31 October 2014

Victorian Opera-MCM Master of Music (Opera Performance) Recital

Melba Hall
The University of Melbourne
Thursday 30 October 2014

The secret is in the socks.

The singers generally had eight or nine minutes between finishing one aria and going back on to re-orient their head-space towards the next. Perhaps they liked to walk about a bit backstage to hum the orchestral introduction and sing the entry.

The orchestra, in this case Simon Bruckard, had less than half a minute to get the key, time signature, the nature of the aria and the opening dynamics settled in his head. That’s why accompanists have shiny knees. Not just from praying to St Cecilia. They have no time to find a hanky before he/she makes their entry so they wipe their sweaty palms on their trousers. In a few seconds Simon transported himself in time: from Mozart to Menotti, from Bellini to Bizet. Once oriented, he played each opening section to match what he knew would be the singers’ own dynamics: speed, volume and density of sound. The voice entries were seamless; Simon saw to that.

Simon Bruckard, Image courtesy of Victorian Opera
We saw all this tonight. Unsung, unacknowledged, except in the last few seconds of the recital, the orchestra – because that’s what he was – formed the base on which the singers built their magic. Even the invitation to drinks asked us to meet the singers – not the musicians, just the singers. Without his art, his magic, his solid expertise, his underpinning musicianship, no amount of wonderful acting – even that new-found skill of Matthew Tng, no amount of first-class singing would have saved the singers.

He didn’t follow. He didn’t lead. He was there with them, singly and together in ensemble every note of the way. Like a great hockey player he knew where the ball was going to go so he ran with them to that point. And if he is as good as he appeared to be in tonight’s performances they wouldn’t have realised he was doing it.

Simon is a virtuosic pianist:
Simon Bruckard, Image courtesy of Victorian Opera
but he is more than that. He’s that rare musician: an accompanist. And more than that he’s a répétiteur: pianist, language coach, voice coach and rehearsal coach. He provided the lovely running figure under their lovely legato lines in Cosi. He provided the chromatic and timing structure for then to be secure in the recitatives in Figaro: spot-on all the time. He provided the frenetic dance colour in Carmen. He provided the beautiful cello-ish line in Die Zauberflöte. His was a superb performance. Sometimes I would have like more assertiveness, though, f or ff instead of mf, because it’s better to ask, I think, ‘Am I too loud?’

How did he, in an instant, transport his head in time – Délibes to Donizetti? It’s the socks. He has three pair. Look for the Tardis.

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