Opera Highlights 2019 – Dress Rehearsal

dress rehearsals

Scottish Opera Director, Roxana Haines, kicks off our Opera Highlights 2019 blog series with a behind-the-scenes look at this year’s production in dress rehearsal



During my first week working at Scottish Opera back in 2017, before I was Staff Director, I saw a huge map on a wall in one of the offices. It outlined the locations for the tour of Opera Highlights, all across Scotland. I stood in the doorway that day and said, I would love to direct that project one day. Two years later and here we are, the dress rehearsal finished, opening night and the whole tour ahead of us. I am so pleased with the show our team has created.

These projects always depend greatly on the people involved, but this time it was even more important as I had the strange idea that this show would be devised, the narrative created in collaboration with everyone involved.

Luckily, we were blessed with some extremely talented and generous artists and the process has not only been smooth but creative and fun too.


dress rehearsal

Director Roxana Haines and Music Director Ian Shaw in rehearsal – © Julie Broadfoot / Juliebee – www.juliebee.co.uk


Where do you begin making a show like this? It starts with the musical repertoire, skilfully curated for each Opera Highlights tour by Scottish Opera Head of Music Derek Clark. This year he created a garden and flower theme in the music, so that was our starting place.

I also knew that I wanted to make a show that was about putting on an event, creating a direct connection between performer/spectator, as well as fully embracing its operatic roots.

Once you have the music, you need to discover it. For me, this means methodically gathering information on all 24 pieces in the show. There are basic starting points like the composer and the original narrative or context for each aria, but sometimes I’m not sure what I’m looking for.

Nuggets of interesting information about the librettist or the social-political context of the opera can inspire new directions. I feel like a magpie looking for shiny details and I lay them all out, drawing links and making parallels to find common themes.


dress rehearsal

Mark Nathan, Martha Jones and Charlie Drummond in rehearsals for Opera Highlights 2019. © Julie Broadfoot / Juliebee – www.juliebee.co.uk


The overall narrative for the show grows out of what each musical number is about. What do we know about the character singing and what are they trying to achieve? It is a game of filling in the gaps between numbers. I grew the concept for this show in my head for about six months before we even started rehearsals.

I had played with a variety of ideas and different story-lines but still kept things open and flexible so the cast could guide me during dress rehearsal, too. Some things I could see or hear clearly already but others you need to see or do practically to know if they work.

For the first week of rehearsals, I watched the team explore each piece, getting to see it from their perspective. They usually have greater emotional responses or connections to the music and the characters which is where I get to try things out. I essentially filter my thoughts through their minds. This is where I get to see what sticks, what works, what resonates for them – because I know these are the things that will hold an audience too.


The Cast of Opera Highlights 2019. © Julie Broadfoot – www.juliebee.co.uk


How do you direct a devised show if it’s a creative collaboration? Once the cast are all happy with the narrative, and every character has a journey that feels real, I lead us through each scene to play. I’m less directing in the dress rehearsal and more guiding and facilitating ideas. Sometimes what you see in rehearsals is very close to the final product.

In this show, The Goldoliers duet and the opening number hardly changed, but other numbers have been through lots of reworking, like the ‘Flower Duet’ and the new composition from Scottish Opera Composer in Residence Samuel Bordoli.

It’s my job to keep everything to a high standard and make sure it all makes sense. We had a full show by the end of the second week of rehearsals and spent the final week threading through motifs we found and loved, deepening each character, fixing the script and dialogue and incorporating technical elements into the show.


The Cast of Opera Highlights 2019. © Julie Broadfoot – www.juliebee.co.uk


For me, devising a show like this is an infinitely more interesting way of working. Yes, it’s time consuming and requires an extremely detailed approach, but you end up with a finished piece that contains a little bit of each of your collaborators in it.

The show is held and made by everyone who has been in the rehearsal room, rather than just me, which is endlessly more satisfying. I hope you enjoy our Opera Highlights as it begins its tour around Scotland!


For more information on this year’s Opera Highlights click here>>

And to purchase tickets visit www.scottishopera.org.uk