Flora Willson

Flora Willson

Flora is a Lecturer in Music at King’s College London, where she specialises in 19th-century opera. She is a regular guest on BBC R3 and also writes for The Guardian and Opera magazine.

Activity

  • I’m delighted to hear you’ve enjoyed the course, David. Happy listening!

  • Thanks, Claudia – I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the course!

  • Hi Nupur, I’m delighted to hear you’ve been enjoying the course – we had a brilliant time putting it together!

  • Hello both, sorry to hear you’ve found this irritating. I can assure you that we weren't reading from cue cards at any point (!) and were always looking into a camera when we were filming. But there’s almost always a second camera present, and switching between them is a filming technique that lots of production crews use at the moment. I imagine FL will see...

  • Thanks for this, Efrossini. You’re right, it would’ve been lovely to be able to include some videos with the orchestral musicians as well. Sadly there was a limit to how much we could squeeze into a four-week MOOC! Another time, perhaps... But for now you might enjoy reading this: http://www.roh.org.uk/news/going-underground-a-day-in-the-life-of-the-orchestra-pit

  • Good point, Michael! And I also saw Cave – do hope you enjoyed it. It was an amazing use of that space anyway, I thought.

  • Hi Imelda, well spotted! The reason for the conductor’s absence in the list for 200 years ago is because conductors didn’t really exist then! The jobs we expect them to do today would’ve been split between the composer (as John suggests above), who would’ve taken charge of rehearsals and the lead violinist, who would’ve led performances (rather like chamber...

  • Hi Sheila, this is an interesting question! Also a slightly complicated one. Designs for a particular production will indeed be protected by law once they’ve been created, and so couldn’t be copied or altered by others after that without permission. But a director such as Katie Mitchell will generally always work on producing new productions, in collaboration...

  • Hi Efrossini. Yes, the norm these days is for most companies to perform operas in the language in which they were written, so Rossini is usually performed in Italian, Wagner in German, Debussy in French, Tchaikovsky in Russian, etc. But that is a relatively new tendency (the Royal Opera House was still called the Royal Italian Opera and performed most works –...

  • I can imagine you must need a lot of costumes even for amateur productions, Pamela! Actually the ROH costume department is also extremely large, though we couldn’t include enough images here to give you a full sense of its size. You might find this article interesting, though: http://www.roh.org.uk/news/backstage-with-the-roh-costume-department

  • Very glad you’re enjoying it, Jenny!

  • Hi Beth, a coloratura soprano specialises in singing lots of fast notes and ornamentation, often quite high up in the soprano range – so it’s usually a lighter, more agile voice than other types of soprano. If you haven’t already been using it, you might find the course glossary useful – inevitably it doesn’t have every possible term on it, but hopefully...

  • Thanks, Mike – and welcome to the course! I hope you find it interesting, or can at least enjoy thinking about what it is you find difficult about opera. You may like to know, by the way, that audience-watching has been a major part of opera for much of its history...

  • Glad you enjoyed the selection, Roger – we had fun putting it together.

  • Hello, everyone! Lovely to hear from so many of you and welcome to the course!

    Do keep commenting and sharing your ideas – I‘ll be dropping in and out throughout, and every day one of our very friendly mentors will be around, reading your comments, answering any queries, perhaps even asking you the odd question... So please feel free to join in the...

  • Welcome to the course, Graham – and here’s hoping that you find the course interesting even if you decide by the end of it that you still don’t much like opera!

  • Hi Richard, I just checked this with someone in the stage crew at ROH who tells me that actually the glass isn’t there to protect us from hot glass. Instead, because the follow spot does indeed get very hot, it is fitted with a fan to keep it cool – but the fan itself is noisy, hence the glass screen to reduce noise from it!

  • Hello Wenda and Barbara,
    I just checked with the tech people at ROH about precisely where props are kept. They told me:
    "The props for each performance are assembled in the side stage (the ‘wings’) on the props table, by one of the stage management team. They are responsible for making sure that all the props are in the right place, and that any items such...

  • I wasn’t sure of the answer to this myself, Suzanne, but have now checked with the tech people at ROH, who told me:

    "The lighting department have seconds for all bulbs. If a vital bulb pops during a performance, the lighting team make do as best they can until a suitable pause in performance or interval, during which they can change bulbs. The bulbs are...

  • Hi Karen and Giulia,

    I’ve been in touch with tech people at ROH to check about answers to your questions, since I’m not an expert on present-day backstage theatre terminology!

    They tell me that the corona is technically called the oculus and that it has various functions: “Originally, it would have provided much needed ventilation for when the theatre...

  • Hi Ann – from one Opera Machine addict to another, you might be glad to hear that you can actually access it separately (and thus long after your access to this course expires) here: https://www.roh.org.uk/interactives/opera-machine. It’s great, isn’t it?! Happy watching!

  • Ooh how exciting! I’d join Jonathan in recommending Tosca – though if you're really keen on chorus action then I imagine that you'd also enjoy La bohème (they're both by Puccini and two of my all-time favourite operas personally!). Or L’elisir d'amore also has fun chorus numbers. That's an older opera and more of a romantic comedy (lots of good tunes); Tosca...

  • I think you're right, Hetty! Wagner would almost certainly have been intrigued by the new multimedia art forms that have become possible in the age of film, video, and all things digital. You might both also be interested in this series of video-operas made by the minimalist composer Steve Reich in collaboration with the video artist Beryl Korot (who is also...

  • Absolutely! Some of the first modern celebrities were opera singers, during the 19th century – and they ended up depicted on (or even endorsing) all kinds of merchandise!

  • That’s a photograph of the Wiener Staatsoper (the Vienna State Opera) around 1900.

  • Yes, much better to ask, Anna! Da Ponte was Mozart’s librettist, as Alex says – and those three operas are often collectively referred to as “the Da Ponte operas”. And now you know :)

  • Hello everyone!

    As you’ve spotted, Lisa, the very earliest operas predated public theatres. They were performed in the court of whichever aristocrat had commissioned them, usually as part of a larger celebration or event – rather like you might hire a band for a wedding reception today! (Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo was staged as part of the annual Carnival...

  • Good point, Michael! Both impresarios (until the mid-19th century) and conductors (from the late 19th century onwards) have certainly been extremely powerful figures in opera. The question, I suppose, is whether we're talking about the power balance when creating a new opera from scratch or staging an existing work – which also means whether we're talking...

  • Wonderful – what a brilliant way to put it! And yes, like Figaro, Jo is an amazing multitasker...

  • What an interesting discussion here!

    Mitchell has actually directly a large number of operas, but I guess you’re referring to the split-stage effect that she used in both Lucia and Written on Skin, Bridget?

    We’ll talk more about how relatively new the job of ‘opera director’ is later in this week's material, but Michael is right that people who direct...

  • Hello everyone!

    Caroline, I passed on your question to Amy and she's very kindly given me permission to share a bit more about her background with you all here.

    Amy did lots of music as a child, studying piano, percussion, flute and, above all, singing. She started a Music degree but soon switched to English and instead did lots of musical performance...

  • Thanks for this, Margaret. I'm mainly an academic and work with rather than for the Royal Opera House, so can’t answer all of these questions, but you might find this page of links and information interesting – all about ROH’s many outreach programmes and initiatives (which certainly does include working with schools): http://www.roh.org.uk/learning

    As for...

  • Thanks, Chris! Delighted that you're enjoying the course.

  • Hi Margaret,
    You're absolutely right – opera certainly doesn’t belong to ROH alone! But ROH _was_ the opera house we partnered with to make this course, and which gave us the kind of backstage access that will (I hope!) make next week's material quite special.

    Could you say anything more about your sense that the course is tending towards elitism? As you...

  • Really interesting ideas here, Patdee. There are many more people out there taking the course than those commenting on it, so thank you for sharing _your_ thoughts, do keep doing so and please don’t be put off by any of the comments! There are many of us who feel really strongly that opera should be accessible and welcoming to anyone who wants to give it a go.

  • You’re absolutely right, Caterina – thanks for spotting that. We prepared all of this text just as the new Jones La bohème was about to debut, so it must have been on someone's mind when they wrote the credit!

  • Interesting idea, Lisa – and I think oddly enough it's actually quite close to what Britten himself was trying to do here! But there's certainly no need to like all opera – there’s far too much of it out there for that...

  • What a lovely way of putting it, Laura! Glad you enjoyed this aria.

  • Well, Mauro, you’ve drawn important distinctions there, between our interpretations today and what a composer might originally have intended.

    We can never be entirely sure of the latter, sadly: sometimes composers did write letters explaining how particular moments were supposed to work, and we sometimes still have those today; but then composers also...

  • A good point, Mariana! I’m afraid there's no simple answer to this one: changes in how voices are used (male voices in particular in this case) are obviously connected to some extent to broader expectations about gender roles in a given society at a given time. So one of the big contextual explanations here would have to do with gradually changing assumptions...

  • Hi Giulia (and Thomas), you’re absolutely right that a company of singers would be hired for a whole season by an impresario, and that practice continued until the late 19th century in some places. There are plenty of examples in opera history of unsuitable singers not just performing roles but in some cases even “creating” them – ie. premiering them! In the...

  • No need to apologise about the not-absolutely-operatic references, Alexa! What’s interesting from an operatic perspective is just how much musicals such as Les Mis have borrowed from opera. So what you say here is pretty much bang on, at least for the mid-/late-nineteenth-century operas from which Schönberg and Boublil learned so much.

  • Hi Thomas, when singers talk about their "Fach" they mean the particular kind of voice they have, _within_ the broad categories of soprano, tenor, bass, etc. Those large-scale categories do tell us a certain amount about a singer’s range (which notes they can sing) and vocal colour (what the voice actually sounds like) but much less about how big a voice it is...

  • Hi Patdee,
    No need to be embarrassed! You're absolutely right that different kinds of plots and themes were common in opera at different times and in different places. The type of subjects that you have in mind – mythology or historical plots – were certainly common in operas written during the 19th century in France and Germany; Wagner, in particular was...

  • Thanks, Mary Lou! Delighted that you're enjoying the course so far.

  • I'm here, Rosalind! And very pleased to hear you're enjoying the course so far.

    I'll be around from time to time and will certainly be interacting as much as I can – but I've also got a great team of postgrad students acting as mentors for the course: Claudia, Giles and Jonathan. So do look out for us, or pose questions if there's anything you'd like to...

  • Goodness me, you're absolutely right, Fiona! Sorry that got past our proofreaders! Thanks for spotting the mistake: I’ll get it corrected as soon as possible.

  • Yes, absolutely! Nicely put, Josephine.

  • Hi everyone,

    Lyn – you're absolutely right that this is complicated. These days, we think that we mustn’t change the score, whether it’s by Mozart, or Verdi or anyone else. We assume that would be to stray from the composer’s original intentions. In practice, however, conductors will often cut parts of operas or adjust details. We’ll come back to that later...

  • Thanks, Melinda, we had fun putting it together!

  • Hi Hefin (and Sylvia),

    I don’t think there are any rules as to whether or not you 'should' prepare before attending a performance. Hopefully any good performance will communicate something to you, whether or not you know anything about what you're about to see!

    That said, it's much easier these days to find out a bit about a piece before you go to see...

  • You're welcome, Lisa! There are lots of us out here who want to make opera as accessible as possible, and I hope this course will make a positive difference of some some :) Happy listening.

  • Welcome to you all! Looking forward to seeing your thoughts and ideas over the coming weeks.

  • Hi everyone, these are great suggestions, and I hope my post above might also help. Opera can certainly be expensive – but it isn’t always. And in my experience it's usually less expensive than people expect: that’s one of the problems with its reputation today!

  • Do you mean attending opera in general, Frances? Well, the bad news is that it’s one of the most expensive art forms in the world to produce (no wonder opera is in many ways the origin of the Hollywood blockbuster film!), so there are simply large costs to cover.

    But the good news is that it certainly isn‘t always expensive to go to opera: if you know...

  • I’m sorry you found that patronising, Margaret: it was intended to be precisely the opposite. For many people who haven’t got much personal experience of opera, I think those are the kind of associations the art form often has – and sadly it can be very off-putting.

    But it's certainly interesting to think about what other associations opera might have...

  • You’re welcome, Susan!

  • This is a really interesting comment, Sarah -- thanks. I think you're absolutely right, that DVDs and cinema broadcasts can allow us to sit in the best seat in the house (or even in multiple seats in a single performance!), which can be a really exciting experience. But it's certainly a different experience to what you get in a theatre, where you're physically...

  • What a wonderful memory, Jane. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • What a fantastic set of comments you've contributed here! These are all fantastic ideas about and recollections of opera turning up in everyday life! I've found them so interesting to read, thank you.

  • Hello, Anne. I think what Roger means by "angular vocal declamation" is vocal lines (ie. the tunes that are being sung) that aren't necessarily straightforward or easily memorable: I don't know whether or not you read musical notation, but imagine drawing a line to represent a tune such as "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" – it would probably be quite a smooth...