Kill your darlings live – changing dialogue in rehearsal

Pegasus Opera Company recently staged a part-performance of the opera I wrote – Let The Music In – in Brixton for an invited audience.

The performances were compered by the BBC’s Brenda Emmanus and starred Pegasus founder Lloyd Newton as Alfio, Anne Fridal as Floria and Ronald Samm as Leoporello. The Narrator was played by One Dance UK’s Chris Rodriguez.

We didn’t have much notice in advance of the performance, so I helped out with direction of the extracts we performed. I hadn’t had any previous experience in directing, so it was exciting, nerve-wracking and incredibly illuminating all at the same time.

We rehearsed several times at The Royal College of Music with musical accompaniment. I learned so much about blocking scenes, and crucially, what dialogue works and doesn’t work in live performance.

As writer of the libretto, I wanted to keep dialogue to a minimum and let the music tell the story, but there were still scene transitions and other essential pieces of dialogue that needed to be spoken by the cast.

Seeing them interacting as the characters in rehearsal led to many changes on the fly, and frantic rewriting in the corner. I’ve never had the concept of ‘kill your darlings’ brought home to me in such brutal fashion.

I had to learn very quickly to let go of any sense of ‘my favourite bits’ of the libretto, and sacrifice (what I considered to be) bits of finely-crafted dialogue for the overall service of the story.

The singers wanted to know the motivation for their characters, the purpose of the scene, what the next scene entailed – and if they saw a mis-match between what I told them and the dialogue on the page, we changed it and worked it through.

I feel like the experience taught me how to be truly collaborative, and to let go of any Gollum-like hoarding of ‘my best work’.

In the end, the performance was really well received. The audience laughed at the funny bits, engaged with the story and enjoyed the amazing singing from the three leads. I couldn’t have asked for more.


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