What's in a Gig?

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There is more to delivering a freelance performance than meets the eye. I spoke with Melba Opera Trust about my experience performing in private events, providing an insight into the process:

The call

The first step to performing at private event is 'getting the call'. It sounds quite simple, but to make sure you are front of mind relies on clients knowing and trusting you as a performer. This all comes down to promotion, marketing and industry relationships (not to mention a proven track record!)

Programming

From Melba, the call will come from Melba Artists Manager, Jo Beaumont with repertoire programming provided by Artistic Advisor Sharolyn Kimmorley. Program choice is one of the most important considerations for the event; the music can determine how well an audience will engage with the performance, often based on their exposure to opera. Sometimes the flavor of the performance also informs the repertoire. A recent performance I gave was at Coombe, The Melba Estate and so we selected some of Melba’s famous pieces.

The rehearsal

The next step is to organize a rehearsal with the associate artists. As some events can have a short lead time it's very important to plan an efficient rehearsal which relies on being completely prepared with our repertoire.

This is also our chance to work out the potential for error within our musical program and spend sometime practicing those trickier musical moments. If the program includes an ensemble piece between singers (a duet or trio) which requires staging, movement and interaction with each other then we must spend some of this rehearsal time discussing our plan of action and practicing these movements.

Performance ready

The occasion typically informs what we should wear from floor length evening gowns to elegant afternoon. During a styling session last year, Suzanne Dekyvere mentioned that you should always be one dress level above the guests, i.e. If the audience is wearing lounge suite then we should present ‘black tie’

I like to start a performance day being active, preferably with a yoga class. It ensures that my body and mind are focused for the day ahead without exhausting me ahead of the performance.

This carries through to what I eat; healthy nourishing foods that release energy slowly.

On the day of a performance, I take my time to warm up with vocal exercises and scales. Then I like to sing through all of the music for the performance to ensure that all of the pieces are secure in my voice. I’m always careful to not over-sing on the day of the performance to avoid vocal fatigue.

Then comes the fun – hair and make-up. Now these are the moments when I feel my male colleagues really do have the upper hand! Fortunately, I enjoy the routine and I think I have it down to a fine art, doing both in the record time of 1 hour. Then comes the supply check-list; dress, shoes, copy of the music, and make up kit, hair straightener and hairspray for final touches at venue.

Time to go! Punctuality and reliability is extremely important in this industry. I always allow plenty of time to arrive and importantly, to compose myself before meeting the client.

Arriving at the venue

We’re often called at least two hours before a performance for a sound check. It sounds like a long time, but most of the time guests arrive much earlier than the scheduled performance and we need to make sure sound check and rehearsal is finished. It is often the first time we have performed at the venue so the time is spent familiarizing ourselves with the acoustics and performance space. If I am performing any interactive pieces like the sensual Habanera from Carmen I like to walk around the space (as I would in the performance) to see if I still have a connection with the pianist, Timothy.

With sound check completed we disappear to the artist 'Green Room', a dedicated space set aside for the performances to get ready, changed into our formal wear, relax and get in the zone. Some quiet time allows me and my associate artists to discuss our entries, exits and introductions!

The performance

Time to put our preparation into practice! Within the first 30 seconds we can gauge how receptive the audience is feeling and if there is anyway we can tailor the performance to help them feel more comfortable. This could be as simple as clearly introducing and describing each piece (we usually perform in Italian, French or German) or it could be interacting more closely with the audience by moving around the room. We also may need to adjust our performance if the acoustic of the room have changed now that it has an audience. Of course sometimes we can’t really alter anything – and that is when we must rely on technique and performance skills!

Following the performance I try to meet as many of the audience as possible to provide an insight into my journey and Melba Opera Trust’s program. I generally find the audience are as eager to hear about my ‘behind the scenes’ journey as they are appreciative of the performance.

Finally, after the excitement of the performance begins to subside, its time to head home for some rest. After all, we often have to do it all again tomorrow!

Source: Melba Opera Trust, Melba Magazine Edition 16, Autumn 2017