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.
This week I traded in my Jane Austen for a dose of William Shakespeare in the guise of a lovely opera composed by Charles Villiers Stanford with the libretto by Julian Sturgis based on the bards play Much Ado About Nothing. Having the opportunity to be a part of this rarely performed little gem has been made possible by David Ward and his production company The Northern Opera Group.
I met up with David when I was last in Leeds and he kindly agreed to an interview which I wanted to share with you. I hope that you find his insights and detailed answers as interesting as I did.
1) Can you tell us about Northern Opera, when did you start, where are you based, what is your mission, goal, and hopes for the future?
We launched Northern Opera Group in 2015, with the aim of
bringing operas outside of the core repertoire to audiences in the North of
England. There is some great opera to be had in the North, however very little
outside of the main operas (Figaro, Boheme, Carmen, etc.). I’ve always been
interested in the further reaches of the repertoire, and having this as our
focus seemed a great way to offer something new to existing audiences, and find
all sorts of repertoire which might appeal to audiences who wouldn’t usually
consider going to the opera house.
Our first production was Menotti’s ‘Amahl and the Night Visitors’. We thought we’d see how this first production went before committing to any more, however, we had a great response from participants and audiences so we seemed to be on to something!
Since then, we’ve staged another eight productions and launched our annual Opera Festival, which provides an opportunity for us to bring audiences and artists together for a few days to enjoy varied performances, but also to debate and pick apart opera through a programme of discussions, workshops, and other events.
Alongside our focus on rare repertoire, we’re also committed
to producing both professional and community operas. We firmly believe that the
best way to get new people involved in opera is to enable them to take part,
and we welcome people of all ages and abilities to take part, for free, in our
We’ve grown quite substantially year on year so far, and over the next five years we hope to establish the Festival as a key part of the UK’s annual opera calendar, expand the number of events we’re able to programme, and increase the scale of our community work by bringing together professional and amateur musicians – this will start with our December 2019 production of the delightful festive opera ‘The Christmas Elf’!
2) Why did you choose an opera based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing by Charles Villiers Standford?
I first came across the opera in 2016 when we were looking
for a rare Shakespeare opera to stage as part of the nationwide Shakespeare
400th anniversary celebrations. I was instantly attracted to the work – the
characterisation is so colourful, the vocal writing so attuned to both comedy
and drama, the libretto so craftily weaved from the original play!
Back then we were only able to stage a select number of
scenes with five actors and piano, so the ambition of staging the full work
When planning for our annual Festival, it’s important to
find a headline opera that the whole programme can hang off. I like to have a
theme that brings each Festival together (previous years have been Great
British Opera, and Opera and Asia, for example) and with such an amazing and
broad range of repertoire available around Shakespeare and Opera, there was
always only going to be one opera that I wanted as our headline production!
Now the company has grown considerably since 2016, we’re able to bring the full opera to the stage – with orchestra – and, crucially, we’ve found the right venue which suits the opera perfectly. Morley Town Hall is a resplendent Victorian venue which – rather ashamedly – doesn’t have any existing classical music provision. We love to bring audiences to new and interesting venues, and we’re sure that artists and audiences alike will love discovering Morley Town Hall at the same time as they discover Stanford’s ‘Much Ado’!
3) The original opera was first performed in 1901, the setting Messina, in Sicily. What is the setting of your production?
My approach to directing opera – particularly operas
originally set a long time ago – is always to find settings which resonate with
both the opera and with audiences. Sometimes this means keeping the original
setting, how often for a work to communicate with audiences, and to help bring
out some of the key themes of the opera, restaging the work to a more familiar
setting can help the work speak to a new generation of audiences.
There were some obvious questions to answer as I began preparations for this production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ – notably which war is the production centred around, and in which places would we find such a close-knit and hierarchical community? The more I sat with the opera, and the more I thought about times and places that would resonate with audiences, the more I was drawn to the idea of moving the action to 1950’s small-town USA.
Coming out of the Korean War in 1953 was a generation of kids who hadn’t perhaps fought before, but who were brought up on heroic military exploits from World War Two. They were part of an extremely hierarchical society, where the pillars of the community found in ‘Much Ado’ – the Priest, the Chief of Police, the Mayor (Leonato) – rule supreme.
They were of a generation taught to respect their elders, to
fall into clear societal positions, where the man was head of the house, where
Scouts and Little League Baseball kept young boys rooted in the expectations of
maintaining a certain way of life, and certain social structures.
But amongst this inflexible way of life, there are the early rumblings of a cultural revolution emerging. Claudio and Hero may be the archetypal young lovers who are the bastions of rural small-town life, but in Benedick and, in particular, Beatrice we see a new generation emerging. A generation that won’t simply nod along with how society expects them to behave. Beatrice – in my eyes a young Katharine Hepburn – can go toe to toe with the boys, and this contrast between our leading couples of Beatrice/Benedick and Hero/Claudio perfectly exemplifies this emerging clash of cultures.
As much as I would have loved swanky New York 1950’s aesthetic, this idea of small-town USA is central to the opera. The community is extremely tight-knit; everyone knows everyone and, returning from a War when they were simply three of many, Claudio, Benedick and Don Pedro return back to the bosom of their town as notable personalities – big fishes in small ponds. There’s also something about the confusion, deception, and hot-headedness of the opera that lends itself to the sweltering South (there’s a reason why Tennesse Williams’ Deep South settings work so well with his characters).
Next week I will bring you part two of the interview in which we discuss some of the characters in the opera and you can read David’s thoughts about attracting new audiences to the world of opera.
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.
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
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.
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.
Following my visit to Seonjeongneung – The Royal Tombs I waited to visit the Changdeokgung Palace Complex with my brother Matt and his husband Alex as they were flying out to join me for a short holiday in Seoul.
The palace complex of Changdeokgung is situated north of where
we were staying in Gangnam and across the Han river. We decided to include a
visit to the Gwangjang Market in the morning on our way to the palace to make
the most of the day!
The journey took around 40 minutes on the tube, which was so
easy to use with the T-Money cards that you can use all over Seoul, on
different modes of transport, (bus, tube, coach and taxi). What made the travel
cards even better is they come with all sorts of colourful designs, using
cartoons from popular culture. If travelling in Seoul, I recommend two apps Naver Map and my preferred choice City Mapper, both apps provide visuals
of your route and the ability to track your location. The reason I prefer City
Mapper is that I could type in English characters and save the journeys to my
phone using the Wi-Fi at the hotel. This meant that when I was exploring, I
could use the GPS location and map guides on airplane mode – saving some extra
The Market is the oldest in the City and was an easy stroll
from Euljiro 4(sa)-ga station, there was a huge collection of items available
on sale from fabrics and clothes to dried fish and culinary delicacies. The
atmosphere was already buzzing at 10:00am, which I was surprised at because my
Guide book wrote that it is well known for providing an authentic night market
When we arrived at the Changdeokgung Palace the first impression was the splendour and size of the complex. I tried to imagine how it must have appeared to those who visited back in the 15th Century when it was built. The site was considered the secondary palace to one at Gyeongbokgung and was differentiated by the size of the grounds. It was such a treat to walk around the well-cared for public areas and take it all in. Each Hall was beautifully ornate with painted, sculpted wooden Roofs and rich vibrant interiors. One room had mother of pearl decorated furniture which glowed in the sunlight of modern day.
We wanted to visit the Secret Garden and so we waited for
the English tour as you could not walk around unescorted. The best part was that whilst we were waiting,
I found out that if you hire traditional dress, (Hanbok) you are able to enter
the complex for free, so off I went to hire a costume.
I visited Hanbok Rental, a shop just across the main road opposite the Grand Main Entrance and Ticket Office. The staff were so efficient and friendly, guiding me through the many colours and layers to the traditional gown. I really recommend this shop, as they had lockers on site for your larger belongings, and little handbags, hair ornaments, and parasols were included in the rental price. I am so glad that I rented the Hanbok as I felt transformed to another time and enabled me to pretend that I was attending a royal palace event.
From a young age, I have many happy and vivid memories of performing in front of audiences. I was always thrilled to know that I could tell a story through dance, music, singing, acting, or speaking to a group of people, both large and small. I felt lucky that for every performance a selection of the audience would always be my supportive family but it was always special when a stranger came up to me and commented on my performance, especially if I had a small role and they noticed my constant focus and smile. This is why on Monday I attended the LSSO (London Schools Symphony Orchestra) New Year Concert at the Barbican. The young orchestra is a collection of children aged 12-18, who have been selected following an audition process to participate in courses that culminate with a concert. On this occasion, the LSSO performed ‘Death and Transfiguration’ by Strauss. Following which the performers were joined by soprano Rachel Nichols to perform three orchestra songs by Strauss then the Brünnhilde solo’s in ‘Twilight of the Gods’ by Wagner. At the start of a new year, it was energising to watch these players because they bowed, plucked and breathed life into the music with sheer enjoyment and wild enthusiasm. Their playing enthused my practice with risk-taking and the goals of seeking fun. It is always important to remind yourself of these two aspects when making music – especially when constantly focusing on the technical aspects of my singing. I felt lucky to have seen this performance and I’m glad that I went. The LSSO is funded by the FYM ( the Foundation for Young Musicians ) which also funds the Centre for Young Musicians.
Last Friday I bought some ‘Friday Rush’ tickets from the Royal Opera House to attend their performance of the Nutcracker. Even though my ‘seat’ was standing, I was chuffed to have got the ticket as I remember watching several touring ballets as a child with my Mum. We would go for my birthday if the company came to our local hall. I loved the glitter, the extravagant tutus, and the impeccable footwork and I was not disappointed with the ROH’s performance.
The character Drosselmeyer, entered the children’s home in a vivid blue cape with gold decoration and a splash of glitter, each time he entered he would clap his hands together creating an explosion of glitter creating a golden cloud on the stage. It was so magical, the first time there was a mutual gasp of enjoyment from the audience! I loved it and now I want to enter every room with a glitter cloud! Although hoovering it up afterward could become a chore, haha. Every dancer jumped with elegance and occasionally humour across the stage. Each arm gesture flowed from shoulder to fingertip – inspiring my practice for musical phrasing. I wanted to imagine that the air danced away from my mouth like a Ballerina’s gesture and arm line. The King and Queen of Sweetie land had exquisite onstage chemistry; their movements were so in sync and slick you that they seemed conjoined!
I took so much personal enjoyment from the performance and many new ideas for my own work. It just shows you that sometimes looking at other genres and work can help inspire you and lift you forwards closer to your goals.
It’s starting to feel a lot like Christmas! This week I was celebrating the holiday cheer by catching up with friends, colleagues, and teachers to celebrate the end of the academic year (almost 🤫). The Royal College of Music was decorated with Christmas trees and my Student Village was adorned with lots of tinsel, Christmas ornaments, and lights.
John Bate, Beth Moxon, Steve Mills, Me, and Dan D’Souza
To add to all this cheer and merriment, I was invited to perform Purcell’s O Sing unto the Lord and Pergolesi’s Magnificat alongside my talented peers, Dan D’Souza, Steve Mills, and Beth Moxon at the Thames Philharmonic Choir Winter Concert conducted by the wonderful John Bate. I arrived at the beautiful All Saints Church in the heart of Kingston on Thames at 13:45 ready for afternoon rehearsals beginning at 14:00. It was the first time I would sing through the prepared pieces with the choir and orchestra. It was very exciting and spirits were high. The rehearsal went really well and it was exciting to hear all the hard work come together by the joining forces of so many talented musicians.
This concert was particularly exciting for me as I was able to sing my first cantata, Handel Psalm 112 ‘Laudate Pueri Dominum’. A cantata is a work for solo voice, choir, and orchestra. This form of vocal music was particularly popular in the Baroque period. This particular cantata was written by Handel when he was 22 years old during his stay in Italy. It’s a truly beautiful piece and I thoroughly enjoyed working on the challenging vocal writing with one of my coaches, the wonderful Andrew Robinson.
My parents came down for the performance which made it extra special and we were able to enjoy a lovely walk around Kingston where we were able to admire the festive Christmas Markets in light snowfall.
Late this afternoon Timothy Connor contacted me to tell me that Fiona Maddocks, a classical music critic in The Guardian newspaper included BambinO in her top ten performances of 2017. It was such a wonderful early Christmas present for everyone involved in the production.
It’s that time of year when we can thank someone who is very special, for their support, love, and reliability. In the U.K., today is Father’s Day and my dad is my superhero. He has superhuman powers of dedication and supports my crazy dream of becoming an opera singer. Especially on days when I need reminding that the final push or the hard work is worth it and that I can achieve anything I put my mind to. The belief he has in me is magical and I swear he gives phenomenal pep talks that he could tour the country giving to people. He has the power to make anyone feel great and always finds the positive in any situation. He is proud of the smallest achievements and always reminds me that when they are all added together these tiny tasks come together to make a huge accomplishment. What seemed insurmountable at the beginning, broken down into smaller tasks is suddenly not so bad and the sense of accomplishment on completion can be breathtaking. I love my dad so much and I’m so thankful that he is my dad.
He is also courageous and he has a fighting spirit that encourages him to never give up. He has taken many risks in his lifetime through business and life choices. Sometimes they pay off and other times they don’t, but he would never regret trying something and once started would never give up. It reminds me of when we all (my dad, my brothers and I) went to karate and we were training for fighting and he got kicked in his side and broke a rib, but he stayed for the whole session because me and my brothers were having so much fun and were learning new skills, he just got on with it and always encourages us to do the same.
My Dad and Me on my graduation day
He has the strong moral code of a superhero and will help people in need, he has taught me right and wrong in life. He also had a keen sense of motivation and a sense of responsibility in which he wants to provide for his loved ones so that we can do anything we dream of as long as we all work hard for it. He is extremely intelligent and honest, even though I joke that this was soaked up by my elder brother Matthew who is incredibly smart. My dad loves Manchester City Football Club and this love and dedication continue in my younger brother Thomas. My dad’s undying love for my mum is also something from a fairy tale, and did I mention he makes the most amazing mash!! (Mash potato)
This week I had the pleasure of performing at the Britten Theatre alongside my friends in a set of Opera Scenes produced by the Royal College of Music, London. The scenes were directed by James Bonas, conducted by Christopher Middletonand accompanied on piano by Ian Tindale.
I had a wonderful time performing the role of Aminta alongside the talented Yiwen Su as Elisa. We performed the opening scene from “Il re Pastore” by Mozart. For the performance, I had to wear a period wig, this was a completely new experience for me and I really enjoyed learning about the process and watching Shauna, the talented makeup and hair professional as she managed to hide all my hair under a cap ready for the powdered wig. To help me feel even more like a character from the 18th century, Shauna applied a layer of white foundation to my face which made me look quite pale. This was because in the 18th century both men and women would wear cosmetics to show social status. However, I wasn’t allowed to wear the fashionable bright pink rouge and lip colour as this would have been considered beyond the social ranking of my character for the scene. I found this really interesting and added another layer to my character profile and allowed me to explore how my character Aminta would react to meeting Elisa who in the first scene would have been considered higher than Aminta in social ranking. The performance was so much fun and I can’t wait to get back on a stage soon!
On Friday evening I had arranged to go and watch the RAMBERT ballet company perform “Ghost Dances” at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. Because I could not get a student ticket my brother Matthew offered to pay half as he knew how much I wanted to go which was lovely of him and appreciated by me 🙂 This performance was really special for me because I analysed Christopher Bruce’s “Ghost Dances” for my Dance A level. Whilst writing my analysis I was only able to watch video recordings of the piece but enjoyed the dance so much that I fell in love with the chilling choreography and the powerful storyline of the dance. So, when Matthew told me that it was to be performed at Sadler’s Wells I did not want to miss out on the chance to see it performed live. I enjoyed the performance thoroughly and the company used the original choreography, music, costumes, and set, so my memory of this beautiful dance was re-enacted live before my own eyes. The company takes the performance on tour very soon and if you get the opportunity to go and watch it I would recommend the show thoroughly!!
My Brother Matthew, Me and Alex
Outside The Theatre
Such A Wonderful Performance
I would also like to share with you all that I will be performing my year end recital on the 7th June in the East Parry room on the 4th floor of the Royal College of Music. My recital will be at 2:40 pm and if you are in London and able to attend it would be lovely to see you in the audience.
This week I had the pleasure to attend two musical events both of which allowed me to watch some outstanding singers.
On Wednesday I attended the semi-final for the 62nd competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards. It was held at the Wigmore Hall in London and the atmosphere felt full of energy and bursting with life thanks to the wonderful supportive audience. I attended the event with my dear friend Harvey, in which we were serenaded by 11 performances from young professional singers. They each had to prepare a varied program lasting up to 20 minutes, which included works from different periods of music. These 11 singers had been selected by audition following the preliminary round. From the 11 singers, the judges had to shortlist 6 for the final that was to take place on Friday 28th April. It was interesting to be able to observe these fine singers as I could relax and enjoy as they created beautiful music. I was thankful for the opportunity to show my support for these amazing young professionals as I know first-hand how important it is for the performers to have an enthusiastic audience in a competition such as this.
The singers selected for the final were: Eduard Mas Bacardit, tenor accompanied by Dylan Perez, piano Julien Van Mellaerts, baritone accompanied by Gamal Khamis, piano Patrick Terry, counter-tenor accompanied by Somi Kim, piano Francesca Chiejina, soprano accompanied by Dylan Perez, piano James Way, tenor accompanied by Natalie Burch, piano Daniel Shelvey, baritone accompanied by Dylan Perez, piano
Following the final on Friday the winners were announced as:
First Prize – Julien Van Mellaerts, baritone
Second Prize – James Way, tenor
Song Prize – Patrick Terry, counter-tenor
Accompanist’s Prize – Gamal Khamis, piano
Congratulations to them on their achievements and special thank you to all of this year’s performers
Then on Thursday, I was able to get a student ticket for the performance of “The Exterminating Angel” at the Royal Opera House. This performance was part of the UK premiere of the opera written by Thomas Adès. It was especially electrifying, as Adès conducted the music himself. The piece was written and sung in English which allowed me to understand the chilling story more easily. The house was very full of excited observers and before a note was played I was bewildered and amazed to see *SPOILER ALERT* real live sheep on the stage! I have no idea why this excited me so, especially after my recent trip home to the English countryside. I was intrigued to see if they would be used whilst the live music was blaring full thrust but just before the conductor took to the podium they were guided off stage.
The opera took place in a mansion in which sophisticated guests are expected for dinner. The large star-studded cast performed the dramatic music and remained on stage for the majority of the performance. Which was wonderful for a student of opera as I could watch the singers acting and analyse their performance throughout. This helped me to see all aspects of the on-stage skills of the performers, from how to draw focus in a busy scene, prepare an audience for a solo, to providing support and ambiance to another character. It was skilfully played throughout and very enjoyable. As the run is still taking place I will not discuss the plot too thoroughly in detail just in case any of you get to see it, but I just want to say that the technical singing of the performers was outstanding. The composer had written huge dynamic and pitch variety which was demanding even for these experienced professional singers. For example, one soprano was singing all of her lines at the extreme of her range – very very high! It was such a feat and I can’t wait to work technically in the practice room so that I may one day be flexible enough to performance pieces like this in the future.
All in all, it has been a fabulous week 😊
Happy Saint George’s day to everyone 😊. It has been a lovely sunny weekend and my last week’s holiday at home for a while as I travel back to London today for the start of the Summer term at the Royal College of Music.
My Nana came to visit so we decided to make the most of the good weather and have a trip out into the countryside. Over the St George’s Day weekend there are usually several activities organised so we headed out to Beeston Castle to see if they were hosting their usual medieval celebrations.
The Entrance To Beeston Castle
There is always plenty to do at this English Heritage site and it brought back many memories from my childhood.
Me And My Nana
We then had a walk around the area surrounding the castle as it provides some beautiful views of the Cheshire countryside. Slowly making our way down to the Shropshire Union canal which passes close by the castle and has some great little Inns to stop and have a drink or enjoy afternoon tea.
Taking a Break At The Shady Oak
It was a lovely afternoon and it reminded me of the many trips that we used to go on growing up in Cheshire, a beautiful part of the English countryside.
I will get to return to Cheshire on the 5th May though as I have a recital in Chester organised by my friend Anna Cooper. We will be performing in an evening of song accompanied by Prajna Indrawati at St Werburgh’s RC Church at 7:30 pm.