Entertainment Views Interviews: Soprano, Eleanor Dennis

Soprano, Eleanor Dennis arrived on my radar when I attended Three Choirs Festival at Worcester Cathedral. Her voice is so exquisite that it still resonates almost a year on. Since then I’ve been keeping an eye on her career and have thus far been unable to make the requisite journeys see her on stage. However, I am delighted to be seeing her next month when she appears in Three Choirs Festival again, in Hereford. 

I’m delighted that she’s allowed me to chat to her about her career to date, so without further ado…

Thanks so much for talking to Entertainment Views, Eleanor. First of all, tell me what inspired you to pursue a career in Opera.

I grew up in a very musical household in Aberdeenshire. My parents were both involved with the Haddo House Choral and Operatic Society, who put fully staged operas on every year. They couldn’t always find a babysitter, so my brother and I usually ended up onstage in the big chorus scenes. My first operatic memory is being in the Peter Grimes opening chorus, aged about 4, and having the time of my life! From then on, opera just became the thing I loved.

Earlier this year you appeared in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with ENO, tell me about the experience and what you enjoyed most about playing the role of Helena?

I absolutely loved being involved with this production – it’s so iconic. Helena is immense fun to play – she has some glorious music to sing, and is so feisty! I really enjoyed the physical challenge presented by this particular staging, I came offstage feeling like I’d done quite a workout!

Last year I saw you perform at 3 Choirs Festival at Worcester Cathedral, what were the challenges of singing Mendelssohn’s St Paul?

St Paul is quite unusual, in that the soprano role is mostly accompanied recitative, rather than arias. This can be tricky, as in recit, you’re responsible for conveying the story to the audience. I think the main challenge for me was making sure my text and intention were clear enough to get the message of the work across to the audience.

What do you find are the main differences between performing Oratorio and Opera? Do you have a preference?

They are two very different beasts, both as dramatic as each other, but in very different ways. With opera, you can really lose yourself in a character, with the costumes, set and distance from the audience. With oratorio, it feels more intimate to me, it’s just you in front of a chorus and orchestra, creating a piece of drama, with words and music alone. I love both equally – although you do get some wonderful frocks in opera!

Eleanor Dennis with Kitty Whately in Cosi Fan Tutte at Opera Holland Park –
Photo Credit: Robert Workman

You’re currently appearing in Cosi Fan Tutte, tell me about the production and the character you’re playing. 

It’s a really beautiful period production, set in Naples in the 1790s, when the opera was written. I play Fiordiligi, one of two sisters, who have a very cruel trick played on them by their fiances… she goes through a real rollercoaster of emotions, and I’ve found it fascinating to play her. It helps that she has the most sublime music to sing!

What are your personal highlights in Cosi Fan Tutte?

My absolute favourite part of the opera is the duet Fiordiligi sings with Ferrando in act two, where she finally gives in to her feelings for him. It is so perfectly written – it conveys the tumultuous emotions so clearly. I also love singing her act two aria “per pieta” – for me, it’s Mozart’s finest soprano aria.

What are your ambitions for the future? Any roles you’re keen to play, in particular? 

I’d love to take on some of Strauss’ great heroines – Arabella, Marschallin – and maybe even dip my toe into some Wagner… All in good time, though! My favourite opera is Peter Grimes, so I’d also really like to play Ellen Orford.

Who are your favourite composers and why?

I think Mozart will always be my favourite to listen to, and to sing, he had a real understanding of the human voice. I also love Britten, for his amazing word painting, and you can’t really beat Puccini when it comes to high-emotion arias.

What’s coming up for you next?

I’m heading to Madrid next week to do Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Auditorio Nacional de Musica, which I’m really looking forward to. It’ll also be great to head back to ENO next season, where I’m doing 1st Lady in Magic Flute.

Cosi Fan Tutte has completed its run as we go to press, however, as you can see there are plenty of opportunities coming up to see Eleanor performing. Another great big thank you to her for a superb interview. 

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The ENO New Season 2018/2019

Welcome to the New Season from the ENO! If you’re as fanatical about Opera as I am, you’ll be excited to see the exceptional line-up of productions and casting, not to mention Conductors! I’ll let the listings speak for themselves: 

Listings Information: ENO performances at the London Coliseum

Richard Strauss – Salome Libretto: Hedwig Lachman, after Oscar Wilde New production Sep 28 & Oct 3, 6, 12, 18, 23 at 19.30, Oct 20 at 18.30
Conductor: Martyn Brabbins, Director: Adena Jacobs, Designer: Marg Horwell, Lighting Designer: Lucy Carter, Choreographer: Melanie Lane, Translator: Tom Hammond CAST INCLUDES: Allison Cook (Salome) David Soar(Jokanaan) Michael Colvin (Herod) Susan Bickley (Herodias) #ENOSalome

The Gershwins – Porgy and Bess By George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin New Production Oct 11, 17, 19, 24, 26, 29, 31 & Nov 8, 14 at 19.30, Oct 13, 27 & Nov 10 at 18.30, Nov 3, 17 at 15.00
Conductor: John Wilson, Director: James Robinson, Set Designer: Michael Yeargan, Costume Designer: Catherine Zuber, Lighting Designer: Donald Holder, Video Designer: Luke Halls, Choreographer: Dianne McIntyre
CAST INCLUDES: Eric Greene (Porgy) Nicole Cabell (Bess) Nmon Ford (Crown) Latonia Moore (Serena) Gweneth-Ann Rand (Serena Oct 27, Oct 31, Nov 10) Nadine Benjamin (Clara) Tichina Vaughn (Maria) Donovan Singletary (Jake) Frederick Ballentine (Sporting Life) Rheinaldt Tshepo Moagi (Mingo) Chaz’men Williams-Ali (Robbins/Crab Man) Byron Jackson (Frazier) Sarah-Jane Lewis (Annie) Nozuko Teto (Strawberry Woman) Njabulo Madlala (Jim) Whitaker Mills (Undertaker) Thando Mjandana (Nelson)
A co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, New York, and Dutch National Opera Supported by a syndicate of donors The worldwide copyrights in the works of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin in this presentation are licensed by the Gershwin Family. GERSHWIN is a registered trademark of Gershwin enterprises. Porgy and Bess is a registered trademark of Porgy and Bess Enterprises.
#ENOPorgy

Gaetano Donizetti – Lucia di Lammermoor Libretto: Salvatore Cammarano, after Walter Scott Revival Oct 25, 30 & Nov 2, 7, 9, 15, 24, 30 & Dec 5 at 19.30
Conductor: Stuart Stratford /James Hendry (Dec 5), Director: David Alden, Set Designer: Charles Edwards, Costume Designer: Brigitte Reiffenstuel, Lighting Designer: Adam Silverman, Movement Director: Maxine Braham, Translator: Amanda Holden CAST INCLUDES: Sarah Tynan (Lucia) Lester Lynch (Enrico Ashton) Eleazar Rodríguez (Edgardo) Michael Colvin (Lord Arturo Bucklaw) Clive Bayley (Raimondo Bidebent) Sarah Pring (Alisa) Elgan Llŷr Thomas (Normanno) #ENOLucia

Benjamin Britten – War Requiem Missa pro Defunctis and Wilfred Owen New Production Nov 16, 22, 27, 29 & Dec 4, 7 at 19.30 Conductor: Martyn Brabbins, Director: Daniel Kramer, Designer: Wolfgang Tillmans, Associate Designer: Justin Nardella, Costume Designer: Nasir Mazhar, Lighting Designer: Charles Balfour, Choreographer: Ann Yee CAST INCLUDES: Emma Bell (Soprano) David Butt Philip (Tenor) Roderick Williams (Baritone) Co-production with National Performing Arts Center, Taiwan
Supported by Linda Christmas and a syndicate of donors #ENORequiem

Giacomo Puccini – La bohème Libretto: Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, after Henri Murger Revival
Nov 26, 28 & Dec 3, 6 & Jan 29 & Feb 2, 7, 12, 14, 20, 22 at 19.30, Dec 1 & Feb 16 at 15.00, Dec 8 & Feb 9 at 18.30
Conductor: Alexander Joel/ Valentina Peleggi (Feb 7, 9, 14), Director: Jonathan Miller, Revival Director: Natascha Metherell, Designer: Isabella Bywater, Lighting Designer: Jean Kalman, Translator: Amanda Holden
CAST INCLUDES: Natalya Romaniw (Mimì) Jonathan Tetelman (Rodolfo) Nicholas Lester (Marcello) Nadine Benjamin (Musetta) David Soar / David Ireland Jan 29, Feb 2, 7, 9 (Colline) Božidar Smiljanić / Matthew Durkan Jan 29, Feb 2, 7, 9, 12, 14, 16, 20, 22 (Schaunard) Simon Butteriss (Benoît/Alcindoro) Co-production with Cincinnati Opera #ENOBoheme

Philip Glass – Akhnaten Libretto: Philip Glass in association with Shalom Goldman, Robert Israel, Richard Ridell and Jerome Robbins Revival Feb 11, 15, 21, 23, 28 & Mar 7 at 19.30, Mar 2 at 18.30
Conductor: Karen Kamensek, Director: Phelim McDermott Designer: Tom Pye, Costume Designer: Kevin Pollard, Lighting Designer: Bruno Poet, Skills Ensemble Choreographer: Sean Gandini
CAST INCLUDES: Anthony Roth Costanzo (Akhnaten) Katie Stevenson (Nefertiti) Rebecca Bottone (Queen Tye) James Cleverton (Horemhab) Keel Watson (Aye) Colin Judson (High Priest of Amon) Zachary James (Scribe) A collaboration with Improbable
Co-production with LA Opera #ENOAkhnaten

Franz Lehár – The Merry Widow Libretto: Victor Léon and Leo Stein, after Henri Meilhac New Production Mar 1, 6, 8, 9, 13, 15, 22, 27, 29 & Apr 1, 4 at 19.30, Apr 13 at 15.00
Conductor: Kristiina Poska /Martin Fitzpatrick (April 1, 4, 13), Director: Max Webster, Set Designer: Ben Stones, Costume Designer: Esther Bialas, Lighting Designer: Bruno Poet, Choreographer: Stephen Mears
CAST INCLUDES: Sarah Tynan (Hanna Glawari) Nathan Gunn (Count Danilo Danilowitsch) Andrew Shore (Baron Mirko Zeta) Robert Murray (Camille de Rosillon) Rhian Lois (Valencienne) Nicholas Lester (Vicomte Cascada) Jamie MacDougall (Raoul de St Brioche) Supported by a syndicate of donors #ENOWidow

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – The Magic Flute Libretto: Emanuel Schikaneder Revival Mar 14, 21, 23, 28 & Apr 2, 9, 11 at 19.30, Mar 16 at 18.30, Apr 6 at 15.00
Conductor: Ben Gernon/Chris Hopkins (Mar 28) Director: Simon McBurney, Associate Director and Movement: Josie Daxter, Set Designer: Michael Levine, Costume Designer: Nicky Gilliband, Lighting Designer: Jean Kalman, Revival Lighting Designer: Mike Gunning, Video Designer: Finn Ross, Sound Designer Gareth Fry, Translator: Stephen Jeffreys
CAST INCLUDES: Rupert Charlesworth (Tamino) Lucy Crowe (Pamina) Thomas Oliemans (Papageno)Brindley Sherratt/Jonathan Lemalu Apr 9 & 11 (Sarastro) Julia Bauer (Queen of Night)Jonathan Lemalu/David Ireland Apr 9 & 11 (Speaker) Daniel Norman (Monostatos) Eleanor Dennis (First Lady) Samantha Price (Second Lady) Katie Stevenson (Third Lady) Rowan Pierce (Papagena) David Webb (First Priest/First Armed Man) David Ireland (Second Priest/Second Armed Man) A collaboration with Complicite Co-production with Dutch National Opera and the International Festival of Lyric Art, Aix-en-Provence #ENOFlute

Iain Bell – Jack The Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel Libretto: Emma Jenkins World Premiere Mar 30 & Apr 3, 5, 8, 10, 12 at 19.30
Conductor: Martyn Brabbins Director: Daniel Kramer, Designer: Soutra Gilmour, Lighting Designer: Paul Anderson

CAST INCLUDES: Claudia Boyle (Mary Kelly) Josephine Barstow (Maud) Janis Kelly (Polly Nichols) Marie McLaughlin (Annie Chapman) Susan Bullock (Liz Stride) Lesley Garrett (Catherine Eddowes) William Morgan (Writer) Alex Otterburn (Squibby) Alan Opie (The Pathologist) Robert Hayward (Commissioner of Police) Nicky Spence (Sergeant Johnny Strong) James Cleverton (The Photographer) Commissioned by ENO and Opera North, Co-production with Opera North Supported by a syndicate of donors #ENORipper

 

Entertainment Views Interview with: Yvonne Howard

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. 

Photo Credit: ENO Website

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.

Photo Credit: ENO Website

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

 

 

Iolanthe ~ London Colieseum

Reviewer: Helen McWilliams

Star rating: *****

One of the first operas I was taken to see when I was a child was Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance starring Paul Nicholas and Bonnie Langford. I was aged 10 years old at the time and yet I remember it as if it were yesterday. My love of Gilbert & Sullivan took root and I’ve watched most of their masterpieces (I’ve even performed in The Pirates of Penzance, albeit in an amateur capacity). Iolanthe was the last on my little list, I HAD to see it at the Coliseum. It didn’t disappoint, in fact if I could sneak in again on 7 April, I would!

Before the curtain opened we were entertained by the sarcasm and wit of Captain Shaw (Clive Mantle) who appeared as the resident Fireman, his job being to undo the pyrotechnical mayhem caused by the Queen of the Fairies’ wand! In fact it was surely no coincidence that he was both fireman and warm-up man! The tone of the show was already set, however a cursory peep at the audience from a random flamingo on stage right firmly established the overall atmosphere of the piece. Not to mention there’s a sheep in one of the boxes… standard patron of the opera?

Set between Fairyland and the House of Peers, we witness Fairy Queen (Yvonne Howard) call disgraced Fairy Iolanthe (Samantha Price) back from the banishment she has endured as the result of her ‘unlawful’ marriage to the Lord Chancellor (Andrew Shore). With Iolanthe’s return to fairyland comes a surprise in the form of her half fairy (from the waist up)/half mortal (from the waist down) son, Strephon (Marcus Fansworth) whom she conceived with her husband. Strephon is a shepherd, excitedly anticipating his marriage to Phyllis (Ellie Laugharne). Just to complete the circle of bizarre coincidences, Phyllis is the Lord Chancellor’s Ward! The introduction of the peers completes the picture and how do they make their appearance? On board a rather resplendent train (filing through from one side to the other!), their different personalities are abundantly clear. One of them has a dog who completely drew my attention, so effective, enhancing the comedy elements which fuel the piece, in the best possible way.

The overall production is underpinned by slapstick, flying fairies, comic timing de force from the full ensemble and of course, the glorious score of Gilbert & Sullivan brought magically to life by (in my humble opinion) some of the most talented operatic performers.

Musical highlights are difficult to pinpoint as the entire opera captured my imagination. However ‘Tripping Hither, Tripping Thither‘ was a lively number with eye catching choreography (by Lizzi Gee) and Phyllis and Strephon’s duet ‘None Shall Part Us From Each Other‘ offered a perfect opportunity to showcase their chemistry. ‘Oh, Foolish Fay‘, the Fairy Queen’s aria was beautifully performed by Yvonne Howard, her face is so stunningly expressive and her story-telling capabilities shone in this number.

The set, designed by the late, Olivier nominated Paul Brown is engaging, frames the action like an elegant picture postcard of years gone by and offers the most exceptional backdrop as befits the Coliseum stage. Cal McCrystal’s direction meets my own expectations of how a Gilbert & Sullivan opera should be portrayed, I’m eager to see him direct more of them.

Samantha Price in the title role is quirky, girly and comedy seems to be her forte, plus her vocal ability is astronomical. Andrew Shore wowed me as the Lord Chancellor and ‘Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest … ‘When you’re lying awake’ was also a personal highlight. Marcus Farnsworth and Ellie Laugharne were perfectly cast as the young lovers, Strephon and Phyllis. Ben McAteer and Ben Johnson made a tremendous double act as Earl of Mountararat and Earl of Tolloller. Llio Evans was beautifully whimsical as Celia with Joanne Appleby feisty and flirty as Leila. Barnaby Rea as Private Willis makes an idyllic love interest for the Fairy Queen, their ‘love story’ although brief and flighty really tickled me.

Iolanthe closes on 7 April 2018 and, as the Queen of the Fairies herself, Yvonne Howard, tells me in an exclusive interview (Interview: Yvonne Howard) – it’s almost sold out! Try to beg, borrow or steal a ticket here: Iolanthe Tickets

Photo Credits: Clive Barda/Arenapal 

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