Gertrude Opera: a student performer’s experience

With a role in Gertrude Opera’s current production of The Consul, MCM Master of Music (Music Performance) student Joshua Erdelyi-Gotz talks about juggling the demands of performance with full-time studies.

As told to Sarah Hall

The current production of Gertrude Opera’s The Consul (29 May–2 June) is about a bunch of people in a waiting room in a consulate. Some of them have been waiting for days or weeks, to get a visa or get out of the country. There are so many papers to fill out and none of them are being properly looked after. Always waiting, never being able to leave; it’s hell.

There’s a woman in the waiting room called Magda Sorel whose husband is being pursued by the secret police, because he’s a freedom fighter. She’s always being watched. She’s trying to help her husband but can’t, because she can’t get out of the country. So the opera is about her struggle and everyone’s frustration at being stuck in a consulate, and never getting to speak to the person in charge. It’s a very depressing piece of music.

If you know what it’s like sitting in Centrelink waiting for your turn to go up to the counter, it’s like that – but worse.

I first got involved with Gertrude Opera after being involved in a concert opera with a man called David Kram. About two or three weeks after that finished, I was emailed by Linda Thompson who runs Gertrude Opera. She said David had recommended me, and asked if I would be interested in being involved. I said yes, despite the fact that I was going into my Honours year at University. Usually there is an audition process, but I just got lucky.

The Gertrude Opera program runs for an entire year, and every place is completely sponsored, kind of like the Melba Opera Trust, which runs on a mentor program. It’s a big commitment, and can be tough if you’re juggling things. I did struggle a bit last year doing both Honours in Music Performance at the MCM and the Gertrude Opera, and now this year doing my Master of Performance. I wouldn’t have said that “throwing yourself” in the deep end’ and overloading on commitments was my preferred method of learning, but it has really forced me to become better at time management.

Also, this kind of juggling is what you have to expect if you want to work in the field. You’ll often have multiple engagements and need to learn multiple pieces of music at any one time. So it’s helping me to prepare for that lifestyle.

Normally in operas, all the major ones such as Don Giovanni, the performers are given a chord to help them find their starting note. But in this case the musical score does not give us that chord and we sort of have to look through the music to find our starting notes. From then have a whole page of chromatics that you need to sing, based on that initial note. You can really mess up the other performers who have to bounce off each other, if you don’t get that right. So in that way, it’s very difficult and the performers need to be fairly good aurally. It’s an opera that’s hardly ever done.

My character is a man called Assan, the go-between of the main character Magda and her freedom-fighting husband, John. Mine is not the biggest role but it’s certainly one of the most difficult. There’s another MCM grad in the opera, Darcy Carroll, and a lot of the rest of the cast are from interstate and overseas.

When I first joined the Gertrude Opera I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and I am hesitant to recommend it to students who already have a full-time load. But it has really helped me, and not just musically. One of the most important aspects of being a musician is knowing people and I have just had the opportunity to work with so many talented musicians through this program.

Visit the Gertrude Opera website for more information about their upcoming performance of The Consul.

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Find out more about studying opera at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music.

Banner image: Supplied.