SOMEHOW, WE WERE ABLE TO TRACK DOWN EACH OF OUR VERY BUSY SCHOLARS TO ASK THEM EACH FIVE BURNING QUESTIONS ABOUT THE OPERA INDUSTRY, AND WHAT THIS YEAR ENTAILS FOR THEM. TODAY, WE CHAT WITH REPETITEUR, SIMON BRUCKARD.
As well as being a classical musician, you also have an aptitude for jazz and musical theatre. How does your knowledge of these other musical genres assist in a classical setting?
I absolutely love playing jazz and pop music. Whenever I sit at a piano I haven’t played before I subconsciously become a cocktail bar player, and croon ballads to myself…
I think there’s a slight perception in the classical music world that jazz, pop and music theatre are lesser forms of music or easier to play, but nothing could be further from the truth. Jazz is the ultimate in applied theory – you have to have a vast mental library of chord voicings, functional harmony and style. Applying that to classical music, you start to hear harmony in a much more sophisticated way. Playing in a band is also great for your rhythm – a drumkit is not going to compensate for your delicate and self-indulgent rubato. You have to learn to play in time and find more creative ways of expressing yourself.
You’re also a full time staff member for Victorian Opera. What does that entail and how does it strengthen your skills as a repetiteur?
Working at an opera company is the meat and potatoes in the degustation of repetiteur life. I spend on average about 6 hours a day at the company playing in production rehearsals, coaching singers and preparing for performances. In my opinion, it’s the best way to develop your skills and learn repertoire. You have to know your stuff extremely well just to get by. I’ve also learnt a lot about working with different people, how rehearsals are best run and that opera really is a collaborative art.
You frequently collaborate with singers. Have you done any chamber work in the past, and if so, what’s your favourite kind of repertoire to play?
I have to admit that I have a pretty limited amount of chamber music experience. I tended to play in music theatre orchestras, cabaret shows and jazz bands instead. I guess a lot of the skills are the same though.
What is it about vocal music that draws you in particular?
I don’t think there’s anything unusual about liking vocal music. Most people listen almost exclusively to music with singers, particularly in the pop/music theatre worlds. And I think it’s obvious why. It’s much easier to relate to text than absolute music. You can hear the individual behind the performance and feel a personal connection. We all have those songs that never fail to move us, make us laugh or get us dancing. That’s as much to do with lyrics as the music itself. Perhaps the language barrier is one reason why it can be so hard to get new audiences into opera.
You’re love of languages is evident. What steps are you taking to continually improve and expand your language capabilities?
It’s always hard to maintain languages, but working in the opera industry is a pretty convenient method! I am constantly exposed to Italian, French and German just in my day to day work. I make a solid effort to know every single word in an opera that I’m working on. In that way, I try to constantly expand my vocab and ways of expression. I also taught some beginner French this year, which was a great way to keep the skills sharp.