The Apollo Opera Collective is an exciting new company that sees young artists come together to put on baroque operas, working collaboratively across all aspects of production. Headed by Artistic Director Keiren Brandt-Sawdy, Assistant Conductor of Pinchgut Opera, its goal is to provide a platform for young artists to gain invaluable performance experience and to develop their professional careers. AOC’s inaugural production will be Handel’s Ariodante, opening February 9. Limelight spoke to tenor Spencer Darby, who is playing Lurcanio, about the origins of AOC and what it’s like to work on its very first project.
Where did the idea for Apollo Opera Collective come from?
This company was the brainchild of Keiren Brandt-Sawdy, the musical director. He is experienced well beyond his years in early music and saw a chance to stand at the helm of something that really mattered to him. The company name is of course in reference to Apollo, Greek God of music (amongst other Godly portfolios).
Do you see a dearth of programmes for young artists to gain performance experience?
The climate for young musicians in Australia is more challenging than ever. It gets tiresome to be banging the old “there’s no funding for the arts” drum, but unfortunately matters of music and the arts in general are increasingly judged by their ability to yield a financial return, rather than a cultural or artistic one. This does mean that opportunities for young musicians are increasingly scarce.
Why have you chosen to focus exclusively on baroque works?
Australia seems to have a real thirst for baroque music. There is such a rich history of repertoire. I know that once I heard baroque and classical music played with historical accuracy for the first time, I never wanted to go back!
Tenor Spencer Darby. Photo: supplied
Why have you chosen Ariodante as your first work to perform?
I don’t want to speak for Keiren (one must stay in the good graces of the person responsible for setting tempi), but Ariodante is an exciting, dramatic work that features some of Handel’s most arresting music. Whilst still in the framework of the formalism of the baroque, some of the music is surprisingly modern and dramatic.
How long have you been in rehearsal? Has it been a smooth ride?
Like anything being done for the first time, there are naturally some teething issues when working out the question of “how does one put on an opera?”, but by and large we’ve been shown immense generosity by the venues we have rehearsed at, and have managed to put together an extremely challenging work without any major disasters (touch wood).
How has it been like working with Keiren Brandt-Sawdy and performing with the Orchestra?
Keiren is a wonderful musical director. One of his greatest strengths would have to be his people management skills. When I was a young singer starting out at university, many repetiteurs and conductors had a way of talking down to you (singers are generally considered to be the drummers of the classical world), and damaging your confidence without getting the desired musical result. Keiren has a really fantastic way of asking a lot of you musically, without making any criticism feel personal. His first priority always seems to be his service to the music.
What do you hope to have gained from putting on your first opera?
The confidence and experience to do another… then another… then another…
And what do you want audiences to take away?
Hopefully audiences will feel something. We want them to be moved and to be transported by the action. The only way to connect with a work this old is through emotion, because while so much has changed since the 18th century, emotions are still the same.
Apollo Opera Collective’s Ariodante runs February 9 – 10 at Mary Immaculate Church, Waverley.