Side by Side: Polly Ott & Fiona McCabe

Side by Side: Polly Ott & Fiona McCabe

Our Opera in Schools tour of The Magic Flute and the Broomstick came to an early close due to the Covid-19 situation, and our leading lady Polly Ott ended up staying in New Zealand a little longer than anticipated. Before she flew back to Germany, she and Fiona McCabe (musical director) recorded this special song for us.

A message from Polly

The making of the split screen video with our Musical Director, Fiona McCabe, started with a telephone call to talk about tempos. Fiona then played and recorded the accompaniment and sent her recording through to me. I practised singing to her accompaniment, with a headphone in one ear, and after a few run throughs I set up my camera and recorded my part of the collaboration.

I sent my recording through to NZ Opera who then spliced our two performances together! In our video, I mentioned that I am waiting for the borders to reopen so I can return to Germany – well, things have moved fast since then! As my original return flight to Germany had been cancelled, a friend in Germany sent me the link to apply for the German repatriation flights. Shortly after completing the recording I received an email from Air NZ informing me I was on standby for a flight back to Germany. Thursday the 9th of April I reported in to standby at Christchurch Airport in the hope I would get on the flight, and didn’t have to wait long to be told I was on. The flight went via Vancouver, where we remained on the plane for a brief stopover, then it continued on to Frankfurt.

After a (very empty) train ride to Berlin I arrived home in time for Easter. I am now in my apartment in quarantine for two weeks – that first spring walk is going to be oh so good! 

During lockdown in NZ I enjoyed a daily walk in Rangiora, playing the piano, having the chance to sing through some new and old repertoire, and chatting lots with my parents, plus I had the important daily task of making the coffee! 

Being part of the NZ Opera Schools’ Tour was a wonderful experience, and the children were a receptive and delightful audience.

After a (very empty) train ride to Berlin I arrived home in time for Easter. I am now in my apartment in quarantine for two weeks – that first spring walk is going to be oh so good!

During lockdown in New Zealand I enjoyed a daily walk in Rangiora, playing the piano, having the chance to sing through some new and old repertoire, and chatting lots with my parents, plus I had the important daily task of making the coffee!

Photo: Polly with NZ Opera’s Andrew Gordon with some fan mail following the wrap of Opera in Schools for 2020.

A message from Fiona

As I sit here writing this from the comfort of my bubble, I am very aware of the stark contrast from the life we in the NZ Opera in Schools tour were leading just 3 and ½ weeks ago. From the rehearsal period in Auckland to starting the tour in Christchurch, travelling to Cheviot, Nelson, Wellington, Whanganui and Rotorua, where the tour was concluded due to the pandemic and we never made it to Auckland, we covered a lot of ground in a very short space of time. There was also a side trip to Akaroa on our first weekend off in Christchurch. Andrew graciously drove while I stared at the incredible landscape and caught up on some sleep! It now seems incredible to me that we travelled so far, saw and did so much given our current restriction.

It was clear from the outset that Andrew, Stuart, Harry, Polly and I made an excellent team. I’m very grateful to my colleagues for the time we had together, for the new friendships we made and the older ones we cemented. We achieved a great deal, and there were a lot of laughs along the way, meals shared, road trips, plane trips, early starts… not my favourite, and thank you for the team for putting up with my grumbles about that… pack ins, pack outs, questions asked and answered, spaces to negotiate, and even fire engines to greet us at one school. But most of all I think we offered the children, staff and parents at the schools some excellent craft, which highlighted all the hard work we’d put in, our combined experience, skills and the dedication of the entire team on tour and those back in the office in Auckland supporting us.

So when the opera company asked Polly and me to do the split screen recording, it seemed a great opportunity to say thank you to all those who had supported us along the way, and to showcase the extraordinary talents of our Soprano, flown all the way from Berlin to be with us. This was quite an undertaking as we wouldn’t be able to practice the music together at all. Even though I’d played Hänsel und Gretel for Opera Australia’s mainstage production, it had been some years ago, but I was determined to make this work. I set about finding the music online, making sure I had the same version as Polly. I listened to recordings to make sure I understood what the orchestra sounded like, the general speeds of the different sections, where the singer might need more time and to breathe etc, and then I practiced and practiced to give me the flexibility to fit in with what Polly needed. I recorded a demo, sent it to her and she said “yes”, much to my relief, she could work with that. I then dressed myself up, did my hair (no small undertaking as the others on the tour will tell you and with the extra growth of lockdown to combat), put on my makeup and bling, set up my iPhone to video and proceeded to record myself countless times until I was happy. I think from beginning to end I started work at 10.00am and finished about 8.30pm, so who knows, maybe I’ve learnt some new skills.

I know Polly magically recorded herself the next day, the day before she got on a plane and was whisked back to Berlin. I know we all miss her effervescent personality and calm presence, as well as her incredible portrayals of Pamina, Papagena, Gretel, First Lady and the Queen of the Night, both vocally and physically.

Since making this video, I’ve made a few more. One to thank my Bubble Buddy Mufasa (the cat) for putting up with me, one for an acting course I’m doing online and another to showcase the beautiful nature around where I live and where I walk almost daily. I do all the filming, editing, and sound myself. Creating these videos helps take my mind off the current sad situation of the world and sharing them reminds me that we’re all in this together.

Aroha mai, Aroha atu. Fiona McCabe.