I am writing the second part of this blog somewhat late as the rehearsal period for The Lion’s Face has been very intense and exhausting, both physically and mentally. This was not helped in week two by me falling ill with the nasty throat virus that had been doing the rounds. I had to take to my bed for three days and still sounded like a bass-baritone almost a week later. It is always stressful for a singer when one becomes sick during a job, especially when it effects the voice in any way shape or form, but The Opera Group were very kind, supportive and patient with me as I took time to get back to work and then back to full vocal health, all of which was very much appreciated!
The very first rehearsal where we all sat down together and read through the opera is firmly imprinted on my mind. From the moment Dave Hill (Mr D) started speaking, he evoked in me, a strong memory of my own experience of living with someone with Alzheimer’s. It slightly threw me off balance how perfectly he captured the dementia patient in this initial read-through alone and I spent much of this session stopping myself bursting into tears!
It was inevitable that we would all get emotional at some point in the rehearsal period as we all have experiences of living with or knowing of someone with Alzheimer’s. Sometimes the discussions we had were profoundly cathartic. For example when we sat and watched a training video about dementia and talked about it afterwards, or when Lucy (Bradley, assistant director) made a wall-collage of photos and excerpts from books and newspaper articles to aid with our research and character-building. I quite often referred to this “wall-research” during rehearsals, particularly the photographs, which aided my Caregiver character on many occasions. For example, the sensitive matter of how I would approach touching a patient came up in one rehearsal. I, Rachel Hynes, am quite a tactile person and would instinctively want to touch Mr D to comfort and reassure him, but would this be appropriate????? Through my own research, studying Lucy’s pictures and through further research notes Lucy found, we found a happy compromise for my instincts.
Some days were good some days were difficult in the rehearsal period, not least because I found the music very difficult to engage with at times. The Caregiver’s music is quite often very angular, almost going against my instincts of what a carer should be, but with the help of John (Fulljames, Director) and Nicholas (Collon, conductor) I found my “Eureka” moment eventually!
Another added layer of pressure was spoken and sung text in combination. In opera we quite often use spoken dialogue (for example in Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Bizet’s Carmen) but the dialogue will be a two-way affair – ie we either sing to each other or speak. In The Lion’s Face five chracters converse through singing and Mr D speaks.On the surface this seemed simple enough, but in practise was more complicated as the spoken lines quite often had to fit into musical bars and thus be spoken within a certain time frame. Also, from a singer’s point of view, remembering that Mr D had to speak a line within our empty vocal bars and thus we would have to react to these lines proved vital! One number which exemplifies this is “Fruit” where I am attempting to feed Mr D and Mrs D arrives and is exasperated to discover that he is once again recounting his story about the fairground. All the while, I react to Mr D’s lines, whilst attempting to feed him, but also listening
and tuning in to Mrs D and her needs! Although seemingly simple on the page, this number has proved the most difficult to stage and has been much rehearsed.
Another “Eureka” moment for me was visiting a care home in Elephant and Castle! I will be forever grateful to Karen Kennedy, Isabel and Nina for taking the time to talk frankly with me about their roles at the Woodlands Care Home. The obvious love they have for their job and the care and enthusiasm they show their patients was truly inspirational! I was able to gain clarification on sensitive matters such as touch, abuse within care homes, racism, religion, as well as learning about new therapies that Karen is exploring, such as Reminiscence Therapy, massage and aromatherapy, sound therapy. Karen and her team seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the opera, so much so that they plan to come to a performance in July at The Linbury Studio, Covent Garden and hope to bring some of the residents with them too!