With three shows under his belt, Victorian Opera’s emerging artist Jeremy Kleeman, who sings the role of Magus, reports on his experience of the opening.
And we have lift off! As I write we are now three shows into our tour of Voyage to the Moon, and it’s started with a bang!
Opening night was one I will always remember. We had been working up to the moment for months, and when it came to the night it was time for us to deliver. It really is an incredibly high stakes situation – no matter how much preparation you have put in, no matter how well you have been performing in rehearsals, what will go down in history is how you perform on opening night. It might all sound a bit dramatic, but I’d hazard a guess that most performers would have similar thoughts pass through their minds on such an occasion.
And naturally, some things did go wrong. I began one of the recitatives with a past version, and had to add some new words for it to make any sense. It certainly got my heart racing, but we didn’t have to call Houston over the matter! Later I suggested to our librettist and director Michael Gow that I ought to get a writing credit, to which he jokingly agreed, so long as the royalties were left alone. But despite the opening night nerves, we were able to deliver a show we were proud of.
As a side note, I am very interested in the psychology of performing under such pressure, and for those who are interested I highly recommend the book Performance Success by Don Greene. Greene applies his experience in the US Military and former role as Sports Psychologist for the US Olympic Diving Team to help musicians perform at their peak. To give you an idea, at one stage he compares driving a race car through a high-speed turn to singing a very high note or difficult phrase. If you get scared and brake, the car spins out and you completely lose control. If you stay calm and accelerate through the turn, the car remains balanced and slingshots out the other side. He suggests that even under extreme pressure you need to learn to ‘go for it no matter what’. To relate that to the research into emotional response that is happening in connection with this production, I believe an audience can sense when an artist is taking that chance and going for broke. If it pays off, it is just thrilling for all involved! And if it doesn’t, well that’s pretty interesting to watch as well…
Speaking of the audience, it was such a joy to have one for the first time. Suddenly people are laughing at moments that had lost their novelty for us a while ago. It’s great when you get two claps in the rehearsal room after an aria, but now you are greeted with thunderous applause. And more than anything, hundreds of people focusing on the stage creates an electricity in the air which feeds every moment. I just love the rush of performing, it’s unlike anything else.
As the show is technically a touring, semi-staged, semi-concert presentation. We only had one day in the theatre before the first performance. It is a credit to our incredibly experienced technical team that it ran without a hitch (shout out to Luke Hales, Peter Darby and Matt Scott). The limited theatre time, however, was more than offset by the luxury of having our amazing orchestra for an entire week in the rehearsal room. With only seven musicians, the ‘orchestra’ is more of a chamber ensemble, and every instrument is essentially a cast member. This arrangement is incredible. Phoebe Briggs gets things moving from the harpsichord, and from there the ensemble play by collective consciousness, constantly tuning into every vocal moment on stage. It is the most wonderful thing to be a part of.
It takes such a team effort to put on any show, and I can’t thank Emma Matthews and Sally-Anne Russell enough for their belief and support in me. They have given me the confidence to deliver my best, and have made me feel like I very much belong. I also have to say that our covers on this production – Kate Amos, Judith Dodsworth, and Matthew Thomas – have gone out of their way to provide a wonderful supportive energy to the show, one it has benefited from enormously.
And now it’s on to the tour. Every night will be a new and exciting experience as we respond to different audiences as they respond to us. Personally I am really looking forward to visiting Perth and Adelaide for the first time, and sharing our show with the whole country. I hope to see you at one of our performances along the way!
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.
 Don Greene, Performance Success: Performing Your Best Under Pressure (Florence: Taylor and Francis, 2012).