August 2011 saw us working intensively for a week in the upstairs studio of Arcola Theatre in Dalston - the props and set consisting of a bag of sand, some cardboard boxes and a piece of old rope - negotiating tricky physical moves with Peter's wonderful but challenging new music. We somehow pulled it together and the result was a performance about an hour long, story getting as far as the end of Act II. Playing Bradamante, I shared one of the opera's most famous arias, "Verdi prati", as a duet with Ruggiero.
The rehearsals were documented by filmmaker Nichola Bruce, and after the two performances at Grimeborn, we carried on working with the material and filmed in Hastings. Nichola is currently in post-production for her film Alcina - Pale Shadows. The trailer can be watched here.
The idea of Barefoot Opera is to produce shows which can be easily transported so the instrumentation was somewhat unorthodox, consisting of accordion, clarinet and recorders. More recently the trio has replaced the recorder with cello, bringing a welcome addition of a string instrument to the mix.
The work has also included vocal improvisation from the very beginning. In spring 2012 two short performances were entirely based on vocal improvisation, first at WorkIn Process 4 Cross-platform at St Paul's Church Covent Garden. This was a version of "Verdi prati" with flashlights, suitcases and the trusty old rope, and received very favourable feedback from the audience. Here the company also found the cellist for the instrumental mix - Sophie Rivlin. The second completely vocal performance was at Nunhead Cemetery Open Day in May 2012 at the incredibly atmospheric, octagonal roofless chapel with magnificent acoustics.
The cast of Alcina has changed along the way several times, but all performers embrace the openmindedness required to make a safe, non-judgmental environment for improvisation. I believe my Bradamante is the only character who has been present at each performance since 2011, including the mini-performances at St Paul's and Nunhead, and the only other singer who has been there from the very beginning is Penelope Randall-Davis, a wonderful Queen of the Night and an inspirational vocal teacher, playing Alcina herself.
Here is Nichola Bruce's video from the latest workshop of Alcina, Act III, shot at the Barefoot Studio in Brockley in October 2013.
Here can be found more info on Barefoot Opera.