Thoughts after a first week of rehearsals: Chris Stark

I’m writing this at the end of a very exhausting first week of our rehearsal patch. Over the past five days we’ve had a precious opportunity that we won’t have again for the rest of the rehearsal process – to focus purely on the music!

These days of an opera rehearsal process are always important for the music team, but even more so with new repertoire; all of the cast, Berrak (our repetiteur) and I are particularly excited by all the drama and beauty that we’ve been discovering in the scores for the first time over these days.

In this first production for The Opera Story, the tale of Snow is being told across three floors of the Bussey Building, with three different composers taking an Act each of Jennifer’s libretto. This model allows the different parts of Snow White’s story to have markedly distinct atmospheres; as we move through the space, an entirely individual musical language shows us the very seperate parts of Snow White’s tale.

Working with three composers on one project is a new experience for me and it has thrown up some fascinating questions in these first few days. Even though we are telling one story, with one libretto, and have a cast and some characters that are consistent throughout the piece, the musical styles are so varied that we have to find a particular musical approach for each act.

For example, in the first act, with music by Lewis Murphy, we see a window into a young Snow White’s home life. In a succession of short scenes, we meet her parents and see her birth, and something of her relationship with her father and step-mother. Lewis sets these scenes with full and rich harmony and baroque-like lines for all instruments that always feel melodic in their own right. We are finding that the best style for this music is one whether tempo always feels fluid;  the music seems to ebb and flow, always moving forwards and backwards with the intensity of the drama. During his 20-minute Act, the music seems to go on a natural journey from the first few clean intervals of the overture right through to the end of the third scene, without ever truly stopping. The music has very few corners – all smooth edges in Lewis’s score.

But for Act 2, Snow White is far from home, in a cold and dark place. Lucie Treacher’s score snaps us into an entirely new realm, with a pulsing angular rhythm that never lets up. The music is mostly in an uneven-feeling seven beats in a bar, feeling driven, and tense.

I won’t say too much about Tom Floyd’s Act 3; he tells arguably the darkest part of the story and has a musical language that shows that early on, but carries us to something that feels hopeful or even cathartic at the end. I think the cast and I are particularly intrigued to see how James Hurley, our director, views the end of the story. There is a sadness in the text, and Tom has set some of this with real poignancy and beauty in the closing pages.

We’ve touched on one of the most important things about the music days at the beginning of a rehearsal patch; the aim is to reach a point where we are very familiar with the music, and have begun to ask interpretative questions, but not to have fixed things too firmly. James’ reading of the text and music will bring a huge flood of new ideas and angles that we will not have considered, and we want to have been flexible enough in our musical decisions so that we are completely open to new ideas and directions as the team augments next week. We can’t wait to share it with you all!

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