Irish Soprano Orla Boylan has appeared on opera stages throughout the world from the Sydney Opera House to La Scala, Milan. We caught up with her during rehearsals as she prepares to take on the role of Aida for the very first time.
What is it like to take on a role like Aida for the first time?
Aida is not exactly a role for the faint-hearted. Not that I am the bravest of people, but somehow my career has led me here and it seems like the right time for me to meet her. I imagine that I will find a use for everything good that I have learned through the years in singing this role. It’s a big début to make.
What are the most challenging things about the role of Aida?
Aida needs stamina. Lots of it. For me, it will be so important to pace myself just right and to keep a cool and quiet mind while being surrounded by the forces of a very large orchestra and chorus. This music can tend to lift you off your feet.
How far in advance do you start to prepare a role for the first time?
I looked at the role as soon as the possibility of a production with INO came about. I suppose preparation started there. I have learned over the years that this type of role needs plenty of working-in to the body...Training the muscles for the job. It’s not so different from a marathon runner. Certainly it’s at least 6 months if not a year in the making.
Do you get coaching on the role prior to the start of music rehearsals?
All singers need a separate listening ear as their own ears cannot always be trusted and so, yes, I visited my vocal coach and répétiteurs in the months approaching the start of rehearsals. It’s very important for me to have their input as it gives me confidence that I will survive a role like Aida.
How much research do you do into previous performances of the role, or do you like to try and keep a fresh approach, unbiased by other performers?
Typically, I like to learn a piece without outside influence. It means that I sing with my own voice and I don’t try to mimic what others have done technically. Singers are so individual it’s important to stay within their own technical sphere. Style-wise it is then interesting to listen to previous productions and to take what I feel is interesting and useful to my development of the character.
Do you have any special routines that you follow on the day of a performance?
I usually have everything ready the day before so that I have to do very little on the day of a show, particularly a premiere evening. For me, it’s important to be as normal as possible. I like to keep myself distracted with normal daily activities like walking the dog or cooking. The main thing is not to waste too much energy through the day. Pilates is a great relaxer too. If I can get my hands on it, sushi is great to eat before a show!
How important is it for you to get a chance to perform at home in front of an Irish audience?
It’s really important to be home for Aida. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, in fact I know I stress more about what the home audience will think of me more than anywhere else. This is after 23 years of performing around the world. Don’t ask me why! You’d need a psychologist for that! I think Ireland needs to hear Irish singers and hear what we are doing. We have produced so many good singers, for a small nation, who are working around the globe on the biggest stages, it’s only right that we are heard at home.
If you can describe Aida in three words, what would they be?
Conflicted, committed, loving.
Don’t miss your chance to see Orla make her role début as Aida on the 24, 27, 29 Nov and 1 Dec at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre. Full details and booking here. http://www.irishnationalopera.ie/whats-on/current-upcoming-productions/aida