Scenes From the End is a powerful solo opera starring the virtuosic Héloïse Werner. Described by Classic FM as “extraordinary” we were dying to know more about this gifted performer, so we met Héloïse to delve deeper into the highly unusual world of opera-for-one, and discovered a truly unique talent with a flair for the dramatic and a gift for communication.
Hi Héloïse. How would you describe your style of performance?
I knew when I began studying that I didn’t want to be just a classical singer. I love performing and I love acting, just being on stage. I love straight theatre – I think I enjoy that more than singing opera to be honest. I also play cello – I play in bands and I sing and play at the same time. I really get excited by things I create myself. I’m already planning a second show, which I’m trying to raise money for. It’s kind of scary but also liberating because you can do exactly whatever you want.
How did Scenes From the End come into being?
I performed the show in the summer for 2 nights at the Camden People’s Theatre and a week in Edinburgh at the Greenside Nicolson Square. I actually did a preview at Tristan Bates last year, but it’s changed a lot since then.
What’s the show about?
The show explores themes related to grief and death and it’s structured in three parts. I’m on stage the whole way through and we use projections to guide the audience through what’s happening. The first part grieves for the end of the universe, the second part for the end of humanity and the final part for the end of an individual life. It goes from a rather abstract cosmic perspective to something far more intimate.
Why choose opera?
I wanted to express those ideas and emotions using the singing voice. It feels appropriate because sometimes it’s hard to express those emotions with words alone. When you cry, the sound that comes out of your body is a very primal sound.
What do you hope an audience takes from the show?
The aim is really to stimulate thought within the audience about grief. I found that, particularly in western society, we find it hard to talk about death. The show explores what happens when someone loses somebody close to them, what society does with that and how that affects our own experience of grief. We put that in the context of the end of humanity and the end of the universe and see how that might help someone when they are grieving for an individual. Death is so unexplained, so abstract – I wanted to make people think about how they might behave around somebody grieving, or for the person grieving to realise how people around them might act and how that might help – or not help them. I’m really using the singing voice to try and bring those ideas to life.
How would you describe the format for Scenes From the End?
The idea is to use the singing voice in a very unusual way. It’s neither wholly a play nor an opera – instead the singing voice becomes a medium to convey very direct emotions and ideas. Sometimes I sing words, but at other times I might be singing sound effects, or even making noise percussively – it’s very theatrical. It was written by a composer called Jonathan Woolgar.
So how did you meet Jonathan Woolgar?
We were both at Cambridge University, although we didn’t know each other then. I founded a contemporary quartet, The Hermes Experiment, made up of voice, clarinet, double bass and harp. We commission composers to write for us because it’s such an unusual combination of instruments. Jonatha.n was one of the first composers we commissioned. We met a few times and then got a director on board – Emily Burns. She directed a new play at the Fringe by Liam Williams called Travesty, and now she’s assisting at Opera North.
What did you study at Cambridge?
Both Jonathan and I studied music. Emily (our director) studied there too, although we only met after graduating.
Is there humour in the show?
Yes – how much depends on the audience. I think the second part is definitely the funniest – it’s quite random but it’s also the most upbeat. Essentially what I try to do is portray how humanity will deal with its ending – people laugh a lot because it’s very energetic and all over the place.
How deeply do you draw on personal experience of grief?
I’ve experienced grief personally in the last six years but I didn’t want it to be about me – grief is universal, so having someone external come in and put my thoughts into his work really helped.
Do you interact with the audience?
There’s no audience participation per se, but a lot of the time I address the audience directly and it’s quite intimate. At the beginning of part three, I’m silent, looking the audience in the eye, but I don’t make them come up on stage, so they’re not going to feel awkward.
What’s the subject for your next piece?
It’s going to be about memory and how the things and places we experience through our lives stay with us. I’m French and I only recently moved to London from Cambridge. Although I spent my childhood in France, I’m now quite a different person. The show will ask questions about how that happens and through performance, explore the experience of moving to a different country, a different culture and even a new language: how you become someone else although your roots remain, waiting to be triggered.
Book tickets for Scenes From the End at the Tristan Bates Theatre
From 6-10 December 2016
Running Time 50 minutes
Free to ticket holders
8th December: Post-show talk with Helen Charman, editor of The Inkling Magazine
9th December: Post-show talk with Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of The Last Act of Love
“The ten hottest tickets in town” Evening Standard
“extraordinary” Classic FM
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