/Q & A: Composer and Conductor Leo Geyer

Q & A: Composer and Conductor Leo Geyer

With the upcoming production of Constella OperaBallet‘s award-winning production Sideshows – which is showing at Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells – I managed to get a few words from the composer and conductor behind the work.

Leo Geyer shares with us the inspiration behind Sideshows and future projects at Constella OperaBallet.

Where did the inspiration behind Sideshows come from? 
Poet Martin Kratz and I were commissioned to write a song for the 20×12 New Music Weekend at the Southbank Centre. We  were looking for ideas and Martin stumbled across information about Victorian circuses and sideshows that used to take place on the Southbank. So we wrote the song about a Dancing Bear, and from that moment we got hooked into this bizarre sideshows world and over a number of years we created more and more sideshows acts, including the Bearded Lady, Fire-eater, Palm Reader, until we ended up with a 2-act opera-ballet!

 What is it about the circus that you find fascinating and how did it become the driving force behind Sideshows?

In the Victorian circus you would have the big top with all the big dramatic displays including flamboyant acrobatics, exotic animals and clumsy clowns. But in the shadow of the big top, would be the sideshows acts. They were much less glamorous and more freakish and bizarre. In fact there are so many characters, so rich in weirdness, that if feels like you could create a number of opera-ballets about the sideshows! We just picked a handful of characters to form a sideshows cabaret-esque show which is as equally unhinged as the characters themselves.

  It is not often that we see shows combining dance and opera, why do you think that is?

Opera and ballet are, in most cases, performed on stage with a set, in costume and accompanied by an orchestra. And that’s it. In almost every other respect they couldn’t be more different, with contrasting rehearsal processes, performance practices and technical language. Perhaps most fundamentally, singers sing and dancers dance, so fusing two methods of communication in an effective narrative is anything but easy. But when it works, it creates an astonishing spectacle for the eyes and ears.

There are various music genres collaborating  and working together here (such as jazz and classical music), why do you think there isn’t enough daring pieces like Sideshows where we see this type of musical collaboration?

Contemporary classical music can be elitist and inward looking, and there is certainly plenty of stigma out there proclaiming the very same. I am very much committed to ensuring classical music remains a vital and vibrant part of the 21st century musical landscape. I’m always looking for ways to open-up contemporary music, which usually manifests itself in imaginative, daring and dramatic approaches to music-making. In this particular instance, its all about the fusion glued together with comedy!

 What is it like to work with a talented team including Ella Marchment, Martin Kratz and Jaered Glavin? 

We’ve been working together with Constella OperaBallet for a number of years now, devising, creating and performing a number of opera-ballet works. We know each other’s art backwards and most importantly, we know how to work together. Working together with this team makes opera-ballet feel almost easy! Though I should stress the almost!

 Do you foresee more crossover pieces being produced and created in the future?

Opera-ballet is who we are. In fact we are the world’s only company dedicated to the fusion of the two. So yes, there’s lots more to come. We even have upcoming and ambitious collaborations with architects, sculptors, garden designers and filmers! So watch this space!

If you could choose only one, what would your favourite part or scene in Sideshows be?

Seeing as I play the role of the madcap Ringmaster, my favourite part is the newly created “Ringmaster Act” whereby the whole company gangs up against the Ringmaster.

 Do you have any new projects coming up next for 2018?

Our biggest and most exciting project next year, so far, is music and dance performed to my original composition, in tribute to sculptor Barbara Hepworth, within a garden selected for the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show. We also have two further major productions in view alongside a series of smaller performance presentations.

Sideshows has been awarded the Lord Mayor’s Composition Prize and the Philip Bates Prize. It has been performed over 60 times across the UK and US, including Constella’s own production which was broadcasted twice on BBC Radio 3.

Composer and conductor Leo Geyer has been awarded various awards for composition including the RNCM Gold Medal Award, PRS / ESO Composition Competition and the Philip Bates Prize.

Constella OperaBallet

Composer/Conductor Leo Geyer

Librettist Martin Kratz

Director Ella Marchment

Choreographer Jaered Glavin

Click here to purchase tickets > Lillian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4TN

Sat 25 Nov 7.45pm, Sun 26 Nov 2pm & 7.45pm

Tickets are selling fast!