OperaUpClose & The North Wall collaborate on ArtsLab

For three weeks this summer, OperaUpClose and The North Wall Arts Centre collaborated on ArtsLab. The project was led by musical director Mark Austin, composer Laura Bowler, director Robin Norton-Hale, designer Kate Lane, choreographer Joe Wild, and mezzo soprano Flora McIntosh. ArtsLab provides vocational experience for artists including actors, singers, dancers, instrumentalists, designers and technicians.

Photography by Kinga Lubowiecka

Assistant Conductor and violin: Claudia Fuller
Assistant Conductor and cello: Robin Wallington
Repetiteur and piano: Cadis Lee Ying Jie
Clarinet: David Mears
Mezzo: Leila Zanette
Baritone: James Quilligan
Bass: Simon Grange
Dancers: Claire Hackston, Tilda O’Grady, David Rodriguez, Olivia Thynne
Designers:   Ellie Jones &Cecilia Trono
Technician:  Mim Evison


PerformerUpClose interview, 19 August 2015

Violinist, Nicole O'Crespo Donoghue
Currently performing in OperaUpClose's production of Carmen at Soho Theatre. 

Previous to Carmen, you've worked with larger orchestras in bigger venues in relation to our quartet at Soho Theatre. How have you found the UpClose nature of Carmen, can you explain the positives and difficulties of downsizing opera? 
I am absolutely loving performing Carmen in a more intimate setting. I think its a fantastic idea because you can really connect with the audience and the viewers can truly see the singers and the musicians, they can notice small details that usually you might not see. It's true I perform regularly with larger orchestras but I also regularly perform as a soloist and chamber musician so this setting of just 4 players is very enjoyable for me and we each get to play some incredible melodies, its fantastic music. The only struggle I can think of is that sometimes there are very dramatic moments, as in the nature of any opera and you wish you could sound like a full orchestra to give that overwhelming effect but the composer Harry Blake has done an incredible job arranging Bizet's music and adding to that the fantastic musicians I'm getting to work with, it regains that powerful feeling right away.

What are the highlights of your career so far? 
I have had some great opportunities over the years. I have had the privilege of performing for HRH Princess Anne and King Felipe and Queen Leticia of Spain. I performed for Wikipedia's 10th anniversary event and I'm now involved with Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance. I recently played at the West End Live in Trafalgar Square with Lord of the Dance and there was apparently half a million spectators so that was really fun.

When/how did you decide to become a professional violinist? 
I always knew I wanted to be a performer. I always felt at home on stage but when I was a teenager I had to make a hard decision because I always loved school (yes, I do admit it!) and I had the opportunity of going to medical school, neurology and cardiology always fascinated me. I had to decide whether to become a surgeon or go to London to continue my music studies at the Royal Academy of Music. I had sacrificed so much over the years, practicing many hours a day and concentrating always on my studies and so with the support of my parents (to whom I owe so much) I just went for it, I moved to London, I didn't know anyone but I had the determination to make my dreams come true. Best decision I ever made. 

Carmen (OperaUpClose).  Alyson Frazier (Flute), Nicole O'Crespo Donoghue (Violin), Theodore Balkwill (Cello).  Photo Andreas Grieger

Carmen (OperaUpClose). 
Alyson Frazier (Flute), Nicole O'Crespo Donoghue (Violin), Theodore Balkwill (Cello). 
Photo Andreas Grieger

Any fun stories to bring up about working with Carmen's musical director, Berrak Dyer, and the rest of the orchestra so far? 
So many! But I might get into trouble if I go into details... :D  It's absolutely fantastic working with Berrak and the other musicians. They are all incredible performers and so much fun to work with. This has definitely been the most fun I have had so far and I usually cant wait to get to Soho Theatre. 

How have you found Harry Blake's arrangement for Carmen? Any important/unique points for the audience to look out for?
Harry Blake has done an outstanding job with the arrangement of Carmen. It is a very complicated piece and to be able to reduce it to 4 players keeping the freshness and drama of the music is really something else. He has truly done a wonderful job. 
In terms of unique points, I think you can't beat the famous Carmen melodies and they are instantly recognizable. I'm sure many people will be singing "Toreador" on their way out. My best advice, sit back, relax and let the music and drama take over. It'll be a trip to remember. 

I hear quite often of how the story of the opera is reflected into the composers music, can you use examples from Bizet's Carmen? 
There are many examples of the story being reflected, after all that is what music is all about. I believe the best moments where this is portrayed is during any of the love scenes, or Carmen's need to express her spirit of freedom. Usually its in the love scenes where I get to really give everything I have in terms of expression and energy. The violin portrays moments where you can hear José's passion and desperation yet still sweetness and care for Carmen. Its quite complicated I suppose, as love usually is. 

What's next for you after Carmen
Straight after Carmen finishes I'm off to Aldeburgh to perform the Lark Ascending at a World War I remembrance concert and I will also continue my freelancing. I'm on trial with the Philharmonia at the moment and have other scheduled concerts as Guest Leader and soloist so its a very exciting time. 

What's the most challenging aspect of your job? I guess there's a lot of rehearsal and continuous practice? 
It's true there is a lot of rehearsal and personal daily practice but I enjoy every minute of it. In the end, the hard work pays off. I would say to be a performer you need to truly love it because it's not just a job, its a way of life and personally, I wouldn't change anything at all. There is nothing better than the applause at the end of a concert and the knowledge that through your performance you can make a film come alive or entertain people and move something inside them. I completely agree with Plato (Greek Philosopher):

"Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything"

Carmen is on at Soho Theatre until 19 September
Book Tickets Here