2019 Roundup

Reprising Old Roles

The year’s final two performance roles were both ones I’d previously taken on, but made bigger in different ways.  TITCO’s production of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds reprised the role of the Journalist but in this time in the impressive Wyvern Theatre in Swindon.  This venue has approximately 650 seats,, each providing an excellent view of the stage.  Adopting the show for a larger scale tested our nerves, increased our travel time and gave us new challenges, such as getting past stage door locks and having an orchestra in the centre of the stage.  But it was a great success and energised the group for each performance.

White Horse Opera’s production of Bizet’s Carmen was bigger from a character sense.   It also brought about increased ticket sales for the company; no opera brings people in quite like this gory and passionate story that is packed-full of memorable songs.  To reprise Escamillo the Toreador was a little daunting; until I thought about it and let go.  The difference between my previous version with Bristol Opera and this time around was that I didn’t feel I had to be anyone else’s Toreador, just my own.  I no longer felt I needed to walk, act and sing a certain way.  I still took the excellent advice from my fellow performers on board as well as the lessons I gathered from performing the role previously, but the pressure was off.  I played him big, bold and arrogant and thoroughly enjoyed it!

Playing Escamillo in Carmen.  Photo courtesy of Gail Foster.
Playing Escamillo in Carmen. Photo courtesy of Gail Foster.

The year finished with five Christmas-themed concerts.  These were mostly for charity or to raise funds for the choir, but a group of us did contribute to a beautiful wedding in Somerset – we stood outside the private chapel belonging to a large house and sang carols to the congregation as they emerged from the ceremony.  The final gig of the year was as part of a quartet singing carols on the stairs of the Royal Crescent Hotel.  Although we were background for the guests as they mingled with each other and prepared for their evening meal, it was gratifying to sing in such an intimate way, and we did occasionally get a smile or a mobile phone pointed in our direction.  The hotel’s hot chocolate is also excellent!

This year’s first major performance project is the Bradfordian’s production of Webber and Rice’s Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat!  More on this in another blog entry, soon.

Happy New Year!

Playing Escamillo

A post-production review:

Photo from the dress reheasal taken by Stewart McPherson.

So it happened. The dust has settled after an incredible week performing in Bristol Opera’s production of Bizet’s Carmen.  So, how did it go?

Since March, the part has continued to evolve and my interpretation alter, partly organically but also thanks to input from fellow performers and friends such as Thomas Woods (playing Don Jose), Herbert DesLauriers (choreographer and dancer) Charlie Monk (Director) and John DesLauriers (friend).  Their advice was truly important, just as the time I had to myself to interpret and adapt the part was crucial.  And so let’s see what happened next…

Character Visualisation:

For me, the one word that represents Escamillo is ‘Focus’.  He has had to believe and demonstrate that he is the best bull fighter to earn his reputation.  He then wonders through the mountains alone and to the bandit camp, all to win Carmen’s heart.  This is one very driven and confident man!!

I still envisioned singled-minded modern footballers such as Ibrahimovic, but also Christiano Ronaldo, who seems to believe first and foremost that winning and personal image mattered most of all.  I would also add to that mix, the character Stacee Jaxx from the musical and movie ‘Rock of Ages’.

In this, the world-weary character has become a stereotype of a rock and roll star unable to escape what his fans expect of him.  His legend precedes him wherever he goes, so much so that he barely needs to react and those around him still respond wildly.  This last visualisation came when working with the rest of the cast and using trying to create the character’s physical attributes suggested by Herbert. For him, less movement in general added to his persona and emphasised any grand gesture he made.

Character Physical Adaptation:

John mentioned that it is easy to over-analyse this character.   In a sense, you cannot overplay him.  He is an all-testosterone alpha-male action hero.  I freely admit I could never reach those heights, and I do not have Escamillo’s confidence or drive to do so.  I used the brilliant reactions of the chorus to build on the character’s ego, but had to find another way to bring him life.  Herbert’s advice was brilliant in this way.  He talked about how to walk, with chest and libido leading the way. Standing tall and keeping gestures to a minimum.  When I continued to have problems adapting however, he saved his best advice to last –   only do one thing at a time.  This means when he walks, he walks.  When he uses a hand to gesture, he is expressing one thing, when he turns his body, he is turning.  This gave the character extra gravitas.

One final help was viewing the excellent photos taken by Stewart Mcpherson.  I looked through and in some photos I could see Escamillo whilst in others I saw a generic principle on Broadway with shining eyes and a wide grin that felt totally inappropriate!  From this I modified my on-stage actions.

Character Vocal Adaptation:

This was the area I was least worried about.  I could sing the part already and as John said, if you concentrate on the character the voice will take care of itself.  What I needed to work on was projection.  I was given some great tips by Thomas.  There are exercises I worked on to improve supporting my voice, but visually this all about focusing on getting a personal message to someone in the backrow of the theatre.

The Good:

I feel like the character evolved before and during the performance week and had a stage presence. Thanks go to my other performers for providing me with the reactions to build from. It gave me the flow I needed to enjoy the role and I came off the stage buzzing every time!   The greatest moment came after the final performance when I was asked to pose for a picture with two members of the children’s chorus. The idea that I have helped inspire them into perhaps performing again gives me great joy!

The ‘Oops’ factor:

Apart from minor moments, faults such as my large size 12G feet continuing to look a little penguin-like I have two confessions make.  Firstly, I do not condone using bathroom cleaning wipes on your face!  I have learned (did there really need to be a lesson?) that this is not healthy and have been treating my face kindly ever since whilst the burn and peeling subsides.

Secondly, on the final night after leaving the smugglers’ camp I tried to exit the stage but could not find the opening to the curtains.  After a moment’s panic I crawled underneath.  I hopefully didn’t break any audience member’s spell!

Playing Escamillo

There is something both scary and liberating about preparing to play a showman like the celebrated Toreador or bull fighter.  He is a character in Bizet’s opera masterpiece, Carmen.  It’s based on the novella of the same name by Prosper Merimee.  The characters of Carmen and Don Jose are already very fleshed out but Bizet does a brilliant job in turning the story into a full-scale opera.  The music is also stunning with so many memorable tunes and pieces containing such exotic flavour, both in rhythm and style.

Two principle characters in the opera do not exist in the original story – Escamillo and Don Jose’s maiden friend from Don Jose’s village.  They represent two different facets of Carmen and Don Jose’s brief relationship. Micaëla represents the simple, innocent life that Don Jose used to enjoy whilst Escamillo could be Carmen’s future, however brief their love affair might be.

So, who is Escamillo?  What is it like to step into his shoes?

In my audition, I said I pictured Eric Cantona after he scored a sensational goal for Manchester United.  The way he slow-turned on the spot allowing a rapturous stadium to drink him in; this to me was the modern-day Matador.  Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the other football showman I have in mind.  He is so sure and convinced of his own brilliance that he is perceived as arrogant.

As a role, it is brief but explosive.  He appears three times, once to promote his next bull fight, then in pursuit of Carmen and finally arriving at the bull ring.  In those three moments, he sings about how great he is, has a knife duel and serenades Carmen in front of his adoring public.

Now that the lines are learned, I’m learning the fight choreography and how to appear more macho and arrogant, physically.  For this I have Choreographer Herbert DesLauriers to thank as he works with us to refine our character movements.  Anything which gets you into character and out of your head is useful, such as a new posture, a focus, a costume.  I’m hoping I get my Toreador swagger soon…

Bristol Opera’s production of Carmen will be performed 26-29 April 2017.