In this interview, mezzo-soprano Camilla Bull talks about becoming Dido in Helios Collective’s production of Dido and Belinda.
What’s so experimental about this opera?
The music is not ‘sacred’, though still respected. That opens up so many more options, that the whole rehearsal process has been very different. It’s been exciting to play with the plethora of ideas that have become possible, alongside a conductor (Leo Geyer) who knows the original music so well but is completely open to using it differently. It’s almost been like we’re working on a newly composed opera and that has given it a whole new lease of life.
Who is your character, and what are the joys / sorrows of playing the part?
Dido. I have always thought it’s a hard character (in the original) as so much of the reason for her anguish and fears come from backstory that’s taken for granted before the opera starts. Stage time with Aeneas, and the music that they share, is pretty brief so it’s difficult, in my opinion, to present Dido as a strong female.
A joy within this version is that you (hopefully) see Dido’s journey through the story that the music represents. We still have so far to go in our society before humans are truly given freedom to love who they wish to love, and to be who they wish to be. Nonconformity comes at a heavy price, still, that one is a flag bearer for their life choice – especially if born into a well-known family or in a profession that comes hand in hand with publicity.
Describe your character in six words.
Conflicted, passionate, brave, burdened, emotionally intelligent.
What’s your performance-day ritual?
I love to have a swim – it’s my meditation. Being under water is my escape from all things that worry me on land! Other than that, an early warm up, big breakfast and lunch, and at the performance venue nice and early to stretch / warm up body and voice in the performance space, when possible.
What’s your favourite language to sing in?
I find it much easier to connect with text in English but prefer singing in Italian. I’ve recently moved to Germany and the more I learn the language, and can more easily engage with the text without translating back and forth in my head, the more I’m enjoying singing in German. I loved singing in Russian, too, actually but that was because it was such a different sound world.
In your own words, what’s the difference between Opera and Musical Theatre?
Lack of microphones would be the first distinct difference for me. When you’re filling a space without amplification, you can’t dance around as much at the same time. Each art form demands a different skill set, but both require performers that are agile singing actors.
What led you to singing as a career?
I always loved singing and was lucky enough that my school produced a musical each year in the local theatre with professional costumes / set / lighting and live orchestra. Through those, I discovered my love of singing as a character.
How is singing for a production like this different from other types of singing?
As a classical performer, it’s very easy to become narrow about the possibilities available to you with your voice. Particularly as an opera singer, one works every day to hone the technique of utilising the exact amount of air / pressure / use of resonating areas dependant on which vowel and pitch that you can forget to tap into the colours that come from choosing to alter any one of those things for a particular dramatic effect. That’s a very liberating situation and one that I’ve enjoyed immensely.
Date/Marry/Kill: Mozart, Puccini, Wagner?
Wouldn’t kill anyone!
Camilla Bull stars in Helios Collective’s upcoming production of Dido and Belinda on 12, 13, 14 October 2016.