Ahead of rehearsals, Alison Langer, who sings the role of Oscar in Un ballo in maschera, talked to Philippa Peall about her experiences with the Opera Holland Park Young Artists Programme and performing at the National Theatre.
Alison Langer made her Opera Holland Park mainstage debut in last year’s Young Artists performances of La traviata. ‘When I was asked to audition for Violetta I was slightly dubious, as it is undeniably one of the largest Verdian soprano roles. I knew it would be a huge undertaking… I’ve not worked on a character that intensely before, but she deserved to be dissected and for every character trait to be surfaced.’
As part of the 2018 Young Artists programme, Langer performed in the inaugural Schools’ Matinee to an audience of 1,000 school children. ‘What was fascinating about this particular matinee was how attentive and quiet the children were. The final scene of La traviata is very moving and usually has the audience hanging onto Violetta’s every word. I couldn’t believe the silence.’
Langer had already made an impact in the role of Young Heidi in Sondheim’s Follies at the National Theatre before coming to OHP last summer. ‘Follies has opened me up to the music theatre world, and shown me how dedicated these performers are to their craft… It truly has been a ‘pinch me’ experience.’ Her character, Heidi Schiller, is an opera singer, and the older version of the character was played first by Dame Felicity Lott. Langer jokes that ‘I have now put a rider in my contracts that I only work with Dames!’ On a more serious level, ‘they have both been so supportive of my career and have given me so much advice, especially speaking with Dame Jo when I was working on Violetta. I was so lucky to get advice from someone who has sung the role so successfully.’
A Sondheim musical and a Verdi opera might appear to be worlds apart, but Langer sees the similarities. ‘The dedication it takes to understand a Sondheim show is in a league with understanding a Verdi opera… I don’t think you can compartmentalise certain genres when it comes to performing. Vocally it might require a different sort of training and technique, but when it comes to the actual performance, the dedication and the preparation and the grasp of a character should be approached in exactly the same way across the board.’
Langer returns to OHP in Rodula Gaitanou’s production of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera, singing the role of Oscar, Gustavo’s page boy. ‘Without giving too much away, I haven’t had to take on as many of the challenges of playing a trouser role as you would think, but knowing Rodula’s style of direction, I think Oscar will be a character to remember! I have been following my husband around the house trying to copy his way of walking and the way he sits. It’s completely different to the way I hold myself, so it will be a challenge.’
Following her appearance at OHP this summer, Langer has her sights set on more new challenges. ‘I would love to take on some straight acting. It was what I wanted to do before I pursued an operatic career, and I really miss straight text and finding the millions of layers in a Shakespearean play. I try to go to see the Royal Shakespeare Company as often as I can and I sit there for two hours in absolute awe of the actors. They have my utmost respect.’