WAO Ghost (Spot)Light
Theatre seats are vacant and isolation may be growing tiresome, but audiences of all ages can still be inspired by new musical moments. As we navigate this changing environment together, we want to shine a spotlight on our artists working in the Ghost Light to bring the magic of opera from our homes to yours. Connect with your state opera company on an intimate level and learn how music, education and relaxation can help nurture the soul.
Join us in conversation with soprano Emma Pettemerides as she shares her experience recording Lullabies for Babies from her country home, finding quiet joy in gardening, and her wish to ignite young minds through music.
1. Tell us about your experience creating Lullabies for Babies – what did you want to capture in this performance? Have you worked on digital programs before?
The whole process of creating Lullabies for Babies was new to me. From the first zoom meeting discussing the project with three other creatives, to recording the podcast in isolation at home with a lot of recording equipment I’d never operated before…
We live in the country in the middle of a paddock, so we don’t have the noise of cars passing by outside or people walking past, and luckily the sheep had been moved onto another paddock that week. I just had the wind and the birds to contend with – oh, and two small children! Luckily, I had my Mum nearby who was able to have the children on recording days. It took a bit of getting used to, to be honest. Normally you’d have your accompanist, music director, colleagues or an audience in the room and the feedback would be immediate. I can be highly critical of my own singing at the best of times but when it’s a live performance you have no control once the performance is over…it’s over! With the recordings I would do a take and listen back to it. I’d analyse what I was and wasn’t happy with and do another take until I was happy with the result. I ended up really enjoying the process once I got my head around it.
Being a singer and a mum of two I often hear “Your kids are so lucky they have you to sing to them”. In a time when we have been so cut-off from each other it was a nice feeling to be able to do something I knew other mums and dads could use as a resource for comforting their children. After the first meeting we decided we wanted to give children the opportunity to hear a selection of relaxing music which they probably wouldn’t have heard before. So, Matt and I came up with a list of classical pieces. Some were from opera, some were folk songs and others were German lieder. We hope we’ve ignited some young, curious minds to investigate classical music – and perhaps given their carers a bit of time out.
2. How important do you think it is to provide musical resources for children and parents in this time? What do you think are the benefits?
It is sooooo very important and not just during this pandemic…music is ALWAYS important for children. Music has so many benefits for children (and adults for that matter) that have been documented and scientifically proven. Music can help you relax. It can help you focus. It can ignite your creativity. It can help with anxiety. It can teach us/help us to express ourselves. It has even been proven to assist people with dementia to access parts of their memory that were otherwise lost! Music is amazing and I believe its power is greatly underestimated.
3. What does working in the ‘ghost light’ mean for you? What does your day look like now?
To me, working in the ‘ghost light’ means keeping the music alive! The theatres may be closed but the music will go on. Artists are resourceful and passionate beings. This crazy time has just highlighted how creative and resilient we can be. Seeing all the amazing displays of generous spirit and the initiative shown by fellow singers and musicians has been heart-warming and comforting. Just before COVID hit I was preparing for Opera in the Pinnacles and Opera in Geraldton with WAO, so I was busy learning and re-visiting lots of ensemble pieces. The performances had to be cancelled unfortunately, but we keep working in the ‘ghost light’, working on our craft, knowing that the show WILL go on at some point in the future!
4. What’s been the easiest adjustment during this time? And the hardest?
At the beginning the hardest adjustment was being forced to take time off…I had a sense of guilt all the time that I should be doing more! And then, over the weeks, I began to feel like the pressure had been taken off to always be ‘doing’ and instead I was given ‘permission’ to just be at home with my kids. It was quite liberating. Instead of racing around we’ve planted a veggie garden and a couple of flowerbeds. Who knew I would enjoy weeding so much! (It’s really very relaxing!)
Being a performer and not being able to ‘perform live’ was a strange, stifling feeling, but I’ve been really fortunate that WAO have given me the opportunity to reach an audience through a different medium and I’ve had creative projects to give me focus.
5. What have you learned about yourself during this period?
I’ve learnt that it’s okay (and actually good for me) to take time out. As I mentioned, we live in the country in the middle of a paddock so we’re quite used to feeling isolated, but not having our normal daily routine has highlighted how important connecting with my friends and family is to me.
6. What are you watching, reading, playing, singing or listening to as a reprieve?
I’ve only just got onto the Fleabag bandwagon. Phoebe Waller-Bridge has had me in stitches! And we all need a good laugh at the moment! I don’t get a lot of time to read with a two and three year old in the house but when I do get a chance, I’m looking up how to keep the plants in my garden alive…
I’m loving Dua Lipa’s new album Future Nostalgia. I love something I can sing along to in the car! I’ve also tried to use this ‘down’ time to learn some new repertoire while I have the luxury of time, and I’ve been working on a one-woman show which I hope to perform at the Perth Fringe Festival in 2022.
7. What’s on top of your to-do list when this is all over?
My partner and I were supposed to get married overseas in September. Sadly we’ve had to postpone, so I’m looking forward to hashing a new plan! I’m also looking forward to just catching-up with my girlfriends for a well-deserved vino and going to see some live music! I miss performing and I miss being in the audience!
ABOUT EMMA PETTEMERIDES
A graduate from the Royal Northern College of Music, Emma Francesca Pettemerides is a UK-born soprano now based in Toodyay, Western Australia. She has performed a variety of roles including: Johanna Sweeney Todd, Valencienne The Merry Widow, Laurey Oklahoma, Carlotta Phantom of the Opera, Barbarina Le Nozze di Figaro, Leila Manifest Destiny, May-Queen Merrie England, Annio La Clemenza di Tito, Lisa La Sonnambula, Tytania A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Britten), Elena Paride ed Elena, Susan A Dinner Engagement, Rose Street Scene, and La Musica L’Orfeo.
Emma made her debut as a principal with West Australian Opera as Valencienne in the world premiere of Graeme Murphy’s The Merry Widow and has since performed the role of Johanna in Sweeney Todd. She has also performed with the company in; Lucia di Lammermoor, The Pearl Fishers, Madama Butterfly, The Magic Flute, Otello, La Boheme, Don Giovanni, La Traviata, Götterdammerung, Carmina Burana and the world premiere of Nostradamus.
She has been a regular performer for the West Australian Opera outreach program and is an ambassador for Healthway’s Smarter than Smoking campaign. She is also a regular soloist with local companies Freeze Frame Opera, Perth Symphony Orchestra, Lux et Veritas, Art Song Perth and performs for events around Australia as The Perth Soprano.
Her performance highlight to date is singing for the late Dame Joan Sutherland’s 80th birthday in her presence.