The ABL Aviation Opera Studio takes on eight artists looking to forge an operatic career each year. The studio offers artists from a range of disciplines; singers, directors, conductors, répétiteurs or composers; training and development that provide a bridge to the professional world of opera. We spoke to director Sarah Baxter, who has been a member of the studio for the past two years about her experience.
I applied for the ABL Aviation Opera studio in 2018 because I had worked with the company as assistant director on their production of The Marriage of Figaro at the start of that year and had felt exhilarated by the experience. In short, I applied for the studio as I was greedy for more.
My background is, I trained as an actor, then specialised in devised and physical theatre and then happily diverted to directing. I had been directing my own theatre work since 2015 and when the opportunity to apply for the studio came along it was the perfect opportunity I was unknowingly looking for. I have always been a freelance artist and I was also excited for the opportunity to align with a company, like Irish National Opera, who have such a clear vision, passion and ambition for creating a diverse programme of exceptional work and connecting with a wide audience.
In my directing work I have never felt the need to adhere to one style or genre – I have worked on comedies, dramas, new work, adaptation, devised work and more. The story and shared experience is what drives me. The possibilities of expanding my varieties of storytelling under the umbrella of opera thrilled me.
And then there’s the music… I had studied piano and music in secondary school and had always been interested in all types of music, including opera. One of the greatest joys during my time in the studio has been the music. Live music, in any form has the ability to arrow straight to the heart. During the past two years my heart has been broken by arias, lifted by choruses, sent racing by orchestras and so much more. Most of my time in the studio has been working as assistant director on productions. It’s been a privilege to share the rehearsal room and theatres with so many extraordinary singers and musicians.
And beyond them, on every production you have everyone else involved – an endless parade of talent and hard work. One of the core things I love about directing is collaboration. Opera is the most brilliant collaboration, not only between art forms, but also people, as the sheer scale of productions mean you could easily be working with over a 100 people on a show. I love this. I love the grandiose effort of everyone mucking in, those on and off the stage, striving towards the common goal of creation of a show. Each time, the impossible becomes possible. I will have worked on six productions during my time in the studio and I am so grateful for each one. Each one a unique experience but a constant throughout is exceptionally talented colleagues who go above and beyond. I have become a better director through working with the people that I have had the opportunity to learn from and work with.
For anyone thinking about applying for the studio, don’t think – do it! You will be met by a world of passionate, welcoming, imaginative and hardworking people. For directors, aside from working on productions there are opportunities to direct smaller projects, to develop skills and to build your professional network. It has been a joy and a privilege to be a part of the ABL Aviation Opera Studio and I’m sure it’ll be the same for the next lucky director.