Orchestrating Opera Online

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

I was recently approached by Morgan Carter (they/ them), an emerging soprano who will be taking part in Gertrude Opera’s online iteration of their annual Yarra Valley Opera festival. The festival is now in its third year and like the entire performing arts industry, has been forced to re-invent itself over the past few months.

Gertrude Opera is a not-for-profit opera studio which uses “earned income from events and concerts to pay professional repetiteurs, directors and industry professionals, and give financial support to selected Young Artists”. Morgan is one such Young Artist with the company in 2020, and over the last six months has experienced coachings, rehearsals and collaborations virtually.

I am always excited to see small and medium-sized companies mount new works, and the Yarra Valley Opera festival has an intriguing program on offer. The line-up features three newly composed chamber operas: Kate Kelly, based on the life of Ned Kelly’s sister, written for five singers, clarinet, violin and cello; Together, Apart, which sees characters navigate dating and relationships in a cabaret format; and Love Fail, a multi-media homage to the tale of Tristian and Isolde. The festival will take place from October 16th -25th, with performances being available to watch for 28 hours from the advertised start time.

I had the chance to ask Morgan how they have adapted to Melbourne’s ongoing lockdown as a developing artist. You can follow Morgan’s singing adventures further through their website and Instagram. The full program of the Yarra Valley Opera festival and links to tickets can be found on the Gertrude Opera website and Facebook page.

Digital Illustration for ‘Together, Apart’ by Melbourne artist Jess Reddi Coronell, commissioned by Gertrude Opera. You can follow her work on Instagram and Twitter.

Can you tell us a few sentences about yourself, what your musical practice is, and how you’re currently working on it?

I’m a twenty-four-year-old soprano currently based in Melbourne. I knew from a young age I wanted to become a performer, and when I was fourteen I performed my first role, Glinda from the Wizard of Oz. During my secondary education I sang with the Australian Youth Choir, The Arts Unit Senior Singers, and the Sydney Philharmonia Choir.

My interest in opera grew exponentially when I saw my first opera, Giasone by Francesco Cavalli in 2013, a rarely performed pre-baroque opera. The production I saw was funny, tragic, and beautiful… After that night I knew I wanted to do what they did for a living: get on stage in funny and amazing costumes and make people laugh and cry.

Since graduating from Sydney Conservatorium of Music I have been performing non-stop around Australia, Italy, Germany, and China. In November 2019 I moved to Melbourne from Adelaide, where I had been an Emerging Artist with State Opera South Australia. Melbourne always seemed like the place to be for the arts. And then COVID happened! Since lockdown I’ve been having zoom coachings with fabulous singers all over the world, making the most of my time at home.

Performing as Hannah After in Gertrude Opera’s 2020 production of ‘As One’. Australian premiere of chamber opera by Laura Kaminsky (libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed).

What have you found to be most challenging aspects of this time of COVID-19, as a performing artist and more generally day to day?

As an artist, it’s been extremely difficult to find the motivation to practice and work on new repertoire, especially knowing full well that I won’t be performing for a live audience anytime soon. When there’s nothing to work towards, it’s very easy not to work…

During the first lockdown I barely sang, because all of my performances for the year had been postponed and the whole situation was a lot to deal with. In terms of day-to-day, the most challenging thing would have to be finding a schedule. It’s very easy to lie in bed all day when you live alone and have nowhere to be (and nobody to hold you accountable)!

Digital Illustration for ‘Kate Kelly’ by Melbourne artist Jess Reddi Coronell, commissioned by Gertrude Opera. You can follow her work on Instagram and Twitter.

You are a recipient of a scholarship with Gertrude Opera as a young artist. Later this month you will be participating in the company’s Yarra Valley Opera festival, which has been taken online. How have you navigated the rehearsal process in this socially-distanced time in Melbourne?

I am very grateful to be a Gertrude Opera young artist for my second year and to be the recipient of the prestigious Gertrude Johnson Fellowship for 2020. Before the lockdown, it allowed me the opportunity to work with some amazing artists face-to-face; and now, during lockdown, via zoom!

We have used this platform for many of our rehearsals for the festival, with readthroughs and coachings. Just the other day we met with our musical director, Patrick Burns, and artistic director, Linda Thompson, to discuss the remaining pieces we need to record and get answers to any musical questions.

Performing as Witch 3 in Gertrude Opera’s 2019 production of ‘Verdi’s ‘Macbeth’.

During the festival you are performing in ‘Together, Apart’, a newly composed chamber opera. Can you tell us a bit about this piece?

Together, Apart is a series of fourteen individual pieces by Nicholas Gentile and Lincoln Hall. The work as a whole follows four young adults as they navigate their way through life, relationships, and living together. There are two male characters and two female characters, and the piece features an interesting love triangle, an aria about Tinder, and an intervention!

Do you think it’s important that the artform of opera adapts in the 21st century? If so, what would you love to see more (or less) of?

Definitely. Opera has been around for centuries, and anything that has been around that long is bound to need dusting off and refurbishing every now and again. The advances in technology in the 21st century has allowed the artform to adopt a much needed new medium and depth to performances.

Performing as Hannah After in Gertrude Opera’s 2020 production of ‘As One’. Australian premiere of chamber opera by Laura Kaminsky (libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed).

I’ve seen productions that utilise video backdrops, LED screens as props and set, iPhones as a lighting technique, and even emojis inserted into surtitles! It’s these sorts of directorial choices that are going to draw new audiences to a show, perhaps even people who have never seen opera before.

The Yarra Valley Opera Festival this year is a prime example of utilising technology to our advantage. We couldn’t have the festival in person, so we’re taking it online! Making it more accessible to larger audiences and appealing to a different demographic.

How do you sustain hope for the future, or overcome periods where you feel less motivated?

During lockdown, I’ve come close to throwing in the towel more times than I can count. It’s definitely hard to be a young artist (or any artist) during this time, seeing your entire industry be brought to the brink of collapse in the blink of an eye.

Whenever I mull over these thoughts, I remind myself why I sing in the first place. I love it! I love sharing a story and an experience, with total strangers in such an intimate way. Nothing beats the feeling of walking on stage, and any worries you’ve had throughout the day about life, finances, how you’re going to make a career out of all this, just vanish. That feeling when an audience laughs with you, cries with you, and breathes with you is something so special. There’s nothing else like it in the world.

And of course, the standing ovation! Every time I’ve experienced one it’s been monumental. It’s like having every emotion at once take over your body; you’re smiling but you feel like crying, and your heart is rushing and warm. That’s why I sing. To have that feeling every time I perform. It has taken a lockdown to realise I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.

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