Much Ado About Nothing

June 23, 2019 — 24 Comments

I’ve been working on my next opera projects, researching characters, storylines, learning the music and words. I have watched the movie version of the play ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and bought a couple of books on how to interpret Shakespeare’s words correctly.

This year Northern Opera Group will host the Leeds Opera Festival from 23rd to 27th August 2019 at venues across the city. The Leeds Opera Festival will include A Feast of Falstaff, where the audience will be treated to a sumptuous feast accompanied by music from three Falstaff operas – by Verdi, Salieri and Balfe – followed by a screening of Orson Welles’ masterpiece, ‘Chimes at Midnight’.

Another new performance to be savoured at the Festival is the aptly titled Musical Confusion. This captivating performance will imaginatively weave together text and song to seamlessly bring together Shakespeare’s original plays with many of the operas inspired by his works.

Headlining this year’s Leeds Opera Festival will be a full production of Stanford’s comic gem, Much Ado About Nothing, transported to 1950s small-town America, where the makings of a cultural revolution are just getting started … 

There will be two performances in the fabulous setting of Morley Townhall on the 23rd and 24th August at 7:30pm.  I am thrilled to share with you that I will be performing the role of Hero in this wonderful production and I can’t wait to meet everyone involved.  This will be the second production of the summer that I will take to the stage with the fabulous Phil Wilcox who plays the role of Benedick in this production and he will also be reprising the role of Sir Thomas Bertram when we both return to Waterperry Opera Festival in July to perform in Mansfield Park.

Cast & Creatives

Much Ado About Nothing was a comedy by William Shakespeare, written in 1598 (the middle of Shakespeare’s career).  In Shakespeare’s day, ‘Nothing’ or ‘Noting’ as he wrote meant gossip, rumour or overhearing and we all know how much misunderstanding and confusion can be created by a little gossip or Chinese whispers.

Largely unperformed since its premiere at the Royal Opera House in 1901, Stanford’s opera is a hilarious, moving and hugely entertaining adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.

In the story Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into confessing their love for each other, Claudio is tricked into rejecting Hero at the altar on the erroneous belief that she has been unfaithful. But in the end, Benedick and Beatrice join forces to set things right, and the others join in a dance celebrating the marriages of the two couples.

I’ve sung several songs that have used Shakespeare’s words before but this is my first full operatic adaptation of one of his plays. Do you have a favourite play, book or another Shakespeare play that you think would work well set to music?

On Friday I joined the Pop-Up Opera team to participate in the Borders Book Festival, which took place in the heart of Melrose, which is south of Edinburgh.

Just off St Mary’s road, Harmony Garden was home to marquees filled with events for both adults and children, a pop-up bookshop with some authors present to sign the books bought by visitors to the festival, and the ticket booth.

We were parked in a great spot between Harmony Garden and the Orchard where a delightful collection of Food and Drink trucks were situated decorated in bunting and festive twinkly lights. As well as delicious and artisanal food to nibble on, there were stretch tents and tipis for shaded cover – on what turned out to be a miraculously sunny day!

I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the festival and between shows, I took time to explore the stands and enjoying hunting for treats and oddities.

Then on Saturday and Sunday, we set up the trailer at the tranquil Archerfield Walled Garden in North Berwick. The beautiful grounds host a Garden Cafe where the chefs in the kitchen use local produce to create scrumptious dishes for all tastes. Not only was there a soup of the day, but also a scone of the day.

On Sunday it was Father’s Day (Love you Dad) and the cafe celebrated by offering a deal to Dad’s, a burger and a locally brewed beer! Yum! On-site there is also a farm shop, Knops microbrewery, and amazing trails to walk peacefully alone or with your friends, family, and dogs.

One walk that enticed the company, in particular, was the fairy walk! So we decided to treat our stage management and instrumental crew to fairy wings from the shop and prance around the grounds in our Iolanthe costumes. The setting was so beautiful and we had a great time.

Ross Stenhouse was on the bike.

Next week you can catch up with us in Callander, and the following week in Banff, Aboyne, and the Haddington Show.

I’ve got four days off work in a row which is great because I’ve got to finalise my preparations for The Llangollen International Eisteddfod Classical Gala on the 2nd July at 19:30. I’ve been offered the wonderful opportunity to be part of a Classical Gala with French/Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón as part of my prize for winning the Pendine Voice of the Future competition last July.

Rolando is one of the leading tenors of our day he is frequently seen in Europe’s leading opera houses and sings with orchestras and opera houses all around the World.

Llangollen International Eisteddfod

Good news if you’re in the North West of England you don’t have to go to London to the Royal Opera House to hear Rolando he is coming to Llangollen in North Wales for the first time, Llangollen is one hour’s drive from Liverpool, 45 minutes from Chester (one hour by train), one and a half hours for my friends and family from Manchester and Stoke on Trent they’re staying overnight in some of the lovely bed and breakfast accommodation and hotels in Llangollen, I told them they could even glamp this year.

James Hendry

We will be accompanied in the Gala by the British Sinfonietta under the baton of British conductor James Hendry. James joined the prestigious ‘Jette Parker Young Artists Programme’ for emerging talent at London’s Royal Opera House in 2016. Hendry promises his Tuesday night concert to be an ‘opera pick and mix’, offering guests an exclusive repertoire through opera, classical and even musical theatre. He adds, “It will be a passionate performance that offers an inspiring tour for opera fans and newcomers alike.”

“In recent years the orchestra has performed extensively in England, Scotland and Wales as well as visiting Western Europe. Highlights include the London Welsh Festival of Male Choirs at a sold-out Royal Albert Hall in London, a performance of Berlioz’ Requiem at Cheltenham Festival, screenings of Casablanca at the Royal Opera House in London, screenings of Home Alone in Denmark, and the televised world premiere of ‘Adiemus Colores’ by Sir Karl Jenkins at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in 2014. “

I wish that you could all be there with me, got my dress ready, got my shoes, feeling prepared, can’t wait to get started.

Say Hi To The Whole Team, including Keith the driver of our amazing Trailer!

Part of the joy of this production is the way it reaches so many different people in places and venues that you would not normally associate with opera.  It is such a thrill to share our love of the artform with young and old alike, with the added benefit of traveling to some amazing parts of Scotland.

All of this would be so much harder if it were not for the lorry that Scottish Opera had purpose-built to put on these shows. The design of the lorry allows us to be self-sufficient. If needed we have a generator for electricity, (which we’ve not had to use yet).

If there are no changing facilities available to us then we can get changed on the stage behind the curtain like a large shopping changing room.

We have coat hooks on the sides of the trailers to hang out costumes and personal items which can then be hidden behind the black cloth background surrounding the performance space.

All in all, it is an ingenious design and makes the best use of every inch of space, for example, the stools, used by the audience, also double up as storage when the show is traveling to the next venue.

Next week we are off to Old Kilpatrick, Barrhead, Giffnock, Melrose, and North Berwick. Please join us if you are in the area, as we would love to see you in the audience.

This week we commenced the start of our Pop-Up Opera tour!

This year Scottish Opera’s Pop-Up Opera provides three different 30-minute performances of specially arranged Operas, selecting top hits, arias and duets and ensemble numbers to be sung by a small chamber music ensemble.

Ross Stenhouse, Sharron Griffiths, Jessica Leary, Laura Cioffi, Aiden Edwards, and Me

Our chamber ensemble consists of a soprano, (I share the role with the delightful Jessica Leary), baritone (Aidan Edwards), Flute (Laura Cioffi), Harp (Gwen Yorke Sinclair & Sharron Griffiths) and for our children’s show accordion (Lizy Stirrat), with Ross Stenhouse (Storyteller) binding them together with his own inimitable style.

I’ve never worked with these instruments alone before, so I was excited to hear how supportive and resonant the accompaniment is.

Our three shows are :

A Little Bit of The Magic Flute

A Little Bit of Iolanthe

Puffy McPuffer and the Crabbit Canals

What makes these productions so special is that they are performed in a specially converted articulated trailer.  It has been fitted out with a raised stage at the back, fitted with windows for natural light whilst rehearsing and blackout blinds for during the performances. There are spotlights and even a chandelier to add a touch of elegance to the internal surroundings.

The inside is painted to match the auditorium of the Theatre Royal, Scottish Opera’s Homebase theatre in Glasgow, even down to the carpet which is exactly the same as the carpet used in the actual theatre.

By putting on these productions in the trailer it means that Scottish Opera can take their fabulous shows on the road to all corners of Scotland and reach a much wider audience across all age groups.

This week we arrived in the City of Perth and explored the area around where we were staying. We all enjoyed eating together at the end of each day and I can heartily recommend the great restaurants that we found in Perth.

North Port Restaurant

They have a great a la carte menu with food exquisitely cooked and celebrates British cuisine. I had a mouthwatering chicken supreme.

The Post Box

Has a Michelin star and a pre-theatre menu that lasts until 10pm!

The meals were scrumptious and deliciously plated up. I felt like I was on MasterChef

Brothers 3

A family run Italian restaurant with well priced and delicious food. Plenty of variety and good quality food.

Aiden and Laura Made Ross Wait Whilst They Took Pictures For Their Instagram

In Iolanthe, I play a Fairy and if you have ever wondered what a Fairy eats when there are no Fairy cakes, well it has to be Rainbow Unicorn Cake!!

This week’s post is in celebration of the marriage of my dear friend Ellie to her kind-hearted Husband Rory. The ceremony took place yesterday, 18th May 2019 in Criccieth, which is a beautiful part of North Wales.

Criccieth, North Wales

For me the day started with a mad dash mammoth drive all the way down to the venue, it was like a scene from a romcom, I literally abandoned my car in the car park and ran across the lawn to where the ceremony was taking place arriving with only minutes to spare.   But I wasn’t going to miss it for anything and was so proud to be a part of her big day.  It was an honour to sing as part of their wedding celebrations and I wish them both many happy years to come.

Rory & Ellie

I’ve known Ellie from childhood when we used to be sparring partners at Karate together. Over the years we entered and won national Karate competitions together and completed both our 1st and 2nd Dan Black Belts before I had to leave to take up my training at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. It took over ten years of hard work, determination, and perseverance to complete all of our gradings (exams) but we had lots of fun along the way.

Ellie and Me

She was my rock, in and outside of the dojo. A friend to turn to at times in need and continues to be! She has time for everyone and always thinks of others before herself as her father said in his heart-warming speech during the celebrations.

To close tonight I would like to ask if you have any words of wisdom or sound advice that the happy couple may like to read here on my blog post?

I am looking forward to my performance at this year’s Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod on Tuesday 2nd of July as a guest of the renowned International Tenor Rolando Villazón. The evening’s gala concert is to be accompanied by the British Sinfonietta Orchestra conducted by James Hendry, also starring is the famous Welsh lyric soprano, Rhian Lois. If you have never been to the International Musical Eisteddfod in Llangollen I can heartily recommend it, whether you intend to compete in one of the many categories or just come to enjoy the beautiful singing, fabulous dancing, or the joyous multicultural atmosphere that permeates around the Pavillion and throughout the Town during the festival.

The event is best described on their website:
Every summer since 1947 Llangollen has staged one of the world’s most inspirational cultural festivals. Each year around 4,000 performers and as many as 50,000 visitors converge on this beautiful small Welsh town and its International Pavilion; to sing and dance in a unique combination of competition, performance, and international peace and friendship.

The International Pavilion, Llangollen

Llangollen’s place in world music is now immutable. Since its inaugural year in 1947 more than 300,000 competitors from over 100 nationalities have performed enthusiastically on the Llangollen stage. In 1955 a young Luciano Pavarotti sang in the choir from his home town of Modena, conducted by his father. The choir won first prize in the Male voice choir competition. Pavarotti returned for a spectacular concert in 1995.”

“Margot Fonteyn, Alicia Markova, Joan Sutherland, Angela Gheorghiu, Kiri Te Kanawa, Jehudi Menuhin, José Carreras, Lesley Garrett, Bryn Terfel, Katherine Jenkins, Dennis O’Neil, James Galway, Nigel Kennedy, Elaine Paige, Michael Ball, and Montserrat Caballé are among the musical stars that have appeared in our concerts. Placido Domingo confesses that his first professional engagement in the United Kingdom was at the 1968 International Eisteddfod.

The River Dee and the Town’s Railway Station

If you want to come along to the Eisteddfod you can buy tickets from the
Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod website.

Just to let you know that if you want to come along to watch Waterperry Opera Festival’s production of Mansfield Park this year that although they have increased the number of performances the tickets are selling fast so don’t leave it too long to book or you may be disappointed.

Finally, I am thinking about changing the header picture on my FaceBook page to the one below, please let me know what you think 🙂

The Magic Flute

May 5, 2019 — 53 Comments

On Saturday night I had the wonderful opportunity to join my singing teacher, Rosa Mannion, to watch my friend Gemma Summerfield debut as Pamina in the Magic Flute at Scottish Opera in Glasgow. It was a spectacular production and she particularly sang with poise and mellifluous tone just exquisite.

Scottish Opera – The Magic Flute – Photos By James Glossop

It was an extra special production for me as it was a revival of the original 2012 Sir Thomas Allen production, which I happened to see during the first year of my studies at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. It was just as I remembered a magical production, I could vividly remember the steampunk costumes and set design which only improved with time.

The Three Ladies and the Queen of the Night’s costume were also inspiring – bejewelled with either hundreds of Swarovski or delicately placed LED lights – they truly looked like stars in the nights sky.

The fantastic detailing in all the props brought added flair to the mystical realm we, the audience, had been transported to. In particular I liked the clockwork birds, which glistened as Papageno unluckily missed them with his net.

Scottish Opera – The Magic Flute – Photos By James Glossop

Sir Thomas Allen, directed the opera full of wit and joviality. The audience all around me were sniggering and laughing in perfect timing with the singing actors due to their wonderful delivery of a particularly humorous English Translation. However, the company were able to balance these moments with seriousness for the suicide arias and lessons learnt during the trials.

Kitty, Gemma, Rosa , and Me

My rehearsals have started well here in Glasgow and I have enjoyed meeting everyone involved in the Pop-Up Opera production.  I hope that in some small way our abridged version will whet the appetite of our audiences and encourage them to go and watch the full production as it is a true delight to the senses.

Pop-Up Opera Tour

April 28, 2019 — 48 Comments

This week as April draws to a close I am really happy to share with you that I will be working with Scottish Opera again on their Pop-Up Opera tour around Scotland in May and June.  This year we will be performing three separate shows aimed at audiences of all ages:

A Little Bit of Iolanthe │Gilbert & Sullivan arr. Derek Clark

“ Iolanthe is banished by the Fairy Queen for marrying a mortal. Now, 25 years later, two worlds again collide when her son announces he’s in love. Unfortunately, his beloved is a popular girl and he has some serious competition… Light-hearted satire at its best, Iolanthe is full of fun.”

A Little Bit of The Magic Flute │Mozart arr. Derek Clark

  “Tamino is in love with Pamina, the daughter of the mysterious Queen of the Night. When she is abducted, he sets off to rescue her but soon realises all is not quite as it seems. A beguiling mix of comedy, fantasy and pantomime, The Magic Flute is also a profound story of the search for love, wisdom and truth.”

Puffy McPuffer and the Crabbit Canals │Music Marion Christie Words Allan Dunn

  “A tale of the five waterways that link Scotland from the North Sea to the Atlantic. Like most families, each one is different: Caledonian – the longest; Crinan – the most beautiful; hard-working Monklands; Union – the fastest; wise old Forth & Clyde. Each one thinks they’re the best. Can an ordinary little puffer boat make them think again?”

The tour will include dates at the Perth Festival of the Arts, Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival, Old Kilpatrick, Barrhead, Giffnock, Borders Book Festival, Dirleton, Callander, Cupar Arts EDEN, Aboyne & Deeside Festival, Haddington Show.  You can see the times and dates for the shows here:

For these productions, I will be performing alongside Jessica Leary ( Soprano ), Aidan Edwards ( Baritone ), Ross Stenhouse ( Storyteller ), Lizy Stirrat ( Accordion ), Sharron Griffiths ( Harp ), and Yorke Sinclair ( Harp ).

Some Of The Places We Will Visit On The Tour

If you have the time I would appreciate it if you could please check out the new Kickstarter page of my friends at Improbable who have been responsible for some really amazing and innovative projects. Watch their video and if you can spare any amount to help them to bring their imaginative plans to life I can assure you that it will be gratefully received as they only have until May the 15th to hit their target.

Taking the time to re-visit my trip to Seoul over the past few blog posts have been really fun. This post is going to focus on sharing a video from my performance in the Recital Hall at the Seoul Arts Centre and the Instagramable Food Treats Inspired by K-pop culture.

One of the verses of Muttertänderlei, is about comparing her gorgeous baby daughter to sweet traditional German baked goods such as Zuckerwechen (Sweet Bun). I think this metaphor describes the deliciousness of cute babies and how you want to gobble them up. Which as a concept can definitely transferred to Korea. Cute cartoons, bold colours and celebrations of K-Pop stars decorated public areas and in turn went on to inspire food!

Rainbow Crepe Cake

The colour palette of magical unicorns, for instance, may have inspired this rainbow cake created by Billy Angel Cake Company in Seoul. This colourful cake is created from 20 individual crepes coloured with different fruit flavours and delicately divided by layers of spread mousse.

Bedazzled Ice-cream

Bistopping ice-cream cafe was a favourite find of mine. Imagination exploded here, in the form of embellished cones (with hundreds and thousands, painted icing, colourful sugar loops), chocolate phrases and crazy cookies which could be added to your ice-cream to produce your own unique design.

Ginormous Gateau

We found a little cafe called Conversation Cake from posts of Instagram. These cakes were  gorgeously decorated with macerated fruit and indulgent layers of sponge. Our most expensive cakes of the day, and sadly on our visit a little dry, but with a glass of refreshing iced coffee they became well-balanced.

Flower Pot Mystery

Bananatree cafe was unbelievably cute from its hand-drawn menus to its quirky presentational style of its delicious food. We tried Candifloss covered coffee, Eggyffogatto and a Flower Paap. The flower pot cake was an outstandingly yummy experience. From the chocolate soil and truffle stones which deceptively hid the delectable strawberry gateau beneath – found by trusty miniature shovel shaped spoons.

Fizzing Refreshments

We delved inside the wonderful world of Line Friends at their flagship store and Cafe and tried a selection of jazzy and vibrantly colourful drinks inspired by the characters. From marshmallow white hot chocolate to a mysterious blue soda float and a popping candy strawberry slushy. Our tastebuds tingled from the experience.