Taking a title: Harriet has it covered

13 November 2019

Harriet Eyley, Welsh National Opera’s latest Associate Artist, has had a busy time this Autumn Season. In addition to making her role debut as Frasquita in Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen (pictured above), she has also been covering the title role in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, but what’s involved in covering a role? Harriet explains. 

‘When the offer came in to cover the delightfully quirky little character that is Vixen, I accepted without hesitation. She is my favourite character, my dream role.

I have very little experience of covering but it’s a great platform to display your abilities and be heard. However, I’ve learnt that being launched into the spotlight as a cover is much more nerve-racking than performing as a principal.

I was already familiar with the role. I made my role debut as Vixen while a student at the Royal College of Music, London. I thought that the experience of having already performed the opera in English would be beneficial but that wasn’t the case. This production is in Czech and that meant I needed to relearn rhythms and syllable stresses; a tediously slow process. Endless hours were spent at language and music coachings.

Preparing for Sir David Pountney’s production in particular has required more than most: an inexhaustible energy, fierce concentration and dedication. While you might never get to perform the role on stage, you have to prepare it as if you will.

You start your journey as a cover on the back foot. The principal singers have been in rehearsal for two weeks before you even start. We had a day of music calls to settle ourselves into the angular world of Janáček, of which the music staff fully embraced. They excelled themselves in aiding my preparation; the shared enthusiasm of the team was infectious.

During the rehearsal period, I worked closely with Staff Director, Sarah Crisp – it’s her third time collaborating on the opera and her experience proved invaluable to me. She made the rehearsals both fun and safe. Safe being the important word; not one bit of the impressively beautiful set is actually flat. The huge jigsaw puzzle takes hours to construct and deconstruct which meant I only spent a day and a half rehearsing on it. It is the most physically demanding set on which I have ever worked.

Some aspect of covering is the same as being a principal – costume and wig fittings, make up etc, but the majority of covering involves sitting around, watching, listening and making notes (a lot of notes). It was during this time that I received the wisest advice from one of my colleagues.’

You are covering Vixen, not Aoife

Sarah Crisp, Staff Director

‘These words of advice remain with me on my journey. Every performer interprets the role in a different way and that’s important to remember. Portray the role in your own way; don’t portray the performer performing the role. It might seem a little tedious but being a cover is an essential part of any production. While the prospect of going on instead of Aoife Miskelly is very daunting, I am ready to go.’

David Pountney’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen will be visiting New Theatre Oxford on Thursday 21 November and Thursday 28 November.

Next Season, Harriet Eyley will be performing Barbarina in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, opening in Cardiff on 23 February and touring to Llandudno, Bristol, Southampton, Liverpool, Milton Keynes, Plymouth, Norwich and Birmingham.  

Welsh National Opera are currently looking for two artists to joins its Associate Artist Scheme. More information can be found here