BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
Katie Stenzel will be the youngest singer on stage when she plays Zorah this week in Ruddigore, or the Witch’s Curse.
The coloratura soprano, who has graduated in music studies from both Queensland University of Technology and Queensland Conservatorium, will continue her ongoing career with OperaQ (having performed as a principal artist in the past couple of years). She settles in for a chat ahead of the Gilbert and Sullivan show, which runs until 29 July.
Hi Katie, lovely to chat with you! Tell us all about your role and involvement in Ruddigore.
The pleasure is all mine! I’m playing the role of Zorah in Ruddigore, or the Witch’s Curse. All the maidens of the village make up a professional corps of bridesmaids, and Zorah is their fearless leader – they are all desperately waiting for Rose Maybud to get married so they can finally get lucky! This role is usually a throwaway character with a couple of lines, but Lindy Hume has really created a bigger space and purpose for Zorah, which has been tremendous fun.
How does your role resonate with you?
Zorah’s nature is so different to my own, which is what has made her so much fun to play. She’s bitchy, rude, completely desperate for male attention and certainly not above extramarital affairs! It’s quite liberating to step away from the ‘good girl’ roles that can be typical for my voice type, and explore someone who behaves badly. It is also a very physical role – there’s lots of running around on a raked stage and I get to put on my dancing shoes with Kanen Breen.
You’ve taken on an impressive number of performances in your career so far! What do you love about being on the stage?
I love the experience of stepping into a completely different world, show after show. The act of bringing to fruition all the work from the rehearsal room and letting it take on new life on the stage is just wonderful.
You’re an understudy for Rose Maybud – tell us what this has been like for you.
It’s always interesting playing a role and understudying another in the same show. Switching between the two is not just a matter of music and blocking. I would say the main challenge is the completely opposing personalities. Rose is driven by good etiquette, her tone of voice when speaking is more measured, her entire physicality is different.
What’s expected of an understudy? And what are your own expectations surrounding what you want to gain from the experience?
It’s expected that you will be ready to step into the role at a moment’s notice. The only way I believe you can do that is to prepare as much as possible. Come to the first rehearsal with the music (and dialogue in this case) learnt, and observe as much as you possibly can. In this instance, where the show is being created as we go, there are many changes that happen along the way, so keeping track of those is essential.
For times when I can’t see what’s happening with Rose (for example, if I’m busy doing things as Zorah), I see it as my responsibility to check anything I may have missed with the assistant director or the stage management team. Being an understudy is the chance not only to learn a role but also to learn from other artists. It’s such a great experience to watch the rehearsal process unfold and see each singer develop their characters. It also helps to be covering someone as kind and generous as Natalie Christie Peluso.
If the roles were reversed, what would you most like a young singer to learn from working with you?
That’s a really tricky question! I guess it would be: be prepared and be adaptable. Before you walk into the rehearsal room, prepare as much as you can with regards to music, language, character, etc.. This allows you to play with the material in a multitude of different ways. The director may have a completely different idea of the character’s motivations than you. The conductor may change the tempo of piece and then change it again. Being adaptable doesn’t mean throwing away your own ideas entirely, it means being open to exploring others.
As the youngest member of the cast, what wisdom do you have to share with other artists across Australia who may also find themselves the youngest in their show?
I was much more nervous about this last year when I was playing Rosina in The Barber of Seville, as it was my mainstage debut. It’s a hard thing not to think about, especially when sharing the stage with so many fantastic and experienced artists. My colleagues have always been extremely supportive and encouraging. I think you have to remember that you are there because someone saw something in you and because you can bring that to the table. Trust in that and be your own cheer squad!
Find out more about the show on the OperaQ website.
Image supplied. Credit: Stephen Henry.