We started preparing by studying the opera scenes individually, as well as taking part of literature from a literature list that I prepared for the ensemble, containing suggested articles, book, films and other formats, from an individual choice. Some passages from the book ’Inte större än såhär’ (Not bigger than this; Elf Karlén, Stormdahl, Vinthagen, 2008, my translation) attracted the interest and came to be a starting point for us in our work.
Collaborative repertoire part studies
The joint rehearsals work started on March 6 in the Oi studio in Stockholm, together with Ljungar. Rehearsals were intertwined tih discussions and joint analyses, related to the studies literatrue and the musico-dramatic work. Instead of dividing us in smaller groups, Ljungar suggested that we all sat in on the rehearsals in order to shift between the outer and the inner perspective in the work, and to mix repertoire and improvisation. As the opera director was unused to working with opera improvisation, to her this process was also a way of getting acquainted with some of the improvisational techniques, in order to decide as to what extent these could be combined with the repertoire scenes.
We focused the work on gender and power as connected to the power of the gaze, and positions in the physical space of the stage, as action to become the subject with power in a situation. This was inspired by Teater Lacrimosa’s work with a scene from a 18th century play between Mme de Tourvel and the seducer Valmont.
In the beginning of the rehearsals, we focused mainly on the material from a musical perspective, discussing issues of text and different strategies that we as singers took on to meet the challenges of singing in a tessitura that was different than what we usually do. As a soprano, however the tenor part in the Carmen scene was the same (although originally in a lower octave) but the dra-matic character of the lines are different to what I am used to. Here of course should be mentio-ned that my image of don José is coloured by the number of performances I have seen and liste-ned to, which almost to a larger extent that the written part in itself have created an image of how this part is to be sung.
A central aspect was bringing in collaborative work processes with repertoire, which at times could become dynamic whan all of the actors wanted their opinion noted on each matter of dis-cussion. In the work the singers – many for the first time – changed roles with each other, trying out both new gender roles and voice Fachs. Despite that all have worked with opera and classical repertoire for many years, this was the very first time to change into other vocal parts. This very much differs from repertoire work in opera productions according to my experience, since I as a singer normally am alone with my own interpretation, mainly discussing issues of movementand timing, creating sceneries, to be “filled in” by the singers, enhancing the musical interpreta-tion from emotional and technical perspectives.In the scene between Tosca and Scarpia we worked with sharing roles, with three singers performing each role. The changes of subject positions and perspectives was for us a very efficient way of deconstructing our own images and experiences , especially in the intertwining of change of positions with each other.
The scenography consisted of five light, white wooden modules in different geometrical shapes. As we don’t know what to perform on beforehand in the improvisations, their simplistic style make them easy to transform and use. They are light and easy to rearrange, which made them flexible and easy to transform between scenes. The white colour made a clear contrast to the sta-ges in Stockholm and Malmö. All singers had similar jackets in singular colours and black skirts i performance..
We searched for ways to combine the sincere and the comical, as a way to explore a variety of approaches to the audience. This was done by combining scenes with a varying degree of fiction, both in repertoire and improvisation. I some scenes the interaction between audience and stage was open (as in the Carmen play), while we in others aimed to keep ”the fourth wall” closed (as in the Tosca scene). Even though the fourth wall was there, we used improvisation to change po-sitions in order to bring gender and power perspectives to the performance and the narratives.
A great deal of the work focused how we could use our improvisational techniques in combination with the repertoire scenes to find creative approaches to new readings, that could change in each performance. We also discussed whether it was important that the audience could see when it was improvised and not. In the repertoire parts all singers learned all the parts by heart, in order to being able to play all the parts ,and make hteir own musical and dramatic choi-ces. But as the music was set and we are used to follow each other, it would probably not be clear that the scenic parts were not staged on beforehand. We have noticed that the audience tends to believe that everything is prepared and rehearsed, since it continues, and noone stops, or creates gaps. Neverthess we decided not to take responsibility for communicating the degree of impro-visation at all times, but to let the audience make their own readings of the situations. It became evident that the priority was to focus aspects of gender and power, not degrees of improvisation, as in previous productions.
The concept took shape, as a two act remix of a variety of staging methods in repertoire and improvisation. The first act focused gender, and the second mainly focused power.