Some wonderful news – I really don’t mind telling you! Today will be my first staged performance in an opera since before the pandemic! It has been 473 days since my last live performance in a theatre. That was the final performance of Victorian Opera’s Salome, which closed on February 27, 2020.
And now, after a sixteen-and-a-half month forced hiatus, I will appear as Remendado for Opera Australia’s national tour of Carmen. I was asked to jump in for the role a couple of weeks ago, but the circuit-breaker lockdown in Victoria created some difficulties for the tour group, who were in Warrnambool at the time.
But the tour is back on track! We recommence tonight with two sold-out shows at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre in Wollongong, before continuing on to other venues in NSW, Tasmania, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
It is a euphoric feeling to be practicing my profession again. Exercising the skills I have honed over many years feels like reclaiming a part of my identity. Stepping out onto the stage again feels like coming home.
There is relief too. After 473 days contending with the humility of starting new things, here is something I know intimately. Great opera and a no-nonsense, short rehearsal period! The cast, crew and orchestra are excellent, and have been so warm and friendly in welcoming me into the show. I feel absolutely in my element for the first time in a long while.
You can check out the tour information here.
It was sad to have to pull out of Forest Collective’s Asia in Focus to take this tour contract. The concert will highlight some incredible work by contemporary Asian composers, including a number of Australian and world premieres. The concert has been curated Forest’s own Saxophonist and improviser Ali Fyffe. I was lucky enough to chat with Ali recently about her extraordinary experiences performing contemporary music in Asia. You can read our interview What Do We Know About Asian New Music? on Forest Collective’s blog.
In this concert, I was to have performed a number of songs that are very dear to my heart, by LUO Zhongrong and LUO Maishuo. I am happy that my amazing sister Janet Szepei Todd will step into the breach and perform these songs, bringing her own incredible artistry to this stunning music.
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The space created by the recent lockdown has allowed me to begin another exciting project: a new poetic translation of Pierrot Lunaire. This will accompany Forest Collective’s opera-ballet performance of this epochal work in November.
My aim is to create translations that can stand alone as poetry, and not merely act as a kind of surtitle. I will publish them in a zine that will be available for purchase at the performance. The poems are haunting and sensual, and I hope to render them in a way that isn’t like kissing someone through a veil.
In 1884, Belgian poet Albert Giraud wrote a cycle of 50 rondels about the Commedia dell’Arte clown Pierrot, who had become symbolic of an “artist’s alter ego”. Giraud’s Pierrot is “moonstruck”, finding ecstatic inspiration from the moon, but also edging into madness and delusion. The poet Otto Erich Hartleben translated these poems from French into German, imbuing them with a heightened sense of drama and dynamism. Schönberg took 21 of these poems, curating them into three groups of seven poems for his masterpiece Pierrot Lunaire in 1912.
In translating from German, I am having to strike a balance between several factors, including semantic accuracy, overall poetic sense, rhyme, rhythm, and maintaining the strict form of the rondel. There are also some interesting moments where idiomatic German phrases do not have English equivalents. This leads to creative problem solving, which is a fascinating challenge.
Here is a sneak peak from the first part of the cycle.
The Sick Moon
O sick nocturnal moon above,
There on heaven’s sable pillow,
Feverish and immense, your gaze
Enthrals me like strange melody.
A noxious love is killing you,
A deep infection of the heart.
O sick nocturnal moon above,
There on heaven’s sable pillow.
Lost in ecstasy, your lover
Slinks uncaring to his love,
Amused by playful rays of light –
Your long-tormented, sallow blood,
O sick nocturnal moon above.