Monday, 10 December 2012

Opera and Ballet Rehearsals Compared

Royal Ballet in Rehearsal, Clore Studio @ ROH - 28 November; La Boheme Insight Evening, Royal Opera, Clore Studio @ ROH - 6 December
La Boheme at the Royal Opera House
Picture courtesy of ROH
I recently attended my first opera insight evening at the Royal Opera House and found it so informative that I felt compelled to blog. Conductor Mark Elder rehearsed two Jette Parker Young Artists in Puccini's La Bohème.
Elder began by describing the work as a “Monday night opera”, ie. one that will draw a good audience even at the beginning of the week. Puccini was "masterful" and his music "falls beautifully on the ears". However, the way that La Bohème is written, with vocals arranged to resemble the spontaneous nature of normal speech, is a real challenge to performers.

Michel de Souza and Susana Gaspar took the roles of Marcello and Mimi and were given directions by Elder to alter the rhythm of their singing to match key orchestral instruments (as Tchaikovsky had desired), as well as to adjust breathing, accents and pronunciation of the Italian libretto. Elder also encouraged the singers to pause at certain moments as stated in his orchestral score – although these instructions confusingly differed from those in the vocal score.

Whilst clearly this is different to ballet rehearsals, I noticed more similarities than I would have imagined. To make a direct comparision, I refer to Lesley Collier and Jonathan Cope's rehearsal of The Nutcracker grand pas de deux with Fumi Kaneko and Nehemiah Kish.
In the same way that musical scores differ, so too do versions of Peter Wright's choreography (in fact, he changes it every year), such that some dancers and coaches do one thing and others do another. (As Kaneko was new to the Sugar Plum Fairy role, the most up-to-date choreographic version was rehearsed, which included Collier and Cope puzzling over how to perform a new lift. After one attempt, Collier even stated: "That just looks like the old one but gone wrong!") 

The Nutcracker pas de deux (Roberta Marquez and Steven McRae)
Photo: Bill Cooper, courtesy of ROH
Dancing also needs to appear easy and natural although it is extremely challenging. Other corrections focused on musicality in the same way as the opera rehearsal, with coaches offering different views on the rhythms with which certain movements should be performed. Dancers were also encouraged to include stylistic elements such as bending the body and making port de bras appear "expensive", as this was Wright's intention (just like Tchaikovsky's musical intentions).

Cope worked particularly with Kish on the hand positions for partnering lifts and balances, suggesting he keep his thumbs pointed upwards so as not to "show the girl's knickers"! Whilst this bears no relation to opera, it was another fascinating insight into the backstage world of the Royal Opera House that shows why educational evenings are so thoroughly enjoyable and interesting.

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