A Symbolist Nervous Breakdown Cabaret with Tabatha McFadyen

TabathaMcFadyen Kupka's Piano welcomes guest soprano Tabatha McFadyen to the stage once again, this time for a scintillating performance of Arnold Schoenberg's modernist masterpiece Pierrot Lunaire at PIERROT! on June 10 at the Judith Wright Centre.

Jodie Rottle: Tabatha, I have run into you in Brisbane a few times over the past six months, but it was never for long; you were always jet-setting elsewhere for a musical adventure. Can you tell us what you have been up to regarding travel and performing?

Tabatha McFadyen: Jodie! Hello! I’ve been about, mostly singing and trying to become better at singing, which is a joy and a pleasure. I did a La Boheme in NZ at the start of the year, and then went to Tel Aviv to do a residency at The Israeli Opera, and have gotten to do some great recitals with my fellow musical terrorist, (KP pianist) Alex Raineri. Have to say, 2016’s been a great year; but it’s about to get exponentially better on June 10!

J: Where do you consider to be your "home base" for the moment? Do you have any upcoming performances in Australia other than PIERROT! with KP?

T: Look, I’m mostly homeless, but Sydney’s where my books are and Auckland’s where the cat is, so it’s a deadheat between those two. I actually have a performance with Alex here in Brisbane this coming Friday for the 4MBS Festival of Classics, in which we’re doing a pretty hefty bunch of Russian ditties. (Tatiana’s Letter Scene = ditty.) My next operatic role though is the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro in late June in Hawaii, because I’m allergic to staying in one country for longer than a minute.

J: How do you prepare for diverse singing roles? Is there a difference to preparing Pierrot Lunaire from a traditional operatic role?

T: In some ways the process is the same. Text first, then rhythm, then notes, and getting little thoughts about the character all the way through that rudimentary process and then putting it together. The main difference I suppose is that this rudimentary stage of learning for Pierrot takes longer because the music’s harder than most commonly presented operas, and therefore the entire process is littered with confusion and sporadic self-chastising that I didn’t pay more attention in Aural Skills at uni. However, the effort is worth it, because the deeper I go into this score the more I marvel at it, and the more I’m astounded by Schoenberg’s capacity for drama, which I think is something he took right the way through his oeuvre. (Something, incidentally, people forget about when they’re blithely blaming him for the annihilation of Western Classical Music; an egregiously erroneous claim, by the way, but we don’t have time to get into that here.) He captures every passing change in thought, and flits between irony and deep pathos with such a deft hand, and, with a penetrating psychological knowledge and a fearless compositional language, he renders our darkest human thoughts in sound. So, the process of preparation becomes thrilling because I get to explore that and figure out how I’m going to bring it to life. But I'm still furious that I continually missed Wednesday morning aural because of the legacy of Plough Tuesday.

J: Schoenberg's piece uses the Sprechstimme technique, which requires you to blend singing and speaking. How do you think this technique relays the drama of the music? Do you think it strengthens the poetry and themes more than traditional singing styles? Give us your take on how you assume character in Pierrot Lunaire.

T: The bizarre thing about Sprechstimme, I find, is that it ostensibly ought to be a more ‘realistic’ approach to text because it’s closer to speech than the highly stylised operatic sound that we mostly use for songs. However, something about it not fitting neatly into either category makes it discomforting (still, more than a century after its composition) and grotesque, which fits the poetic material perfectly. As a singer it gives you a huge spectrum of colour to work with, but Schoenberg is tremendously specific, and the character comes out of seeing how he’s set the text and how I can best play with that. Without giving too much away, my take on Pierrot is that the night is a kind of Symbolist Nervous Breakdown Cabaret (if that description doesn’t sell tickets I don’t know what will).

J: Can you write us a haiku or provide us with a picture as to why our readers should book a ticket to "PIERROT!"?

T: I have summarised the salient points of the story in that most wonderful of contemporary hieroglyphs, the emoji.

🌝 🍷 👀 🌚 💐 🌚 🙅 🏻 🌚 🛁 💄 🌚 👩 🏼 🌊 💉 💋 ⚰ 🚶 👵  😭  🌚  🤒  🤕  🦃  🌞 🚫 🎭 😄 😟 👑 💍 ⚰  💉 😱 ✝ 🕯 🙋 ❤️ ❌ 🌛 🔪 😀   ❌ ✝   💉 ⚰  😔 🇮🇹 🎭 💀 🔩 🚬 🏸  👵 🏻 🌛 👔 😱 😡 🏹  🎻 🌛 🚣 💨 💭 😄

Yes, the turkey and the badminton racquet are somewhat inapposite, but there is a severe lack of giant, soul-sucking, black butterflies in the emoji software. Knitting needles made of moonlight also glaringly absent.

Also, here is a Venn Diagram illuminating the nature of the work, in relation to other events in people's lives, which I assume look exactly the same as mine.

Tabatha's graph

J: Wow ... that's spot on!

Witness Tabatha and Kupka's Piano portray all of these things plus a world premiere by Ben Marks at PIERROT! ON JUNE 10, 7:30PM at the Judy. Tickets available now!