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‘We use music to help ourselves’: Phantom tenor carries on in lockdown

The brutal toll of lockdown has been particularly savage in theatreland. The entire Phantom cast was let go and told they could re-audition for their roles when venues reopen, as it set in that the virus would be a part of life for the foreseeable future.

“The term we are using is ‘released from obligation’,” Tabone says.

Paul Tabone and Lara Martins, who played Carlotta Giudicelli in The Phantom of the Opera, pose in their dressing room in London. The entire cast has been released because of coronavirus.

Paul Tabone and Lara Martins, who played Carlotta Giudicelli in The Phantom of the Opera, pose in their dressing room in London. The entire cast has been released because of coronavirus.Credit:Danny Kaan

While the Australian was already preparing to farewell the hapless Piangi – having spent five years performing eight shows a week thanks also to a stint in Hamburg for Love Never Dies – the early curtain fall brings some regrets, including being robbed of more time on stage with Melbourne’s Josh Piterman, who only made his debut as the Phantom in September.

“That’s sad for me because I was hoping for six more months of sharing that amazing thing we were doing together – as another Aussie.

“I was prepared for it mentally, to do my last show, because that is a huge occasion.

“So I’m embracing it as a positive and it gave me the kick up the bum to do what I need to do for the next steps of my career.”

Paul Tabone at Her Majesty's Theatre in London. The pandemic has allowed him to try a socially distant form of theatre in Coimbra, Portugal.

Paul Tabone at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. The pandemic has allowed him to try a socially distant form of theatre in Coimbra, Portugal.Credit:Danny Kaan

As Tabone exited stage left in London, he entered stage right in Coimbra, Portugal, where he performed in one of Europe’s first socially-distanced, and sell-out, concerts at the Convento Sāo Francisco.

“It’s a one-off concert but in times like these, this is a huge step forward -seeing viability, seeing how things are going to work.

The productions saw performers and orchestras spaced on stage, the choir scattered out on the side of the audience and the orchestra pit. Like in Germany, the audience is obliged to wear masks and register their tickets.

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“This is a huge moment forward for us as musical theatre people.”

“I’m very excited because it will be the first step of Europe’s opening and reimagining of what it’s going be like for us as performing artists,” he said.

The world’s theatre districts will be watching the experiment closely.

This week the UK government gave the go-ahead for outdoor theatres to resume but while experiments are ongoing about how to safely stage indoor performances, its seems unlikely London’s mostly-Victorian, compact theatres will be open and at capacity in time for Christmas.

Just like in Australia, the creative industry was the last in line for a government rescue package. It took intense campaigning by the sector, drawing attention to the fact that the arts had been overlooked, for some help to arrive.

Tabone believes the lockdown has exposed faults in the way the arts are valued.

Singers sit apart for a rehearsal of the Cathedral Steps open air festival in front of Mariendom (Cathedral of Mary) and St Severi's Church in Erfurt, Germany, last week.

Singers sit apart for a rehearsal of the Cathedral Steps open air festival in front of Mariendom (Cathedral of Mary) and St Severi’s Church in Erfurt, Germany, last week.Credit:AP

“We go straight to music whenever we feel upset, or sad or depressed or anxious, it is our own way that we use music to help ourselves,” he says.

“It is only because of us [creatives] that we are able to survive times like this and if we had none of that I can assure you this world would be a very different place, so why aren’t we given a focus?

“That is an absolutely important question that we should be asking.”

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