Valentina headshot.jpg

Director, Valentina Ceschi
OperaUpClose directing credits: Ulla's Odyssey (Kings Place), Dido & Aeneas (King's Head Theatre), Elixir of Love (King's Head Theatre), Manifest Destiny (King's Head Theatre), Associate Director La Bohème (Cock Tavern Theatre, Soho Theatre, King's Head Theatre).

How did you get into opera?
I stumbled into it a bit. After graduating from the Jaques Lecoq School, in Paris, I set up a company with Thomas Eccleshare with whom I co-wrote directed and performed all the shows. As our work developed we became more and more inspired by European auteur- directors and performance artists. We were at a festival in Italy at the same time as Emma Dante. I was a huge fan of her work and found out that she was directing Carmen at la Scala and did everything in my power to get in and work as her rehearsal assistant there. Growing up I was taken to many (and I mean very many!) musicals and being half Italian opera has always been in my blood. But it was only when I was in Milan, spending my days listening and watching the singers, studying their faces and bodies, their emotions, their processes in the rehearsal room where you are really close, that I truly fell in love. 

The production was considered controversial and caused a bit of a stir on opening night. It was exciting to be a part of this, and I realised how opera - especially at an institution such as la Scala - could be shaken up a bit, and that stories needed to be told by fresher, younger voices. 

What is your favourite part of the job?
The moment when something shifts and suddenly you see something in the story or the piece that excites you that you'd not noticed before, and together with your MD or the cast you all get goose bumps, it's like having a vision and you think "ah, yes, that's why we have to tell this story now! And it all makes sense! " 

I also love working with young people, they don't have any baggage from training, they inspire me and they make me laugh. I would love to work more with young people. 

Valentina working on  Ulla's Odyssey  with musical director Alex Beetschen and puppeteer Matt Hutchinson

Valentina working on Ulla's Odyssey with musical director Alex Beetschen and puppeteer Matt Hutchinson

What's your least favourite part of the job?
I don't know. Often once the show is up and running you feel left out. The cast, MD, musicians and stage manager still get to hang out every night and do the show, but you're no longer essential, no longer in the gang. It feels quite lonely then.

What's the best thing you've seen on stage (theatre or opera) in 2015 and why? 
I just saw some Kabuki whilst on holiday in Japan and puppet artist Basil Twists's Dogugaeishi at the Mime Festival in London, both Japanese art forms, both breath-taking. I also love the new programme at the Almeida. 

What are your dreams for the future/ what's next?
Making design-led opera. I don't know how yet, but I'm working on it.

Tell us a bit about Ulla's Odyssey?
It is a charming action packed adventure for anyone of any age who has ever felt determined to prove themselves against the odds and who will brave huge waves, winds and sea monsters in order to achieve their dream. 

Your strangest / funniest experience whilst working on a production? 
Once I was touring a show with my company Dancing Brick and we were on stage up in Stockton, halfway through our show when we suddenly realised we had skipped ahead 3 or four scenes without even noticing! The scenes all took place in real time, so it was easy to feel our way back and we were so tuned to each other we recovered without the audience noticing! The show however was packed full of subtle but complex sound design and lighting cues so when I happened to glance up at the tech box I could see our stage manager pulling her hair out and mouthing all sorts of obscenities! The fact that the audience were none the wiser makes me worry about the structural integrity of the piece. 

What do you think is an essential quality in the work you direct? 
I'm a stickler for visual clarity and I strive for efficient storytelling. If what I'm seeing - whether it's slapstick or a romantic scene - doesn't tell as much if not more of a story than what I'm hearing then it's not working for me. 

PerformerUpClose: Una Reynolds

Una Reynolds, Soprano
OperaUpClose performing credits include: Musetta La Boheme, Adina The Elixir of Love, and Belinda Dido and Aeneas.

This interview was taken in February 2014.

What's your favourite part of your job?
There is nothing quite like performing to an audience. Particularly with the intimate setting at the King's Head, you really feel the audience drawn in to the story and characters, which, as a performer, feels wonderful.

And your least favourite?
Gaps between opera contracts. Whilst it is part of the business, it is always tough to be a singer that isn’t performing.

How did you get into theatre/opera?
During secondary school I sang in choirs and musicals. However it was my singing teacher that introduced me to opera, firstly through operettas, hence my soft spot for G&S!

What is the best / most exciting/ inspiring theatre production you’ve ever seen?
I recently saw ENO’s production Satyagraha, an opera by Philip Glass based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi. The production combined stunning music with an innovative use of the set and props, puppetry and physical theatre. It was an inspiring production that showcased a very different and creative way in which opera can connect to an audience.

What is your dream role?
The first opera I ever saw was Opera Australia’s production of L’elisir d’amore, cleverly set in 1950’s Australian outback. Since then my dream was to play Adina, which I was able to accomplish with OperaUpClose's glamorous Hollywood version. Perhaps it is now a case of opposites attracting, as I’d now love to play a tragic role - and what could be more devastating than that of Lucia in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. 

What is the most embarrassing / funniest thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
In L’elisir a poor audience member nearly had his eye poked out when, during a dance move, my high heel flicked off my foot into the audience! It was an interactive show so I think I got away with it... just!

PerformerUpClose: Prudence Sanders

Prudence Sanders, Soprano
OperaUpClose performer credits include: Musetta La Boheme, Adina The Elixir of Love, and Violetta La Traviata.

This interview was taken in September 2013.

What’s your favourite part of your job?
The night before and then the first day of rehearsals - there's such a great sense of anticipation. I also really love the collaboration between directors, fellow cast members, conductors, musicians etc during the rehearsal period. 

And your least favourite?
Sitting at the piano and learning a difficult role when vocally you are not at your best. It's a real challenge and a tough thing to work your way through the technical problems and find your motivation again, especially if you are repeating the same phrase over and over again, trying to get it right. I have very understanding neighbours...

How did you get into theatre/opera?
I started music and theatre from quite a young age, and I was lucky to have a wonderful department at school with some very inspiring teachers, so it grew from there really. Apparently my great great grandmother was a French cabaret singer, so I'd like to think an element of the theatrical stemmed from her!

What is the best / most exciting/ inspiring theatre production you’ve ever seen?
That's a tough's an even pick between ENO's production of Peter Grimes back in 2009 or Don Carlos this year at Covent Garden. Grimes because of the superb energy and hair raising chorus, and Don Carlos down to Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Hartenos - some seriously sublime singing.

What is your dream role?
I'm not sure there is one particular role, but high on the shortlist is Anne Truelove and maybe one day, Ellen Orford. Violetta is also there, but soon I can say that I've sung it! the great thing about opera is that you can revisit your favourite roles more than once, and often, whatever you are singing at the moment will be your favourite. It changes all the time.

What is the most embarrassing / funniest thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
I've fallen down flights of stairs on stage, ripped off my skirt by accident and been dropped by people, but the most embarrassing was when I was quite young and entered a singing competition. I made a mistake at the beginning of my song, and burst into tears . Instead of stopping, composing myself and then starting again, I spent the remaining 3.5 minutes unable to make a single sound but instead mouthing all the words with tears rolling down my face. Horrendous.