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January 2013 - a new chapter....


Recently, I was accepted on the very first Co-Opera Co Easter Professional Development course, which began last weekend (19/20th January) in freezing cold conditions, some of the coldest weather London has seen in ages. For those of you unfamiliar with our great metropolis, it also meant that there were the inevitable transport delays, so the course itself began with an operatic whimper, in terms of attendees. However, it wasn't too long before all of the trainees finally arrived (although one of our conductors, David Gostick, was snowed under in Dorset), and the work started in earnest.

We met the main people that we will be training and learning under: Jacquie Crago (actress and director of both the operas we will be performing, Suor Angelica and Il Tabarro by Puccini), Martin Nelson (actor-musician and movement director), Martin Handley (conductor), Stephen Wilder (vocal coach), and the indefatigable and ever-enthusiastic Kate Flowers and Paul Need (artistic directors of the company). The weekend itself was for me a cross between being back at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School with intensive physical warm-ups, trust and improvisation exercises, and doing my BMus at University College Cork - I had forgotten how nerve-wracking it was to stand up and sing in front of one's peers, especially on a first day when everyone is sizing each other up!!! But it reminded me of how necessary it is as an artist to be constantly learning and putting oneself out there in situations past one's comfort zone.... 

One of the wonderful things about this course is that it reflects the very real way in which the way opera is performed is changing. It's no longer just enough to "park and bark" as was the case historically; it is now expected that an opera singer could and should be able to really perform a role i.e. act, sing and be physically able to cope with the demands of the role itself, and sometimes intricate staging. To give  an idea of what the expectation for the modern opera singer can involve, I've included a link to one of my favourite scenes from a recent opera production of "Carmen" at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, with the incredible Ildebrando d'Arcangelo and Jonas Kaufmann in the roles of Escamillo and Don Jose respectively:

On the Sunday, I came in and our conductor Martin asked me privately if I would mind singing the role of the Zia Principessa in Suor Angelica? Mind?!  This was the role I had been hoping for! I came across this part about 3 years ago, when a friend of mine was preparing for a performance as the eponymous nun. I immediately knew I wanted to perform this part, and although there was no immediate opportunity presenting itself, I learned the role, just for the sheer pleasure and thrill of it. As the movie "Field of Dreams" said "If you build it he will come" - very much the same could be said for operatic roles...

Although it is not a long sing (probably about 15 minutes in total), it forms the crux of the opera, and I believe, possibly of Il Trittico itself, and is complex, demanding and intense, both musically and dramatically. Its very un-Pucciniesque qualities are, in a way, what endear it to me: there is no catchy tune to hang your coat on, and the way it is written explores the darker realms of Puccini's imagination.  I've included an excerpt from the role from a production at La Scala in the 1980s. Coincidentally, the Suor Angelica in this clip is the wonderful (mezzo) soprano, Rosalind Plowright, who will be one of our visiting tutors on the course:

One of my main objectives in doing the training programme was to sing this role; another was to sing it with full orchestra. Suffice it to say, I am delighted that I am on course with those objectives, and really am looking forward to the challenges both present.

Our next weekend (2/3rd February) will involve an initial exploration of both operas - and I cannot wait! In the meantime, I have an audition and a concert to prepare for, so it looks like it will be an incredibly busy week ahead....



Death and taxes.....

So I have JUST finished my taxes for this year - for some reason, it seemed more difficult to do than any other year (though in truth, I am no whiz-kid with the auld numbers), and though for the first time I owe Her Maj's Revenue Commissioners money I don't have, I am thoroughly relieved to have finished them.

Life, I think is a series of deaths and rebirths - and so this last year and a half has been to me.  A year and a half ago, I was definitely at a crossroads in my life, brought on by a series of circumstances, some good, some bad - and though there have been some challenges, I am glad of the person I am now, and of the good people I am attracting.  So though death is sometimes hard - the rebirth and transformation can be worth it!
The recital on Friday with David and Sarah was absolutely fantastic, with a lovely and enthusiastic crowd at St Anne's Lutheran in Gresham St - and I keep pinching myself that I am working with two such amazing people, who I learn so much from.  Likewise, at MOS, we are working with some incredible coaches on Gianni Schicchi and Suor Angelica - and though I spend most of my time trying to keep up, for me it is good to have to do that, and have that sort of artistic challenge.
There are lots of interesting things happening in the weeks ahead - and though there is not much that I want to say at the moment, again, I am so grateful to be given the opportunities that I have been given over the last few weeks.  Slowly but surely, everything I have been dreaming of is coming to pass, and in a seemingly cynical world, there are people out there willing to give me a chance, which is great.
Passing through London Bridge Station today on my way to an opera rehearsal, I thought of two schoolmates of mine, both of whom have died.  One, Peter, was married and had children, before he succumbed to cancer a couple of years ago.  He was probably the most musically gifted out of the two of us in our school - but didn't have the same need to pursue it as I did.  The other, Sinead, I was reminded of this week as well when watching the show "Glee" where a character says "Yes, I've kissed someone - if you mean by someone the sweet crook of my arm".  We were on a school trip, and in the middle of the night, I heard these slurping noises - and there was Sinead, doing that self-same thing.  Two years later, she died of an epileptic fit in her sleep.
I don't think of Peter or Sinead often - but what I thought today, as I walked through London Bridge, was how lucky I was to be alive, to have the worries and frets of doing my taxes and to be LIVING.  Yes, there have been challenges recently - but that is all part of this vast panoply of being an artist.
So here's to life - and here's to taxes - because as long as I am paying them, I am still in the game.....


After the snow....

I love snow - I love that magical feeling of London having coming to a stop, and really, really being able to experience quiet in the city that never shuts up. (I mean that in a good way, being a chatterbox myself at heart).  But after the first flushing of snow-enjoying, I like to skip right on to the part where the snow, once abundant, starts to melt, and everything is washed clean and new.

That is the beautiful thing about the snow, and about the beginning of years - there is a sense of joy, of uplift, of expectation at the next glorious delight around the corner (once I have finished my taxes, I will be able to enjoy that. Unless I get a whopping great tax bill.  In which case I will have to plea to the tax collector to take mercy on my spendthrift soul).

This year, I saw the New Year in Edinburgh - what an amazing city.  Except I had no clue when the New Year came in, because we were in the wrong part of the street for the countdown. And truth to tell, I had sampled some of the local hostelries as well.  But that fact that it came in with a whimper rather than a bang makes me even more optimistic about this year - it feels different.

After taking a year out from trying to be an actor (and just being) I went for my first audition of the year last week, in the midst of the snow.  It was for an internet viral, and the role was as a 1950s housewife - suffice it to say, dressing up was AT LEAST as fun as the audition itself!!!  Also over the weekend, went to see my lovely singing partner Sarah be fabulously sparkly in the amazing "Dick Whittington" at the Rosemary Branch Theatre.  It was a fantastic production by Charles Court Opera, great fun, a hugely talented cast - and I can't wait to go back next year!

(I'm still wrestling a little bit with setting up the website properly - so if you can't find things (like my showreel - sorry!) - bear with me, they will be going up soon.  When I say soon, I mean possibly February. :-))

Also, myself, Sarah and David will be performing on January 29th at St Anne's Lutheran on Gresham St - I am in the midst of learning music for that - it is a lovely way to pass a lunchtime, so I was told when I performed there in November.  Details are on my events page.

All in all, I have a good feeling about 2010 - the Noughties are well behind me (like in panto!), and the Tweenies are looking rather more promising already - watch this space......

First step into cyberspace.....

This is my first blog on my own website - it feels like it should be quite important, and say quite a lot - but isn't it always the way that when one feels that, then words somewhat desert you?  Probably best to just tell you a bit about what has been happening to: Grainne Gillis, Actress, Mezzo-soprano and Voiceover (as you can tell, I am one for hedging my bets...)

It has been a fantastic year for me in so many ways in 2009 - really, it is a continuation of an odyssey and adventure that began in late 2008, and is continuing apace, with many exciting twists and turns.  The first major thing that happened was appearing onstage at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden - a life-long dream. Incredible to see how it all works from the inside, and I look forward to working there again. Amazing.

While at the ROH I met a fantastic dancer called Gemma Payne, who introduced me to Bikram Yoga - yes, you are right, the yoga where you sweat for an hour and a half while trying to get yourself into bendy positions.  After one class I was completely hooked - and Gemma, as I keep telling you, you are to blame for getting me into all of this - and I love it!  Check it out at

I was also fortunate enough to be given the chance by the RNIB to become one of their narrators, which gave me an incredible amount of audiobook experience, while getting paid.  That led to working during the summer with David Rapkin on "Riot" by Walter Dean Myers - again, an incredible opportunity to be given, and I learned a lot from working with this great director.

I also did my first bit of ADR work on a film called "Leap Year" with the lovely people at Goldcrest Studios - huge amount of fun, and according to the lovely Marcella Riordan, who was recommending some of the actors for it, I was a bit of a natural! Roll on more Irish "fillums" in 2010!!

Though my fantastic acting agent has decided to move on to other ventures, I have been extremely lucky that she put me in touch with my new agent, the ebullient Nicola Roberts.  I also have a lovely VO agent in Katie at Icantalk - check out the contact details for both on my "Agents" page.

I've deliberately spent the year focusing on all things vocal with my fantastic coach David Cousell - this lead to me firstly forming a trio with him and the lovely Sarah Borges, who as well as being a fantastic singer has been a hugely loyal and supportive friend.  Love to them both, and I am so looking forward to our musical ventures together in 2010!

In October, I started a course at Morley Opera School, under the direction of Jonathan Cocker, and was put in contact with great coaches and conductors like Alex Ingram (ENO), Krystian Belliere (ROH) and Alice Farnham (ROH).  Though the concert performances were the school's most challenging yet, they were a great success, and I am really looking forward to a term of Puccini!

And I finished the year by working with the fantastic Douglas Kean at Oakhill Publishing on "The Insider" by Ava McCarthy - a great fun read in a kind of Dan Brown-esque type - which I finished ahead of schedule.  Nothing like a happy client...

Obviously, no one's life is without challenges - but I do think life is about how we embrace everything, the fun times and the challenges alike.  One of the main lessons I have learned over the last year and a half is that it is incredibly important who you surround yourself with.  Hanging out with like-minded people, who are mutually supportive and positive will make the journey a lot less arduous.  And having fun on this journey called life is what it is all about - isn't it?

Wishing you all a joyful and prosperous 2010!!

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