So… You want to be an Opera Singer.
At The O Word, we strive to make this career less daunting and more approachable for young performers everywhere. So today’s blog features “A Week in the Life of an Opera Student”. I’ll go through my week as a Graduate Diploma student at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.
Starting on a Monday with an 8:30am lecture can feel like torture… But starting with a French class can sometimes feel impossible! Throughout our Bachelor, we study Italian, French and German. As apart of the Grad Dip, we learn French all year and Italian in one semester and German in the next. Our French classes are run by the incredible Céline Doucet, a native French woman with high energy!
We then move to Opera History Classes with David King. David King is the Head of the prestigious Musical Theatre department at WAAPA, and fortunately for us, he is also a massive Wagner nut! David tells us stories of his experience at Wagner’s Beyreuth Festival and shows us various productions of shows by composers such as Profokiev, Britten and Strauss. These classes aren’t so much Opera History, as we already learnt that in our Bachelor, but an Opera Appreciation. A chance to sit, observe and listen to how clever this music truly is and how it was affected by World Events.
At WAAPA, we are currently preparing for our major Opera. This year, we are performing Britten’s Albert Herring, directed by the terrific Thomas De Mallet Burgess and Music Directed by the sensational David Wickham. We are currently diving into the world of British humour, 20th Century Music and, surprisingly for me today… how to brew the perfect cup of tea. You never quite know what debate will enter the rehearsal space: Upstage or Downstage, Soprano or Mezzo Soprano, milk before tea or tea before milk? All mysteries!
We begin Tuesdays with a slightly later class.. 9am! Today begins with our weekly fix of German from the wonderful Inka Vernon, once again a native German. With an understanding and love for opera, Inka gives us tips on what to say (and what NOT to say!) if we were auditioning for an Opera House in Germany!
Tuesdays, for me, are also the day of my Singing Lesson. This is when you worry whether you’ve done enough practice, fret over your terrible languages… and then proceed to laugh with your teacher when you sing that G# you’ve been trying to hit since February that year!
It’s then off to another afternoon of Albert Herring… I am beginning to wonder if I’ll EVER get this music out of my head!
Wednesday begins with a Vocal Pedagogy class from the brilliant Linda Barcan. What is Vocal Pedagogy, I hear you ask? It is the study of the art and science of voice. Used in the teaching of singing, it assists in defining what singing is, how singing works and how to accomplish proper singing technique.
After a few hours of singing practice and trying to catch up with uni assignments, it’s back to the rehearsal room! This afternoon in Albert Herring we focus on the May Day festivities. From tea drinking on Monday, Florence now gets to dive into the world of sassily grilling the character Sid for arriving late. Punctuality is still a problem in the world of the characters, not just in the life of opera students!
Back to classes at 8.30am! Make sure you arrive early enough to get your daily coffee hit. This morning we begin with Role Preparation class led by Brendan Hanson. Brendan is also our acting teacher, and in this class we work on preparing roles by use of method, research and score study. This class is a really helpful insight into effective role portrayal. Not surprisingly, most of us are focusing on our Albert Herring characters as they are taking over our entire life.
From there, it’s up to a costume fitting where we watch the design students figure out how to make effective and dazzling costumes. With this production of Albert Herring based in 1914 England, there is a presence of Downton Abbey in amongst the costumes… It’s incredibly awesome to be slowly transformed into a much grumpier Mrs Hughes!
… Back to the rehearsal room for the afternoon!
The end of the week brings a sense of hope as the weekend draws near! Will we get our assignments finished? Probably not! Will we get a break? You’re dreaming!
Brendan Hanson once again leads the charge in an 8:30am class of Acting. Waking us all up from our sleeping comas, he leads us into improvisational theatre games, teamwork challenges and character insights. Brendan is currently working on our NEXT show after Albert Herring – Opera! The Opera, a show written by the brilliant Guy Noble and directed by Brendan himself. As he gives us insights into the show, we realise that there is light beyond the Albert Herring tunnel… We then realise that this light is drawing us to the end of our time at WAAPA and closer to responsibilities…
…So we ignore that and continue with Albert Herring work. Before rehearsals this afternoon, we head to Vocal Workshop. These workshops are a chance for Classical Voice students from the Diploma, Bachelor, Graduate Diploma, Honours and Masters program to hear each other sing. We support them as we hear everything from Folk Song, Aria Antiche, German Lieder, Oratorio, Handel Arias and beyond!
If we hadn’t been in production rehearsals, our Friday afternoon would usually consist of classes in Stage Combat. Opera consists of a lot of punching, stabbing, and fighting eachother to the death. So it’s only fair that we are taught correctly by the brilliant fight director and stage combat instructor, Andy Fraser and his assistant Nastassja Kruger. These classes are extremely helpful and a lot of fun! After all, it’s not every day you get to stab your best friend with a knife and yell dramatic nonsense at each other.
But this afternoon, there is no stage combat. We are back in rehearsal for Albert Herring and working as a team to get this show up and running! Once again on the list of things I didn’t know I’d have to worry about in an opera: setting utensils effectively (so they won’t fall and break!) on a breakfast tray.
After a long week, it’s time to escape from the opera world and head to… the Opera World. Whilst most Friday nights consist of driving home, pouring a (big) glass of wine and beginning the next season of Offspring, tonight we were off to support our friends and colleagues in OperaBox’s production of Ariadne auf Naxos. One of the perks of being an Opera Student is not only getting to see your friends in shows… But receiving discounted tickets! Thanks so much to OperaBox for a brilliant night out!
Studying Opera is hard work but it’s also a lot of fun. Preparing this amount of work for classes and rehearsals is extremely rewarding… So if you’re an aspiring classical singer, stop waiting and start doing. It’s time to apply for universities and take that next step in making those dreams a reality! You’ll meet new friends on the way, learn great artistic skills and hopefully sing a few good notes along the way! And if studying opera isn’t your thing, but you want to experience it live… Why not come along to WAAPA’s production of Albert Herring?
Written by Katherine Goyder