Jane Ede chats about making Opera accessible with BEFORE BREAKFAST

It’s early morning in 1947 Australia.

Sunshine streams through the window and birds are singing. But Charlotte is on the war path. Her head hurts, the bread is stale. Why can’t Alfred find a job? A delicate waltz tinkles around the corners of the room, disturbing the ghosts of memory. Remember when she danced for 500 hours? When a poet thought her beautiful? Little does Charlotte know that this morning’s coffee will be served with a side of devastation. And it all happens, before breakfast…

Based on Eugene O’Neill’s play of the same name, Before Breakfast puts a marriage under a magnifying glass, revealing a domestic landscape littered with dashed dreams, hardship and unfulfilled aspirations. Set against the backdrop of the gruelling dance marathons of the 20’s and 30s, Charlotte’s emotional struggle resonates in a post lockdown world. A dramatic one-person show, the role of Charlotte is being performed by Jane Ede.

Jane Ede

Born in Sydney, Jane is one of Australia’s most versatile sopranos. She holds a Bachelor of Creative Arts from Wollongong University with a double major of Music and Acting, and a Diploma of Opera from the Sydney Conservatorium. Jane has been performing as a principal soprano for Opera Australia for over a decade, with roles including Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte), Countess (The Marriage of Figaro), Musetta (La Bohéme), Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni), Alice Ford (Falstaff), Adina (L’elisir d’amore), Pamina & First Lady (The Magic Flute), Wellgunde (Ring Cycle), Helena (Midsummer Night’s Dream), Lady Billows (Albert Herring), Valencienne (The Merry Widow), Berta (Barber of Seville) and Frasquita (Carmen) and the title role of Madame Butterfly for the Opera Australia Regional tour. Jane has established a reputation for intelligent refined singing and dramatic flair.

Before Breakfast is a one-woman show – how is this different to previous productions you have worked on?

Jane: Yeah. Many years ago I did some work in independent theatre and I did write little one woman pieces for myself that I used to perform in various things, performance nights and things. But it’s been a very long time since I’ve done something like this. Normally my favourite Operas are the ones where there’s lots of people on stage, and you have lots of people to bounce off. But this has been a really exciting process, you know. The production team and I just kind of clicked in terms of what we wanted to do with this and where we wanted to set it. We’ve had similar ideas on the character – I absolutely love delving into a character, delving into a script, which we’ve done lots of. So it’s actually a really exciting opportunity to do this sort of work, to get really deep into the character, to have to have that journey. It’s just my journey for 35 minutes. I’m really looking forward to it.

Can you tell me a bit about the show?

Jane: The piece is by an American composer, but it’s an Australian premiere, it hasn’t been done here before. And I must admit it wasn’t really I didn’t know a lot of Pasatieri’s work. Dan [Graham] was the one that suggested we look at this opera, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know his music. It’s really beautiful. He worked for some time as a Hollywood orchestrator, and you can hear a lot of that ‘film’ music. They’re big, sweeping tunes, and it’s really melodic and really catchy.

The show is premiering as part of LIMITLESS, a micro-festival celebrating deaf and disabled artists – how is the show being made accessible?

Jane: Sometimes I think opera can be thought of as a bit inaccessible just generally, you know. People are sort of like “I’ve never been to an opera, I don’t really know what an opera is about.” And and so we thought in general, we want to make this as accessible as possible, and this is the perfect Festival to do it.Sydney Fringe have kindly helped us with some accessibility options. For instance, we’re having one show Auslan translated. The venue has a number of options in it already in terms of it being fully wheelchair accessible, and there is an audio loop installed in the theatre. We’ve organised a Braille flyer insert that will give a description of the setting and the the basics of the action, we have a Q&A at the end of each show, a very brief one where we just want to open it up to discussion of one question, which is “how can we make opera more accessible?” Our stage manager is going to be offering some touch tours during the Q&A too, so people will be able to lay their hands on props and costumes and things, to get a sense of it. I have a big interest in how members of the Deaf Community experience opera because it has quite strong vibrations, so something that we also would like to do is having some allocated seating where members of the deaf community can actually place their hands on the piano while it’s playing, and also perhaps place their hands on me during the Q&A to feel while I’m singing so that anybody who comes to this show is going to be able to experience as much of it as we can sort of offer. We’ve even tried to keep the price to below $35, and it’s in English too. We’re very lucky, actually. We’ve had so much support with this project. We’ve got some sort of major partners that are supporting us, like Australian Chamber Orchestra and the NSW Government, lots and lots of in-house support from Opera Australia. We had a couple of sort of unexpected costs come up, so we launched a fundraiser through the Australian Cultural Fund. So we’re very, very lucky because I think people want to get on board with this project, they want to help us make something beautiful and accessible.

Do you see any of yourself in Charlotte?

Jane: Oh, it is funny because you know, at first I would have said no. The play [that the opera is based on] was a bit of an experiment to see how long somebody could complain and yell at the audience, and see how long the audience would take it. In the play she’s a very unlikeable character, and in the opera they’ve softened her a lot. They’ve added some backstory, they’ve added some beautiful music, they’ve softened her whole character. And so initially I would have said no, but now the more that we unpack it, the more I go “oh, actually, I do see a little bit of myself in that.” Not so much the yelling, but just in terms of how we examine things like past traumas, how they affect your life, discontent with how you might have a plan for your life and how it may not have worked out that way.

Can you sum up Before Breakfast in 3 words?

Jane: Three words? Accessible, beautiful, and dramatic.

Before Breakfast opens September 7th, at 107 Projects, NSW.

For tickets and more information, visit the Sydney Fringe website.

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of AussieTheatre.com. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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