Behind the scenes at the Royal College of Music

Simon Grange on stage for the student auditions for Britten's Albert Herring. Image copyright Edmond Terakopian

Edmond Terakopian is used to covering hard news, chasing the latest political story, reacting to events and capturing the moment through his lens. Yet his latest project takes him a long way from this, behind the scenes at the Royal College of Music. Here he talks about the work.

With long-term assignments sadly becoming a thing of the past, I was on the lookout for a something I could work on, and, following a chance meeting with a tutor at the Royal College of Music, a door opened for me.

My timing coincided with an upcoming staging of Benjamin Britten's Albert Herring. With Britten being a former pupil of the Royal College of Music and the theatre there being called the Britten Theatre, everything was aligned and I felt that it was meant to be.

My idea was to document every aspect of this opera, especially the parts no-one sees: auditions, set-building, costume fittings, rehearsals, lighting and the dressing rooms.

Image copyright Edmond Terakopian
Image caption Elspeth Marrow, Natasha Day and Timothy Connor rehearse in Opera Room 01

My favourite imagery soon came from what was going on backstage during the dress rehearsals and performances so I spent a fair amount of my time photographing these beautifully silent and introspective moments.

For me, there were three main challenges to this reportage. The first being able to find special moments and juxtapositions during the many, many rehearsals. On the face of it, a white room with fluorescent lights and singers in normal attire aren't the most visually arresting scenes and one rehearsal looks pretty much like another.

Image copyright Edmond Terakopian
Image caption Simon Grange warms up before going on stage for the student auditions for Britten's Albert Herring

The second challenge was to keep creatively motivated during this long-term shoot. I needn't have worried as being surrounded with so much talent from the Opera School made this project an absolute joy to photograph. That creative energy kept me buzzing throughout the months and really motivated me to make these images sing.

Image copyright Edmond Terakopian
Image caption The set begins to take shape

Later in the process when the orchestra joined in the rehearsals, the energy was kicked up a notch, just making the process even more magical.

Image copyright Edmond Terakopian
Image caption Jobine Siekman who plays cello makes a note on her score during the first rehearsal of the orchestra

The third challenge was to be unobtrusive. I like to work in close, but naturally didn't want to put off the musicians. Working gently and with my small and quiet OM-D cameras made this a possibility and I was thrilled when the head of opera mentioned in his closing speech after the last performance, just how unobtrusive I had been; he even said "barely noticeable".

Image copyright Edmond Terakopian
Image caption Polly Leech (left) waits in the corridor to be called to perform on stage while Anna Casson (opera administrator) keeps track of the auditions

One of the interesting parts to the project was a visit to Aldeburgh, Benjamin Britten's home town. Visiting The Red House where Britten lived and worked, to see the original handwritten musical score was fascinating, but it became an even more special moment when Michael Rosewell, who, as well as being head of the opera school, was also conducting the piece, flipped through the pages as he wanted to double check one single note, which sounded like it may be incorrectly printed in the modern reprints. The note was correct.

Image copyright Edmond Terakopian
Image caption Director of opera Michael Rosewell looks through the original handwritten score by Benjamin Britten

It took seven months to shoot, resulting in nearly 32,000 images with 62 of these photographs making it to the exhibition, Opera by the River, which can be seen on Riverside Walkway on the South Bank in London until 11 October.

It's been a fascinating journey for me, being one of the highlights of my 26-year career and I must say that I'm extremely thankful to the Royal College of Music for seeing my vision and allowing me this unique access.

Here are some other images from the reportage.

Image copyright Edmond Terakopian
Image caption A dress rehearsal and Maria Ostroukhova (Mrs Herring) is comforted when Albert is thought to have died
Image copyright Edmond Terakopian
Image caption Freelance stage crew member Joe Meyer helps collect a sky backdrop as it is lowered
Image copyright Edmond Terakopian
Image caption Catriona Hewitson (who plays Emmie) waits backstage for her scene
Image copyright Edmond Terakopian
Image caption Polly Leech (who plays Florence Pike) backstage, waiting for her cue
Image copyright Edmond Terakopian
Image caption Nick Pritchard (who plays Albert Herring) and Amy Lyddon (who plays Mrs Herring) watch the performances on stage from the seating in the theatre during rehearsal
Image copyright Edmond Terakopian
Image caption Emmie, played by Catriona Hewitson gets into character backstage
Image copyright Edmond Terakopian
Image caption Miss Wordsworth, played by Sofia Larsson, reflects on her performance backstage during the final performance of Albert Herring at the Britten Theatre

Opera by the River can be seen on Riverside Walkway on the South Bank in London until 11 October. You can also see more of Edmond Terakopian's work and read his thoughts on photography on his blog www.photothisandthat.co.uk.

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