Orchestras and Acrobats: An Interview with Jane Sheldon
The latest instalment of the collaboration between the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Circa welcomes a critically acclaimed guest vocalist, and she’s no stranger to the stage.
Australian-American soprano Jane Sheldon has an impressive CV featuring an ARIA award nomination and praise from The New York Times. Throughout May, Jane will take to the stage as the guest vocalist in English Baroque, which is part of a collaboration between the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Brisbane-based Circa. We spoke with Jane in the midst of rehearsals to find out more about the production.
The Creative Issue: How did you come to be involved in this latest project?
Jane Sheldon: I first worked for the Brandenburg Orchestra in 2002 when I was nineteen. This year the Orchestra is celebrating its 30th year, and Paul [ABO Artistic Director] got in touch with me to say that he was wanting to program the year using a lot of the artists he’s collaborated with over the existence of the orchestra. He knew that I spend most of my time doing staged Avant-Garde opera and he sort of match-made me with Circa for this new program.
TCI: How different has your experience been working with the ABO this time around?
JS: What’s lovely is that as a team and a creative atmosphere it’s a very consistent environment. Despite years between collaborations with them, it always feels like I’m just jumping back in with a bunch of very talented mates. I haven’t really done any work with them before that had this amount of staging, and so that’s a new thing and that’s exciting.
TCI: How does English Baroque stand apart from its European contemporaries?
JS: It does make a difference when you’re singing in the native tongue of much of the audience, and I feel like that might have an influence on the way that the story-telling and music is received. Part of the program involves music from the Liturgical tradition, but then there is a whole other part of the program that has folk song. I think the way that you listen to folk song in your native tongue differs from the way you might listen to folk song in another language. The Circa designers have been quite attracted to the idea of drawing reference from the formal English gardens of the time and elements of its architecture, so it’s quite a rich material.
TCI: Are you familiar with a lot of the pieces that you’ll be performing?
JS: Some yes, some no. I’ve performed enough Purcell in the past that his compositional idiom is one that’s really familiar to me, and I really adore him and love his music and his weirdness. Paul and Yaron [Circa Artistic Director] had a specific sequence of moods they wanted to evoke and one of those was night as a sort of magical thing. I suggested this Handel aria about succumbing to sleep which I’ve wanted to sing, and happily he [Paul] went for it. There are a couple of pieces that are familiar not just to me, but that will be extremely familiar to the audience. It’s a mix which is nice.
TCI: Within that, has there been much room for vocal experimentation?
JS: No is the short answer; however, I often get comments like “Oh, you do a lot of really contemporary music that involves a whole lot of technical experimentation and then you also sing a bit of Baroque music and not a lot in between”. The thing is usually if someone specialises in one, they’ve also got an interest in the other. There is something about the vocal palette that you call on to be expressive in the Baroque — there’s a possibility for a lot of nuance in the sound, but I would not call that experimental.
TCI: What was the rehearsal process like working with Circa?
JS: It’s unlike any other, and part of that is for practical reasons. ABO is based in Sydney and Circa is based in Brisbane, and so part of the music rehearsals gets underway in Sydney and then the staging rehearsals with the acrobats get underway in Brisbane, and then we get put together.
I went up to visit the Circa guys last week and play around with them and see what they’d already made. Firstly, it was completely breath-taking. I find that kind of skill very beautiful, the fact that they can do what they can do. I had a look at some of the staging they’d made and then they put me in the scene among the acrobats and put me on a couple of the apparatus which was super fun. Based on that first meeting they adapt the staging, and then we get together in Sydney and really get into the thick of it together.
TCI: What can audiences can expect from English Baroque?
JS: The thing that is really beautiful to me when I was singing and watching those guys move is their very specific interpretations of the music into this movement language. There are feature moments in the show where an acrobat’s gesture or body actually takes on a shape that resembles the shape of the sound I’m making. It’s kind of an abstract thing to say, but we’re making an abstract work.
What: English Baroque
When: May 21
Where: QPAC Concert Hall
How Much: From $59
More info: Tickets and more info can be found here.
Jane’s website can be found here.
Image credit: Steven Godbee