Iestyn originated the role of Peter Pan at the world premiere with Stuttgart Opera in 2013. WNO’s British premiere sees the production sung in English and with new direction and design by Keith Warner and Jason Southgate respectively. Eric Nielson is conducting. Peter Pan opens at the Wales Millennium Centre on Saturday 16 May and runs until Sunday 31 May before touring to Birmingham and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden over the summer.
Iestyn Morris – Peter Pan
What is it like preparing for the flying, how are you getting on?
I love doing my own stunts and I’m having great fun working on flips and stunts that we can later incorporate in the rehearsal room. The one superpower everyone wishes they had, is the ability to fly. Surprisingly the actual technique of controlling your body in the flight harness is something anyone can learn fairly easily. The hours of training that are necessary are in fact more to do with building up stamina, whilst practising routines. The muscle power required to maintain a position in the air is extremely draining when you start stringing them together in a scene. The advantage that singers have is that we do have very good core strength and stability, as part of our singing technique, but flying still requires hours of repetition and practice. We are all doing brilliantly, in my view, and we egg each other on as each character perfects moves that are unique to them. There is a great spirit of encouragement in the cast.
Do you have to sing and fly at the same time and is that a particular challenge?
I even have to sing whilst flying upside down! It is very challenging, but the team of riggers and stunt/flight choreographers are both thorough and tremendously patient in our flight training sessions.
How familiar were you with Peter Pan before taking on the role, particularly the original story with its somewhat darker side?
Without really knowing it, I grew up with Peter Pan. I spent my childhood in London’s (then unfashionable) Notting Hill Gate and would regularly cycle round the very same Kensington Gardens where J M Barrie strolled, when dreaming up the character over 110years ago. I know the precise island, in the middle of the lake where Peter was ‘born’ and the surrounding architecture of Victorian terraced houses is largely unchanged today. As a child you don’t notice darker elements of stories; you merely accept them and discard them as irrelevant. It’s only re-reading the stories as an adult, that you find it almost impossible to see them, post Freud, as entirely innocent. What I enjoyed though, was finding the details that I missed about these characters, which actually make them more real because of their faults and imperfections. We all know Peter never grows up and that he can fly, but do we know he is incredibly forgetful, has a short attention span, never admits it when he cries and dreams of killing pirates and bears? Should we think him cruel? Most self-respecting Edwardian men also dreamt of going on safari to bring back trophies, and so too, maybe our desires today are closer to those of our children than we think.
Obviously, this work is based on an extremely well known character and story (if only the more popular cartoon and pantomime versions). Was that a help or a hindrance for you in creating this role?
I would say having such an instantly recognisable character and story can only be a good thing in terms of sparking people’s imagination and getting them to start clicking the WNO website to find out more and then of course buy a ticket! However, as anyone who has read the original version of a much-loved fairy tale to their children will know, we actually don’t know these stories as well as we thought. There is such a disconnect between our nostalgic fondness for a story in our memory and the actual events and details that unfold on the page. When we revisit them with our adult eyes and minds, we realise how rich and dark these very tales can be. With Peter Pan being given the operatic treatment, we are able to not only give the children the story that they themselves will look back with fondness, but also invite the adults to engage in the emotional rollercoaster of searching questions that affected us all in growing up.
Are there other elements of the show, beyond flying, that you think have been interesting/different/challenging for you and the entire cast?
To call this show ‘active’ would be a vast understatement. We have honestly spent days choreographing and developing intensively, only to get to the end of a scene and realise that comprises a mere few minutes of actual stage time. The challenge for this fantastic ensemble is to maintain the intensity that we’ve developed and precision in its, at times, frenetic execution. We will all be exhausted at the end of each show!
What are you most looking forward to on opening night and then as the show tours?
With new music it’s rare that you get to revisit roles that you create. The very nature of this project being a co-production has enabled me to collaborate with an Olivier award winning director in Keith Warner; someone who has helped some of the best performers do just that – reinvent the wheel if you like, with greater understanding. Creating this English-language premiere marks a tremendously enjoyable and rewarding period of work. I am mostly, therefore, simply looking forward to sharing it with a new audience, hoping to give the piece new life and literally watch it fly.
Peter Pan, Welsh National Opera opens at Wales Millennium Centre on May 16 and tours