Sunday, 11 February 2018

Dramaturgy and Aeneas: Robert Hersey @ Edinburgh Studio Opera

Director Robert Hersey | Musical Director William Conway | Producer Samantha Redfern

Join Edinburgh Studio Opera in their 50th year producing the highest quality student opera in Edinburgh with a double bill of beautifully reimagined and restaged classics. Journey from Virgil’s tragic love affair, Dido & Aeneas, to a hilarious comical farce forged in the fires of Dante’s inferno, Gianni Schicchi. Expect an immersive and exciting evening in one of Edinburgh’s most charming venues.

What was the inspiration for this performance?For me, my approach to creativity in general is this: there is no point in recreating something which has been directed and recreated on stage many times without having something new to say. Be it through the staging, reimagining narratives, the use of space itself, reimagining the performer-audience relationship… In these productions, I wanted to firstly challenge certain operatic performance conventions. 

By staging the operas in a traverse staging, you essentially take away the safety net of the conductor and orchestra set in front of the performer. It frees performers to communicate directly and in close proximity to the audience. This throws up certain challenges for the singers, but completely releases an energy in performance which is dynamic and exciting for both performers and audience. 

As well as this, in Dido & Aeneas, I have tried reimagining the narrative to explore some of the burning issues I see in today’s media and society more generally. These include issues of sexuality and gender, the objectification of women in the media and film, and the sexual predation of woman in the media industry. I wanted to up turn the audience expectations and create new energies and talking points.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
Yes absolutely - but, if we just view performance as entertainment and it sticks to clearly defined norms and expectations, there is certainly little to incline us to sit in bars afterwards and see any need for discussion or debate. Theatre has to tell the stories that need telling and in a way that only live theatre can.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I trained first as a musician and a singer and quickly found a love for performance and theatre. I inherited a visual imagination from my artist Dad I think. I also trained at the School of the Science of Acting. 

Their founder and artistic director, a controversial figure in the London theatre world, always pushed us to ask more and more questions about our intentions in performance and what theatre was and could be. I have worked a lot of my life with young people finding their unfettered energy, imagination and non-conformity essential in creating theatre. It informs me still.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
The demands of staging both operas in the traverse, like an oyster, creates a certain restriction but generates creative possibilities which have been exciting. The time restraints of rehearsals have put some limitations to my normal rehearsal practice of much experimentation within rehearsal time. It has made me create the whole process within my imagination and then on stage. 

I’m then working backwards, as it were, taking that part of the approach and letting the actors/singers into the process for them to regain a creative foothold and ownership of operas. Both operas have demanded a very physical theatre and movement approach to staging. This puts enormous demands on the singers but they have worked very hard to master new skills and create dynamic stage picture on stage.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
Yes, both operas fit within my usual style but, of course, each new work demands a new approach. For me, it’s so important not to get complacent or to somehow impose interpretation without first working from the inside, really finding something fundamental that moves and excites you.  

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
A sense of excitement at being so close, within touching distance of operatic singers in full flow. 

To feel a cathartic sense of tragedy at the end of Dido & Aeneas and to be shocked and challenged through the new narrative of the piece, especially the relationship between Dido and Belinda but also the predatory nature of Aeneas. In Gianni Schicchi, which many will not have seen before, especially never in this traverse staging, I hope the audience feels completely taken into the middle of the fast, furious and hilarious narrative of this absurd comic masterpiece.

Under the imaginative direction of Robert Hersey, the 27-strong cast will be performing in traverse, using the length of the stage to a create dynamic and fluid piece of opera. With a backdrop of 1950s Italy, Hersey’s retelling blends the glitzy world on a film set with the colourful home life of a band of cruel relatives. Recently hailed a “tour de force”, returning Musical Director Will Conway will expertly conduct the orchestra bringing with him “a flair for the unpredictable”.

Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9SU

Tuesday 27th February @ 7.30pm Wednesday 28th March @ 7.30pm Friday 2nd March @ 7.30pm Saturday 3rd March @ 7.30pm

Highlights from ESO50: A Concert Performance – Saturday 3rd March @ 2.00pm

Tickets £15 | Concessions £12 | Students £6.50

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