Project Pygmalion: Looking back at our first performance!

We were delighted to bring Pygmalion to life at the Stroud Green Festival, North London. On what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year, the cast and crew of Pygmalion delivered an outstanding debut performance of their premier cross art collaboration to rave reviews. The stunning hand drawn animations proved to be a real hit. Providing another layer of visual interest, much to the delight of young and old alike. If you missed Pygmalion this time round, don’t fret! We are bringing it to the Brighton Early Music Festival in October for three more performances. Tickets will be on sale in August. In the meantime, you can listen again to our performance on BBC Radio 3 In Tune by following this link!

 Here are some of the things people have had to say about Pygmalion…

“Pygmalion has to be one of the most exciting projects out there on the early music scene today.  Not only is it historically informed, but also wonderfully performed by a cast of stunning young singers and players.
The clincher is [the use of] cutting-edge technology which makes the opera extremely accessible and visually interesting.  We had children and families completely transfixed and it allowed us to open up to a much wider audience than usual - and a different audience demographic - much younger and many more families.
It was the undoubted hit of Stroud Green Festival -and was so good that I am looking forward to hosting it again at Brighton Early Music Festival." - Clare Norburn, Artistic Director, Stroud Green Festival & Co-Artistic Director, Brighton Early Music Festival
 
“The fantastic combination of animation and music really brought the story to life, it brings this classic tale into the 21st Century and makes for a really interesting and enjoyable spectacle. This fresh spin deserves to be seen by a wider audience, making it accessible to those who perhaps aren't familiar with this genre of music, young or old.” – Harry, Audience Member
 
"My kids and I were captivated by the beautiful music, the quirky animations and the lovely singing. A perfect afternoon out!" - Lucy, Audience Member
Cast and crew of Pygmalion at Stroud Green Festival, June 2016.  From Left to Right: Kate Anderson, Roberta Diamond, Jakab Kaufmann, Satoko Doi-Luck-Luck, Flavia Hirte, Karolina Sofulak, Oonagh Lee, Alice Earll, Josh Cooter, Kate Conway, Ellen Bundy, Natalie Rowland, Rosalie Wahlfrid and Angela Hicks.  

Cast and crew of Pygmalion at Stroud Green Festival, June 2016. 

From Left to Right: Kate Anderson, Roberta Diamond, Jakab Kaufmann, Satoko Doi-Luck-Luck, Flavia Hirte, Karolina Sofulak, Oonagh Lee, Alice Earll, Josh Cooter, Kate Conway, Ellen Bundy, Natalie Rowland, Rosalie Wahlfrid and Angela Hicks.  

Project Pygmalion: Q&A with Karolina Sofulak

Hello Karolina! Ensemble Molière is very excited to be working with a director for the first time and would love to take this opportunity to ask you a few questions about you, your career and the creative process.

Hello, thanks for including me in your blog! I’m very excited to be working with you too and can’t wait till we’ll be able to share our Pygmalion rom-com opera with the audience.

·       Where does your love of music and opera in particular stem from?

I’ve been obsessed with classical music since very early childhood – as a kid I dreamt of being an opera conductor. When I was five years old I would run around the house with a baton made from a stick and “conduct” tape recordings of operatic arias. My parents were particularly amused when I would lose my tiny mind waving the stick frantically to Mozart’s Madamina, which I thought at the time was an aria about riding a bicycle. Or I would weep uncontrollably listening to Au fond du temple saint and, not knowing the French words, thought it was about two guys serenading each other and considered it incredibly romantic.

·       How and when did you decide that directing opera was going to become such an integral part of your career?

It happened when I was about 13 and I dropped out from music school (in Poland, if you were into music, you’d be enrolled into a state music school that would run in the evenings after normal school, where you’d study your chosen instrument, chorus singing, band practice, etc). I was tired of being always holed up at home with my piano – I wanted to go out and have fun like normal kids. I decided that instead of conducting opera I would direct opera, which seemed to me at the time pretty much the same thing, but viewed from a different side, so to speak. I don’t regret making that decision, as I love directing, but I must say I wish I hadn’t given up on the piano so early on.

·       How do you go about piecing together all the different aspects of an opera? What kind of training did you receive?

I learned to read music at the aforementioned music school, which is indispensable in my line of work – it has also made me more attuned to what the music wants to say, the emotions it is conveying, what the stage action requires in order to make the best impact. I’ve got a M. A. in comparative literature and as part of this degree I learnt to speak English, Italian and German fluently. It’s hugely helpful to speak these ‘operatic’ languages, as you can study the libretti directly, you don’t have to rely on word for word translations. Finally, after university, I got a drama school degree in opera and musical theatre directing, which was the final touch on my training and gave me the opportunity to get loads of experience in working with singers. I would say those are the most important aspects of working on staging an opera – understanding its music, its text and context, and, last but certainly not least, being able to communicate your vision to the cast and team in a way that will inspire them to engage with it creatively.

·       Have any other directors inspired your work? And whose ideas do you admire?

I’ve worked the most with the Alden brothers – especially closely with Christopher Alden. I admire their work and it has inspired me a great deal over the years. Of course they are very different in their approach and process, but both are geniuses and true masters of their art. What distinguishes them from other directors is the absolute musicality of their stagings and the ability to imprint their bold interpretations and reinterpretation of operatic works onto the received narrative of the libretto in a way that brings out the true meaning of the pieces, or rather, maintains the immediacy of that meaning for contemporary audiences. It allows operas to have an impact as powerful as they had two hundred years ago on the people who saw them when they were first staged. When I watch their shows I have a feeling that hundreds-year-old music was freshly composed to accompany their subversive stagings, rather than a staging was forcibly imposed onto the music. This organic quality is for me the essence of opera directing. Another huge influence on my vision as an artist has been my dear friend and colleague Charles Edwards – a brilliant designer and director, and one of very few people in this business who are intimately familiar with all the aspects of putting on an opera – set design, lighting design, directing, dramaturgy and even singing and performing.

·       You have worked with a huge variety of artists over the years, do you think working with an early music group will be any different?

I’ve had the pleasure of working with early music groups before – with the Marian Consort in Clare Norburn’s concert drama Breaking the Rules that I directed for the Brighton Early Music Festival and with the Monteverdi String Band for whom I directed Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, which was shown in Venice and at the London Festival of Baroque Music. Working with early music groups is different from my opera work in that these projects usually lack the infrastructure provided by opera companies – the conductor and I end up doing by ourselves the job of about five to ten people each. But that is precisely what lends tremendous excitement to these projects, and allows for a true immersion in the process and much greater hold over the final product than one would have in a big opera company with hundreds of people involved. The scarcity of funds inherent in grant-based projects makes one think creatively and be inventive with what one has – I find these can be good conditions for creating original work.

·       What kind of music do you enjoy listening to?

Apart from opera and classical music I love (and always have loved) classic rock – especially Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Rolling Stones, Rainbow – anything with that unmistakable vibe of the late 60s and early 70s. I was brought up by a hippie dad and remain a hippie at heart.

In terms of opera I adore Handel, I go wild for his baddie arias, like Sibilar gli angui d'aletto, as well as all those hopeful arias about being a lonely boat floating on a vast ocean looking for a safe haven – it must have been a powerful metaphor at the time because half the arias seem to have it at their centre. Janáček is another favourite of mine – he’s amazingly modern in his musical dramaturgy and a joy to direct. I also have a soft spot for Tchaikovsky – Onegin is one of my most beloved operas of all time.

·       How do you go about visualising the story of Pygmalion?

Having an animation artist on board rather than a conventional set designer meant we had to think very strategically as to what impact we would like the video art to have – we started with identifying the passages of music that would need visual “help” (as they were originally intended for dancing) and thought about how we could interpret them in the projections to further the story. As to the story itself, we needed to flesh it out a little, because the libretto fizzles out after about twenty minutes of action and what was meant to follow was a lot of celebratory dancing… We needed to complicate the story a bit for it to hold dramatic tension throughout the piece. Modern audiences are very different from those of Rameau’s time.

   Do you have a favourite element or scene from Pygmalion?

Yes – the sequence of short dances in which the Graces are meant to teach the Statue how to dance and, well, be graceful. We’ve interpreted it as a journey Galatea (the Statue) takes, in which she is to experience life and the vast world she’s suddenly found herself in.

·       Could you walk us through the basics of the direction process?

The direction process varies from piece to piece, and is hugely dependent on the context of the staging: it’s different when you have six weeks of rehearsals in an opera company, in the actual set or expert mock up of the set, and different when you work on a piece over a week or two in various venues where you have to improvise a bit with the space. And it is especially different in the case of an opera accompanied by video art and animation, which of course has to be prepared and worked out well in advance. So in this particular case, with time constraints and video art in mind, we had to come up with a storyline that we’ll have to more or less stick to during the rehearsal process, instead of depending on the natural, organic development of the staging in rehearsals. That doesn’t mean that I won’t be open to what the singers and the dancer will bring with their particular interpretations and artistic sensibilities (ignoring those would make me, frankly, the worst kind of director), but it means I will have to guide and navigate their energies within the story framework that we’ve already committed to while designing the projections.

·       What up and coming projects are you most looking forward to working on in the future?

I’m very excited about directing Cavalleria rusticana for Opera North this autumn in a set designed by Charles Edwards. It is part of a wider cycle of six “little greats” – one-act operas with huge emotional impact.

·       Where can we see your work?

In Leeds, and then on tour in Manchester, Newcastle, Hull and Nottingham over the course of September, October and November 2017.

Thank you for your time Karolina, we can’t wait to see the finished project in June!

Buy you tickets here for the June performances of Pygmalion at The Stroud Green Festival in North London! 

Alice x

 

 

 

Project Pygmalion: Q&A with Kate Anderson

Ensemble Molière would like to welcome animation artist Kate Anderson to the team! It is the first time the group have delved into the world of the visual arts and we are taking this opportunity to pose Kate a few questions about herself, her career and the creative processes involved...

  • Where does your love of art and animation stem from?

I always liked drawing and going to galleries since I was young, something my parents encouraged. Around age 9 I used to go to an art club at ‘Kettles Yard’, a rambling house in Cambridge full of art and found objects the owners had collected. The club was was run by some art students, who would talk about the artworks and objects with the same emphasis; it was inspiring to think of ‘art’ as being everything around us. Plus they knew how to make it fun, we used to jump around on the sofas and make toy boats that we floated in the bath tub. Tony Hart’s television programme ‘Take Hart’ was a firm favourite too. Though I’m still miffed that when I met him and asked for a picture of a caterpillar he drew me a butterfly instead. And, if I were to trace back my love of animation, I’d say the children’s series Sesame Street planted a seed, with it’s whimsical animated curiosities. Today I frequently discover some of my now-favourite film-makers animated segments in those old 80’s episodes. 

  • How and when did you decide that animation was going to become such an integral part of your career? 

I was always painting and drawing cartoons of my classmates, turning our humdrum lives into comic book soap-operas for break time amusement.  When I was about 17 and wondering what I might do after leaving school, I stumbled across a programme late at night on Channel 4 called 'Fourmations' where they showed films made by animators and went behind the production process. As well as short films, they showed idents and commercials made in animation too; I was very excited to discover that a career like this existed. When I got to do some animation on my art Foundation course, it confirmed my interest in the medium. I really like the way it pulls together story telling, drawing, film and sound.

  • You have worked with a huge variety of artists over the years, do you think working with an early music group will be any different?

I’ve made a few music videos for pop and folk musicians, where usually I’ll look for a visual narrative and style inspired by the lyrics. Here the challenge is to interpret the story of Pygmalion and make it appealing to as wide an audience as possible, beyond the ‘typical’ opera viewer. And to balance the animated projections with what’s happening on stage, so the performers can shine. Is Michael Nyman considered to be Baroque influenced? His film soundtracks are some of my default ‘get-to-work!’ music - so I’m secretly hoping I’ll be incredibly productive. I’m certainly looking forward to it, it’s a wonderful challenge.

  • Do you enjoy creating projects with a live music element? Does your approach differ to working with pre-recorded tracks? 

I've never worked on a live performance before, so this will be entirely new! I'm used to finishing a project by triple-checking all the movie files in the safety of my studio, not playing them out in front of a live audience. I'll be creating all the animation elements in advance, and then at the performances I’ll be using cueing software to trigger them live as the performers play, similar to cueing stage lighting. We’ve chosen this approach as it will give the performers the room to play naturally, as opposed to being tied into the rigid timing of a video. I’ll be doing a LOT of practising so I’m completely prepared and hopefully even enjoy the live events a bit too.

  • What kind of music do you enjoy listening to?

A catchy tune gets me in. I enjoy listening to a variety of styles; I have large amounts of both The McGarrigles and The Fall in my music collection. There are a couple of radio programmes that I love and where I discover a lot of new music – Gideon Coe on BBC6 and Late Junction on BBC3. What I like about both these is the unexpected surprise of what will come next, as both shows play music from all over the world, of many genres and eras.  Anna Meredith is my new obsession, she makes my ears pop.

  • How do you go about visualising the story of Pygmalion? 

We’re updating it to the modern era, but it will remain set in Paris, with all the emblems of the architecture present. I’m looking at creating ink line drawings with graphic blocks of colour. One thing the Ensemble were sure of from the beginning was to present the lyrics on screen in a more interesting and exciting way, so these will be individually designed and animated too – as opposed to the usual surtitles at the top of the screen.

  • Could you walk us through the basics of the animation process? 

I’m starting with some very rough sketches and written notes about what the different scenes will be, worked out with Karolina and members of the Ensemble. These will get redrawn so they become a more detailed guide. I like to show things to people at all stages to check it’s developing as they imagine and there hasn’t been a communication slip. I’ll develop the drawings on paper, and scan them in to colour them digitally. Animation will be done using a mixture of handmade elements and some created in the computer. Then it becomes a giant jigsaw, working on pieces of animation one by one, and slotting them in place until the finished picture starts to emerge. Things have a tendency to look terrible in early and middle stages, as nothing is completely finished.

  • What up and coming projects are you most looking forward to working on in the future? 

I’d like to develop more collaborations in future, somewhat inspired by this one. I’m interested in ancient farming, Fenlands and urban sprawl if any experts would like to invite me.

  • Where can we see your work? 

My website is at www.kateanderson.co.uk.

Thank you for your time Kate, we can’t wait to see the finished product in June!

Alice

Project Pygmalion: Welcome to cast and crew!

For this production of Pygmalion, Ensemble Molière will be joined by three fantastic singers, two guest instrumentalists, an inspirational young director and a very talented animation artist. Phew! Below is a full list of names, roles and biographies for your delectation!

But first, a quick recap of the story behind Rameau’s Pygmalion. The plot is based on the myth of Pygmalion as told first in Ovid's Metamorphoses. In Rameau’s version, the sculptor Pygmalion creates the most beautiful statue, to which he immediately declares his love. His girlfriend, Céphise, begs Pygmalion to love her instead. Alas, Pygmalion spurns her and entreats the goddess Venus to bring his statue to life, I’m sure that will solve everything... But magically the statue comes to life; she sings, she dances, she’s the whole French baroque package.  Cupid arrives to congratulate Pygmalion for his artistry and belief in his talent. Of course there is much celebratory dancing and singing to follow, attesting to the overwhelming power of love. Cupid helpfully finds another lover for Céphise, all sorted, this is after all opera! Pygmalion, the original ‘My Fair Lady’. Ensemble Molière have moved the story to the streets of Paris, so you will have to watch and wait for our story to unfold.

 

Josh Cooter, Tenor, Pygmalion

The big one, Pygmalion himself! Ensemble Molière are really excited to welcome Josh into our ranks. Josh began his musical studies as a chorister at Chichester Cathedral before accepting a music scholarship to Eton College. Having finished his degree at King’s College London last summer, where he sang in the chapel choir under the late David Trendell, he began work as a freelance singer and now pursues a busy ensemble career, enjoying singing for some of the UK’s most prestigious consorts such as The Sixteen, Tenebrae and Britten Sinfonia Voices as well as other upcoming groups such as Gesualdo 6 and The Fieri Consort.

Recent soloist highlights include singing the role of Evangelist in Bach’s ‘St. John Passion’, Jupiter in Handel’s ‘Semele’ and solos in Schutz’s ‘Christmas Story’ and Handel’s ‘Israel in Egypt’.

Roberta Diamond, Soprano, Céphise

Robbie is no stranger to Ensemble Molière and has appeared in numerous concerts with us, singing everything from Clérambault, De La Guerre to Handel. Robbie specialises in the performance of renaissance and baroque music and especially enjoys singing French music of the 18th century and Italian music of the 17th century. In 2016 Roberta completed her studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London where she was fortunate to collaborate with a number of ensembles including Dame Emma Kirkby's Dowland Works, Ensemble Moliere and Lux Musicae London. Recent appearances include performances at Urbino Musica Antica (Italy), Oude Muziek Utrecht (The Netherlands), the Brighton Early Music Festival (UK) and the Mornington Peninsula Summer Music Festival (Australia). Robbie will sing the role of Amore in the Pinchgut Opera production of Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea in 2017.

Angela Hicks, Soprano, La Statue

We can’t wait to work with Angie for the first time, we have often admired her beautiful singing from afar and couldn’t wait to collaborate during Pygmalion! Born in Lancashire, England, Angie Hicks enjoys a busy career as both a soloist and choral singer. As a soloist, Angie is regularly invited to perform core oratorios with a variety of ensembles. She is also very active in chamber music, often performing cantatas and smaller works accompanied by period instruments. Angie enjoys exploring the rich renaissance repertory of lute songs, she duos regularly with lutenist Toby Carr, and works with Emma Kirkby as part of her project 'Dowland Works'. As a choral singer, Angie is a member of a number of leading UK ensembles including The Monteverdi Choir under John Eliot Gardner with whom she now sings regularly, both as a soloist and as part of the choir. She is also a member of Ex Cathedra, also working as a soloist and as part of the consort, and is a member of the choir of The Chapels Royal, HM Tower of London.

Karolina Sofulak, Director

We are excited to welcome Karolina on board, she is a fantastic director and will be making her directorial debut with Opera North later in the year, so we feel very privileged to have snuck into her schedule! Karolina graduated from the West European Languages and Cultures Department of the Warsaw University, majoring in comparative literature, and continued my education at the Ludwik Solski State Drama School in Cracow. She worked as an assistant and revival director for Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera in the productions of David Alden, Mariusz Treliński and Keith Warner, she has subsequently worked on assistant directed productions of Tilman Knabe and Caterina Panti Liberovici for the Cantiere Internazionale d’Arte in Montepulciano. Recently Karolina has worked with Christopher Alden at Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe, Charlie Edwards at Opera North, as well as Phyllida Lloyd at Opera North. In 2011 Karolina made her debut as a stage director with a critically acclaimed production of Traviata at the Baltic State Opera in Gdańsk. More recently work has included Peter Maxwell Davies’ Mr Emmet Takes a Walk at Teatr Wielki for Polish National Opera, directed as part of the European Network of Opera Academies project for Opera Europa, as well as “Breaking the Rules”, directed for the Brighton Early Music Festival. Future engagements include work for the Grange Park Opera, Chemnitz Opera and Opéra National de Bordeaux.

Kate Anderson, Animation, Illustration and Design

This is the first time Ensemble Molière has collaborated with a visual artist and we are really excited to see what Kate has imagined for Pygmalion! Kate graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2002 with an MA in Animation and began her professional career in animation with the production company HSI London, where she worked on a diverse array of animated shorts, music videos and commercials.

Projects include: animated segments of guitarists Jack White and The Edge, created for Davis Guggenheim's acclaimed documentary 'It Might Get Loud'.... The music video for Liz Green's 'Displacement Song', which was awarded Best Music Video at the British Animation Awards 2012... In 2010 Bushmills Whiskey asked Kate to create a short film for their 'Since Way Back' campaign, featuring the band Chromeo.... And many more.

Kate's short films have screened at the BFI London and in festivals worldwide. She has been a jury member for The British Animation Awards and Czech Republic's Anifest; she has also participated in panel discussions at Birds Eye View and Underwire Festivals.

Now working independently, Kate continues to reach out to new creative horizons, current and recent collaborations being with psychologists, documentary film makers, artists working in moving image, and a music video highlighting the highs and lows of cannabis smoking for social enterprise Music And Change UK.

Oonagh Lee, Oboe and Voice Flute

Oonagh has been a friend to the ensemble for many years, we are delighted to finally work with her! Oonagh Lee is a historical oboist and recorder player. Born in Glasgow, Oonagh studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Daniel Bruggen and the Koninklijke Conservatorium in The Hague with Frank de Bruine. Now based in London, she is a founding member of recorder quintet Consortium5 and is a regular performer with many period orchestras and ensembles across the world, with recent performances in the UK, Holland, Poland, Singapore, South Korea and Australia. Recent engagements include concerts with the Academy of Ancient Music, The Hanover Band, The Orchestra of the 18th Century, The Dunedin Consort, The Orchestra of the Antipodes and the Australian Haydn Ensemble, performing in venues including The Barbican, The Royal Albert Hall BBC Proms and The Wigmore Hall. Oonagh has recently recorded for ensembles including The Dunedin Consort and The Australian Haydn Ensemble on Linn Records and ABC Classics, and her playing has been heard on numerous radio stations in Europe and beyond.

Ellen Bundy, Violin

Ellen is a brilliant violinist who we have had the pleasure of working with over the past few years, we are looking forward to having an extra string player to add to the treble takeover. Ellen started studying Historical Performance with Lucy Russell in 2013.  Upon graduating from the Royal College of Music with an MMus with distinction, she was awarded the McKenna Prize for Historical Performance.  She regularly works with orchestras across Europe, and has recently been announced as a 2017 participant for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Ann & Peter Law scheme for Talented Young Players.   Ellen was a member of the 2015/16 European Union Baroque Orchestra and has also played with the Academy of Ancient Music, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Early Opera Company, Collegium Musicum 90, Florilegium, St. James’ Baroque and Gabrieli Consort & Players, as well as Concerto de Bassus and Die Kölner Akademie in Germany.  Upcoming performances include the opening of the 2017 London Festival of Baroque Music with Rowan Pierce and Medici, a tour to South America with Die Kölner Akademie, and Beethoven’s 7th Symphony at the Royal Festival Hall with OAE.

Not forgetting the rest of the team, click on the links to our biographies!

Alice Earll, Violin
Flavia Hirte, Flute
Kate Conway, Viola da Gamba
Jakab Kaufmann, Bassoon,

And last but not least, administrator extraordinaire, keyboard aficionado, music arranger and team leader…
Satoko Doi-Luck, Harpsichord

Over the following weeks we will be keeping you updated with question and answer blogs with Karolina and Kate, dropping in on progress with Satoko and chatting with our illustrious cast of singers. Stay tuned!

Alice x

Thank You!

For our first ever Ensemble Molière blog post, I think it only fitting that we say a massive THANK YOU to all of our friends, family and supporters. We can't wait to get started with 2017 and we certainly have a number of projects to keep us busy!

Bringing Pygmalion to life! With all of your generous donations we sailed through our £3000 target on Crowdfunder, and set a stretch target of £4000 to see if we can  fund the entire rehearsal phase of the opera via public donation. Once the crowdfunding campaign has come to a close on January 9th we can set about perfecting our Arts Council grant application and sending it off to the powers that be. Fingers crossed! 

If you would still like to donate, never fear! Here's the link: 

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/ensemble-moliere

2016 was a fantastic year for the ensemble and notable highlights have included our debut on BBC Radio 3's In Tune, the fun we had creating and performing our Medicine and Mortality programme in collaboration with BREMF and last, but not least, recording our first EP, 'Dance Sweets' which will be available later in the year. Unless my mother has preordered all the copies...

To kick start our 2017, the ensemble are getting their creative juices flowing, rehearsing and perfecting our latest programme to celebrate Telemann's 250th anniversary. This programme has been inspired by Telemann's French connections, including pieces by his favourite French musicians. We are currently honing our favourite sonatas by composers including Blavet and Guignon and rehearsing a few of Telemann's much loved Paris Quartets. We will keep you updated with concert dates as soon as possible! 

Keep an eye on our Whats On page for details of upcoming performances and for now i'll leave you with this snippet of our Radio 3 debut to bring some fizz to the new year! 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04dff99

Alice x