Our short stay in Shetland came to an end last Sunday, 23rd September and I wrote this whilst sat in Sumburgh Airport, with a hot cup of tea beside me and lots of sweet memories and photos to pass the time.
This beautiful island is home to many wonderful views and walks. The unspoiled countryside, dotted with herds of sheep and cows, the occasional Shetland pony, (who actually seem to come in pairs – ready for Noah’s ark perhaps) makes for a beautiful drive to the airport from Lerwick. I must admit one of the strangest differences in the landscape is that there were almost no trees, apart from ones grown lovingly on private property.
Fields were divided by walls of layered slate and grey rocks, it reminded me of one of my favourite films, Stardust where a dry-stone wall divided the real realm from the magical.
The air on the island is magnificently fresh, yet at times it can be quite ferocious if you get caught in between two winds on the beach that links to St. Ninian’s aisle. It was worth it though, as the team and I galloped across the sandy beach – with no plastic or human waste in sight! The crystal blue water kissed both sides of the shell-sand tombolo beach, creating a heavenly pathway to the quiet island.
Lerwick was a delightful town, decorated with bunting which reminded me of my childhood when Knutsford was decorated for the May Day parade. The cobbled streets were decorated with the quaint window displays of hairdressers, soap shops, restaurants, and an amazing Shetland Fudge Shop. One of their specialties is a candy called Puffin Poo, a tasty recipe of white Belgian chocolate with toasted rice and mallow, hand rolled in coconut. A local favourite.
As well as exploring the town, I performed in BambinO with Scottish Opera at the Mareel Theatre, who magnificently recreated the poster out of origami clouds that hung from the ceiling and a hand-drawn blackboard sign, which welcomed families in the foyer. The stage sat in a cosy wooden paneled venue and our four shows were welcomed by a friendly and very enthusiastic audience. I enjoy performing this show so much, because each performance is so different which in turns keeps the story-telling alive, and visiting places like this reminds me how important music and the arts are to local communities.
How Soprano Charlotte Hoather Took Her Singing — and Blogging — to New Heights
Whether you’re a writer, creator, or business owner, it can be challenging to pursue your passion while maintaining a consistent online presence. British opera singer Charlotte Hoather does just that. Charlotte’s blog celebrated its fifth anniversary earlier this year — so we recently chatted with her to learn how she manages a demanding, globe-trotting work schedule while posting and connecting with her readers.
How did your blogging journey begin?
As an undergraduate student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) I was criticized for not being able to write essays with enough academic authority and sensible structure. I had always struggled with mixing up words, incorrect spelling, and creating a flowing argument. It was very frustrating, and despite all my hard work and research, I wasn’t sure how to improve.
The RCS suggested that I get tested for Dyslexia. It was a relief to discover after all those years what had been causing me problems. I was encouraged to start an online journal to explore reflective thinking and critical writing. To fuel my posts, I participated in a creative-writing module where we would critique live theatre and discuss general topics. I hoped that by using WordPress, I could improve my English skills and develop my artistic confidence in communicating in words. I obviously still make mistakes, but that was how my journey into blogging began.
How would you define your blog’s niche?
I share my passion for opera with others, whether they are novices or keen Puccini lovers. When I was young, I hadn’t ever experienced classical music and opera. Auditioning for conservatoires was so alien, and I was the first person to do it at my sixth form. I genuinely wanted to get discussions going and to share my world with other people from mixed backgrounds, rather than just talk and interact — which I also love to do — with a small clique of musicians. I wanted people to see why we train for so long and how opera is like athletics and sports. It takes daily practice, patience for long-term goals, and incredible self-motivation, which I am continually testing!
Was earning money through your site a priority?
I haven’t monetized my blog, but I do use it and other social media to encourage people to listen to the songs I recorded on iTunes, Amazon, and any of the leading digital platforms like Spotify, Napster, and Deezer. I’m hoping to record a new CD now that my post-graduate training has finished at The Royal College of Music in London, and I hope that people can hear the progress I’ve made. Now, to find a recording studio and the time!
You currently maintain a Jetpack-powered, self-hosted website, as well as a bloghere on WordPress.com. How did you become a WordPress user?
I can’t remember the program the RCS suggested we use, but I didn’t like that the platform owned all the content — I could never delete anything if I wanted to and I had no control. I looked at Blogger and WordPress, but you can’t self-host Blogger. I liked the blogs I read on WordPress and felt the community was warm and welcoming, so I jumped in, initially with a free blogging theme, and have added in extras through the years to improve the functionality and style of the blog and make it more independent and unique.
It was super easy to set up, and came with lots of free themes and good support. I have gone for a mix of a self-hosted WordPress website and a blog hosted through WordPress.com.
If you could magically add a feature to your WordPress site, what would it be?
It would help if WordPress had a Grammarly plugin so that when you form your replies to comments, they are automatically checked for those people who need it. There are so many brilliant writers and storytellers on WordPress it wouldn’t need to be there all the time.
You’ve garnered a massive following on several social platforms. Do you have any advice for people who are still struggling to find an audience beyond their real-life circle of family and friends?
Of my social media platforms, my blog came first. WordPress community members recommended I set up a Facebook page and linked it, and then another blog friend was surprised I didn’t have Twitter and suggested that and also advised me on how to set it up. Google+ followed, and a couple of years ago Instagram — although I still need to get my head around hashtag use. I try to treat them all as individual platforms now, but I’m really no expert — I just muddle along getting tips from people.
WordPress used to be easier to attract readers, do follow-backs, and build communities, but as I got busier in my studies I found it hard to keep in touch with everyone. But I do my best. I would recommend that you visit, like, and comment on other blogs and build friendships even if you can only do this once each month. Just like friends in real life, if you ignore people for too long they drift away. Blogging is more about sharing and caring about others than just about you.
Training to become a professional soprano is — one would assume! — an often-grueling process. How do you find the time and energy to connect with fans and music lovers online (not to mention others from the blogging community)?
Training to become an opera singer is very taxing, but I adore it. I try to fit my blogging and connecting with my friends through social media around my tightly packed schedule. The way I blog and my expectations of myself have changed over the past five years. I used to post twice each week. I was able to use some of the posts toward my academic credits, and earlier in my training, I had a bit more free time as I was building up my vocal stamina — I could practice a lot less than I can now. As I progressed through my training, I decided to cut down my posts to one per week, preferring quality over quantity. This ensured that I could keep the conversations going and keep in touch with people enjoying my adventures.
I love knowing that on Sunday, I need to create a post! No ifs, no buts! It means that at some point in the week I need to have done something interesting or complete some research on an area of opera that I would love to share with people. It taught me to enjoy the little moments: if I have a quiet period in my career and visit family and make paper flowers, then that’s what I share.
I wish I had more time to answer everyone on my social media platforms individually. I hope that people understand; if they want a reply or a discussion, I ask that they comment on my blog — this platform easily allows for that.
Do you have any practical advice for aspiring bloggers on a busy schedule?
I wake up early and go to bed around 10:30-11:00. I have always had a full-structured, energetic day. I often dictate my thoughts into my iPhone and convert them into text. I think this allows for a conversational style of writing, which I can later edit grammatically. I answer comments as I go along on public transport, or if I have any downtime between appointments. I usually copy the comments into a word document and edit them over a few days. Once they are all complete, I put them all on at the same time. My Dad helps with videos and resizing photos, and my Mum checks my post for spelling and grammar.
On a more personal note, what are the next goals you’ve set for yourself?
After six years of training at Music Conservatoires in both Glasgow and London, I want to apply everything I’ve learned so far and put it into practice. During my studies, I managed to find my own small work projects. Now I want to develop my professional working portfolio while continuing to advance my language, singing, and dance skills, which take a lot of time and investment.
I hope that over the next five years, I can enter a Young Artist Program or Fest Contract at an opera house and maintain a career in opera. I would love to continue working internationally, as I have really enjoyed working abroad, trying new cuisines, conversing in different languages, and partaking in special customs.
But for the next few months, the hope is to keep my head above water, stay motivated, and earn enough to support my training and become an engaged member in this industry.
Do you have a dream role (or roles) you’d love to perform?
My dream roles change constantly, depending on my mood and personal development. At the moment I would love to perform Musetta from La Bohème (Puccini), Zerbinetta from Ariadne auf Naxos (R. Strauss) and The Controller from Flight (Dove). But one thing I have learned recently is that if you are surrounded by a wonderful cast, every role is enjoyable — even the smallest role has a big story to tell, full of personal hardships and glory.
Any other exciting plans for the near future?
I had some great experiences this past year performing in Manchester, London, Cornwall, Oxford, and even Paris and New York, and I’m currently on a tour with Scottish Opera in the Highlands of Scotland. After that, who knows? That is what makes life such an adventure, and hopefully gives me enough blog content to continue.
Last week, I invited my blog friends to ask me a question about my involvement in the world of opera that I could expand into an article for my weekly blog. I have set myself the challenge to try and answer these questions in the comments or allow them to inspire me to create a full article. So here it goes!
John W. Howell asked me: “How do I keep my voice in shape for a demanding performance schedule?”
My initial answer to John’s question was: “Years and years of the best vocal training by classically trained teachers, vocal warm-ups and cooldowns, lots of water to drink, honey and lemon and specialist teas. I don’t often drink alcohol, I’ve never smoked and I rest my voice when I need to.”
I would love to take the time today to expand on my answer and provide a more detailed response, so here goes!
As an opera singer, I can’t sing all day long. I seem to have been saying this on repeat recently to potential landlords and letting agents when they ask me about my job. I promise I am not noisy 24/7 and that I am conscious of my neighbours! I have to plan my practice and use of my voice in the rehearsal room, the amount that I can sing in a day does fluctuate but most days I actively sing for 2- 3 hours.
In order to sing operatic music, like an athlete, I need to warm up the muscles that become engaged when I am singing. I usually begin most days with a 20-30 minute warm up. This includes some gentle humming exercises, scales, and arpeggios progressing to coloratura exercises to maintain flexibility in my vocal range. This allows my voice to work at its best. However, sometimes my schedule doesn’t allow for a generous warm-up time, because of available space at the rehearsal venue or the time of the rehearsal/lesson. So, if I know in advance that I will have limited time to warm up my voice before I leave home I will try to do a simple yoga routine or gentle stretches so that my body is better prepared. I personally love using “Yoga with Adrienne” on youtube. She has had a channel for many years now and has built up a great selection of videos for beginners and regulars. In the rehearsal room, there may be occasions when you have to mark your vocal line, this can mean singing quieter, down the octave [the melody but an octave lower – closer to speaking pitch] or even speaking. The important thing is that you don’t lower your energy level or enunciation of the text as this can cause issues for your colleagues.
So what is my experience of a demanding performance schedule?
This summer I experienced a busy period working with professional companies. I performed in three Operas spreading over July, August, and September. Each brought with it its own individual challenges.
Candide involved a regular rehearsal period over four weeks. The positive outcome for this style of schedule allowed me to create the role of Cunegonde in great detail. I had time to learn and grow with the character, experiment with different reactions to the same series of unfortunate events, and her relationships towards the other characters in the Opera. [slipping in the title of one my favourite childhood book series there written by Lemony Snicket ]. However, my commute to the rehearsal venue was long and often I would return home very late in the evening. In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and my vocal stamina, I would try to unwind on my commute home, listening to music or downloading a TV program on my phone for the journey, this enabled me to relax so that when I got home I could still manage to get straight off to sleep. I would always try to bring a packed lunch and a prepared dinner if I was away from home all day. I would try to eat this at a similar time each day so that my body kept up a digestive routine. I found that this resulted in me feeling less fatigue and my voice was still supple for evening rehearsals, I didn’t feel restless because I knew that I would have access to a balanced diet. I could use my rest time on my dinner break to actually relax, rather than use the limited time desperately trying to find a place to eat, which was close to the rehearsal venue, that wasn’t too expensive, and which offered healthy food.
After the performances of Candide were over I went straight onto working on Mansfield Park production. Thankfully before we traveled to the Minack Theatre in Cornwall, I had a week of rest, [with no rehearsals scheduled by Surrey Opera]. Knowing that once we finished the performances I would have only one week before the rehearsals begin for Mansfield Park. I decided to get a head start on learning quite a difficult score by using my week off before the Candide performances to start my preparations for Mansfield Park. I recorded the libretto with two friends, both fantastic Mezzo Sopranos, Brigette and Hannah on an app. The app was recommended to me by my wonderful friend Frances Thorburn, who I worked with on The Little White Town Of Never Weary and who now plays Kim Monroe on River City, a very popular Scottish Soap Opera.
Frances has to learn a huge amount of lines each day for filming, she encouraged me to try this method because you can practise the whole script by yourself. It provides you with options to listen to scenes on repeat, isolate your lines or provide timed gaps so that you can speak your lines in. This style of memorising is very useful to me as an artist as I can learn the text, without having to sing too much. This allows me to use my singing time on specific musical goals and technically tricky areas. What I didn’t expect to learn from this, was that because I broke up the learning and began it earlier, most of what I learned had settled and made the week revising it musically before rehearsals so much more relaxed. It was still stressful, and I needed to work hard to learn the whole score off copy, but I felt positive and that I could achieve it because of the groundwork I put in. This kind of positive mental attitude and a relaxed mindset allows me to stay in top physical condition. If I become too stressed I know that my body is more susceptible to picking up a virus or other illness. I now always try to plan in break times and aim to finish my work for the day no later than 9:00pm, unless a rehearsal schedule goes over this.
Once the performances for Mansfield Park came to a close, I was then able to move onto preparation for BambinO. The benefit of having this opera at the end of a busy run was that I knew the music and the staging inside out, although the new team had changes that I had to adjust to quickly. I had a recording from a previous performance that I would use to run through the staging and I practised my part musically at the piano. During the week I managed to squeeze in a coaching session with Christopher Middleton where we worked on my current aria package, he is so insightful and I appreciate all his help and advice. This meant that I had a little extra breathing space to begin planning my next projects as I also needed to move out of my room at Student Halls and find somewhere new to live in London. I was so grateful that I knew this opera because I found moving lodgings quite stressful. I like to plan ahead of time, but the rental market in London moves very fast and I didn’t sign a contract for a new place until the morning before my flight to Aberdeen! Knowing that I knew the music allowed me to feel calm and in control. I hope that in the future I will be able to bear this in mind when planning work and projects.
I have had a great summer and feel energised for the upcoming months. I have learned how to multi-task projects better and I am thankful that I have been able to maintain my vocal health and stamina. What I didn’t expect to learn from this, was that because I kept up my vocal practise, i.e. singing for 6 days a week that my recovery time after taking a long weekend off was much quicker which allowed me to perform challenging coloratura arias with the fast runs sounding smoother, in fewer practise days, allowing me to work on my personal targets sooner. Whilst touring Scotland I took the advantage of meeting up with Judith Howarth, my singing teacher from my time at the RCS. She helped me with my bel canto phrasing and floating and after my time with her, I left feeling re-energised and motivated for the months ahead.
One of the great things I enjoy about my work is visiting new places, traveling to locations that I may not otherwise have had the opportunity to visit. Last Thursday, 6th September, I traveled North from London to Aberdeen to join the new cast of BambinO, Hazel McBain ( Uccellina ), Samuel Pantcheff ( Pulcino ), Andrew Drummond Huggan ( Cello ) Michael D Clark ( Percussion ).
It was exciting to watch them perform together on Friday before putting my Uccellina costume back on again to take over from Hazel, who leaves to take up her place on a Young Artist Programme in Salzburg.
You can get the details of the rest of the tour here:
Earlier this week I received an email from the Editor of WordPress Discover to let me know that I had been selected to be showcased as an Editor’s Pick on their Discover page and Home Page. It was quite exciting to be chosen and to share my blog with visitors to the WordPress site. They have also asked me to take part in a question and answer session which will hopefully be featured on their site, I will let you know if it gets published.
But it got me thinking, that after five years blogging about my studies that it would be interesting for me to ask you if you have any questions that I could answer for you on my profession or expand on in a future blog post? For example, maybe you would like me to interview a Stage Manager to find out more about the role they play in an opera production. Or interview an instrumentalist to see if there are any parallels between their study path and that of an opera singer. Perhaps you may want to know more about costume design for the stage, or where the costumes are stored after each performance.
Whatever the question I will try my best to answer it and hopefully add some new topics that be suitable for blog posts to share with you all over the coming year.
What a fabulous week I have had at Waterperry House and Gardens, working with a great cast and creative team to bring Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park to life.
The company used the duck egg blue ballroom lit by natural sunlight and a twinkling chandelier to stage the production. The setting was inspirational, and once we got into our costumes we were taken back to a time of regency and romance. The audience enveloped the performance space in a way that felt quite intimate, enabling us to bring the story to life sharing close encounters and family squabbles.
On Saturday for our premiere, we were thrilled to see Jonathan Dove in the audience who said afterward that he thoroughly enjoyed the performance. I was interested to learn from him that he wrote the opera to be accompanied by a piano duet (also known as piano four hands), because Jane Austin was a keen piano player who loved to play piano duets with friends. He wanted to create a sound world that he could imagine her living within.
My family came to watch on Saturday too and my Grandad said how much he enjoyed the production. I remember trying to not break from my character and smile and laugh at his reactions as the story developed, I am slowly converting him to the world of opera as he now looks forward to each new piece that I introduce him to.
I had a wonderful time working with the company created by Rebecca Meltzer, Guy Withers, and Bertie Baigent, their other shows were great successes too! Don Giovanni, which was performed in the outdoor Amphitheatre was incredibly moving and the Peter Rabbit adaptation for narrator and string quartet that took place in the tranquil rose garden was exquisite and very humorous! Whilst on site, we lived in the house. I shared a room with some of my colleagues who were fabulous company, we told stories, shared sweets and movie nights. It was like the dormitory experience I had always wished for. The wonderful cooks Wendy and Kate provided delicious vegetarian meals throughout the day, I was astonished that I enjoyed my meat-free week so much! I think I may even copy a few of their recipes and add them to my own recipe bank.
Considering that this was the Inaugural year, Rebecca Meltzer, Guy Withers, and Bertie Baigent did an amazing job bringing everything together so smoothly, it was an enormous undertaking and I wish them every success in the future for their festival.
They have kindly allowed me to share some of their pictures from the production taken by Robert Workman.
LADY BERTRAM – Emily Gray
SIR THOMAS BERTRAM – Phil Wilcox
EDMUND BERTRAM – Milo Harries
JULIA BERTRAM – Sarah Anne Champion
MARIA BERTRAM – Charlotte Hoather
HENRY CRAWFORD – David Horton
MARY CRAWFORD – Eleanor Sanderson-Nash
AUNT NORRIS – Andrea Tweedale
FANNY PRICE – Flora Macdonald
MR RUSHWORTH – Lawrence Thackeray
DIRECTOR – Rebecca Meltzer
MUSICAL DIRECTOR – Ashley Beauchamp
RÉPÉTITEUR – Will Ford
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR – Margaret Ravalde
COSTUME MAKER – Jane Black
COSTUME ASSISTANT – Bronte Macfadyean
PUPPET MAKER – Jo Lakin
STAGE MANAGER – May Howard-Shigeno
PRODUCTION MANAGER – Guy Withers
We have had a productive week of rehearsals here in London for Waterperry Opera Festival’s production of Mansfield Park. Next week we travel over to Oxford to start the staging at the venue. I can’t wait to see where we will be performing and soak up the atmosphere of the house to see if we can bring a little something extra to our characterisations.
I will try and get some pictures over the course of the week and share them with you once the performances are over or put them on Instagram.
Scottish Opera are putting on a Scottish tour of BambinO this autumn and I have been asked back to perform alongside Samuel Pantcheff who will be taking on the role of Pulcino, with Andrew Drummond Huggan on Cello and Michael D Clark on Percussion, they are currently performing at the Edinburgh Fringe if you are in Edinburgh next week with your baby check it out with Hazel McBain as Uccelina.
Since graduating from the Royal College of Music at the beginning of July my summer has been full of new experiences.
This week rehearsals for Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park have started with gusto. The production for the Waterperry Opera Festival began rehearsals on Thursday 2nd August in London, led by our director Rebecca Meltzer. We began the process by exploring our characters, the social hierarchy, our character’s desires, and their relationships with the other characters throughout the opera. I found this exploration on the first day very useful because you learn how the others (characters) view your character and how each actor/actress has filled the gaps in their personal narrative. This then allowed me to build on my initial interpretation of Maria Bertram and inspired me to craft specific details to develop the character so that it becomes more sympathetic to the characters portrayed by the other cast members.
As a company, we began to plot out the staging for the opening scenes. Due to the complexity of the score, we began this by stepping away from the music and delivering our text like a play. This helped us to find the natural fluidity of the conversation which later influenced our musical interpretation. It also allowed me to develop layering to assist in my memory building. I learned where my positions were, my actions and movements, where the person I was talking to was positioned. Securing this level of information, meant that once the music was added I could comfortably concentrate on accuracy and interpretation of the score comfortable with the movement on stage.
I am very lucky (again) to be working with such delightful and talented colleagues, both within the cast and the production team. Everyone brings their own twist and flavour to the ensemble numbers which keeps the pieces fresh and interesting. This opera is unlike any others that I have done, in the sense that previously I have performed roles which have included the need to perform solo arias, duets, small ensemble and some large ensemble. However, for this opera, my role is far more ensemble-based. I sing alongside many different characters in passionate or scheming duets, melancholy trips and triumphant decreto (an ensemble of 10 people). There are odd moments of aria style singing but I am enjoying this new and exciting challenge being an integral part of these multi-layered harmonies and captivating storylines which beautifully portray the difficult and intertwined relationships of Mansfield Park.
We have two full weeks rehearsals together in Central London then a week in Oxford which I’m very much looking forward to as we’ll be staying at Waterperry Gardens which will be amazing I’m sure. I’m looking forward to watching the other productions Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and Don Giovanni if time allows. If I get any rehearsal photographs I’ll share them with you. You can follow the run-up to the opening of the festival on Waterperry Opera Festival’s twitter here.
Here is a YouTube video by Viv Green which gives you the synopsis of Mansfield Park:
Bright and early Saturday morning on 14th July I met up with my friend and fellow cast member Rosie Clifford before embarking on a road trip down St Levan in Cornwall. The time flew by and after 5 hours we arrived at The Land’s End Vineries which was to become our home from home for the upcoming week. We shared our chalet with two orchestral members Lily Beatrice Cooper and Bjorn Kleiman, who were both delightful and charming housemates. The chalet that we stayed in took me back to a world without WiFi and little mobile signal, we even had to put a pound coin in the electricity meter. I quite enjoyed this weird aspect and will remember playfully working out how to use the meter with Rosie.
Because we only had intermittent mobile service the four of us talked, laughed and bonded over great food, skilfully cooked for us by Bjorn who quickly became head chef of chalet 20. I was very happy to wash dishes, provide supplies and eat! It was during these periods of break (between and after the performances) that I learned that Bjorn organises a concert series in Sweden, Lidköping Music Festival which will have performances 5th-8th August. Lily will be playing cello and he will play violin there with other musicians. It sounded delightful and I wish I could be there to enjoy what I’m sure will be beautiful music.
The first day was long and tiring but the great atmosphere from the full cast, creative team and orchestra meant that we had a lot of fun. We began with a tech rehearsal in the morning at 10:00 then onto a dress rehearsal run at 2pm with me and then another dress rehearsal at 8pm with Lizzie. In the morning and afternoon, the sun was out and blazed during the rehearsals. This made the view of the Minack Theatre outstanding and rather breathtaking, with the crystal clear blue sea stretching as far as the eye could see behind the main stage. During the week we saw lots of wildlife such as seals enjoying the beautiful weather and even some fishermen and sun seekers.
However, this weather can cause a few issues to a performer, such as heat exhaustion and dehydration. Surrey Opera was at hand and offered wonderful advice throughout this process. We were encouraged to wear a lot of sun lotion, wear hats, shade bathe 😅 whenever off stage and drink plenty of water. It was quite tricky to get used to but by mid-week, I started building up stamina for this style of weather.
We opened the show on Monday night which was a roaring success, and as the week progressed gags got lengthened and we crafted the action to suit the audience that we had in, for example, if they particularly enjoyed the slapstick comedy moments we would play these moments for longer and with greater enjoyment. Giles Davies was a real pro at this and taught me a lot about comic timing. I was so impressed that by the end of the run he could get two raucous rounds of applause for his comic death scene! I was really blessed to share the stage with such wonderful colleagues, everyone brought something extra special to the performance and it reminded me how important it is to treasure our individuality. Joanna Gamble, Tom Kennedy, Giles Davies, Brian Smith Walters, Rosie Clifford, Callum Speed, Tim Baldwin, and Lizzie Holmes.
With a special thank you to Stephen Anthony Brown who played the role of Candide so effortlessly, it was a sheer delight to perform alongside him.
Lastly, I must mention the amazing 18 strong chorus who put so much energy into each performance and huge respect to each of the 29 members of the orchestra who played with such emotion and skill.
I enjoyed working with the fantastic Jonathan Butcher who directed the production as well as conducting it, a real multi-talented artist.
You can read a review of the opening night performance on the Minack Theatre website ( Link )
I was also very lucky to have my family travel down from Cheshire, Stoke On Trent, Glasgow, and London to come and support me. My parents, brothers, grandparents and future brother-in-law. Their support never ceases to amaze me and meant that my downtime felt like a holiday!
After completing the first run through of Candide with Surrey Opera last Thursday evening, I hastily returned home full of excitement for the day to follow. Friday began with an early start, checking my bags, which I had carefully packed the previous morning and downloading my pre-ordered train ticket for Buxton. Where I would have the pleasure of performing alongside my friends in the Tideswell Male Voice Choir in Tideswell, Derbyshire.
The weather was fabulous and made for a lovely journey from London to the Peak District, with its amazing views of the picturesque Towns and Villages. George Todica, who was to accompany me for the concert, had traveled down from Glasgow and luckily without delay, which ensured that we both arrived in Stockport within ten minutes of each other, ready to catch the train to Buxton together.
Malcolm and Alison Bennison with Me before the concert
We were met at the station in Buxton by Malcolm and Alison Bennison who had kindly agreed to drive us the final 20 minutes to the Village. Malcolm had arranged for the choir to perform an afternoon concert for the residents of Nicholson Court, a care home in the village, as many could not make it along to the evening performance. This concert was to celebrate the newly refurbished interior of the home. He asked if George and I would like to perform with them, we happily agreed, so our first stop was at Nicolson Court.
It was lovely to have the chance to sing for the residents, who were so friendly and made us feel really welcome. It was lovely when talking to them after the concert to hear how music had touched their lives in so many different ways. After a light lunch, it was time for a sound check in the Church before getting changed for the evening performance.
It was a warm evening with clear blue skies, such a difference from my last visit when the heavens opened and poured continuously during the concert. Nick Montague, the choir’s music director welcomed the audience and set the tone for the evening, which was friendly and relaxed. Nick is the new music director for the choir and also directs a ladies choir called the Knutsford Star Choir in Knutsford where I went to school.
The choir’s programme included a wide variety of songs such as Anthem, Let it Be Me, What a Wonderful World and an amazing rendition of Right Said Fred ornamented with props and percussive instruments to add to the joyful atmosphere. Their performances were full of heart and sang with enthusiasm and panache. They were skilfully accompanied throughout the evening by pianist Alison Wheeldon.
The Choir Singing Right Said Fred
Altogether After The Concert, the only person missing is Edwina Currie ( who was taking a picture too )
If you get the opportunity to go and watch the choir perform I would thoroughly recommend it, I believe they are going to provide some of the onboard entertainment on a Fred Olsen cruise to Scandinavia so if you happen to be on the same cruise you are in for a treat.
If you are from the local area and would like to try your hand at singing in the choir then you could go along to one of their rehearsals, which happen on a Tuesday evening from 7:30 pm at the old grammar school in Tideswell or give Thomas Eccles a call on 01298 872800.
I had an amazing time catching up Edwina Currie, the choir’s President, spending time with my friends and making some new ones, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and I hope that I get to sing with the choir again in the future. I wish them all every success in their future performances and I hope they continue to enjoy singing these beautiful songs as much as we all enjoyed listening to them.
Me With Maurice Hargreaves, a good friend, and an excellent singer
As I sign off tonight I do so in fond remembrance of my friend John Richie, he was a member of the choir for 30 years, a very talented musician whom I met at the Hazel Grove Music festival when I first started to sing seriously. His constant encouragement and kind words will always be remembered.
Rehearsals for Candide by Surrey Opera are now well underway. The scenes are starting to slot together like jigsaw pieces, and I’m looking forward to the coming week to finalise the blocking, (the setting of movements, character’s intentions and gestures) for the last few scenes.
It has been a real joy to explore the arc of Cunegonde’s growth through this process. She begins the operetta as the adolescent school girl, who is the daughter of a Baron and Baroness, she lives in a grand home surrounded by love and the comfort provided by wealth. Cunegonde is taught by Dr. Pangloss that ‘this is the best of all possible worlds’. A philosophy that the play questions dramatically throughout.
After Pangloss’s lesson, Cunegonde experiences the instant chemistry between her and Candide, which begins to bud and blossom into a sweet first love. However, the first love duet is quite humorous as they both list their desires for the future, without really listening to the other. If they had paid attention, they would have realised their dreams were quite dissimilar. If this was a different story, perhaps they would have had a discussion, found a comprise and lived happily ever after.
But sadly, that is not the case, this love story is interrupted by the horrors of war with their lives turned upside down, Cunegonde, now orphaned and without the means to support herself, is taken to Paris where she is shared between two men. Her innocence is quickly stripped away and she must learn how to survive using only her instincts, clouding the emotional heartache with her blinding optimism. These chaotic occurrences are interspersed with moments of hope each time her path crosses again with Candide. Unfortunately, time and time again she has to fend for herself and use her womanly wiles in order to survive.
Jumping to the end, in order to not spoil the plot too much. Just before the finale, Candide finds Cunegonde in a Casino in Venice, attending to the needs of the Male visitors and is appalled by what he sees. He asks in his aria if this is what he’s been fighting for and if her soul is dead. It is a heart-wrenching moment as Cunegonde decides whether to interject or if it’s better to stay silent knowing the awful situations she has lived through in hope that they would meet again and reunite their relationship. It is her strength at this moment that helped me to understand her character more deeply and realise the sincerity of her love for Candide.
It is a very complex story with multiple twist and turns, I do hope that I bring her character to life and do her story justice. I can’t wait to work alongside my brilliants colleagues in the coming weeks as we finally get to perform at the Minack Theatre, Cornwall