Posts tagged Tabatha McFadyen soprano
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!

Stars, not far off - New songs by Liam Flenady

Wallace_Stevens On Friday night Kupka’s Piano will premiere my new work Stars, not far off - a cycle of six songs, settings of ‘Six significant landscapes’ (1916) by American poet Wallace Stevens.

This excites me, as it represents the first successful vocal composition of my output. Successful in a couple of senses: in the melodiousness of the lines, in the setting of the texts, in the interrelation of the voice and the instruments. It has been a great experience talking through the ideas and expression with Tabatha McFadyen and with the instrumentalists, and hearing the pieces come to life. They are sounding fantastic.

It was not an easy piece to write, and took me two months longer than expected - the poor performers only having received the sixth song less than two weeks ago.

American composer Elliott Carter once said to his student David Schiff that you can’t set Wallace Stevens to music, because his poems lack the requisite drama. Maybe this is why the work was so difficult to compose. It is true Stevens' poems are often metaphysical meditations with no narrative or psychodrama, and these songs are no exception. But one thing that struck me when reading the poems over and over was that, despite their stillness, there was always an implied dramatic movement, albeit a subtle one. In each poem you can always find an internal logic of development in the conceptual framework and imagery as well as a formal and rhythmic logic to the diction and phrasing. It is a matter of bringing this movement and difference to the surface while remaining true to the equal measures of stillness and unity in the poems.

Another aspect that I wanted to explore - in fact, perhaps the main reason for choosing these to set - was the fact that the poems were written by an American poet about China. (Stevens, an 'oriental art' enthusiast, wrote the poems in response to six Chinese landscape paintings, hence the title). It is becoming clear that the economic, political, and cultural relationship Australia has to both China and America (and the tensions that come from this) will be an important part of what it is to be Australian across the first half of the 21st century. These songs therefore try to incorporate signifiers of typical orientalist fantasy - gongs, pentatonics, glissandi, tranquillity, etc - at the same time as trying to have a kind of American busyness, sassiness and worldly nonchalance.

Through this contradiction, I hope the songs to be representative of something properly Australian.

I hope you can come listen to Kupka’s Piano and Tabatha bring these songs into the world on Friday night.

//

Six Significant Landscapes

I An old man sits In the shadow of a pine tree In China. He sees larkspur, Blue and white, At the edge of the shadow, Move in the wind. His beard moves in the wind. The pine tree moves in the wind. Thus water flows Over weeds.

II The night is of the colour Of a woman's arm: Night, the female, Obscure, Fragrant and supple, Conceals herself. A pool shines, Like a bracelet Shaken in a dance.

III I measure myself Against a tall tree. I find that I am much taller, For I reach right up to the sun, With my eye; And I reach to the shore of the sea With my ear. Nevertheless, I dislike The way ants crawl In and out of my shadow.

IV When my dream was near the moon, The white folds of its gown Filled with yellow light. The soles of its feet Grew red. Its hair filled With certain blue crystallizations From stars, Not far off.

V Not all the knives of the lamp-posts, Nor the chisels of the long streets, Nor the mallets of the domes And high towers, Can carve What one star can carve, Shining through the grape-leaves.

VI Rationalists, wearing square hats, Think, in square rooms, Looking at the floor, Looking at the ceiling. They confine themselves To right-angled triangles. If they tried rhomboids, Cones, waving lines, ellipses -- As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon -- Rationalists would wear sombreros.