Guest Blog: Creator Pamela Tan-Nicholson On TRIOPERAS

Guest Blog: Creator Pamela Tan-Nicholson On TRIOPERAS
TriOperas at Peacock Theatre

I like entertaining. Since I was eight years old and the best sight-reader at school, responsible for playing hymns at chapel services and carols at Christmas time, I loved to see the faces of my schoolmates light up when I surreptitiously improvised and made the hymns "hoppier" and happier.

Mostly, teachers looked the other way, as they could see that the kids enjoyed their mandatory religious singing much more this way. I knew perfectly well though when to play Liszt and Beethoven properly (as printed!) to get the grades and the trophies.

Horses for courses, as are TriOperas and opera per se.

Opera, in its classic form, can only be properly appreciated when performed at its best. Why visit a museum to see a poor copy of the Mona Lisa? Believing that second-rate opera qualifies as "anything worth doing is worth doing badly" has contributed to the art form declining in popular appreciation and general interest.

Opera brings together so many levels of imagination and skills to tell a story and share emotions. When it works - and in the right environment that must include your frame of mind - opera is the most sublime entertainment.

Why, then, do I want to do spoil the party and rework opera? Well, it's a very small party right now. And as with the hymns at school, I want to 'liven up' the party.

Guest Blog: Creator Pamela Tan-Nicholson On TRIOPERAS
TriOperas at Peacock Theatre

Three years ago, The Production Company of the 2008 Beijing Olympics approached me to create a new outdoor festival on GuLangYu Island. They had seen some of the breathtakingly beautiful sets in Bregenz and wanted me to assess if the concept would work in China.

Bregenz (where I've performed in a previous life) teems, like the rest of Austria, with music, and all its glorious history and adventures. Audiences love everything as diverse as Mozart and Wagner to Friedrich Gulda and Vanessa-Mae to the Scorpions and Coldplay. It's the same in Russia and its cultural cousin China. All these countries have long, rich artistic provenance.

Yet Bregenz (like Bayreuth, Salzburg, Glyndebourne etc.) is nothing more or less than a hugely expensive treat. Attendees to Bregenz pay a small fortune to hear hours of sympathetically amplified opera in an unconventional outdoor setting.

Definitely neither affordable nor 'value for money' for the masses who visit the historic 'piano island', GuLangYu, for their family summer holidays.

The Chinese have long left their classical opera behind as a cultural relic to be visited only for a history lesson. As for Western traditional opera, even the air-conditioned luxury of the Performing Arts Centre in Beijing (sic. opera house) cannot draw audiences to sit through its heavily subsidised performances.

The most beautiful opera stage would certainly just become a backdrop for a selfie.

Yet I was enthralled by the idea of entertaining a summer festival audience, with something else other than the hottest K-pop star or the most current DJ. The biggest challenge was time. Time moves fast for people today.

Guest Blog: Creator Pamela Tan-Nicholson On TRIOPERAS
TriOperas at Peacock Theatre

Most people's concept of great music these days is the hit single. At the touch of a button or a swipe, you can download any single. If the album is dead, how can one ram a three-hour opera down the throat of a modern consumer in a hurry to enjoy the good bits?

Yet if a three-minute pop song can conjure up the emotions and elements of a whole doomed affair, how feeble to baulk at condensing three opera stories into three gesamtkunstwerk acts of approximately 35 minutes each.

Thus, TriOperas was conceived - for a large outdoor stage on the water, orchestra, band, chorus, and an army of acrobats, singers and dancers. Each segment of music and movement designed to flow one into another like a seamless series of videos performed 'live' with interconnecting sections of music, each not longer than a single. Music and movement would change the mood, set the scenes and carry the narrative.

I wanted to create a show not only for the adults, but one with scenes, music and impressions that will endure favourably in a child's mind (as Disney's Fantasia did in mine when I was a child). I know how children's initial excitement of dressing up and joining the adults for an opera quickly wanes when the music never stops and the action never starts.

So in all three operas, action comes hard and fast along with the music. Warrior-princess Turandot doesn't just stand and warble about being tough. Our feisty heroine kicks off in fighting armour, flies into battle, and swings across the stage, singlehandedly beheading her enemy.

In Butterfly (admittedly not a suitable story for the very young), I took a tongue-in-cheek tack to give it a brash (think Trump!) American makeover, opening with bombastic Fourth of July fireworks and a Jimi Hendrix-style rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Puccini had already alluded to the US anthem - I just decided to go all the way.

Guest Blog: Creator Pamela Tan-Nicholson On TRIOPERAS
TriOperas at Peacock Theatre

I also adopted contemporary Japanese culture (referencing anime, and manga culture to depict the geishas) and paid homage to Zaitochi, by getting our geishas to geta-tap. The aerial acts in the quiet moments thrill subtly (and fortunately, the very young do not recognise the Kama Sutra positions in the pas de deux).

Carmen, booed and critically slated when it first opened and now a favourite everywhere, is loved for the Spanish-flavoured music composed by a parochial Frenchman. So I decided I would take him further - to South America via tango, paso doble, seguidilla and lambada, before a Strictly Come Dancing-esque finale with salsa.

And it's not only the cast who dance their hearts out, but also the fiery red bull who wins the hearts of the audience, old and young, with his spectacular high jumps, pirouettes and salsa!

Re-conceptualising the show for a theatre entailed revisiting the multimedia and multi-discipline elements to fit venue, cast and skills.

One thing did not change: each opera is still short and sweet. We are in a world now when tapas and dim sum restaurants qualify for Michelin stars. Good things come in small packages - and quickly! To welcome the uninitiated to join the party, let's speed opera up and offer a taste.

Most of us live life in the fast lane, and there's nothing wrong with that. I, for one, don't want to be slow, boring and unadventurous. Not yet.

TriOperas at Peacock Theatre until 1 July

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

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From This Author Guest Blog: Pamela Tan-Nicholson

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