Join our mailing list
Donate / Become a Friend
Northern Opera Group is a registered charity no. 1167501
‘Much Ado About Nothing’ - Rehearsal Diary
Artistic Director, David Ward, reflects on rehearsals for ‘Much Ado About Nothing’
Whilst Chris (conductor), Ellie (director) and I have played through the score many times - and I made a very rough recording of the whole thing, singing all of the parts! - today was the first time we’ve properly heard the full glory of the score. What was clear from early on was that all the cast have done tremendous preparation ahead of rehearsals, meaning that Chris and Ellie have already been able to work in detail on elements of the opera.
Hearing the score sung by professionals has really demonstrated what strength there is in Julian Sturgis’ libretto (admittedly lifted near word for word from Shakespeare’s play!). There so much detail, so much character, light and shade to imbue in the delivery of the text, that it’s been a great relief that the vast majority of the notes are already in place. That’s certainly not to say that the music is straight-forward - indeed, today has proven the complexity of it, particularly in the banter of Beatrice and Benedick (Catrin and Sam). Today’s rehearsal focused predominantly on their music, and we’re very fortunate to not only have such great singers in the roles, but great actors as well …
Today’s focus was on the characters of Claudio and Hero (played by Brian and Sarah). Their music - in contrast to the pacy, conversational exchanges between Beatrice and Benedick - is intensely lyrical. Stanford perhaps indulges a little too much in the beauty of their duets, however this does reflect well the innocence of their love, and of the overwhelming effect it has on them both.
These characters very rarely break from singing flowing, melodic phrases (note the delightful contrast in the opening scene between Benedick’s staccato cynicism and Claudio’s legato ardour), and this makes Claudio’s outburst at the end of Act II all the more striking for its sudden rejection of all we’ve come to expect from how the character predominantly expresses himself.
We also had opportunity to hear more of the wonderful ensemble sections today, in particular the Act II trio in which Claudio, Hero and Don Pedro conspire to match-make between Beatrice and Benedick. Again, work on these sections revealed the deceptive difficulties within Stanford’s score, but also highlighted how well the composer wrote for mixed voices. Just wait for the end, when the full chorus (ably projected by our five singers!) close out the opera with a rousing ‘Hey Nonny Nonny’ ...
Days 3 and 4
Staging rehearsals took pride of place on Days 3 and 4. Any opera lives or dies by its ability to be interpreted and reinterpreted by artists and singers, and these two days truly showcased the wonderful depth of character and variety of artistic choices available to our team.
Eleanor has been focusing on creating a through narrative to the extracts, so that the audience and singers go on a journey with their characters during the evening. Stanford and his librettist, Julian Sturgis, created particularly compelling and complicated characters in the roles of Beatrice and Benedick. Over the course of the evening they must - believably! - go from sparring enemies to the most caring of lovers. This transition (particularly in a truncated performance of the opera) is difficult to carry off, so Eleanor, Sam (Benedick) and Catrin (Beatrice) took a good deal of time in these rehearsals to explore the motivations of their characters and shape the journey that they need to undertake across the opera.
We also spent a good deal of time understanding how best to stage the Claudio and Hero duets. Whilst the music and the sentiments behind it are beautiful, to keep an audience engaged over several pages of fairly similar action and thoughts can be quite tricky! Eleanor, Brian (Claudio) and Sarah (Hero) looked at how best to use the performance space and props to keep focus and interest during their scenes, and they worked with our conductor, Chris, to work out how musically to shape the scenes to maintain variety and peak at the most effective moments.
There are still a few rough edges to smooth over, but we’re all tremendously excited to finally get into Left Bank Leeds tomorrow and discover how our rehearsals so far will adapt to the performance space!
Catrin and Chris
Sarah and Brian