Over the next month, I’m going to be spending some time with Andy Packer and the team at Slingsby as they prepare for the world premiere of Ode To Nonsense, their new opera for families, presented with State Opera South Australia.
While Andy has been working on the show for twelve years, it all started to come together this week in the rehearsal room. I spoke to Andy last Thursday, and will speak to him again before opening, as well as writing about spending time in the rehearsal room, before seeing the show and writing a review with all this perspective.
I know very little about opera, and have spent very little time in rehearsal rooms outside of student productions. I’m not sure what will come out of this process yet, for me or for him, but I think we’re both curious and excited to see what will result.
Andy is an artist it is always wonderful to speak with. His energy and passion is infectious, his joy for his work delightful to witness. Slingsby premiered in 2008, its premier performance The Tragical Life of Cheeseboy going on to tour internationally “220 times in 40 venues in 25 cities on 5 continents”. While still young, it is greatly respected and an important piece of the puzzle that makes Adelaide a leader in the creation of work for young people.
An Ode To Nonsense is the fourth work for the company, and is based on the work and life of Edward Lear, perhaps most well known for The Owl and the Pussycat. Lear has always been a presence in Slingsby, though, with the company taking their name from his The Story of the Four Little Children Who Went Round The World:
Once upon a time, a long while ago, there were four little people whose names were Violet, Slingsby, Guy, and Lionel; and they all thought they should like to see the world. So they bought a large boat to sail quite round the world by sea, and then they were to come back on the other side by land.
It was twelve years ago – before Slingsby as a company even existed – that Andy “fell in love with Lear’s work.” It was from that point, he described, he’s been “working away, trying to find the right way to celebrate both his work but also his life, and what I think maybe we can all glean from his existence.”
Andy originally conceived this as a small cabaret show based on The Story of the Four Little Children … with a development showing in 2005. From this showing, though, Andy realised “it was a bigger story.”
It was while directing Motzart’s Bastien and Bastienne that he decided opera was the right form for the story.
For me, as someone who doesn’t have an education in opera, this striked me as an interesting choice. So much of opera is caught up in the heritage features of the art form – it’s not at all surprising the opera Andy was directing for State Opera was by Motzart.
“The thing that is great about opera,” he told me, “the thing that I fell in love with, is there is no other artform where you can change gears emotionally quite so quickly, because the music is driving the story.”
“There is a moment in Ode to Nonsense where Lear is being teased by Gussie and Giorgio: they’re teasing him about one of his nonsense recipes. In the recipe it says take the ingredients and place them in another room, then bring them back and then throw the whole lot out of the window, and they’re singing that and being cheeky, and he’s singing that and repeats the same text and basically talking about throwing himself out the window. And only music can make that clear to you. It’s the same words, seconds later, but because of the music it has a much deeper and quicker emotional resonance. What opera’s particularly good at is taking the personal and making it epic. Making it a big philosophical story as well as being a personal story.”