Preparing ‘Jane’: from cover to cast recording and performance
Preparing 'Jane': from cover to cast recording and performance
This week's guest blog post comes from emerging artist soprano April Fredrick. Here she talks about her experience of going from cover to cast. Sharing her lessons learned from recording and premiering a new work all in one day!
It all began over coffee at Fortnum and Mason’s. I was meeting Mark Bebbington, a wonderful pianist collaborator of mine, and as he’d caught wind of the epic project to do a live concert performance and premiere recording of John Joubert’s Jane Eyre, he suggested I get in touch with SOMM producer Siva Oke to ask about the title role. I’d worked with Siva for two recordings already, so I followed up on Mark’s suggestion directly.
I was gutted to find that they’d already cast ‘Jane’, but I was still thrilled to have the chance to cover the part, as Jane is one of my favourite literary heroines. As I continued to work on the project, I became increasingly thrilled as I discovered just what a worthy setting, what an incredible labour of love this opera is. What a privilege to be the first to give it voice!
I was asked to step into the role in full in late August, leaving just over two months till the performance. This was lesson one for me: never despise covers, as they may well lead to full performances. Lesson two: always prepare covers as though you will have to go on. And not just a ‘skin-of-teeth’ performance if possible: do the character work, and bring as much depth as possible. If this is your big moment to step unexpectedly into the spotlight, then bring as well-developed an offering as you can. Let them see what they’ve been missing!
The experience of premiering ‘Jane’ will remain one of the shining musical moments of my career. The privilege of premiering what I firmly feel will someday become standard repertoire for English-language operas is difficult to over-estimate, and I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity. Below are my ‘top tips’ for preparing a new role, garnered from my experience as ‘Jane’.
1. With a well-known literary character, don’t cut corners on context.
Engage with the original, notice the differences (what is omitted, added, differences of portrayal) in the libretto and stage portrayal. Such preparation adds complexity and nuance to interpretation which far exceeds the mere vocal delivery.
2. Start early in your score learning.
Give yourself time to get to know the motivic and harmonic structure of the whole work, not just your bits. In the instance of Jane Eyre, there is a heavy use of leitmotif, so the underlying psychology of my passages was interwoven with other material that didn’t involve me. The more you study, the more you will see. And the more you see, the more the audience will see that ‘three-dimensional’ aspect in your delivery.
3. Rehearse in 'real time'.
If possible, either work with a Sibelius MIDI file of the full score or find a pianist to record the score for you so you can rehearse in ‘real time’ with connecting material. Where possible, write in the orchestrations, identifying where you’ll get your note and from what instrument. Also rehearse the links by intervals only so your body knows the feeling of the joins even if you can’t hear the note in the orchestral texture.
4. Know the music inside out!
Know the music inside and out, and start ‘singing it in’ as early as possible. Remember, you may end up being ill in the immediate run-up to the performance, so don’t ‘cram’. You may also have minimal rehearsal time, so prepare as thoroughly as possible, leaving as little as possible to chance or to be worked out in rehearsal.
5. Spending your own time with the score.
Lessons and coachings are essential, but they are no substitute for spending your own time with the score, often in ‘silent practice’, absorbing the material and putting your own stamp of both the music and character.
6. Pace yourself.
Have someone in the hall to give feedback on balance, and if you’re feeling covered or overwhelmed by the orchestra, don’t be afraid to let the conductor know, though kindly! There also is no shame in ‘marking’, and in orchestral recordings, even if you are not singing full, or ‘lay out’ entirely, the engineers can probably use the orchestral track. Do let rip whenever you can, but always keep the whole project in perspective, especially if you have an evening performance after recording. What sense is there in blowing yourself out on rehearsal or recording and having nothing left of voice or energy when the critics and audience are actually present?
7. Watch and learn.
Notice how the ensemble does publicity. Watch how the conductor rehearses the orchestra, how other cast members handle passages, especially where they have motivic or thematic links to your own material. I was so fortunate to sing opposite a world-class artist like baritone David Stout. I feel that I learned a tremendous amount by watching and listening to how he handled cadences and colours, taking such care with every detail. I could then better match him in our duo sections.
8. Characterise even in a concert performance.
Even for a semi-staged performance, make the most of everything: sideways looks, developing a body language for your character, finding the right shoes (the classic ‘way in’ to a character) and getting comfortable in your costume to get into the character’s skin, all of which I did with ‘Jane’. It might be a ‘concert’ performance, but the audience need to have the potential for a staged version ever-present in their minds. In our case, we were there to whet their appetite for the full whack, and I wanted to make it nearly impossible for them to envision anyone else in the role going forward.
8. Be kind and patient to everyone.
The collective stamina required for such projects is incredible, and smiles and words of encouragement to your colleagues—both cast members and the orchestra—go a long way. You will find that you can spur each other on when one of the other is flagging. Such an attitude can turn an intense project from an ordeal into an adventure, into an unforgettable achievement for the cast and ensemble as a whole.
To read more about April Fredrick please visit www.aprilfredrick.com
For further information on the recording of Jane Eyre, please visit SOMM website www.somm-recordings.com/
April Fredrick, Soprano