Ahead of Circa and Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s latest collaboration in English Baroque performance at QPAC on 21 May, we chatted with American-Australian soprano Jane Sheldon.
Can you tell us about ‘exploratory chamber music’ and how it has become a part of your life?
For me, it is about being exploratory vocally in some way, or exploratory in the type of physicality that the piece requires me to have on stage. But the term can also cover the way an audience relates to a piece, spatially or aurally. It's about all the things that take a work outside of convention; it's about offering audiences new ways of listening. As soon as I began making work with colleagues who wanted to explore the boundaries of staged music in similar ways... frankly it became an addiction.
What has been your most memorable moment on stage?
That's completely impossible to answer. But the most recently memorable moment was actually shooting a film that functioned as part of an opera. It was for Sydney Chamber Opera, for Kaija Saariaho's work La Passion de Simone, which was programmed at the 2019 Sydney Festival and this film consisted of a single 40-minute shot in which I was fixed in place while three tonnes of rice was poured on my head from a crane about 12 metres above me. Not something I'd done before. In this Brandenburg show I get to go on a big circus swing and I think I'll remember that for a while too.
And your favourite performance space?
That's tough! To mention some of the very memorable ones: I once performed a concert at midnight in Zedekiah's Cave, a quarry dug under Jerusalem's Old City. It's several thousand years old and we were performing music by John Zorn to an audience seated on cushions. Another concert of his music that I sang took place in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre at night, for an intimate crowd of about 100 people. We had no reason to expect anything in particular from the acoustic, but it was lovely to sing in. The biggest treat was to wander the galleries while they were empty.
You have recently returned to Australia. What is the next career move for you?
The most recent development I suppose is that I'm beginning to perform my own compositions. It's taken me a while to arrive at that point, but it's now becoming a regular part of my work each year. The next one is for the Resonant Bodies Festival in New York in September; I'm very excited about it.
This is not your first time singing with Brandenburg. What is so special to you about working with this orchestra?
The Brandies make music with a palpable generosity of spirit. It's something fostered by Paul and you can feel it in the rehearsal room and on stage. As Paul said to me just tonight, "The whole point of it is joy." It's lovely to be in that atmosphere.
In English Baroque, Jane will be performing music by Purcell, Dowland and Handel, as well as traditional tunes including Scarborough Fair and The Gartan Mother’s Lullaby. The concert on May 21 at QPAC is set to be a tumbling commotion of musicians and acrobats colliding in the latest explosive collaboration between Circa and Australian Brandenburg Orchestra.