PAISLEY OPERA HOUSE
SEEDHILL SPORTS GROUND
26th, 28th, 29th July
It will be talked about for a long time to come. On a sports field in Paisley Scottish Opera erected a temporary Opera House: a tent comprised of a series of huge curving, airy shells. An hour before their production of Leoncavello’s “Paglicacci” began, it was buzzing with face painting, a chance to try on costumes, a donkey, games, a raffle for the chance to conduct the William Tell overture, and there were hot dogs, ice cream and a Punch and Judy show. So, no stuffy foyer bar in this Opera House then.
And it was standing room only, literally, because this was a promenade performance unlike any other. We the audience circulated around a curtained trailer; as the action moved, so did we. The chorus and dancing villagers turned out to be the man, woman or child standing next to you, and audience participation was unavoidable. It was an absolutely joyous communal experience, with amateur singers and dancers drawn from all sections of the local community who had been trained hard to achieve astonishing, sometimes ravishing results. The surround-sound produced by nearly a hundred voices standing among the audience during the big choruses, was very affecting and unforgettable.
The Orchestra of Scottish Opera, looking relaxed in brightly coloured summer dresses – and some even brighter shirts – did not relax their standards one iota under conductor Stuart Stratford, producing a remarkably bright and articulate sound given their canvas backdrop and turf floor. For some of the audience this was a first experience of opera. It was sung in English and the five-strong cast were all excellent in terms of acting as well as singing – not always the case. But being able to stand within a few feet of the outstanding tenor Ronald Samm as he sang the anguished clown Pagliacci’s famous aria “On with the costume”, many were visibly moved, sharing his heartbreak. You don’t feel that effect at the back of the stalls at the Theatre Royal. Nor can you sit almost in touching distance of the stage set for the play within a play, which was revealed when the trailer’s curtains were fully drawn back.
It barely mattered, but the plot, basically a simple story of a tragic love triangle among travelling players, was well articulated through brilliant use of all elements of theatre, visual as well as dramatic and musical. Designer Tim Meacock produced a surreal yet comic set, enabling the tragedy and comedy of the story to co-exist until the final explosive scene and the lovers’ deaths. Out of a potential whirlpool of standing and moving bodies Director Bill Bankes-Jones managed to create a remarkably coherent theatrical event in which everyone present had a part to play. For three nights there really was a Paisley Opera House and the people of Paisley made a remarkable happening happen. Opera in a tent? Some opera, some tent.
Glasgow Theatre Royal
17th February 2017
It was time for the first opera of the year. The long winter is almost over, the nights are getting vaguely lighter, & of course the snowdrop metropoli are in abundance wherever there are fallen leaves to nourish them. The wife & I drove the hour & a tiny bit from East Lothian to Glasgow, a pleasant run, now the East End of Glasgow’s motorway system has been neatened up. It was time for the first opera of the year, the bafflingly brilliant Flight, returning to Scotland for the first time since its 2006 showing at the New Athenaeum Theatre.
The creation of composer Jonathon Dove & librettist, April de Angelis, Flight is a multi-paced, multi-voiced symphonica, all played out in a single setting. This, of all places, is an airport’s waiting lounge, which of course offers fantastic potential for intensity of emotion & the almost infinite possibilities for vignettean dramas. Here, the expectancy of travel within the tens of minutes has the capacity to intensify life a thousandfold. I awaited the potential slivers of society cooked up by Dove & de Angelis with interest.
Summoned to our seats by a mock airport tannoy, I found myself in the bosom of TriStar Airlines, watching stellar-voiced James Laing’s shabbily dressed, documentless fellow roll straight out of Tom Hanks’s Immigrant. Both the Hollywood & the operatic avatars were inspired by the same man, Mehran Karimi Nasseri (aka Sir Alfred Mehran), who lived in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport between 1988 & 2006. On stage, right from the start, the operatic version forms a figure much like a quasi-mystical beggar-king, charming his way into the hearts & purses of all the female protagonists. These include a stewardess & three travelers, all four of whom have male interests in one form or the other. The stewardess (Sioned Gwen Davies) has hers right beside her, a fellow steward (Dingle Yandell) with whom she carries on an extremely raunchy affair. This bursts out into vivid, pornographic life in the elevator, & for which reason only the most liberal of parents should think about bringing their school-age kids along. The other three women are passengers; the woman of a certain age waiting for her young Spanish lover (Marie McLaughlin); the pregnant diplomat’s wife who chickens out on the big move to Minsk (Victoria Simmonds); & effervescent Stephanie Corley’s Tina, who provides much of the comedy alongside her husband side-kick & foil, played by the always excellent Peter Auty.
There is one more female voice, former Scottish Opera emerging Artist, soprano Jennifer France. She plays the Controller, who stands on a lofty perch above the stage, flicking out her supreme vocal talents over the tannoy like the wafts of a peacock’s tail. She really does hit the highest notes hearable to the human ear, & rather sweetly too. ‘This is the best time… just the thrum of air rushing along pipes,’ she sings at the commencement, a phantom-like figure who watches proceedings like the gods at Troy, while commenting on them at the same time in the classical rhapsodic fashion. As Flight progresses, she carries on some kind of weird relationship with Laing. ‘I like him to stare at me & adore me,’ she sings. I’m not quite sure why; it doesn’t really effect the opera at all – its all rather dreamlike – but the theme is there & could perhaps have been given a little extra beef in thee plot.
Musically, that ‘radically accessible… style’ described by David Kettle, like many of the emerging works of artists of leisurely longevity, Dove’s first opera could well be his best. Commissioned by Glyndebourne in 1998, & soaring supersonical across the world ever since, I especially liked the explosive & euphorical lasar-intense flourishes, such as when Bill & Tina, remembering their early passions, dueted, ‘the whole world disappeared except you.’ The music & the lyrics just work so well together, testament to Dove’s meeting with de Angelis at a hothouse opera-writing course at an early, burgeoning stage of both their careers. Occasionally, de Angelis fails like so many others in the English libretto’s fight against the cynghanedd-lacking, rhyme-constricting fibers of its language. ‘Sending planes up in the sky, & then they fly,’ ‘its not my fault, I live in a vault,’ are two examples.
My favorite musical moment was when the entire ensemble gazed towards the audience, transforming us into the runway, at which their vocals whoooo’d at the rush-soaring take-off of one of those, ‘pure clean immaculate machines,’ perfectly complemented by Scottish Opera’s scratch-perfect orchestra.
Fierce night, jagged light, pining wind, pinning us to the ground…
After the first act, a very Caledonian electric storm bursts onto the backdrop, grounding the cast for the next two acts in which the traditional raison d’etre of opera – to entertain, to provoke emotions & to inspire subconscious philosophizing – shall be played out. ‘The airport & the storm,’ de Angelis told the Mumble, ‘are like a forest that people go into, a place where transformations happen. All the characters are hoping for a new life in some ways.’ The second acts begins upon a plateaux of pathos, when minds are made to wander in the dark; a little lackluster at first, but it soon picks up & all hell breaks loose in a typical liberal pre-9-11 Airport where craziness was expected – but not encouraged – & allowed.
There’s nobody in the story whose making a short-haul, insignificant flight. An airport represents people’s dreams & hopes. You’re going there hoping for something – maybe a holiday, maybe a whole new life. Jonathan Dove
The hub-hub of an airport is perfectly suited to a traditional operatic ensemble, & the debuting SO director, Australian Stephen Barlow did a smart job of filling the physical spaces. Behind them, Andrew Riley’s set was simple yet authentic, something which the wife took a great deal of pleasure from – tho’ not so much how the opera played out in the end. After a smashing first act she thought it got a bit silly, but opera – especially one with comic pretensions – is sometimes supposed to be silly. The problem is, the modern brain is trained to place comic opera in an Italian setting at least, preferably several hundred years ago, which Flight clearly cannot. But for me, the archetypes were excellent; swap the stewards for Catholic priests, the holidaying couple for a squabbling count & contessa & we’re off… its all really rather the same. Flight could well polarize the opera lover, but if one puts one’s expectations into a tall ice-fill’d glass, along with a generous helping of pina colada, beside some exotic pool – then its all quite enjoyable, fun, & ultimately musically inspiring.
Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen
Flight will be touching down…
Glasgow’s Theatre Royal = February 17.21.24
Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre = March 01.03
Theatre Royal, Newcastle
11th November 2017
Opera North is not quite the oligarch-backed opera of the Russian state machine, but it is a distillation of all that is best in the greatest of all the art forms. Newcastle, Hull, Nottingham, Manchester & of course the troupe’s native Leeds are all grandiose beneficiaries of Opera North’s dedication for touring the classics through the operatic backwaters of Britain, whose talented bevvy of musicians & singers are steelishly determined upon bringing the best out of their performances. I experienced them for the first time last Saturday, with the wife & I driving down from East Lothian on a most scintillating sunny day. We had taken a room at the Royal Hotel in Whitley Bay, which took rather a long time to find as nowhere about looked liked the image I had stored in my phone. It then dawned on me I had downloaded an image of the grand whitewashed, cliff-perch’d Royal Hotel in Whitby by mistake, & after laughing at my foolishness the wife & I finally checked into our rooms for the night.
Into Newcastle we went by metro, the Paris of the North-East the wife called it, & there is indeed a salubrious beauty to the city. The Tyneside was especially enigmatic, with its stone’s-throw Millennium Bridge to Gateshead, all set in a plethora of sparkling, water-reflected neon. The grand, sandstone Theatre Royal was equally as splendid; a fine, fine building in which we would take in three of the Little Greats throughout the day – this season’s 6-part program compiled & produced for its loyal fanbase by Opera North. ‘The guiding principle,’ General Director Richard Mantle told the Mumble, ‘is to create a broad range of musical, theatrical & – above all – emotional experiences for everyone. By presenting six short operas rather than three standard-length works we are able to explore the boundless variety of opera in a single season.’
In the afternoon we caught Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortiliges, a curious dream-poem in which the rampages of a precocious child come back to haunt him. ‘I don’t want to do my homework, I want to go for a walk, I want to eat all the cake,‘ sings Wallis Giunta, also of the Leipzig Opera Ensemble, who proceeds to smash her house up when her parents are out. From this point ensues Ravel’s self-confessed pastiche of styles, reflecting the several different broken pieces of the household which spring to life in order to admonish the Child. Of these, John Savournin as the armchair was a rather remarkable watch; the symbiotic bodyswerving of sensual, mee-owing cats was equally as beaming a vision; the phallic-spouting teapot (John Graham-Hall) appeared rather like one of those African fertility statuettes; & the ascension of cyan-bloused, velvet-voiced Fflur Wyn’s princess from a giant book of fairy tales was pure Alice in Wonderland. ‘You searched for me in the heart of the rose & the scent of the lily,‘ commenced her sparkling duet with the Giunta, which was for me the musical highlight of the L’Enfant.
About half-way through there comes an extremely slick scene change, where the Child’s house is replaced by a starry universe & then a Garden for the denoument. The ending, in which the Child finds forgiveness & redemption among the tutelary spirits of the animals & plants he had systematically damaged in the garden in the past, went a little off-piste. The spirits arrived chiefly as sack-headed gargoyles, which threw my observational sensibilities off-guard a tad – it was quite scary to be honest – while Jon Savournin’s return as the crucified Tree was equally as harrowing. Once I’d calmed down, however, & re-engaged with Ravel’s remarkable creation, I found the performers all carrying out their singular parts with luminous talent, thus creating a stellar whole.
Returning to the Theatre Royal in the evening, while we were dining across the road in the busy but worth-waiting-for-your-food Italian eaterie that is Carluccio’s, the following conversation ensued.
‘Do you have the tickets, darling?’
‘No, I thought you did.’
Our tickets were, of course, back in Whitley Bay. With only minutes until the first of the evening’s double-bill commenced, we found ourselves in a spectacular tizz. Luckily, on hearing our predicament, the nice people at Opera North managed to find us two more seats – the last in the house it seem’d – & we were able to continue the feast. With nourishing serendipity, our new seats were right beside a certain Matthew Eberhardt, L’Enfant’s young assistant director, who spoke to the Mumble about touring with Opera North.
I’m quite sad to be nearing the end. Producing six operas was a massive challenge for us, but an amazing & fun project. We’re finding our audience enjoys the shorter operas. We live in the Netflix generation now, & feed upon a diet of 45 minute slots. As for going on tour, intimate theaters such as here in Newcastle, & Nottingham, are so similar to the Leeds Grand where we are from, that recreating them is not a problem. We’re going to the Lowry in Salford next week, however, & I for one am rather nervous about how we will do on its extremely large stage.
So to the operas themselves, two products of the late 19th century Italian passion for ‘verismo,’ where real life dramas were created by librettists & composers being able to finally do something of their own, freed from the constraints of formal Wagnerism which had dominated every breath, set & step of opera for decades. The sub-genre’s chief themes are infidelity & revenge; to which both Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci & Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana conform with eager purpose. Pagliacci tells the story of adultery & a menage-a-quatre backstage in an opera company, through which the female voices were in full flourish & we saw star turns from Richard Burkhard (the kapitano of Opera North) as Tonio, Peter Auty’s exuberantly dramatic Canio, & Katie Bird as a perfect Nedda. These three, & the rest of the company, enacted their roles in a revered synthesis that made it the best opera of the day. Perhaps I am biased, but there are portions of Ruggero’s libretto that transcend even Dante at times, especially;
Oh, what a flight of birds, what clamour!
What do they seek? Where do they go? Who knows?…
My mother, who foretold the future,
understood their song and even so
she sang to me as a child.
Hui! How wildly they shout up there,
launched on their flight like arrows!
They defy storm-clouds and burning sun,
as they fly on and on through the heaven.
Light-thirsty ones, avid for air and splendour,
let them pursue their journey; they, too,
follow a dream and a chimera,
journeying on and on through clouds of gold.
Let winds buffet and storms toss them,
they challenge all with open wings;
neither rain nor lightning daunts them,
neither sea nor chasms, as they fly on and on.
They journey towards a strange land yonder,
a land they’ve dreamt of, which they seek in vain…
Vagabonds of the sky, who obey only
the secret force that drives them on and on.
The final panel of the day’s tryptych was the moody slice of maddening village life & the Catholic soul-song that is Cavalleria Rusticana. Somewhere in Sicily, the dowdiness of meniality is deliciously offset by lungtingling lyrics & the only taxi in the village. I’d seen it twice before, but on both of those occasions did not realise how much potential the opera had to be, well, bizarre. Korolina Sofulak clearly had a vision, & brought to the table an aesthetically pleasant & musically wonderful piece, but something a little too abstract was also tossed into the mix & on one occasion I turned round to the wife & mouthed, ‘what the f**k.’
Still, Giselle Allen Santuzza was a brilliant watch, protesting & writhing under the cross as she shivered & shook through her post-seduction by Jonathan Stoughton’s Turridu. Phillip Rhodes was also mightily impressive as Alfio, seeing as he’d just had to smash Silvio in Pagliacci only an hour or so before. As a spectacle, it was like eating three different-flavored chocolates at once, but it was still all rather quite beautiful. The music made it so, especially the gloriously influential Intermezzo. Thus, with the night’s histrionics over, when conductor Tobias Ringborg took the stage to join in with the bows – I applauded most heartily his, & the orchestra’s, precise & sublime accompaniment. With that it was time to go, the fantastic night-life of Newcastle’s teeming, tipsy streets was leaving its trot for the gallop, & away we rode into the night…
Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen
Wednesday 1st November
Anthony Burgess Foundation Arts Centre
We arrived at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation Arts Centre as part of a small, eclectic crowd. I overheard a couple discussing previous performances which is always a reassuring start because they enjoyed it enough to come back. The venue was small and intimate, bare brick and exposed pipework within a building housing history about its namesake. As I took my seat, I have to say, my preconceptions of operatic performances have been banished; no grand theatre, no imposing stage and not a black tie in sight! Whilst I appreciate that the history of opera is important, surely finding a way to keep it alive supersedes this. In an interview with the Mumble, Clementine Lovell said that the team wanted to ‘take opera to places where you wouldn’t normally find it’ and to use the setting to get people ‘to give it a go’. I think Pop-Up Opera should be proud because before the performance started I was already willing to embrace the art, as were the people popping in on the off chance there was a spare ticket. I recommend buying a programme, by the way, not only because it financially supports Pop-Up Opera, but because it provides a useful synopsis, a few German words and information on the backgrounds of the cast and crew that I think sheds light on their reasons for working with Pop-Up Opera.
The room held around 50 people, so everyone was close enough when the Hansel & Gretal began. If I had to find a negative, I’d say that the lack of tiered seating at this venue made it a touch difficult to see scenes that unfolded at floor level, but that’s a minor downside to this improvised environment. Minutes into the performance I and many others were laughing out loud at the invaluable yet unobtrusive captions that accompanied the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel. It was not surprising to learn that these had been created by the accomplished comedian Harry Percival; they were short, humorous and provided a simple modern narrative to an opera in its 125th year, complementing the performance, rather than detracting.
Polly Leach (Hansel) instantly stole the show for me. Polly played the part with such ease, clearly comfortable with the German language. She put on a great show being cheeky Hansel whilst demonstrating the skills she has developed over her many years of committed studies leading to her recent graduation from the RCM. When Ailsa Mainwaring appears as mother she is free from inhibition and performs one of the best stage rollickings I’ve seen! Throughout the performance, Berrak Dyer plays the piano beautifully, leaving me in awe. She was flawless and distracting in only the right places. Before I knew it, the interval had arrived and I was delighted to hear that other audience members were as enthralled as I was. I didn’t take much note of the set until Act III. You need your imagination around the versatility of a mop and I have to say I never thought I’d see a floating hot dog on the stage of an Opera!
The applause at the end of the show was well deserved and didn’t seem enough somehow. In summary, I admit a little apprehension towards visiting the opera, this unease was exasperated when a colleague told me the performance was perfect for ‘someone like me’. I admit that this comment irked me a little, I mean, I’m open minded and I am no stranger to art in its varying forms – but ‘someone like me???‘ He was right, I am the target audience, not the particularly stuffy, overeducated older person (sorry!) that we relate to opera goers but good old Northern girl, Aimee. Like a good journalist I did my research before my visit. I learnt about aria, soprano, the use of language etc but you know what? I don’t need that level of knowledge. I am a beginner, I was the target audience. It isn’t often I can honestly say this, but this is one of the best things I’ve seen. To quote one of the final captions Clementine and the team ‘nailed it’.
Reviewer : Aimee Hewitt
After the huge success we had with our “La Boheme” and “Rigoletto” projects hCFlyde Opera are preparing their next production: Cosi fan tutte by W.A Mozart, in Italian (with English surtitles) and with double cast. This is a project to help young soloists to gain more stage experience and to learn a new role. Working with our amazing team and Orchestra of Clyde Opera Group will give singers the opportunity to improve their technique, work with the conductor in all rehearsals, then perform a full role in a well organised production, fully staged and with orchestra. This is the public’s opportunity to join us for 10 days and be part of a wonderful experience. CO’s previous performances of “La Boheme ” and “Rigoletto” were sold out- they are now convinced that the public will love this production too. Rehearsals and performances between the 19th-29th of July 2018 (GLASGOW, UK). Performances on the 28th and 29th of July 2018.
Participants must be available during the entire period of the project. This is a workshop for the training, specialization and advancement of professional opera singers. The workshop will be based on the study and practice of musical interpretation; dramatic interpretation; diction, Italian pronunciation and expression of the text; study of musical dramaturgy in the score, techniques of body movements, posture and acting; vocal ensemble and score study. The production will be double cast and participation will be based on auditions for specific roles. The program is in two parts: 1) musical rehearsals/staging and 2) fully staged opera production (with orchestra). Certain selected artists will be engaged in a concert arranged to take place in a nice little town near the sea. For anyone interested in applying, please include the following with your application: High definition photos, curriculum vitae and repertoire, as well as video-clip (YouTube), a scanned copy of your passport or equivalent identification document that is currently valid. Applicants outside Europe will have to submit the visa and / or residence permit / work permit where necessary. Note – all the applications must be sent to the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Applicants who are accepted for an audition will receive notice of their acceptance by email or phone. Fees: All the participants accepted in this program will pay a participation fee. The fees are: Fiordiligi (soprano) £700, Dorabella (soprano) £700, Giglielmo (bass) £700, Ferrando (tenor) £700, Despina (soprano) £700, Don Alfonso (bass) £700. The fee includes the 11 days of the full program (masterclass, rehearsals with all our 3 pianists and orchestra, staging and singing lessons; also, lunch/every day is included + refreshments all day). If you would like to apply for 2 different roles please let us know in advance. The fee is paid in 3 instalments. If accepted into the program there is a deposit of £150 to be paid in maximum 30 days after acceptance (probably before the 25th of January 2018). The deposit is deducted from the fee. Accepted applicants will be responsible for their own flight and accommodation costs (accommodation could be provided if booked in advance for £475 -£550 / person) if you want to know more please get in touch. The organization could indicate available hotels and B & B options; information will be communicated to everyone interested by email.
Deadline for applications is 10th of December 2017 (interviews/auditions to happen before Christmas). If applying from abroad CO could organise Skype interviews or auditions. For more information email: email@example.com
Theatre Royal, Glasgow
19th October 2017
Opera is back in Scotland, & what a divine choice. With La Traviata, Verdi plunges a belladonna-tipped dagger into the vibrant heart of licentious 19th century Paris, where socialites erupt in scandal at every turn. As melodramatic as they come, it is probably after watching Verdi’s sublime masterpiece (conducted by David Parry) that some television executive first coined the phrase ‘soap opera.’ In 2017, as the silky black, heavy tree-bark curtains rose, Tanya McCallin’s startlingly luxuriant set was revealed & thus the action – & the music – could commence.
Lets drink from the joyful glasses where the beauty flourishes
Everything in the world is folly if there is no pleasure
At the heart of a euphoric ensemble lies a courtesan called Violetta – the fallen women – whose otherworldly warbling drives like a drunken sultana through the oriental flesh-pots of Verdi’s sensuous music. ‘A poor lonely woman abandoned in this desert called Paris,‘ her love for Alfredo has compelled her to sell off all her possessions in order to impress him. Think a modern-day, cocaine-snorting city hedonist with a purse full of credit cards. This perilous state of affairs then grows quite complicated with the introduction of Giorgio – Alfredo’s macchinating father – & incurable tuberculosis.
Violetta was played with poise & tragic alacrity by young Russian-Dutch soprano, Gulnara Shafigullina, only two years since her debut at the Volkstheater Rostock (Germany) with Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Projecting her gaze far into the distance, Gulnara is extremely sensitive to her part, with a vimful voice she wove her increasingly tragic melodies like an expert stitcher of tapestries, intertwining them with the moving singing of Alfredo’s lively Dutch tenor, Peter Gijsbertsen, who despite being a tad quiet at times, is still a marvelous actor who took emotion-bending to the next level. ‘I have forgotten the world – I feel like I am in heaven,‘ he sings in picturesque Italian, but complicating his love for Violetta was his disapproving father – played by Stephen Gadd – who sang with an obsidian-polished resonance & sported a most sublime moustache.
At the heart of La Traviata’s elongated yet elastic happenstance lies one of the greatest scenes in Opera; Flora’s Ball, full of dancing, bottom-bulging matadors; fan-waving, tambourine-tapping gypsies; & those living, breathing gargoyles of the Paris of Baudelaire. Candlelight, darling dresses, chandeliers & jewels; among them mezzo-soprano Lithuanian Laura Zigmantaite’s Flora struts with extreme & stand-out sensuality in a rose-pink dress, stealing the show for a moment, before Violetta enters in crimson with the Baron. So many levels, so much beauty.
I love this opera, Verdi’s sense of timing is impeccable, with each mellow lull leading to a champagne moment of cork-popping, note-fizzing enflourishment. ‘The drama is woven tightly into the orchestral writing,’ Susan Rutherford explained to The Mumble. Hyperdramatic but unpompous, the music & melodies sweep into the mind like brushes on an abstract painting – & it is all so much fun to watch. Production-wise, Scottish Opera have excelled themselves on this occasion, having collated & created a team full of debutantes & seasoned pros that springs bouyantly close to Verdi’s original vision.
Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen
Photography : Jane Hobson
Scottish Opera presents La Traviata, at the Theatre Royal Glasgow from October 19th, before touring to Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh from November 2nd.
Pop-Up Opera are in the middle of touring Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. The Mumble managed to catch up with Clementine Lovell for a few words.
Hi Clementine, where were you from and where are you living today?
Hello! I grew up in a small village in Herefordshire, playing outdoors on farms and in the woods with my siblings. There was nowhere nearby or affordable to see opera which is partly what has inspired me to bring opera to rural communities around the UK. I now live in north London with my husband Harry and our 23 month old son Innes, and run the company from here. I love London because of the network of friends, fellow parents, musicians, and creative people around me, and constantly meeting new people to collaborate with and share ideas. That said, I love going home to the countryside and seeing my family whenever I can.
When did you begin to understand you had a gift for music?
Singing has been there from my very earliest memories. I sang all the time, to myself, my brothers, anyone who would listen (sorry extended family). We did a lot of music and singing at the Steiner school where I went age 3-14. Our family holidays were always to the SW of Ireland and I began performing folk music in the pubs there aged 10, singing and playing piano accordion. If you could stop the noisy people at the bar talking with a song you knew it was a good one. There was always music playing in our house, mainly folk and blues, but my paternal Grandfather took me to classical concerts from very young. I studied with the soprano Elizabeth Ritchie from age 12 and she was a gift, a wonderful teacher and supporter. I won a music scholarship to a boarding school under her guidance and discovered the exhilaration of choral music as well as beginning to study opera.
Can you tell us about your studies in Italy? Does this mean Italian opera is your favourite?
I graduated from the Guildhall School of Music but felt like my languages were holding me back from the next step in my career. I’d always felt a connection with Italy and the Italian language and repertoire. I decided the best way to learn would be to live there.
Plus, any excuse! Harry and I moved out there with no Italian, no jobs, no money, it was a bit scary, but we made a life there and ended up staying two years. I found a wonderful teacher Romina Vigne and taught in a local school to pay the bills. I performed my first opera roles there and just absorbed the language and culture. Opera is very broadly appreciated there and doesn’t have the same elitist reputation that puts many people off here. Everyone goes and they aren’t reverential about it. This is a huge part of what inspired me to set up Pop-Up Opera. Italian is still my favourite language to sing opera in but not necessarily always my favourite opera genre. I’m absolutely loving hearing our cast perform Hansel & Gretel in German at the moment, the music is sublime and the evening prayer makes me cry every
As a soprano, what are the secrets to delivering a good performance?
I think for any performer it’s passion and drive, studying and knowing the piece inside out, communicating to an audience but letting them come to you, letting go of self consciousness, looking after yourself, and also having a supportive team around you helps a lot.
What are your favourite operas to both watch & to perform in?
I absolutely loved performing in the bel canto operas L’elisir d’amore and Don Pasquale, and also Giulietta in I Capuleti was a dream role. There are many operas I love watching; the enjoyment often comes from the quality of the production and the performers as wellb as the opera itself.
What is your favourite aria to sing?
Singing Mozart is always an absolute joy. I loved singing Giulietta’s aria O Quante Volte, it’s so beautiful and raw. Giulietta is the last role I did, when Innes was three months old. Since then performing opera has had to take a back seat. The company has grown a lot and we are now doing around 90 performances a year. Running it and producing our shows and tours is a full time job and we are a small team with a growing output. Plus I’m running around after a toddler! The company is so important to me and I want to put
everything into building it. Part of me will always be a performer, but I am singing more folk music again at the moment, which I absolutely love.
What do you like to do when you’re not being musical?
I love walking, swimming in the sea, spending time with friends, eating and drinking, dancing, reading, reading to my son, exploring new places, listening to music and going to concerts and gigs.
Can you tell us about Pop-Up Opera?
We take opera to places where you wouldn’t normally find it and to people who wouldn’t normally watch it. The aims of the company came initially from my experiences. Folk music is generally very inclusive but opera is often viewed as inaccessible. Friends often dismissed opera as not their thing, one even claimed to be “allergic” to it. I wanted to prove them wrong, to show them that opera could be magical, hilarious, devastating or moving. I started with my uncle’s cider barn and put on an opera there for a largely nonopera going audience. They loved it. It made me think about how the setting can have a bearing on people’s enjoyment, or their willingness to give it a go. The venue has a bearing on the performance itself, and each new space presents a challenge. The production grows and evolves as it pops up in different places. We stage it in the rehearsal room and then adapt it to embrace each venue, so every night is different. The performance spaces vary wildly in size, shape, acoustic, and feeling. We get in to the space on the day and start working out the entrances, exits, how to involve the audience…. The performers have to think on their feet, and be willing to allow some freedom and spontaneity. This keeps it fresh and creates a very special atmosphere. Our projected captions have become part of our signature style. We believe that you can still make opera accessible when performed in the original language. The music, the intentions of the actors, the interaction between the characters, and the power of the drama get the story across. The captions are there to compliment, not to detract. They keep the audience broadly abreast of the story but don’t demand their attention all the time. With a comedy, the captions can add another layer of humour, and we can play around with the modern context.
Can you tell us about your creative relationship with Fiona Johnston?
I run the company with my business partner and co-producer, Fiona Johnston. My partnership with her, and the work we have put in to building the company and the relationships with our venues forms its foundation. She is an amazing person who puts everything into what she does and is brilliant at it. She came on board as our stage manager and then started helping my out with the producing side of things. We work very well together and bounce off each other creatively. We think alike and yet bring different things to the mix. We both care deeply about the company and have a shared artistic vision for it.
Pop-Up Opera are touring Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel this Autumn. Why this
We have honed our ability to boil an opera down to its essence: the music, the drama and the relationships between characters is what brings the story to life. Working on a fairytale is exciting because it’s one of the most beloved forms of storytelling, and offers both moments of comedy and layers of darkness. It also is very atmospheric in the amazing spaces we go to.
How is this particular opera standing up after a century?
Our production has a modern aesthetic and narrative, but the fairytale of Hansel & Gretel is timeless. It’s a story everyone knows and can relate to on some level. It taps into our sense of playfulness, our childhood selves, our fears for our children and about the world.
What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Pop-Up Opera?
We are touring Hansel & Gretel until late November, and are very excited to include the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green as well as two performances at the the V&A Kensington as part of their new exhibition ‘Opera: Passion, Power and Politics’. We are
excited to collaborate with the Royal Opera House Learning and Participation department to bring young people from the Youth Opera Company to see the production. The Asylum in Peckham will be an amazing atmospheric venue for Hansel & Gretel. Simultaneously, we are busy programming the tours for next year, liaising with both regular and new venues. It’s an exciting time for the company, and we have lots of ideas and plans brewing. Watch this space!
10.10.17 : V&A MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD – BETHNAL GREEN
14.10.17 : VERA FLETCHER HALL – THAMES DITTON, SURREY
15.10.17 : EAST FINCHLEY ARTS FESTIVAL – LONDON
19.10.17 : LONDON MUSEUM OF WATER AND STEAM – KEW, LONDON
21.10.17 : ANNE OF CLEVES BARN – ESSEX
25.10.17: THE REGAL THEATRE – MINEHEAD, SOMERSET
27.10.17: PORT REGIS SCHOOL – DORSET
01.11.17 : THE INTERNATIONAL ANTHONY BURGESS FOUNDATION – MANCHESTER
02.11.17: BREWERY ARTS CENTRE – KENDAL, LAKE DISTRICT
04.11.17 : LOURDES HALL, HARPENDEN
05.11.17 : ASYLUM – PECKHAM, LONDON
11.11.17 & 12.11.17: COURT GARDENS FARM: DITCHLING, EAST SUSSEX
14.11.17: FITZWILLIAM COLLEGE AUDITORIUM – CAMBRIDGE
18.11.17 & 19.11.17 : V&A MUSEUM – LONDON