Although I only graduated from the University of St Andrews in June this year, I really miss the town in autumn. The Scores and South Street are particularly beautiful when the leaves start to turn – and I would spend many an hour in the Criterion when mulled wine appeared!
For that reason, I was delighted to return last week for the very first coaching sessions on Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, which Byre Opera are presenting in June and July 2016. The sessions were led by renowned operatic tenor John Graham-Hall, whom some of the cast had worked with previously on Albert Herring in summer 2014. I also worked with the University’s Honorary Professor of Singing, bass-baritone Brian Bannatyne-Scott.
We began with the Tower Scene from act I, followed by the Journey – where we meet the Governess for the first time. I am very familiar with both these scenes musically, so we were able to work on who my Governess was – and why she had applied for the job at Bly House in the first place. As with working on my character for Miss Wordsworth, I could feel myself getting lost in the Governess’ thoughts – some of which were not particularly pleasant.
Since I had little else to do in town, I sat in on all the sessions – and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Once again, I was amazed by how much I learned as an observer! People covered everything from characterisation, to technique, to ‘really meaning what you say’ – something that I certainly forget to do from time to time. Johnny and Brian are great fun to work with and I could tell that we were all having a brilliant time.
The production has been double-cast, so it was interesting to chat about how two people might differ in their characterisation of a role – and about how this is something to embrace! It’s worth mentioning that double-casting an opera of this level using university students is astounding – and says much about the quality of learning in the Music Centre. I can’t wait for the next time we all meet!
I rounded off my week in Scotland with a concert at Bruntsfield Golf Club in Edinburgh; Brian and I performed a programme of light arias and show songs accompanied by Jakub Gutkowski. Gounod, Gershwin and Kern made for a nice change from Britten’s darker themes and we had a fabulous time. I even managed to give my new glitzy dress its first outing. Here’s to the start of a wonderfully musical winter!