Kamna Gupta

Rehearsing opera remotely

In conversation with Kamna Gupta

Originally slated for a live production in April 2020, Rocking Horse Winner first became an experiment in rehearsing remotely, and then a gorgeous, lush cast recording from the Ernest Balmer Studio in July.

Music Director Kamna Gupta describes her experiences conducting through Zoom, and why she thinks there’s a lot to learn from doing things differently.

How was your experience rehearsing remotely, rather than in the studio?

The hardest thing was not getting to be in the room with the singers and with the musicians. My favourite thing about conducting has always been getting to make music in the moment. 

However, what turned out to be great about doing the piece this way was that we focused entirely on the music and telling the story through the voice alone. There was no set, no costumes, and no staging, so we faced a very different challenge in the storytelling. It was all in the voice, and forced us to explore that dimension in a really deep way.

How did the rehearsals actually work?

The pianist and I made “karaoke” tracks of the whole show, and sent these recordings to the cast. They played them in their living room from a loudspeaker or their phones and sang one at a time. If one person was singing, their scene partner was muted and singing for their own practice and listening to what the unmuted singer was doing. 

What promising ideas do you think will come out of this way of working?

I think we as an industry have to be really open to doing things differently. For example, for this show, we created a whole package of what we called “smart tracks”, which contained the piano accompaniment and a selection of voices. Each singer received a personalized package with all parts except their own, which was muted. This meant that the singers could prepare the entire show with other singers singing back to them!

What advice would you give to artists rehearsing remotely?

Give yourself more time than you think you will need” would probably go at the top of the list! Be patient with the process.

Online rehearsing is a completely new concept, so there’s a lot that we’re still figuring out as individuals and as an industry. Like, whether Zoom is always the best software, what microphones work best, how to avoid internet issues, or how to deal with cats bursting into the frame!

The Rocking Horse Winner studio album is on sale now.