I’ve been a fan of Gilbert & Sullivan’s operas for a number of years, The Pirates of Penzance captured my young imagination at the tender age of 10 years old and I’ve now seen every opera they’ve written. Opera on a wider scale, I’d not encountered or considered, until I saw the ENO’s production of The Mikado when it was shown on Sky Arts last year. A performer by the name of Yvonne Howard was playing the role of Katisha and I was transfixed by her, a singer who’s voice I connected with instantly, yet also an actress of such incredible versatility. Referring to Google, as one is wont to do to seek out her previous credits, I was soon delving into the world of opera and embracing it in a way I would never have believed I could or would have done.
Interviewing somebody who inspires me so much is always exciting for me and I loved chatting to Yvonne about the current production she’s starring in, Iolanthe at the London Coliseum and also asked her what advice she has for potential performers.
Thanks for talking to Entertainment Views, Yvonne – first of all, tell me about your character in ENO’s production of Iolanthe.
It’s a pleasure, I’m playing the Queen of the Fairies, she’s a bit of a battle axe in some ways but she’s a good hearted battle axe . How Cal McCrystal, our director has conceived the idea of her is that she’s a mixture of the morals of Queen Victoria , so she’s very moralistic and wants everyone to stick to the rules and obey but she also does have a big heart because she’s been in love herself and we hear that in her aria. So, she wants everything to be proper and right but fails a bit herself. She doesn’t really have a sense of humour, she’s straight-laced, but there’s humour around her.
Is the Queen of Fairies a role you’ve wanted to play?
No, not at all actually, when I was at school I understudied the role of Phyllis. When the Queen of the Fairies was offered to me I thought “it’s very low will I be able to sing it?” but then when I met Cal McCrystal (the director) and he talked about the whole show and the designs, and I met Paul Brown (the designer) who sadly has since died I just loved the whole idea. It’s good fun.
Do you find something different in the role and the show each time you perform it?
Yes, because the audience gives you that, we’ve had absolutely pant-wettingly loud audiences, we’ve had some who aren’t sure if they’re supposed to laugh because they’re at the opera. The amount of laughter and the atmosphere in the theatre changes every night and of course we all feel different every performance.
Have you got a favourite moment or scene in the production?
Well, apart from the fact I get to fly – I love the flying! Otherwise, not really, I love the whole thing.
What would you say to encourage people to come and see it?
Tough! It’s almost sold out, we were told that the final matinee performance only has nine seats left!
So, what would you say to encourage people to come and see it if it’s performed again?
Come, do not miss it – if you’ve never seen opera before it’s a really good foot in. If you’ve seen G & S before but you think it’s a bit light-hearted, come and listen to the quality of the music and the singing. The designs are exquisite, the direction is hilarious but also quite poignant in places. Give it a whirl, don’t come with any biases.
What would you say to people who are usually musical theatre goers but haven’t been to an opera before because they don’t think it’s for them?
This would be a brilliant one to come to because although the singing is of a classically trained ilk, I’ve done mostly opera but I’ve crossed over and done musical theatre and good music is good music whatever it is, I think. We’ve made opera into this genre that’s for other people, I was brought up thinking that, but it really isn’t. I’ve never paid as much for a ticket to go to the opera as I have to go to a football match, a rock concert or a west end musical. It’s a shame that people lack the confidence to dare to dip their toe in the water, because it really is for everyone. I come from a very ordinary background, I was born in Stafford, Dad at that time was a panel beater. If you love good music and you love a good drama then come and watch an opera and you’ll get both. Iolanthe is a good introduction for anyone who might be daunted or think that opera is ‘stuffy’, this certainly isn’t ‘stuffy’. If you want to make going to the cinema your first go at opera, you can – although it’s not the same as seeing it live. There’s nothing like hearing the human voice live.
Speaking of your cross over into musical theatre, you’ve appeared in Carousel – would you be keen to perform in another musical or to return to Carousel if you could?
Oh yes, I would love to do Carousel again and I would love to sing the Mother Superior in The Sound of Music.
Do you have a preference between opera and musical theatre?
Well, as a classically trained singer my career has mostly been in opera, but you also do oratorio as well as recital repertoire where you can sing seven or eight languages in one evening. I just love good music, although my career has been on the classical side.
Finally, what would you say to anybody considering a career as a performer?
Whatever you do be true to yourself, work blinking hard, be really nice to your colleagues – it’s so important because you need them. You’ve got to be able to trust your colleagues when you’re on stage and be able to help each other out. So, work hard, know your stuff, don’t be difficult, if it’s what you want to do go for it but not at the expense of anyone else.
Huge great big thanks to Yvonne for giving her time to me for this interview, she’s a fellow midlands girl too which made it all the more poignant. I adored Iolanthe and Yvonne was absolutely amazing, the review is here: Iolanthe Review
If you can grab one of literally very few tickets left for the remaining performances of Iolanthe at the London Coliseum, do it! You won’t regret it, click the link: Iolanthe Tickets