Edgaras Montvidas on being Belmonte – part one

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Getting fit for summer, not the beach but opera!

The fastest way to shed the kilos seems to be performing Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Singing Belmonte is a physically demanding role as I’m on stage all the time with duets and arias or being chased by the other characters in the opera. This six-week rehearsal period feels like a rigorous keep-fit programme in the lead-up to the opening night on 13 June.

This is my second time at Glyndebourne Festival – last year I performed Lensky in Onegin, a role I’ve loved for years.

In fact, when I first came to Britain to join the Royal Opera House’s Young Artist Programme over a decade ago, I got to know Sam Taylor-Wood (now Sam Taylor-Johnson), who immediately asked me to take part in her exhibition ‘Mute’ at White Cube. She filmed me singing Lensky’s famous aria and the video was shown at the gallery with no sound. An outpost of White Cube has now popped up in the Glyndebourne gardens, and I’m more than curious to see the exhibition!

Working with David McVicar

Die Entführung is a new production by David McVicar, who’s directed me previously in A Rake’s Progress in Scotland. I love working with David as he’s so much fun – he’s very flexible and the spirit in the rehearsal room feels really creative.

Very few directors delve so deeply into the “pre-history” of an opera with such detailed homework – the piece’s conception, its cultural context and its reception. He knows and can sing along to every single word and line of the text, but he gives us enormous freedom to bring our own ideas too.

Singing Belmonte

This is my sixth production of Die Entführung, but my character, Belmonte, feels different this time. At the Komische Oper in Berlin, Calixto Bieito disguised my Belmonte as a female architect wearing a dress and lipstick and I had to strip down to my knickers. The concubines became prostitutes in glass boxes and the production caused an extreme reaction – people either walked out or loved it.

David has made me look at Belmonte in a new light – he doesn’t want Belmonte to be a likeable character at the beginning. Belmonte is coming into this other culture and he’s full of arrogance, looking down his nose at the the locals, but he slowly loses this trait as he’s confronted with their humanity.

Teaming up with an old friend

Another joy is being reunited with Sally Matthews (Konstanze), who was on the Royal Opera House Young Artists Programme with me all those years ago. I’ve worked with Sally in concerts at the Concertgebouw, but this is our first opera production together in some time and it’s amazing to see all the challenging roles we’ve each taken since our junior days. Konstanze is one of those notoriously difficult soprano parts, but Sally never shows this – she sounds effortless.

Finding inspiration in Istanbul

At the moment we’re rehearsing on set but within a rehearsal room. Vicky Mortimer has designed a traditional 18th-century Ottoman palace with views over the garden and sea.

I was just in Istanbul for a holiday over New Year and visited many of these palaces and beautiful gardens, which has really inspired me ahead of this production – I’ve included a few photos in this blogpost.

Embracing the freedom of spoken dialogue

One of the main challenges of Mozart’s singspiel is that there’s a lot of spoken dialogue. It can be difficult to switch between song and speech, especially as the dialogue can feel flat, but David has helped us to focus on never losing our inner dialogue so we remain in character whether singing or speaking.

For me, it seems the spoken text gives you more freedom – you aren’t limited by the tempo of the music, so you can improvise a lot more. We also have a German language coach to get the right inflection. I can get by in German, but not really enough to have a conversation.

Unwinding with opera in the countryside

Coming back here to Glyndebourne feels like coming home – it’s a really amazing environment and it’s great to be working with a wonderful team surrounded by stunning nature and to be able to walk back across the fields to Lewes after rehearsals. It’s the best therapy for unwinding after a rigorous day’s singing!

Edgaras Montvidas

This is the first in a series of five blogposts by Edgaras Montvidas about his experience of the life of a production at Glyndebourne. The next blogpost will be published in mid-June. For more details of Die Entführung aus dem Serail and the other productions at Festival 2015 visit the season overview page.

Photos: ©Monika Penkute