By the VttM researchers Jane Davidson and Frederic Kiernan, with Jeremy Kleeman.
Bass-baritone Jeremy Kleeman is one of Australia’s most exciting emerging opera talents. He will perform the role of the Magus (the wise magician) – alongside seasoned opera professionals Emma Matthews and Sally-Anne Russell – in Voyage to the Moon, a new pasticcio opera produced, in collaboration, by Victorian Opera, Musica Viva and the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, 1100–1800 (CHE).
A graduate of the Victorian Opera and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music’s Master of Music (Opera Performance), Jeremy has established himself as a rising star. Last year he performed in productions of The Flying Dutchman, I puritani, Sweeney Todd, Seven Deadly Sins and Handel’s Faramondo.
One of the most stimulating aspects of the Voyage to the Moon collaboration has been the opportunity to gain insight into the creative process through ethnographic research, as the creative and production teams have generated this new opera through the reimagining and reinventing of the baroque pasticcio form.
Pasticcio operas in the baroque period, being by definition a hotch-potch of existing and newly composed musical material usually by various composers, were shaped largely by the demands and abilities of the performers involved. Tracking the rehearsal process of Voyage to the Moon, and the experiences of performers such as Jeremy, has allowed researchers to better understand the challenges, pitfalls and opportunities presented by this unique creative task, and the ways modern-day performers navigate the path toward innovative solutions.
As Jeremy suggests, all aspects of the creative process, even small details of word choice, help to shape the changing moods and emotional arc of the drama, and thus its affective impact on audience members. The emotional nuances of the opera are of specific interest to us at the CHE, where we look at how people think and feel and how context often subtly modifies emotional response.
We are thrilled to have the opportunity to include first-hand accounts of this creative process on our blog. Below is a brief report by Jeremy on his experience so far, which provides glimpses of some of the ways performers manage the task of developing baroque style, while simultaneously gaining stylistic consistency between works written by multiple composers, as the arias in baroque pasticcio operas so often are.
Do you like crosswords? We need a verb with two syllables (with stress on the second), meaning ‘to beg earnestly’, and ideally ending with the vowel sound ‘aw’.
You might be wondering what on earth that puzzle has to do with Voyage to the Moon, Victorian Opera and Musica Viva’s upcoming baroque pasticcio, but that kind of question actually became key to our workshop process. If you didn’t already know, when opera is created the words are almost always written before the music is composed. I was often reminded of this fact throughout my training whenever I neglected to tell the story and only strove for beautiful tone. But a challenge that we found in the workshop stages of Voyage to the Moon was actually doing the reverse – fitting new words to pre-existing music.
I loved the chance to witness the language mastery of our director and librettist Michael Gow. Setting the text became as simple to him as solving a crossword, even with rhythm, word stress, and ideal vowel sounds to contend with. (To answer the puzzle I opened with, the word we came up with was ‘implore’).
It was very stimulating to be around the compositional process, and extra special because Voyage to the Moon is my first major role with the company I’ve been developing my craft with for the past seven years. Victorian Opera has supported me since high school through their youth opera program and Master of Music (Opera Performance), before casting me in supporting roles on the main stage and now showing the faith to cast me in my first lead. I feel very lucky to have grown up in a city with an opera company that places such a high value on developing talent.
Voyage to the Moon of course features two of Australia’s leading opera performers in Sally-Anne Russell and Emma Matthews, who have already been a lot of fun to work with and have been very supportive of me. They have even gone so far as to alter their own parts to accommodate changes in sections that weren’t sitting quite right in mine. I can’t thank them enough, and am really looking forward to sharing the stage with them.
We are currently in the coaching stage, where I prepare for my role one-on-one with our music director Phoebe Briggs, working on style, diction, knocking my Australianate Ls on the head, and much more. It’s also a great chance for me to test my stamina for the role – coaching sessions can be up to one-and-a-half hours of straight singing, and when you compare that to the 20 minutes or so I’ll be doing in the show, we’re well on track!
I’ll be writing again when we are into the production calls, where I’ll discuss the staging process, character development, and anything else that comes up.
Until then, keep up those crosswords!
Jeremy Kleeman will perform the role of the Magus in Voyage to the Moon. A graduate of Victorian Opera’s Developing Artist Program, he has a Master of Music (Opera Performance) and Bachelor of Music from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. For the past two years, he has been a scholar with Melba Opera Trust on the Joseph Sambrook Opera Scholarship.
The Voyage to the Moon researchers are Jane Davidson, Joe Browning and Frederic Kiernan, based at the University of Melbourne. Jane Davidson is Professor of Creative and Performing Arts (Music) at the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, The University of Melbourne, and Deputy Director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE). Joseph Browning is a ethnomusicologist and postdoctoral research fellow at CHE specialising in the shakuhachi, central Javanese gamelan, and ethnographic approaches to Western art music. Frederic Kiernan is a PhD candidate at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and research assistant at CHE.