Jennifer Osei-Mensah previews the UK premiere of Smetana’s Libuše, presented by UCOpera, with producer Lizzie Thomas.
Jennifer: What attracted you to taking a prod team role on the opera?
Lizzie: I was Press Officer for UCO during my first two years at uni and really enjoyed being part of the production process. In my fourth year I decided to make things that bit more busy and take on the role of producer and press, as well as sing in the Chorus – it’s a real challenge but a great experience working with both students and professionals, not to mention a useful exercise in time management. UCO is really unusual in the way that it combines student involvement (chorus and orchestra) with professionals, not just in the cast, but also in the roles of conductor, director and key production team positions. It’s a priceless opportunity to learn from people in the industry. I might want to pursue producing in the future so this has been a great insight!
Jennifer: What has the process of producing the opera been for you? What have you found most enjoyable and what’s been most difficult?
Lizzie: To say it’s been busy is an understatement but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it so far. It’s been a lot of organising, phone calls, emails and general administration. I’ve also met lots of really interesting people during the process, as well as working with great UCL students. It’s been exciting to see the design process take shape – I’ve been involved since last summer so I’ve seen how the concept has developed. I also like how no day is the same, you never know what’s coming next… or what problem will need to be resolved.
Jennifer: Why was this particular opera chosen? What is the opera about?
Lizzie: We chose Libuše as UCOpera prides itself on performing lesser-known works, and this will be the British staged premiere of this Smetana masterpiece. We also like a challenge and singing in Czech is definitely that! The title role of Libuše embodies a strong female lead – and the professional playing the role, Kirstin Sharpin, has an incredible voice. To give you a brief synopsis: our production reimagines Smetana’s Bohemian queen and her medieval court, bringing it, instead, to the modern-day city, where soaring skyscrapers promise glamour and wealth at a human cost. Libuše, having inherited her late father’s firm, is queen of the corporate world and obliged to assert herself as its leader, working tirelessly to expand the firm and prove herself. A quarrel between her two most-valued senior partners, Chrudoš and St’áhlav, throws the stability of her company into jeopardy, and Chrudoš’ sexist attack on her leadership threatens to push Libuše over the edge. Tasked with arbitrating over their argument, Libuše feels the true loneliness of being a woman at the top. Who can give her the support she needs?
Jennifer: How has it been teaching the chorus to sing in Czech?
Lizzie: One of the many positives of having such an international student base at UCL is that, when putting on Czech operas, you’re sure to find Czech speakers willing to help out! Some kind, and not to mention very patient, Czech members of the chorus have given us priceless language help for which we are very grateful! The willingness and dedication of the chorus to learn the music and sing in what is a very foreign language has been amazing. Audience members shouldn’t worry about their Czech abilities though, there will be English surtitles!
Jennifer: What’s your favourite piece from the opera?
Lizzie: There’s a great scene in which the chorus members hang out with Přemysl, Libuše’s love interest. Whilst Libuše represents the corporate city, Přemysl embodies a more chilled, eco-community vibe. The music is beautiful and filled with energy, I’m excited to see how contrast between the suits and more vibrant, natural world is going to come to life in the performance. Not to mention that the set and lighting design is shaping up to be very impressive indeed!
Jennifer: Finally, is there any juicy goss from the cast and crew?
Lizzie: That has to stay secret… Although the Czech Ambassador and various delegates are going to be in attendance on the first night – Libuše is a big deal back in the Czech Republic so we hope that our production (and Czech pronunciation) will leave them speechless…in all the right ways!
Libuše will be performed at the Bloomsbury theatre on the 18th, 20th, 22nd and 23rd March at 7.30pm. Tickets for students are £9, and are available here.