Sometimes I like to come into the office on a Sunday to catch up on some work in peace – but yesterday I had trouble concentrating, because downstairs in our studio conductor Graham Abbott and the wonderful Camerata of St John’s were rehearsing St Matthew Passion, and the sounds wafting up from the studio were so seductive I kept having to sneak down for a listen. Concert Master Brendan Joyce and his beautiful musicians are working with OperaQ for the first time, but it won’t be the last –collaborating with this talented and committed group of musicians is a delight. Tonight we have our sitzprobe – German for “sitting rehearsal”, where the singers and orchestra come together for the first time and run through the whole work. It’s always an exciting moment, but this will be extra special. For the last two weeks we’ve been rehearsing with the extraordinary cast of St Matthew Passion - soloists and ensemble alike – and I’ve fallen in love with this amazing piece all over again. I really hope you’re all coming along to hear at least one of the performances!
Leif Aruhn Solèn, our Evangelist, is quite wonderful – not only does he sing beautifully but he sings the vast role of the Evangelist entirely from memory, with perfect clarity and deep emotion. The four soloists – Sara Macliver, Robbie Macfarlane, Tobias Cole and Andrew Collis are all throwing themselves into their roles and singing Bach’s complex arias so movingly that there have been many moments when I’ve sat in the rehearsal room listening to them with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. And there’s no one better than Paul Whelan to play the role of Jesus – he embodies an otherworldly power with such ease and simplicity as his warm bass voice envelops everyone in the room. Special thanks to Narelle French who has prepared our Opera Queensland Chamber Ensemble so beautifully – our first (and last) studio run was on Friday night, so they now understand that performing this piece is a test of endurance and sustained concentration, constantly slipping between two modes of expression – the narrative and the reflective, and making it work dramatically as well as musically. I feel so very lucky to be working with this fine ensemble of singing actors and excited about the week ahead in the Concert Hall, where I’m sure they will all (because these artists never fail to) take their performances to a whole new level. Graham Abbott and I have worked together so often now – mostly on Handel operas - that there’s a relaxed shorthand between us, which doesn’t in any way diminish the enormous respect I have for the guy. We both hope that Bach will be the first of many baroque adventures here in Brisbane, and over breakfast at the Gunshop Cafe this weekend we’ve been cooking up some delicious future treats – so watch this space!
Did any of you catch our ABC Radio National broadcast on the weekend? Tears and Transcendence – The Spiritual Power of Music was an OperaQ/ABC panel discussion based around themes associated with St Matthew Passion. This was the first event in 2013 of our new series called The Space Between: events, talks and conversations designed to animate and give deepened insights into creative processes, ideas and themes in current focus. Panelists for Tears and Transcendence included Graham Abbott, Paul Whelan, Mark Coleridge the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane (from whom we were all fascinated to hear all about the election of the new Pope) and Dr Samantha Owens, a UQ German baroque music specialist. Their fascinating discussion was recorded live in front of 160 people at the ABC Studio in South Bank. If you missed it, here’s a link.
The Space Between series makes use of one of OperaQ’s most attractive assets - access to high-level artists and insights into the creative process, to explore the themes, music and ideas from the company's season and key themes relevant to Brisbane’s cultural life. The first one was a roaring success and we’ll be announcing more of them in the weeks to come, so we’d love you to join us.
In the meantime, tomorrow we move into the concert hall for a week of rehearsals and performances of my first staging for this company as its Artistic Director. I’m nervous but excited – and I look forward to seeing you at the St Matthew Passion!