As Pegasus Opera prepares to stage it’s latest production, Shaw Goes Wilde, at the Royal Academy of Music, Artistic Director Alison Buchanan tells us about playing a character with dominatrix tendencies and how the opera world can learn from the success of Hamilton. Read her fascinating interview, then book your tickets for the production!
Following last year’s successful run of Ruth and The Dark Lady of the Sonnet, Pegasus Opera Company returns with these new pieces, based on Wilde’s The Nightingale and The Rose and Shaw’s The Music Cure. The production runs from 12 to 14 April 2019.
The Nightingale and the Rose explores ideas of love and rejection, as it follows a student who falls for a young woman. She demands he proves his love by giving her a red rose. When he is unable to find one, a nightingale offers to make a red rose for him.
The Music Cure is a satirical comedy about love, desire and corruption set in the 1900s. Lord Reginald is being investigated by Parliament for insider trading. This unwanted scrutiny makes the Lord depressed, so his beloved mother hires a famous female concert pianist to cheer him up.
Pegasus Opera’s Artistic Director Alison Buchanan leads the cast. A renowned soloist, she has previously performed with New York City Opera, at Carnegie Hall, The Sydney Opera House, The Royal Opera house and more. Buchanan is joined in the cast by Peter Brathwaite, Oliver Brignall, Thomas Bennett, Angela Caesar, Katie Grosslet, Amal Khalidi and Nick Morton.
In addition to composing both pieces, Hagemann also conducts the production. In his career to date, he has composer 10 one-act operas, two full length operas and 75 choral pieces including Christmas piece Fruitcake, which has sold more than 200,000 copies. Louise Bakker, who’s worked with the Royal Opera House, Opera Holland Park, Welsh National Opera and more, directs.
Shaw Goes Wilde is the latest production from Pegaus Opera Company, which aims to promote opera, and offer opportunities, to culturally diverse and underserved communities. Previous productions include national tours of Carmen, I Pagliacci and The Magic Flute. These productions have drawn praise including being called “a dramatic success” (Opera Now on The Magic Flute), “splendidly performed” (Huddersfield Examiner on Carmen) and “physically exciting” (The Observer on Carmen).
Shaw Goes Wilde runs from 12 to 14 April at the Susie Sainsbury Theatre, Royal Academy of Music, London, NW1 5HT, with performances Friday & Saturday 7.30pm, matinee Sunday 2.30pm. Tickets are priced from £15. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!!
Alison Buchanan interview
How are you feeling about premiering The Nightingale and The Rose and The Music Cure in the UK?
I am so excited about this project. It’s always good to be the first as you set the standard! I am thrilled about our collaborations with composer Philip Hagemann, I love his treatment of these two great short stories. I will be singing the role of Strega Thunderage, who is a concert pianist and by her own admission a strong, independent woman who is given to violent dominatrix leanings. I am a little daunted by the task of looking like I am really playing the piano! It is interesting wearing two hats for this production, both singing and being part of the producing team, which adds a higher level of anxiety as you want everything to go smoothly.
Both The Nightingale and The Rose and The Magic Cure are based on written pieces. What does adding music bring to the stories?
In some ways it makes it easier and in some ways it makes it harder. Without the music, the actor can determine the timing of the line delivery. When you add music all those interpretive liberties as an artist have been made for you, so you have to realize someone else’s concept and bring their vision to life. That’s what we do in opera all the time. It’s helpful, though, to start with the work in the original form as this helps us to nuance and colour our interpretation when we sing it…
How do the two pieces complement each other as a double bill?
One is comedy based on true events, the other is more allegorical and is a sad tale of a nightingale who sacrifices her life for love. The feel of both pieces contrast so nicely, so I think that’s a great balance for the audience… something to make you laugh, something to touch your heart and make you think. Both are realizations of short stories by two literary geniuses born in Ireland within two years of one another in the 1850s.
How are you feeling to be performing in the new Susie Sainsbury Theatre at the Royal Academy of music
We are proud to be the first outside hire for the Susie Sainsbury Theatre. We are also excited to use their stunning, state of the art facilities. We hope that we will be able to attract a new audience to Pegasus as a result of using this theatre.
Why is it so important to stage opera with a diverse cast?
Because life is diverse. We walk down the street and we see so much diversity and we don’t think twice about it, yet we go to the opera and we don’t see diversity. I ask myself why is that? ENO just staged Porgy & Bess. Grange Opera is about to put on a production of Porgy & Bess. Is that showing that they know about diversity..? Of course, we have to start somewhere. I have lived many years in America and I see much more diversity across all arts… Diversity means black/white/Asian/differently abled artists working together on stage.
I love the musical Hamilton. The role of Hamilton has been sung by Latino and a black actors playing a white historical figure – colour is not an impediment! I hope Hamilton will influence Opera around the world. Don’t get me wrong, things are changing and get progressively better, which is great. When Lloyd Newton started Pegasus 25 years ago, he was invited to talk on panels about opera being more inclusive. I am invited to have similar discussions 25 years later. Frankly, we should stop having these conversations where everyone nods their heads and commits to making a difference and then do nothing and just ‘be about it!’
How important is it that organisations like yours are striving to make opera accessible to a multiracial and diverse audience?
Opera has historically been a white bastion of a particular socioeconomic group. Often the high cost of tickets prohibit minority and the under-served from attending, and as they don’t see people that look like them on the stage if they do go, they think it’s not for them. Growing up, going to the opera or a classical concert was not a thing. Music is a universal language, opera companies are realizing that they need to attract a more diverse audience as their audiences get older and older.
We believe that by having diverse casts and making our performances affordable we will open this medium to so many new people. Last year we did our Windrush concerts in and around Lambeth. We worked with schools, the elderly, and many other local Lambeth groups, taught them some songs and brought them all together. You should have seen the joy on their faces! It was an amazing, community-uniting success. The audiences loved our show and were so diverse… that’s how it should be!
How challenging do you find it fighting the stigmas that often surround opera?
When I was student I was told by my teacher that I could not sing any roles by Richard Strauss because I was black. That’s what we deal with. You deal with it by persevering and always striving to be on top of your game. You have to keep knocking on the door. Every BAME (I hate that term) who gets an opportunity makes it possible for another one to get an opportunity – that’s a lot of pressure! Thankfully there are many wonderful artists of colour in England and around the world. I may meet someone on a train for instance and I tell them I am a singer. They always assume gospel or R&B. One last stigma is that overweight singers can’t act or don’t experience love, or a bigger person can’t be sexy… I have dealt with this all my career where I have proven that sexy is about how you feel about yourself and not about your size. It’s a state of mind.
What can audiences expect from this production?
Great singing, great acting, laughter, maybe a tear or two and just a thoroughly enjoyable night
What are your plans for the future?
I would like to continue singing opera/classical and would also like to start doing some cabaret, maybe sing in the West End or on Broadway. As for Pegasus? To change perceptions, to champion works by black composers, to empower, promote and develop BAME artists, to educate and inspire young kids from under-served communities, to shake up the status quo and to develop a festival of vocal and chamber music from composers and lyricists from the black diaspora but performed by singers and musicians of all colors, to teach new generations of singers to be an influencer! Pegasus Opera has some exciting plans so please watch this space!