Arts on Friday
Some people may feel as if they live in a circus every day, but Centrepoint artistic director Jeff Kingsford-Brown has embraced the role of a circus ringmaster in an opera with open arms. Emma Horsley talks to the man in the top hat.
It may come as a surprise to some people, but Jeff Kingsford-Brown can sing. Well, that's what he says anyway, and as he has been picked to perform in the New Zealand Opera's The Bartered Bride, why would anyone doubt his word?
"Well, yes, I can sing and I have done musical performances before, but this is a whole different level. These people are amazing and I feel a little in awe, to be honest."
Kingsford-Brown says his role of ringmaster is mainly acting and he has had to learn new stage craft that is applicable to opera.
"There are no microphones, so you have to sing unaided and there you are on a huge stage, with all these amazing voices and an orchestra and your voice has to hit the wall at the back of the theatre."
He says learning that you can't turn your back too far away from the audience is vital.
"Turning more than a few degrees is not good."
With a bit of mock opera under his belt and having done some work with Michael Vincent, who recommended him for the role, Kingsford-Brown is relishing his part of the performance.
"They were looking for someone who could be a big actor presence and apparently I fitted the bill."
Kingsford-Brown took up the reins as Centrepoint's artistic director at the start of this year and is happy to leave the theatre in the hands of the "very capable team here".
"It just about runs itself and everyone knows what their role is and so I have been able to spend some time away from the place."
But he is back in the city for a couple of weeks while a new chorus and dancers are trained for the Wellington performances, having left the Auckland support cast behind after a successful season at the ASB Theatre.
The Wellington season will start on October 13 at the St James Theatre.
Composed by Czech Bedrich Smetana, The Bartered Bride is sung in English and features a strong New Zealand cast, including Anna Leese, Conal Coad, Patricia Wright, Helen Medlyn, Richard Green, Andrew Glover and, of course, Kingsford-Brown.
An effervescent, comic look at Bohemian life, The Bartered Bride is set in 1972, four years after the Prague Spring, and is a tale of true love prevailing despite the best efforts of a scheming marriage broker and a couple of social-climbing parents.
Kingsford-Brown is gearing up for commuting to the evening rehearsals in the capital.
"Rehearsals have to be in the evening as a lot of the chorus of course have day jobs and there are kids in the show too who will be at school during the day."
He says that sometimes it's easy to forget not everyone is on stage in a professional capacity. "They are all incredibly talented, but not everyone is able to do this on a daily basis as a living."
Not working every day is also something he has had to get used to.
"As an actor, you have a season where you are performing every night with probably one day off a week and you get used to that.
"Of course, with opera the singers have to protect their voices and so the season stops and starts and there are days off during the week - all things I have had to get used to."
He says it can be hard to keep the momentum up and be ready to roll on cue and the rhythm of performing is very different from what he is used to.
"And the fact that I am only on stage every now and then and not for a long period of time, you have to stay pumped and fired up, which can be tiring."
Kingsford-Brown has been working with a vocal coach to make sure he can project adequately and keep his voice in top shape. "Bruce Grenfield, my coach has been great, as there have been different challenges with me, of course."
As an opera, Kingsford-Brown says The Bartered Bride is perfect for non-opera people.
"It's fun and satirical and sung in English, which makes it much more accessible to people."
And seeing circus performances that include tumblers, contortionists and jugglers has to be a bonus.
■ The Bartered Bride's Wellington season starts on October 13 and runs until October 20 at the St James Theatre.
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