Picoplat focused on developing talents

Picoplat Music Development Foundation hopes to take opera into rural communities.

The company, which staged Mozart’s The Impresario and a Broadway Revue over the weekend at the Central Bank Auditorium, believes an outreach programme can inspire young people to explore their artistic potential in a different way. It’s with this in mind that Picoplat Foundation director Natalia Dopwell is keen to take The Impresario on the road.

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“The beauty of The Impresario is that it only takes five singers, a pianist and a conductor, so we could take it virtually anywhere. We’re hoping that maybe after Carnival 2017, from Lent onwards we can do some outreach with it, so we’re inviting people that might be interested in bringing this to their schools to come and see the show and see if potentially it is something they would like to expose their children and students to.”

The Impresario is called a songspiel—singing and speaking—which Dopwell said is the classical precursor to Broadway.

“It’s a modern take. The text and the dialogues in between have been updated and we took some freedoms and brought it closer to Trinidad as well. The action of that opera takes place at an audition. An impresario is auditioning two rival divas to see who will be the lead in his new opera, but they end up arriving pretty much at the same time and it turns into a fiasco. So you get to explore all these wonderful stereotypes of divas in the theatre and it’s hilarious.”

Dopwell and fellow soprano Ayrice Wilson stared as the rival divas, alongside bass baritone Krisson Joseph, mezzo-soprano Diahann White, with Jodel Lutchman and Kendall Reid alternating the role of the Impresario. The Impresario is directed by Helmer Hilwig, with June Nathaniel providing musical direction and UTT professor Hayward Mickens on the piano.

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Natalia Dopwell, Raguel gabriel and Ayrice Wilson inPicoplat’s (fomerly CMDFTT) 2012 production of ‘The Impresario’ | Photo credit: Maria Nunes

The Broadway Revue comprised the first half of the concert and featured the Picoplat Young Artists Collective, the youngest of whom is under ten. She said one purpose of the concert was to give the young members of the company the opportunity to be centre stage. Cast members include sopranos Annalise Kelly, Shannon Navarro, Dominique Akal, Annalise Emmanuel and Amelia Emmanuel, tenors Richard Taylor, Stephan Poon Ying and Jake Salloum, and bass Shellon Antoine.

“For a lot of them, this will be the first time they’re acting with a director, which is important. Working with a director who’s staging you and giving you critique consistently during the development process is something that you need to get used to, as well as moving on stage—not just standing and singing. “

“It’s a different practice and you find especially if a young person’s done most of their singing in the studio with a teacher and in a choir, they actually have to relearn how to move on stage. Singing with a director and having to move is a very different skill set, so we thought it was important to give the younger singers an opportunity to do that, which they don’t get with the full operas, where they’re usually the chorus and so the amount of time the director has to work with them is very limited. So now we’re really giving them the stage and giving them a real shot at singing.”

The show was performed without the use of microphones and amplification. The songs chosen for the Broadway Revue are classics from musicals of that era like Pirates of Penzance, the Mikado and Showboat.

Dopwell, who performed successfully in Poland and the United Kingdom last year, said she encourages her performers to work with other groups to get different experiences. “You do not learn everything from one person; you pick up different things the more people you work with. We’re focused on developing their talents—not just developing a show, but developing performers who will go on and do better in the next show they’re in.

“When you go abroad and you only have one organisation on your resume, it looks like you’re not trying. Schools want to see (more than) that, and at university level, if you don’t do anything on your summer vacation, if you don’t take part in any masterclasses or anything outside of school, they actually penalise you when they’re giving out roles.

“I think it’s bad for art when we try to stifle freedom of movement. It’s a bizarre thing that happens in T&T, because we’re a tiny island, we just fight with each other and we try to keep people loyal to us by trashing other people and I don’t think that that works very well. I don’t think it really helps the art to survive, I don’t think it builds audiences, I don’t think it builds creativity, I think it stifles more than anything else.”

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Natalia Dopwell | Photo credit: Elliot Francois

This article was originally published in the T&T Guardian (04/11/2016)

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