs and highlighters make everything great).
As is my usual practice I’ve asked for blank scores for each opera, copies of the archive recordings that are made of every production and the stage management and staff director notes from the 2013 productions. Although the exact duties expected of directors in revivals varies from show to show, the broad principals are the same – it’s our job when we’re leading the room to recreate the spirit of the production as it was when first presented, using the original staging as a starting point. This requires an intimate knowledge not just of the opera itself but also the intricacies and details of the original show. Directors’ scores are a little different from a singer’s vocal score. In addition to the vocal lines and text, our single-sided scores need to carry at a glance the detail of the movement, thought-progressions and technical information required to present a complete picture of the role. It’s not enough for us to merely say ‘and then you exit stage-left’; we have to know that the singer ‘exits stage-left, but has to be careful because of the scenery change being prepared in the wings, then has three minutes to swap over wig and costume and will then re-enter on the other side of the stage in a different emotional state as during their time off-stage their character has learned important new information’.
The rule of thumb for directors’ scores is that the information should be clear, legible, and able to be picked up by the next person who revives the show without needing any further explanation. To that end, I take great care with my scores. Characters’ vocal lines are highlighted to enable sections to be easily identified, literal translations are written above the text in the event that the next person isn’t fluent in the original language (and, let’s face it, Wagner’s poetry is written in language archaic enough to confuse even native speakers!). There is also technical information (lighting cues, revolve speeds and indications of when bits of scenery are flying in and out), as well as quotes from the original director to help in the interpretation of parts of the text. Finally, there are coloured tabs to indicate entries, exits, new scenes and important technical effects (watch out for the fire!).
It takes a lot of time to prepare scores fully – the last time I did a Ring Cycle it took over 100 hours to have everything written in and ready for rehearsals; I’ll be spending time working on my scores around other projects over the next 9 months to make sure everything is in place.
1 month before rehearsals
I’m just about to board a plane for Australia! It’s been a whirlwind couple of months leading up to this moment – I’ve just returned from Italy directing a new production of L’incoronazione di Poppea, having travelled there hours after the last performance of a new Il trovatore at the Royal Opera, which had occupied the last few weeks. I had enough time to come back to London and pack before (finally!) leaving the grey British skies for the promise of an Australian summer.
In between these other productions, I haven’t neglected my Ring Cycle preparation; I’ve been coaching with music staff at Covent Garden on each of the operas I’m working on in order to get under the musical skin of the piece. I’ve also been going through line-by-line, word-by-word with Dominik Dengler the chief German Language Coach in London and a veteran of several Ring Cycles. The result has been lots of notes, many discovered nuances and a greater understanding of the narrative of the cycle.
I’ve also been paying close attention to the DVD recordings of the first production from 3 years ago. Every major opera house makes these kinds of recordings, usually from a single fixed-point camera located at the back of the auditorium, which are used to document the staging of each show. Although these recordings are quite good at giving a wide view of the whole stage, they are not high in definition and so when there are lots of people on stage it can sometimes be a case of following the ‘white blur’ as they move about the stage in amongst the other blurs. It’s also a really useful way to see which of the original staging ideas survived the transition from the rehearsal studio to the stage. Often assistant directors are run off their feet during the stage rehearsal process and so these recordings can help bridge the gap between what has been written down in the book and what ends up taking place in performance.
Never one to miss the chance to do a show, once I arrive in Melbourne, I’ll spend 2 weeks directing a new production of Trouble in Tahiti before heading to Sydney to go into lock-down ahead of the start of Ring rehearsals. The last 12 months have been a lot of time spent by myself with the technical diagrams, video recordings and hundreds and hundreds of pages of music. The next step will be to meet the team I’ll be spending the next three months with and to begin the process of actually getting the action from the page onto the floor.
We are thrilled to report that Tait Awardee, Panayiota Kalatzis, won the coveted 2016 Herald Sun Aria in Melbourne’s, Hamer Hall a few days ago. Panayiota was the 2014 recipient of the Australian International Opera Awards which gave her the funds to study at the Wales International Academy of Voice with Dennis O’Neill.
SCINTILLATING soprano Panayiota Kalatzis swept all before her last night to win the 2016 Herald Sun Aria.The 30-year-old Brisbane vocalist, trailing an elegant train, won the coveted prize in its 92nd year ahead of four other outstanding classical singers.“I never thought it would happen,’’ she said after accepting the prestigious award from Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston. “You work hard and enter competitions and then someone, ‘Yes’. Winning this changes everything.’’Kalatzis, of Greek background, captivated a 1500-strong audience at Hamer Hall with thrilling performances of Massenet and Verdi. A huge ovation greeted her win which carries $15,000 cash and a $22,500 scholarship for overseas tuition.“The plan is to go back to the UK, make some connections there, and then go to America,’’ she said. “Winning this makes all that possible.’’Jessica Harper, a 26-year-old soprano from Sydney, was runner up while the encouragement award went to Douglas Kelly, a Victorian-based tenor.Judges Richard Mills, Margaret Haggart and John Bolton-Wood praised the high standard of competition and Penny Fowler, Chairman of the Herald and Weekly Times, paid special tribute to Richard Divall — the Aria’s long serving maestro and chief adjudicator.
The Australian soprano reflects on the challenges of singing Donizetti’s tragic Anna Bolena.
While Anna Bolena is definitely on the larger end of the bel canto roles, it still requires great flexibility, as well as heft and drama where required. It is a great thrill to sing and while it is perhaps ‘heavier’ than some other bel canto roles – mostly due to the intense dramatic situation Anna finds herself in – one must remember to maintain a lilt and ease so that the voice remains flexible. There are also a number of lower notes: the bottom register is well applied by Donizetti to add drama and colour, and I absolutely love using a wide range of colours to characterise her journey. The challenges of the role lie in matching the tessitura and the weight or volume.
There are also a number of added cadenzas and high notes, so finding the balance between the elements is crucial. Anna is extremely fun to sing, as well as technically challenging – but again therein lies the fun too! Donizetti’s Anna Bolena departs from the historical details in a number of ways, done for dramatic licence. However, there is much that corresponds with the historical Anne Boleyn’s journey. In my opinion, her trial itself was a complete set-up, and the nature of it is made very clear in the opera.As for Anna’s mad scene, I would say it is less ‘mad’ than many! She begins the mad scene in a state of delusion, drifting in and out of awareness of her real situation. It begins in some respects like the Lucia di Lammermoor mad scene, in both concept – Anna is imagining a wedding – and orchestral colour. However, it soon shifts to much more dramatic colours and intense melodic shapes. It is perhaps less florid than roles like Elvira or Lucia, but is no less impressive. The role of Anna Bolena has been performed by a great number of sopranos, including Callas, Sutherland, and Netrebko. In an ideal world we would all love the dramatic intensity of La Callas, as well as the beauty of tone and flexibility of La Stupenda. Of the other major exponents of the role, I admire Beverly Sills for her recordings, which are extremely ornamented – perhaps too much? I would like to be at least as inventive where required. And though no recordings of Giuditta Pasta exist, one would hope to have a voice as strong and flexible as hers at the top, with the same depth and colour in the middle and bottom. Pasta, the original Anna, was a mezzo-like soprano, who was both the first Norma and Amina, the latter of which is substantially lighter and requires more limpid flexibility. Given the original Anna’s voice, and contemporary audience expectation for extemporised top notes, balance and care must be taken in order to maintain ease at both ends of the registers, to give the widest range of possible colour. Knowing the repertoire of Donizetti’s Tudor Queens, it would be a joy to one day have the opportunity to sing Queen Elizabeth in Roberto Devereux.
Elena’s performance of Mozart’s, Ch’io mi scordi di te? K 505, with Jayson Gillham and the Tait Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Kelly Lovelady, at the 2014 Tait Winter Prom at St John’s Smith Square.
Melbourne Opera stages the Australian premiere of Roberto Deveraux in 2017.
Following the sold out triumph of Maria Stuarda last year, Melbourne Opera continues the great Donizetti trilogy bringing the bel canto masterpiece Anna Bolena to The Athenaeum for the first time this November.
Starring Elena Xanthoudakis (Anne Boleyn), Sally-Anne Russell (Jane Seymour), Eddie Muliaumaseali’i (Henry VIII), Boyd Owen (Richard Percy), Dimity Shepherd (Mark Smeaton) and Phillip Calcagno (Lord Rochefort).
Source: Elena Xanthoudakis to take on the Queen from Limelight Magazine
Delighted to read the news that Australian Tenor, Dominic Natoli has made his debut as Otello with Opera Queensland. Dominic, from Melbourne, has now sung 13 Verdi tenor roles in opera houses all over Europe and now the great Moor himself in Queensland.
A former student of the great Italian baritone, Afro Poli and Tenor, Alfredo Kraus, Dominic is now embarking on the spinto/ heroic italian repertory. We look forward to hearing of further performances in this fach. Calaf or Manrico?
Dominic has a beautiful voice. You can listen to clips of him singing here
- Verdi’s Otello – Queensland Opera Company – 15/10/13 (blogs.abc.net.au)
- Opera Queensland exclusive (blogs.abc.net.au)
- Lyric’s ‘Otello’ weathers drab staging, change of Iagos (suntimes.com)
Jayson Gillham. 2012 Commonwealth Musician of the Year and Tait Awardee.
Join Jayson Gillham for an evening of virtuoso piano music:
Introduction and Rondo in E flat major, Op.16
Beethoven Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53 ‘Waldstein
Ligeti Three Etudes
Liszt Operatic Transcriptions – Wagner and Verdi
“He plays Beethoven in a very open, honest, secure way – with a sort of ‘glow’… Always a lovely sound – gorgeous.”
Sir Mark Elder
Thursday 12 September 2013
7. 30 pm Drinks – Concert starts 8.00 pm
Savage Club, 12 Bank Place, Melbourne
$55 per person including drinks & canapés
Bookings: http:// www.trybooking.com/DIDG
The Tait Performing Arts Association would like to thank the Savage Club and Jayson Gillham for their support for this evening’s fund raising concert.
Tait Performing Arts Association Inc. http://www.tait.org.au
Chairman Isla Baring OAM Founding Patrons Dame Joan Sutherland AC OM DBE,JohnMcCallumGoogie Withers AO CBE, AO CBE, Viola, Lady Tait AM Patrons Dr. John Amis, Richard Bonynge AO CBE, Barry Humphries AO CBE, Piers Lane, Roger Woodward AC CBE
- Jayson Gillham to play for Tait Performing Arts Association (taitmemorialtrust.wordpress.com)
- An interview with: Jayson Gillham (2mfblog.wordpress.com)
The Tait Memorial Trust was formed in 1992 by Isla Baring OAM in memory of her father Sir Frank Tait and his four brothers who played such an important part in the establishment of theatre and the performing arts in Australia. It also recognises with an annual award the major contribution of her mother, Viola, Lady Tait – who died in 2002 – as a founding patron of the Trust.
The Trust offers awards/grants for post-graduate study, performance opportunities to young Australian musicians and performing artists, and general help in the furtherance of their careers while resident in the UK. Through the Royal Over-Seas League it grants a scholarship to ‘the Australian musician showing the most promise’ in the Annual Music Competition. The Trust also grants a prize to the winner of Opera Foundation Australia’s Covent Garden National Opera Studio Scholarship. The Trust also contributes financially to the Joan Sutherland & Richard Bonynge Foundation, Bel Canto Awards and will provide a concert platform in London to the winner.
In 2013 the Trust created a new scholarship at the Royal College of Music to be known as the ‘Tait Scholar’. In addition to this, the Trust continues to support its numerous existing awards: the Sir Charles Mackerras chair with the Southbank Sinfonia; grants to young Australian dancers with the Royal Ballet School, English National Ballet School and the Rambert Dance Company; grants to singers with the Wales International Academy of Voice and a special award to a finalist in the Mietta Song Recital Award in Melbourne.
The Trust has helped many young singers, dancers and instrumentalists who have subsequently performed with British orchestras and in leading opera houses and ballet companies, including Li-Wei, Lauren Easton, Miranda Keys, Morgan Pearse, Jayson Gillham, Liane Keegan, Tristan Dyer, Benjamin Bayl, Amy Dickson, Duncan Rock, Grant Doyle, Valda Wilson, Julian Gavin, Derek Welton, Claire Howard, Kate Howden, Lisa Bucknell, Helena Dix, Elena Xanthoudakis and Joanna Cole.
To ensure its continuance the Trust arranges regular fund raising events and concerts, invariably featuring the talented young winners of the various awards, and relies a great deal on financial support from the business sector, private donors and other loyal supporters. The Tait Performing Arts Association, formed in November 2011 in Australia, the Tait Performing Arts Association supports the same ideals as the Trust. Please help us to build our new Foundation in Australia so we can work together to spread our wings and help nurture our young talent to survive in this competitive world.
In Melbourne, Australia, three years before the turn of the century, a family of five sons of John Turnbull Tait, a sheep farmer in Lerwick, Shetland who had emigrated to Australia in 1860, emerged into the entertainment world to become the dominating influence in the theatrical scene for the next seventy years.
One of their earlier ventures, in 1905, was to make the world’s first full length feature film – a 9,000 ft film on the capture of the notorious Ned Kelly Gang. The film was a sensation and was played in every Australian capital city until the films wore out only fragments remain.
J & N Tait Concert Management was formed in 1906. From concert management the Tait brothers amalgamated with J C Williamson in 1920 to form the largest theatrical empire in the world, offering a constant flow of ballet, drama, grand opera and musical comedy.
They presented world famous celebrities such as Melba, Chaliapin, Flagstad, Pavlova, Harry Lauder, David Oistrakh, Margot Fonteyn, Menuhin and many others. In 1957, Frank Tait was made a Knight Batchelor by the Queen in recognition of the major contribution he and his brothers has given in their dedication to Australian theatre.
It was Sir Frank’s ambition to present Dame Joan Sutherland to the Australian public after her international acclaim. The Sutherland Williamson Opera Company was formed in 1963. Richard Bonynge as Artistic Director engaged a team of world renowned principals and internationally successful Australian artists. One of the principals was Luciano Pavarotti, a young tenor from Modena. The chorus was all Australian. There was no government subsidy and the fate of Williamson’s future rested on the success of the venture.
Sir Frank lived to see his ambition fulfilled. The triumphant Melbourne opening heralded the return of Dame Joan to her homeland. It was a season never to be forgotten. In Richard Bonynge’s words: “Sir Frank Tait has done the greatest service to Australian Theatre and to the arts of anyone we know.”
Sir Frank died at the age of 81 after the Melbourne season finished and while the company were in Adelaide. It was the end of an era in the history of Australian theatre.
Viola, Lady Tait (1911-2002)
Lady Tait’s zest for life was an inspiration. These qualities remained with her always together with a remarkable memory, clarity of mind and youthful outlook. She was a champion of new and emerging talent, adjudicating for numerous scholarships and awards both in Australia and overseas. As an adjudicator for The Mobil Quest in 1950, Viola was instrumental in launching Joan Sutherland’s careerAnother of her loves was writing and researching theatre history. She amassed a formidable collection of theatre memorabilia and was the author of The Family of Brothers (1971), which chronicled the contribution of the Tait brothers to Australian theatre.
Her last book, Dames, Principal Boys and all that: A History of Pantomime in Australia (2001) was lavishly launched at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, the home of the Tait-Williamson empire. When Viola’s death was announced the illuminated sign outside the Theatre read “Farewell Lady Tait, Star”.
Isla Baring OAM
9 JUNE 2009 — AN HONOUR RECOGNIZES THE TAIT TRUST
ISLA BARING has been awarded the Order of Australian Medal (OAM) general division for her service to the arts — supporting young Australian musicians and performing artists!
Isla Violet Baring OAM founded The Tait Memorial Trust in 1992 in memory of her father, Sir Frank Tait and his brothers, who played such an important part in the establishment of theatre and the performing arts in Australia. Isla’s mother, the singer Viola Tait, inspired her to organise a fundraising concert in support of a young Australian singer, Liane Keegan, who was newly arrived in London. It kicked off with a Christmas Concert at Australia House. The concert was a great success, became the foundation of our yearly events and Liane is now singing major roles in Berlin.
The Tait Memorial Trust has since then raised more than £150,000 to help support young Australian musicians and dancers who need financial assistance while they are studying in the U.K. The Trust offers grants for study, performance opportunities to young musicians and performing artists as well as general help in the furtherance of their careers while resident in the UK. Many of the young Artists continue to achieve world recognition and perform at the Tait’s Rush Hour concert series which regularly presents emerging and established Australian talent.
Isla Baring is proud to be founding patron of the London Lyric Opera now in their fifth year and founded by James Hancock. The London Lyric Opera is a young company with ambitions to fill a niche in the UK opera scene by producing high quality concerts in the United Kingdom.
Isla lives in London and France, travels frequently to Australia and other spots around the world.
Jayson Gillham is to play in concert in Melbourne at the Savage Club on the 12th September 2013 for our sister organisation in Australia, the Tait Performing Arts Association After reading the review below by eminent critic and Tait Patron, John Amis, how could you miss it?
Concert details info here
Jayson Gillham by John Amis
One of the pleasures of being a critic is that you sometimes spot a tremendous talent before it becomes known to the public at large: in my sixty years writing about artists I was able to come across some young muzos that I recognised as being star quality. I was able to appreciate when he was only seventeen the conductor Simon Rattle, and the guitarist Julian Bream when he was in his mid-teens. And now I am happy to salute the young Australian pianist Jayson Gillham. I am not alone in saluting his talent: he has a following already, he has success with orchestras in various countries and has won important prizes such as the Gold Medal of the Royal Overseas League. At the 2012 Leeds Piano competition he was a semi-finalist and won warm praise from Sir Mark Elder; likewise in the Warsaw Competition he won praise from the great Marta Argarich.
Recently, I heard Jayson again at one of the Bob Boas Concerts in Mansfield Street when he played a recital programme of Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Debussy and two Liszt transcriptions. Each composer was done justice and the performances could not have been bettered. Gillham has virtuosity to spare but uses his technique as a springboard to making deeply satisfying and freshness of Bach (the G major Toccata), the wit and strength of Beethoven (opus 78, the ardent passion of Schumann (the Etudes symphoniques), the voluptuous poetry of Debussy (3Etudes) and the passion of Wagner (the Liebestod and the coruscating wit of the Rigoletto Paraphrase). It was a recital to cherish and remember. Jayson Gillham will surely have a big and important career.
This article was published by John Amis in his wonderful blog
Jayson Gillham’s website
©2013 Tait Memorial Trust •
Registered charity 1042797