Jazz pianist and Southern Cross University music lecturer Steve Russell has just wrapped up directing the music for the international debut season of the Snow White opera.
The adults-only fairytale presented by La Boite, Opera Queensland and Brisbane Festival, was faithful to the original – and darker – Brothers Grimm version, with the Queen as Snow White’s mother (unlike the 1937 Disney animated musical where the Queen was her stepmother). It was created by Lindy Hume from Opera Queensland (director), Zulya Kamalova (musical score) and Suzie Miller (poetic text). Steve Russell was musical director and also the four-piece orchestra’s pianist.
“It’s my responsibility to ensure the music works well and to coordinate the music with the action on the stage,” Steve said.
“Sometimes I’m playing piano, sometimes I’m just conducting and sometimes I’m trying to do both at the same time.”
Steve said he thoroughly enjoyed the experience on two levels: the re-imagining of the original tale and the creative challenge.
“Our Snow White goes back to original folklore version but told through a contemporary opera/noir musical. With four extraordinary singer/actors and four musicians, and musical styles spanning opera to rock, we’ve created a musical and theatrical world that is dark, sensual and evocative.”
Long regarded as one of Australia’s finest accompanists and jazz pianists, Steve Russell has been a music sessional staff member at SCU since 1999. His career as jazz pianist has spanned 38 years.
The role of musical director is not new for Steve; he has been the orchestrator for Brisbane’s iconic cabaret Women in Voice for the last three years (and the show’s pianist for 15 years).
“Most of the work I do is as a performing piano player and a large percentage of that is as a jazz piano player. Yet I have a much broader skill base than that work requires. Snow White was extremely satisfying because I needed all my skills to bring it together. It was fabulous.”
Yet translating the fairytale to the opera stage had its challenges, Steve said.
“The learning curve was steep all the way to the preview. There are so many people involved: the creators, the cast and the band, the sound and lighting crews, the costume and set designers. It’s a huge undertaking because the opera had never been staged before. All of the detail about how music works with staging and how to interpret the libretto had to be worked out for the first time.”
Steve Russell’s upcoming performances:
- Liam Burrows at the Brisbane Jazz Club – Oct 1
- Elly Hoyt and John Hoffman, Lismore Jazz Club (@ Lismore Bowlo) – Oct 8
- Leah Cotterell “The Pleasure Of Sad Songs”, Judith Wright Centre – Oct 14 to 15
- “Ruby Tuesday” Benefit for Carol Lloyd, QPAC – Oct 20
- Leigh Carriage at Wangaratta Jazz Festival – Oct 30
- Women in Voice 2016 – Nov 3 to 12