English Baroque at Queensland Performing Arts Centre

In 2019 English Baroque with Circa becomes the third daring collaboration between the Australian Brandenburg Orchestraand Circa. An inspired pasticcio by Artistic Directors Paul Dyer (Brandenburg) and Yaron Lifschitz (Circa), with music from 16th and 17th-century England and featuring the beautiful voice of soprano Jane Sheldon, English Baroque with Circa will have you gripping your seat and gasping in awe. This breathtaking combination of Circa acrobats and Brandenburg musicians will have you spellbound from the first note to the last.

Carly spoke with soprano Jane Sheldon about this exciting work and pushing the boundaries of chamber music. Read the full interview below:

Jane Sheldon

English Baroque with Circa sees a unique collaboration of music and acrobatics come to the stage. This is the third instalment of this series following French Baroque and Spanish Baroque. What initially inspired the partnership between the Brandenburg and CIRCA to create this show and in what ways do you feel that each genre compliments the other when combined?


This year the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra is celebrating its 30th year, and Artistic Director Paul Dyer contacted me with the idea that he wanted to invite repeat collaborators to feature during the season. I've worked on and off with the Brandenburg since 2002, and the CIRCA collaboration is one Paul was excited to repeat, so he decided to do some matchmaking and feature us together. He said he felt all my time working on avant garde opera would set me up well to work with Yaron Lifschitz and the CIRCA performers. As for how the genres complement one another, the thing that's exciting to me about the collaboration is the seeing the music abstracted into the very specific movement language of CIRCA’s performers.


How do musicians and acrobats combine to bring one unified and important piece of theatre to the stage?


The show is not just about the musicians accompanying the acrobatics, there are also moments where we're physically quite integrated. The space is very much shared by the musicians and acrobats. 


In your view, what is ‘new’ in this instalment of the CIRCA and Brandenburg collaboration that repeat audiences can look forward to and what can first time audiences expect to see? 


One thing is certain: everyone can expect to be very moved – as I have been – by the beauty of the skill of each CRICA acrobat. They're amazing artists! The most obvious thing that's new is that this time around we're in the English Baroque; each CIRCA collaboration has featured music from a different region. As with the previous programs, the geographical location has informed not just the repertoire but also the design of the production and various spatial operations within the staging. Any audience member who don't know CIRCA’s work should know that the show is very different from traditional big top circus in tone and aesthetic. 


You are perhaps best known for being an Australian-American soprano who specialises in exploratory chamber music. What was it about this ability to create within the most structured world of chamber music that drew you to this speciality initially?


My favourite thing is to work with a small group of sympatico collaborators who have time to explore a piece together, time to be deeply acquainted with the artistic viewpoint of each collaborator. Once projects get beyond a certain scale, the creative process is very different from this; chamber music is really the perfect scale for the kind of collaboration I really love. Also, I can achieve the most nuance, vocally speaking, at this smaller scale. My voice's size is a natural fit for chamber music and I've never been very interested in trying to force a bigger sound out of it. Lastly, in chamber performance, everyone in the room – performers and audience – has a sense of the performers' bodies and the extremely intricate, wordless communication that goes on to achieve a performance that's at once extremely unified and excitingly flexible. Witnessing everyone breathing together and thinking together... it's a particularly vivid way to experience music!


And what do you believe are some of the biggest misconceptions about areas of the arts, for example chamber music, that are usually believed to be less exploratory? 


I didn't actually know that chamber music had that reputation! I'm not sure there are specific misconceptions I can identify about chamber music. One area of performance that I am aware has an image problem is opera. Partly it has a very divided audience: there's a big part of the audience for mainstream opera that believes strongly in preserving old conventions of presentation and in primarily programming a limited set of 19th century masterworks, and then there's another big part of the audience that is hungry to experience something new or unexpected. Trying to please everyone at once is obviously going to fail. There's a Stendhal quote, "The more one pleases everybody, the less one pleases profoundly". That seems true to me. Companies and artists have to make the work they themselves believe in most passionately, and present it in a way they believe will most effectively convey that passion to the audience. I spend a lot of my time performing contemporary chamber opera in fairly avant garde stagings. I'm aware that there are some people in that more conservative part of the audience that regards innovation and experimentation with the form as iconoclasm for iconoclasm's sake. This is a misconception. Mounting staged performances is extremely difficult; it takes way too much blood, sweat and tears to just use the platform to stir people up for kicks. You can be sure that if artists are presenting something new, or something old in a new way, they are doing it because they feel it has the potential to be richly affecting for anyone who meets the work with an open mind. 


What drives you to continue to push the boundaries of both chamber music but also of your own artistic practices?


There's a lot about being a human animal that is strange and surprising and this strangeness is interesting to me; the performances I value most – both as a performer and as an audience member – are the ones that remind us of this strangeness. It's hard to provoke this particular kind of insight if you are always working with familiar materials, so it's important to me to engage regularly with materials that are new or unexplored.


What is your dream work to create?


That's too big a question to cover in this interview! But as I said above, my favourite way to work is in small groups of collaborators and it's a dream come true that I usually get to work in this way. Everything I dream of working on has these features: a tight group of sympatico collaborators with the resource of time. To continue working in this particular way: that's the dream. 


What are some other collaborations you would love to partake in in your career?


There are many. But to mention a couple: I would really like to make some kind of installation performance involving David Haines, the aroma artist. I would also love to stage a processional monodrama within MONA's galleries.


What do you hope that audiences leave your show talking about after seeing English Baroque with Circa?


I'm pretty certain that one thing they'll be talking about is the breathtaking skill of the CIRCA acrobats!




Favourite production you have ever seen?

Impossible question!


You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

I've never been to Buenos Aires and would love to go. 


Dream role to perform or score to sing? 

There's a chamber version of Berg's Lulu, which is pretty tempting. But my favourite thing is originating roles in collaboration with a composer. It's possible my dream role is one that doesn't exist yet!


Plays, operas or musicals? 



A hobby you have beyond the theatre? 

 I am a novice tango dancer.


What’s next for you after this show? 

The world premiere of Elliott Gyger's Oscar and Lucinda with Sydney Chamber Opera. 

English Baroque opens at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre on 21 May 2019. You can get your tickets here.

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