My Autumn will be spent touring around England and you will be able to hear me sing in York, Stowe, Warrington, Stoke On Trent, Todmorden, Bamford, and Leeds.
Next up I will be performing the role of Pandora in ‘The Fire of Olympus’ in York with Radius Opera. We will be appearing at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre on the 12th of October at 7:30 pm. ( Tickets Here )
Then the following weekend I will be appearing as Juliet alongside William Branston as Romeo in Arcadian Opera’s production of Gounod’s Romeo & Juliet at the Roxburgh Theatre, Stowe. ( Tickets Here ) Performances are at 7:30 pm 19th October and 3:00 pm 20th October.
Following Romeo & Juliet, I will be performing with pianist George Todica in a lunchtime recital at the Holy Trinity Church in Warrington on 26th October.
One of the highlights for me will be performing the role of Pandora in Stoke on Trent at 7:30 pm on Wednesday 30th October at the Repertory Theatre as my Grand Parents and their friends will be in the audience to watch. ( Tickets Here )
My last performance in the role of Pandora for Radius Opera will be at 7:30 pm on Saturday 9th November at the Todmorden Hippodrome, Todmorden. ( Tickets Here ) Although there will be a screening of the film of the opera that Tim Benjamin produced and directed that was so much fun to be a part of. The premiere will be at the Leeds International Film Festival at 7:30 pm on 16th November 2019 ( Tickets Here )
I have another lunchtime recital with pianist George Todica at the Bamford Chapel and Norden United Reformed Church at 1:00 pm on the 12th of November.
Last night, Saturday 14th September, was the premiere of Tim Benjamin’s The Fire Of Olympus at the Burnley Mechanics Theatre. It was a lovely venue with a fabulous stage and a wonderful audience.
After all the hard work put in by everyone involved over the past few months it was such a thrill to finally bring the piece to the stage. It was a wonderful experience to perform such a different character role alongside the rest of the cast and the orchestra to bring Tim’s music to life.
As the tour is still ongoing, I don’t want to give too much away about the production and what we have in store for the audience. But if you can attend one of the shows I do encourage you to come along and witness the spectacle first hand.
With the ‘Fire Of Olympus’ opening in Burnley, Lancashire on Saturday 14th September 2019, this coming week is going to see all the hard work put in by the cast and creatives as all the pieces finally come together. There are still a few tickets left for the performance in Burnley if you want to be amongst the first to see this amazing production you can get your tickets here:
Following my interview with Tim Benjamin last week on my blog, Tim turned the tables on me with some questions of his own. He kindly allowed me to share them with you along with a short promotional video that he had filmed to help raise awareness of the opera.
1. Pandora is famous,
yet people don’t really know much about who she really is. Can you give us the
I discovered that Pandora was the first human woman on Earth. Zeus the leader of the Gods asked Hephaestus a fellow God to create her to go to Earth to be an evil thing for men to balance out the theft of fire for use by mortals by Prometheus his name meant ‘forethought’ he was as his name suggests a thoughtful Titan (one of the original supreme beings on Earth) 🔥.
During Pandora’s creation, the other Gods were asked to bestow gifts upon her. Hephaestus made her in the likeness of the goddesses, Athena dressed her in silvery robes and taught her feminine skills, Aphrodite gave her elegance and desirability, Hermes gave her a beautiful voice, but Zeus contrived within this to provide her with curiosity, a litany of lies and deceitful essence. She was also given a bottle/jar full of the ills of the World. She was told when she was sent to Epimetheus (Prometheus’ brother another Titan, his name meant afterthought) to be his bride not to open the bottle under any circumstances.
After they were married and had a daughter her curiosity got the better of her, she opened the bottle and unleashed the evils and sins on humankind, other than hope which some believe was trapped in the bottle when she hurriedly tried to put the stopper back in place.
2. Pandora is the
character who changes the most in the opera. How do you interpret and realise
In ‘Fire Of Olympus’ Pandora is a personal assistant to Zeus on Mount Olympus, she is extremely efficient and hardworking, promoted by him, a trusted and loyal worker who is very ambitious and driven to succeed and expects be respected. I believe in her mind she sees herself as one of the elites and wants to be accepted as an equal.
After the mysterious
‘Fire’ is stolen from Zeus’ office, Zeus is incandescent with rage, especially
when Epimetheus avoids capture and starts a people’s rebellion, a revolution.
Pandora is asked to report on the mob and the people’s uprising. Zeus has a
plan that changes Pandora’s outlook in an instance, he wants her to go to
Epimetheus and ‘allow him to do what he wants with you’ he wants her to give
him the bottle and be sure he opens it. Zeus just sees Pandora as a tool, a
nothing, a disposable pawn ♟ she finds this
impossible to accept, if she remained loyal to Zeus he would always just use
her as a girl and would never see her as she saw herself an equal.
She is disgusted,
drained and feels she is worth more. Without knowing what is in the bottle she
takes it from the office with the intent to work with the rebellion against
3. In what ways are this role and music like Baroque music and Handel? In what ways different?
The ‘Fire Of Olympus’ blurs the musical traditions of contemporary and baroque music. The singers are accompanied by a chamber orchestra, which is a large ensemble for various instruments that existed during the baroque era, such as the harpsichord. The opera presents its story-telling in a similar way to Handel and Baroque opera. The Recitatives move the story forward in a speech like manner and the Arias allow for dramatic soliloquies in an ABA format. (For context, in pop music you have typically verse chorus verse chorus. This can be called ABAB format.) The character’s initial emotions are presented in Section A, then explored further with new musical ideas in Section B and finally when section A is repeated, typically with ornaments, the character’s emotions turn into decisions which are then acted upon the scenes to follow. However, I would associate Tim’s use of syncopated rhythms and atonal harmonies in the recitative and melismas as a contemporary music tool to word paint.
4. Do you approach
roles in new opera differently from well-known roles from the operatic canon?
Yes, I approach roles in new operas slightly differently from well-known roles, for a start I can’t just watch other videos of fellow singers interpretations and I wouldn’t have studied the characters in scenes during my training or watched other people doing the roles in their scenes. However, that is what I also love about portraying characters such as Eve, Hero, Uccelina and now Pandora I have to breathe life into the character from scratch. I always try to interpret from the words and music what the composer and librettists intentions are for the character. I create a drawing and a storyboard of how I imagine the character to look and act. I get as much information in advance from the Director and I was also very pleased to meet the librettist during rehearsals last week to get his feelings and thoughts about my interpretation and make any changes from what he told me.
5. Everybody sings,
perhaps to their baby, in a choir, on the football terraces, or even in the
shower, but few people can sing like an opera singer. Can you explain in
layman’s terms how you make such an incredible sound?
I’ve always had a natural amplification. I was frequently told in school performances and choirs I sang with that I was “too loud”. Whilst at High School, I participated in musical theatre productions and often my microphone was turned down or completely off on stage to balance with my colleagues. When you’re told ‘your voice cuts through like a blade’ you think “Is that a compliment or not ?”😂. But in Opera this vocal quality is essential. When I began training professionally I found that operatic singing is dependent on three different categories: Support (Breathing / Posture / Muscular Activity), Phonation (the production of sound by the voice box) and Filtering of the Sound (resonance and the impact of the lips and tongue). Each category has lots of intricate layers, which is why operatic singing is an athletic art form that needs the training to maintain stamina and flexibility so the body can naturally and healthily produce sound that can sustain a three-hour performance over an orchestra that is both dramatic and pleasant to listen to.
This week sees the start of the rehearsals in Manchester for Tim Benjamin’s opera “The Fire Of Olympus” in which I take on the role of Pandora in this modern-day adaptation from Greek Mythology.
The opera has been composed by Tim Benjamin who is also the artistic director of Radius Opera. As the driving force behind this project, I asked if he could spare a little time to answer a few questions and he kindly shared his insight with us.
1. The Fire of Olympus is a new opera, what inspired you to pick this subject?
In 2016 I wrote an oratorio, “Herakles”, for choir, large orchestra, 5 solo singers, and a narrator (spoken)
At the very end, the narrator, who plays the part of “Time”, a kind of mystical storyteller, says: “Perhaps now I shall tell you the story of Prometheus… but no, that can wait for another time.” The oratorio was a big success, especially with the choral society that performed it, and lots of people asked when they were going to get a sequel about Prometheus. And so the idea for this opera, “The Fire of Olympus” came about! While the opera is a very different style of piece, two of my collaborators are the same; Anthony Peter my librettist, and Professor Emma Stafford, of Leeds University, our resident Ancient Greece expert.
2. What musical influences have you used when creating the opera?
The main musical influence is Handel, specifically his
“Italian” operas such as Giulio Cesare and Serse. However, rather
than a pastiche (i.e. trying to make something exactly like a Handel), I have
actively tried to “steal” Handel, to make it my own, in a similar way
that one could accuse Stravinsky of “stealing” Pergolesi, or Britten
of Purcell. So I think the end result sounds initially a bit like Handel, but
on closer inspection, it’s something quite different…
There is also a strong personal, non-musical inspiration from Handel: his opera company in 18th century London, with which he directed many of his operas at the Queen’s Theatre, and practically defined the fashion for musical drama at the time. I would love to achieve something along those lines, in the modern world and context, with my company Radius Opera! So we are filming “The Fire”, in a very artistic way, and hope to use this popular contemporary art form (film) with the style of 18th-century popular opera, to forge something new and with broad appeal.
3. I think it was an amazing idea to use technology and pre-record large choir choruses, have you seen this done before? Or was it a completely new direction for you?
I have never seen or done this before, although I’ve created one or two large choral pieces. What appealed to me is the kind of person who joins their local choral society, then enjoys a wide variety of choral pieces from African Sanctus to The Messiah, performing alongside professional soloists, and develops a really fun-loving approach to music-making. I wanted to create something with those people, and give them back this new opera. And so we went and did numerous workshops, all over the north of England, and created this Chorus for “The Fire of Olympus”. It was huge fun and I can’t wait for them to hear what we’ve done!
4. What qualities do you think an opera company director needs to bring a project from inception to life?
Well, it’s hard, really really hard. There is basically no public funding for this – the Arts Council fund the big companies, but they have little money and many people competing for a slice of a diminishing pie, so they fund things like creative street festivals where the “bang for your buck” is greatest. It’s an inescapable fact that opera is expensive – perhaps the most expensive art form, particularly difficult at the “indie” level at which I’m working. I would say its only comparison (in respect of cost and difficulty) is film, which is also really hard to do well, and for which it’s also really hard to raise money for. However, with film, there are revenue streams – licensing deals, cinemas, TV – which don’t exist for opera, which really can only count on a theatre audience. And so, if opera is not subsidised somehow, ticket prices have to be high in order to pay for the work; so opera sometimes ends up accessible only to those who will pay the price. I hate that, as opera is truly an art intended for ordinary people to enjoy, much more so than (for example) chamber music or symphonic music.
I’m not sure if that answers your question! But for me, the hardest part has been trying, on one hand, to raise money and on the other hand to persuade people to donate things to us, while with my other hands, I try to create work of originality and high quality. So what does an opera director need to be? I would say an octopus. You need to have many hands…
5. Can you sum up the story, was it daunting to bring Greek mythology into a modern setting?
Zeus is a horrid, overbearing, manipulative man-child,
President of Olympus and all-powerful. Prankster-activists Prometheus and
Epimetheus accidentally steal his Fire, an ancient artefact that is the root of
Zeus’ might. He despatches his minions Hephaestus and Pandora to recover the
Fire, but they plot against him. So we end up with tragedy, comedy, passion,
and politics that I think are really resonant with our present
I did not think it was very daunting, though – the stories from ancient Greece are so fundamental to our culture, they almost can’t help but be familiar, yet teach us something new each time we hear them!
6. Did you remain true to the Greek legends and myths? If not, what changes have you incorporated?
The dystopian modern setting and characterisation are of course new, but apart from that, we have remained true to the myths. We have been assisted by Professor Emma Stafford from Leeds University, who is an expert on ancient Greece, but perhaps, more importantly, is a very keen amateur singer and actor!
7. When I storyboarded my role in preparation for rehearsals, I imagined Pandora as a Miss Sloane, Ivanka Trump, Karen Brady type woman, how do you see her?
She reminds me, a bit, of Claire Underwood in “House of
Cards”, but really she’s a super-ambitious self-made ice queen, who has
risen to the very top and has designs on Zeus’ position.
OK, that is not strictly true to the original Greek myth.
Pandora was “created” by the gods as a punishment for stealing fire –
in order to punish the first man, gods sent the first woman, effectively!! –
but we felt it would be more interesting to interpret this as a powerful career
woman who is flippantly destroyed by the man she helped secure in his position
Nonetheless, she is still sent with her “jar” (the word “box” is a mistranslation!) to punish Epimetheus; and it is true to the Greek that she and Epimetheus end up as an item, confounding the gods’ intentions, and found the race of men from whom we all descend…
After all our preparation and rehearsal, it was such a thrill to walk out on stage alongside my colleagues as the orchestra brought the score to life under the baton of Christopher Pelly. It was such a privilege to be a part of this production and bring Stanford’s Much Ado About Nothing to life.
It was lovely to see so many friendly faces in the audience, both on Friday and Saturday night. For those of you, I did not get the chance to thank in person I just want to say how wonderful it was to know you were in the audience and I do hope that you enjoyed watching the production as much as we enjoyed performing it.
After the curtain closed for the final performance of Much Ado About Nothing last night ( Saturday 24th August ), we had the opportunity to mingle with the audience and it was lovely to hear how everyone had enjoyed the production. We met Professor Jeremy Dibble, who is the president of the Stanford Society who came along to watch, he said that he had thoroughly enjoyed the adaption and that he had a wonderfully entertaining evening.
The time has flown by and though I am sad to say goodbye to the cast and creatives I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every minute of my time with them.
I want to wish David Ward, Festival Director, and Louise Garner, Festival Producer every success with the remainder of the Leeds Opera Festival as it continues until Tuesday 27th August. You can find out more about all the amazing events on the Northern Opera Group’s website here.
All the above pictures were taken our dress rehearsal and are credited to Pelly & Me Photography.
As we enter the final week of the rehearsals for Much Ado About Nothing everything is coming together nicely. This week we will get to run through the full production, familiarise ourselves with the costume changes, and rehearse with the orchestra. It is going to be a whirlwind week culminating with our performances at Morley Town Hall on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th August at 7:30 pm.
Here is a small taster video put together by Northern Opera Group featuring photos by Fiona Pelly and music from the Act 1 chorus! This is just a sneak peek at our rehearsals which I hope will encourage those of you who can to come along and savour the excitement and emotion of this amazing production. See the full opera on 23 and 24 August at Morley Town Hall Tickets £10 – £20 www.ticketsource.co.uk/northernoperagroup.
Yesterday I was invited to accompany David Ward for an interview hosted by Andrew Edwards on his BBC Radio Leeds breakfast show. Though I have done several interviews in the past for both radio and TV this was my first in an actual radio station. So, it was quite exciting for me as we made our way to the studio to sign in as guests. The show aired just after 8:00 am and BBC Radio Leeds sent us the audio which I have shared with you below.
I have really enjoyed learning my way around Leeds and working with all the cast and creatives on this show. For those of you that can come along, I’m sure that you will have a great evening.
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.
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
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 …
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.
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 MansfieldPark 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.
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.
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.
Rhian Lois then performed Quando M’en Vo from La Boheme, and O Mio Babbino Caro from Gianni Schicchi, both by Giacomo Puccini
Rolando Villazón then treated us to a lovely rendition of L’esule by Giuseppe Verdi .
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.
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.
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.
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.