Archives For My Performances 2019

Rehearsals are well underway now for ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and it has been great to meet the rest of the cast and see the imaginative ideas of David Ward and his fellow creatives brought to life. 

Back Row – Edward Robinson, Roger Paterson
Front Row – Louise Garner, Phil Wilcox, Me, David Ward, Catrin Woodruff, Chris Pelly, and Jenny Martins

If you can join us at Morley Town Hall on either Friday 23rd or Saturday 24th August, there are still some tickets left if you are quick. You can buy tickets on the Northern Opera website HERE.

Following on from my post last week I want to share part two of my interview with David Ward, Director of the Northern Opera Group. In this part of the interview, you can read about my character, Hero and my on-stage partner Claudio who is played by Roger Paterson.

Then to close the interview David shares his thoughts on how to engage and attract future audiences to opera.

How would you characterise Hero, my role in the production?

The key to getting Hero right is to get the balance between her purity and innocence, and the flame of mischief and an awakening sexuality.

In our 1950’s set production, she’s clearly the model example of a teenager we find in these great instructional videos of the era – obedient, well behaved, never not chaperoned around a boy … She’s the token ‘Queen’ of the High School Prom – the girl all the boys want, but will never be allowed to get. Think Sandy, rather than Rizzo!

She is, however, turning into an adult, soon to leave home and marry, and start a life slightly removed from those societal structures she has grown up around. She’s emboldened by the attention she’s received from Don Pedro and Claudio (and, we can assume, many other young men) and under the influence of the unconventional Beatrice, it’s crucial we don’t let Hero become simply a wet character – the character’s sympathetic (but dull) victim.

My significant other romantic interest in the opera is Claudio, how do you envisage him?

The opera is marked by the distinction between the two central couples. Whilst Beatrice and Benedick are fighting against society’s norms, Hero and Claudio are living up to them. They are the perfect young lovers – respectful of each other and of the parents, not jumping the gun in following the expected stages of their burgeoning relationship.

Claudio – like Hero – is adjusting to his new place in the world, where he’s no longer a kid in school, but becoming a man. He’s already been to War, and now returns ready to take up his place in society. He’s still rather shy around women – he’s got a lot of emotional growing up to do! – but when he feels that he’s been deceived by Hero, he takes up the alpha-male role that society and culture have taught him to adopt.

But this isn’t the real Claudio. As we discover in the opera’s final scenes, it’s not a role he’s comfortable with, nor one he really wants. He loves Hero, he believes in her, and he recognises his follies. He might have been to War, but there’s still a lot of growing up to do …

I read a tweet from @operamagazine that referenced an article in Vogue Magazine, Can Opera Attract A New Generation Of Fans? At La Scala, Signs Of Hope

Asking Will Millennials Kill Opera, Too?  Can Opera Attract a new generation of fans?  I noticed you had special price tickets for students and young adults with prices starting at £10, £15 and adult tickets £20, what other ways are you trying to engage a new generation of fans?

I think that opera companies of all sizes have to be mindful of how we can attract new audiences.

There are three key things we do to help bring through a new generation of audiences

i) The staging of community productions, where anyone can take part in performing in a fully staged opera, for free. I originally discovered a love of opera through taking part – I didn’t come from a musical family or have any friends who liked opera, however, I was roped into taking part in a show where they were low on male voices and ended up staying! We do a lot of work with local choirs, schools and universities to attract new people to take part, and making participation free is crucial to attracting a wide range of people. Many choral societies and drama groups charge fairly significant fees to take part which prohibits people from joining – particularly those people who aren’t sure if they’ll like it or not. We’ve had people from ages 9 to 80+ take part in previous productions, and by bringing them together with professionals for future shows, we hope to add to the attraction and experience of taking part.

ii) The programming of a range of repertoire, for a range of audiences. By staging rare operas, we’re able to delve deep in opera’s past to find works that will appeal to both audiences new and old. This is particularly important for our community productions, where often a large part of the audience are friends and family of those involved – they need to be attracted by repertoire which sounds enjoyable, accessible and suitable for the whole family. For example, we’ve previously staged Pauline Viardot’s ‘Cinderella’ (a well know and well-loved story) and this December we’re performing Pfitzner’s ‘The Christmas Elf’ which is both a terrific opera and one that should chime with younger audiences this Christmas.  ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is another example of a work which will have appeal to new audiences who are familiar with theatre and Shakespeare.

iii) A commitment to low and affordable tickets. I spend a lot of time fundraising for our productions (we are a registered charity) to ensure that we can keep tickets prices at an affordable level and that we can taper ticket prices suitable for young audiences. We want ticket prices to be affordable so that a whole family can attend – if you think that a West End show might be £40 for the cheapest seats, £160 for a family of four to sit in the Gods can be extremely prohibitive! We also want tickets prices to be at a level where new audiences are willing to take a punt on something new. For our 2018 Festival, we had 40% audiences under the age of 35 which points towards some success in our ambitions to make our work attractive and affordable to young audiences. We have also trialed short, free, pop-up performances in recent years – delivered by a high-quality cast of repertoire that’s suitable for casual and new audiences. From 2020 we’ll deliver one free pop-up tour of a short opera every year to reach new audiences across the North of England.

WOF Instagram Takeover

July 21, 2019 — 52 Comments

Last Wednesday I was asked to take over the Instagram Story for Waterperry Opera Festival on behalf of the Mansfield Park Cast and Creatives. This was all a little new to me as my experience of Instagram was limited to my once a week post linked to my blog.

But undaunted I roped in the help of my good friend Hanah Crerar who is a whiz with Instagram Stories and she explained how they worked and what works best. For those of you unfamiliar with Instagram and their Story feature it allows the user to post short video segments which are only available for 24 hours.

As the day progressed everyone on the team got involved and we managed to get several little snippets recorded. Here are some of the ones that I managed to save, a little bit of cheesy fun to share with you all. All in our very best Jane Austin accents of course.

We have sold out on the 25th and 28th August but there a still a few tickets left for the 26th and 27th August if you are able to join us

Today saw the start of rehearsals for Waterperry Opera Festival’s production of Mansfield Park which we will be performing between 25th and 28th July at 2:30 pm. The performances are to be held in the Waterperry Ballroom which provides an absolutely amazing backdrop to this wonderful immersive opera by Jonathan Dove.

This year we welcome two new members to the original cast, Eleanor Garside who plays the part of Aunt Norris, and Damian Arnold who will perform the role of Henry Crawford. I am looking forward to working alongside both of them, and all my old friend from last year’s production. The cast and creatives are an amazing group of people and I can’t wait to see how this year’s rehearsal develop.

The performance on the 25th July is already sold out but there are still a few tickets left for the remaining days if you want to come along I would recommend booking quickly to avoid disappointment. The Opera Festival is hosted in Waterperry House and Gardens, Waterperry, Oxford, OX33 1LA and you book tickets HERE.

The production will be directed again by Rebecca Meltzer with musical direction by Ashley Beauchamp, and Bradley Wood will be providing the additional piano accompaniment.

Last Tuesday Night as I walked on to the main Pavilion stage at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod I had to pinch myself to make sure that it wasn’t all just a wonderful dream. 

Photo Credit – Spirit Of Wales Photography

To be opening the evening’s Opera Gala was a huge honour for me and knowing that I would be sharing the stage with Rolando Villazón and Rhian Lois brought a tingle to my spine.

Photo Credit – Spirit Of Wales Photography

My first two arias of the evening were O Luce Di Quest’anima from Linda di Chamounix, by Gaetano Donizetti followed by Je Veux Vivre from Romeo et Juliette, by Charles Gounod.

Photo Credit – Spirit Of Wales Photography

Rhian Lois then performed Quando M’en Vo from La Boheme, and O Mio Babbino Caro from Gianni Schicchi, both by Giacomo Puccini

Photo Credit – Spirit Of Wales Photography

Rolando Villazón then treated us to a lovely rendition of L’esule by Giuseppe Verdi .

Photo Credit – Spirit Of Wales Photography

I then sang my first duet with Rolando Villazón to close the first half of the Gala,  Non Ti Scordar Di Me by Ernesto di Curtis & Domenico Furnò.  This was so special for me, especially when he produced a rose from inside his jacket and gave it to me during the performance after our little waltz.

Photo Credit – Spirit Of Wales Photography

For the second half of the evening, I again sang two arias, the first was Qui La Voce Sua Soave from I Puritani, by Vincenzo Bellini followed by Glitter and Be Gay from Candide, by Bernstein. The Gala was brought to an end with the three of us performing Brindisi from La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi which was so much fun.

Photo Credit – Spirit Of Wales Photography
Photo Credit – Mandy Jones

I had a wonderful evening and was thrilled to have so many people in the audience to support my first Opera Gala including my parents, my Nana and Grandad, Gill and Terry, and my wonderful blog friends Hilary and Edwin, and I feel blessed to have shared this experience with them.

Rhian Lois, Rolando Villazón , Me, and James Hendry backstage after the Opera Gala

I also want to thank James Hendry, the Conductor and the British Sinfonietta for their amazing performances throughout the Opera Gala and for making my evening so special.

Yesterday we closed our tour at the Haddington show and it was extra special for me as my parents made the trip North to come and watch.

The Haddington show is an agricultural show filled with horse jumping, pig racing, pedigree competitions across farmyard animals and lots of good food! I caught my Dad checking out the tractors, it’s such a good job we never lived on a farm, otherwise, he would have bankrupted us, wanting the biggest and newest gadget every year.

Our shows were packed across all ages and it was a brilliant way to finish our tour. I had a lovely time working with the Scottish Opera team, the two months have flown by unlike the journey home to Cheshire which took twice as long as it should have done. Everyone must have been out enjoying the sun and returning home at the same time.

Much Ado About Nothing

June 23, 2019 — 59 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!!