Francesco Cilea’s L’arlesiana is an Opera I wasn’t at all familiar with prior to my glorious trip to Opera Holland Park at the weekend. However, the cast de force had put it on my radar and the performances given in the intense, powerful three act Opera have cemented it as one of my favourite Operatic experiences to date.
Sung in Italian with English surtitles, it wasn’t initially easy to follow, however once the tale took off and the intricacy of the relationships between the central characters unfolded, I was hooked. The story revolves around Federico (Samuel Sakker) and indeed his mother’s world centres around him too, that’s Rosa Mamai (Yvonne Howard), she’s obsessed with her eldest son and his happiness. She has a younger Son too, L’innocente (Samantha Price) and he is dismissed as a simpleton, even though he’s usually hovering on the edge of the action – listening and learning. Baldassare (Keel Watson) is the wise friend everyone seeks out for advice, akin to Old Deuteronomy from Cats, he’s always there to help and has the respect of his friends. Federico is in love with a girl from Arles, she has bewitched him and even his Uncle Marco (James Cleverton) approves of his choice. However, all is not as it seems, it takes a visit from jealous love rival, Metifio (Simon Wilding) to bring Federico to the realisation that his love from Arles is not true to him. Meanwhile, Vivetta (Fflur Wyn), whom Federico has known for years, really is in love with him and Rosa Mamai is keen that she be the distraction her son needs in his hour of anguish.
It’s a rollercoaster, the build up and pace occasionally slow – however the good, bad and ugly elements of love are dealt with in detail. The tale cleverly lulls the watcher into a false sense of security as it appears that Federico’s head has been turned, Metifio is off the scene and Rosa Mamai believes her pride and joy is happy…
The set instantly transported me to a quaint farmyard, it was such a simple design yet provided maximum effect and fit the period superbly. The Opera Holland Park Chorus were a tight ensemble adding an extra dimension to the seven-strong cast. Samuel Sakker has an extraordinary voice, he gave a passionate, pained and well-balanced performance as the love-torn, pampered son. Samantha Price gave a beautifully engaging and nuanced performance as his young brother, I saw her play Iolanthe for English National Opera and she never fails to impress me. Keel Watson was a strong and confident presence in the role of Baldassare and James Cleverton was suave with an instantaneous air of confidence as Marco. Fflur Wyn wowed as Vivetta – such powerfully stunning vocals and the acting ability to match. Simon Wilding is a performer whom I am familiar with and he cut a menacing figure as Metifio. Stealing the production as the doting, obsessive mother – Yvonne Howard as Rosa Mamai. Not only did her vocals match the splendour of her heart-wrenching performance, the raw emotion she delivered in every nuance resonated. You could hear a pin drop during her act three aria.
Towards the close of the second act I found myself so entranced by the action on stage that my glance left the English surtitles while I got caught up in the emotion. It’s an Opera I’d be happy to watch again, however I will always remember my first viewing in such amazing surroundings. If you want to book your tickets to see it for yourself, follow the link: operahollandpark.com/productions/larlesiana/
Theatre has been my passion since I can remember and although in the past couple of years I’ve not been blogging as actively about my best loved genre of entertainment, it’s never left my radar.
Last night’s Olivier Awards reignited the theatrical spark for me and there are shows I will make it my mission to see – especially given the superb performances of excerpts from many of the nominated productions. From the magnificent Disney’s The Lion King to the stonking new musical Come From Away to Six – a pop concert style musical like no other I’ve seen before – the West End is packed with shows to suit every taste. The Tina Turner musical also looks incredible and if you heard Adrienne Warren who plays the real life legend, I’m sure you can’t fail to agree that she does Ms Turner proud and then some! Rosalie Craig made me feel alive with her rendition of Being Alive from Company and a finale featuring such wonderment as the stunning cast of Olivier winner Sir Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake was a dream come true. Jason Manford was a superb host, witty and offering up relevant comedy, I found the comment about the over-charging in theatre bars particularly poignantly funny. He showed off his musical theatre side with the fantastic Janie Dee and Ruthie Henshall in tow, which was an unexpected treat indeed.
What of the award winners in the hotly contested categories? Although I’ve yet to see the show as I don’t frequent London as often as I would like, I’m delighted for Company, Jonathan Bailey and Patti Lupone – worthy winners in the Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical category, Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical category and Best Musical Revival. Judging by the immense performance given by the cast of Come From Away, their Best New Musical win (amongst other awards) was well deserved, the production stars one of my favourite performers, Jenna Boyd, it’s got to be worth a watch just to see her! Catherine Zuber should also be congratulated, her costume design for The King And I is a triumph and she should rightly be celebrated. Shout out to my favourite Donna and the Dynamos, Sara Poyzer, Kate Graham and Ricky Butt who presented that particular award in their Mamma Mia! costumes. Porgy and Bess was also on my radar and a winner from the Best Opera nominations which I had high hopes for. I must also add my congratulations to the terrific super-talent Monica Dolan for her win for Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for All About Eve. I haven’t seen the play yet but Monica Dolan is a chameleon on an actress and wows me in all she does.
Here’s the full list of winners….
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Jonathan Bailey for Company at Gielgud Theatre
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL
Patti LuPone for Company at Gielgud Theatre
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC
Come From Away – Book, Music and Lyrics: David Hein and Irene Sankoff; Music Supervisor, Arrangements: Ian Eisendrath; Orchestrations: August Eriksmoen; Musical Director/UK Music Supervisor: Alan Berry; and the band of Come From Away at Phoenix Theatre
BEST NEW DANCE PRODUCTION
Blkdog by Botis Seva at Sadler’s Wells
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN DANCE
Akram Khan for his performance in Xenos at Sadler’s Wells
BEST ENTERTAINMENT AND FAMILY
A Monster Calls at The Old Vic
BEST THEATRE CHOREOGRAPHER
Kelly Devine for Come From Away at Phoenix Theatre
MAGIC RADIO BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL
Company at Gielgud Theatre
BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Kobna Holdbrook-Smith for Tina – The Tina Turner Musical at Aldwych Theatre
BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Sharon D. Clarke for Caroline, Or Change at Playhouse Theatre
CUNARD BEST REVIVAL
Summer And Smoke at Almeida Theatre and Duke of York’s Theatre
BEST NEW COMEDY
Home, I’m Darling at National Theatre – Dorfman and Duke of York’s Theatre
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN AFFILIATE THEATRE
Flesh And Bone at Soho Theatre
WHITE LIGHT AWARD FOR BEST LIGHTING DESIGN
Jon Clark for The Inheritance at Young Vic and Noël Coward Theatre
ROYAL ALBERT HALL AWARD FOR BEST SOUND DESIGN
Gareth Owen for Come From Away at Phoenix Theatre
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Catherine Zuber for The King And I at The London Palladium
BLUE-I THEATRE TECHNOLOGY AWARD FOR BEST SET DESIGN
Bunny Christie for Company at Gielgud Theatre
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Chris Walley for The Lieutenant Of Inishmore at Noël Coward Theatre
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Monica Dolan for All About Eve at Noël Coward Theatre
BEST NEW OPERA PRODUCTION
Katya Kabanova at Royal Opera House
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN OPERA
The ensemble of Porgy And Bess at London Coliseum
Kyle Soller for The Inheritance at Young Vic and Noël Coward Theatre
Patsy Ferran for Summer And Smoke at Almeida Theatre and Duke of York’s Theatre
SIR PETER HALL AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTOR
Stephen Daldry for The Inheritance at Young Vic and Noël Coward Theatre
AMERICAN AIRLINES BEST NEW PLAY
The Inheritance at Young Vic and Noël Coward Theatre
As a newly converted Opera fan, The Music of Silence was of particular interest to me, especially as it charts the story of internationally renowned tenor, Andrea Bocelli. His spectacular vocals can be heard providing the soundtrack to this life affirming biopic which promises to leave the viewer feeling that the sky’s the limit. You don’t have to be a classical music fan to find the heart of this story to be a touching and important message.
Toby Sebastian (well known for his role in Game of Thrones) plays Andrea and he’s glorious, such perceptive casting and it’s easy to forget that he’s not personally singing. We learn that Andrea was born Amos Bardi, he was almost completely blind from birth. However, it’s while he’s away at a ‘school’ for the visually impaired that he loses his sight entirely following a tragic accident. It’s such a heart wrenching moment and yet with prior knowledge that he has carved such a fantastically successful career as a tenor, one feels quite a short-lived fear for his younger self, that’s the rub with already knowing the end I suppose. Although, as a fan of biographies, I was fascinated by the transitions and challenges he faced to live his dream of being a serious Opera singer.
It’s beautifully directed by Michael Radford and the locations used to punctuate the story are quite breath-taking and extremely atmospheric. The use of Bocelli’s voice is the icing on the cake as we learn that the journey this extraordinarily talented man has travelled has culminated in determination and a Maestro (played by Antonio Banderas) with a similar goal. What a stunning relationship that is to behold!
Give this a try because you’ll be surprisingly drawn into and engaged by the life of a living legend.
SWAP’ra is a charitable organisation founded by a group of artists working in the opera industry. We have come together as a team of volunteers to build a supportive community to effect positive change for women and parents in opera by:
celebrating professional achievements in an industry where women are underrepresented in so many areas
collating data from existing artists in the industry and offering effective and workable solutions for companies
establishing a friendly, supportive and non-judgemental community
providing a platform for performance and publicity challenging preconceptions to improve attitudes towards women and parents in the arts
Entertainment Views were very excited to learn that these inspirational women are hosting a fantastic gala:
The SWAP’ra Gala will raise money for the various creative projects we have lined up, including our grant for opera parents, our mentorship schemes, and further performance opportunities for less established female artists. SWAP’ra is run by five volunteers and everyone in the gala is generously donating their time and expertise, stage managers included.
Hosted by star of stage and screen Fiona Shaw*, the SWAP’ra Gala is a celebration of the incredible wealth of female talent in the opera industry. A series of semi-staged scenes conducted, directed, performed and accompanied by some of the UK’s best loved artists, the evening is not one to be missed. Featuring music from opera favourites such as Le Nozze di Figaro, Madama Butterfly, and Eugene Onegin as well as contemporary work by female composers Elena Langer, Roxanna Panufnik and Josephine Stephenson, the gala promises to be a spectacular event showcasing nearly 40 much-loved soloists, from rising-stars to the stars themselves.
Conductors include: Jessica Cottis (Gala Music Director), Alice Farnham, Sonia Ben Santamaria, Susannah Wapshott
Directors include: Lucy Bradley, Poppy Burton-Morgan, Daisy Evans, Karen Gillingham, Sophie Gilpin (SWAP’ra co-founder), Francesca Gilpin, Ella Marchment (SWAP’ra co-founder), Ruth Mariner, Robin Norton-Hale
Singers include**: Rosie Aldridge, Giselle Allen, Jeni Bern, Mary Bevan, Katie Bird, Lee Bisset, Rebecca Bottone, Katie Bray, Katherine Broderick, Rhonda Browne, Rebecca Caine, Catherine Carby, Emma Carrington, Sarah Castle, Fleur de Bray, Anna Devin, Carolyn Dobbin, Anne Sophie Duprels, Jennifer France, Nazan Fikret, Catherine Hopper, Yvonne Howard, Jennifer Johnston, Gaynor Keeble, Gillian Keith, Fiona Kimm, Janis Kelly, Rhian Lois, Caroline Macphie, Diana Montague, Anna Patalong (SWAP’ra co-founder), Madeleine Pierard (SWAP’ra co-founder), Samantha Price, Gillian Ramm, Meeta Raval, Amanda Roocroft, Lucy Schaufer, Helen Sherman, Angela Simkin, Sarah Tynan (SWAP’ra patron), Kitty Whately (SWAP’ra co-founder), Catherine Wyn Rogers.
Here at Entertainment Views, I was bowled over by such a brilliant idea, this charity is such an innovative initiative. Many of you may know that I am a working mum, I work within the arts but also for the NHS. I was lucky to be able to return to my old job with a local NHS Trust following maternity leave and on a part-time, job-share basis. Although in the long-run I felt that childcare ‘issues’ forced my hand and had me seeking employment elsewhere – there’s no denying that I could have stayed in a job share, in a job that I had loved doing for seven years prior to becoming a mum. Everybody should be entitled to such a flexible opportunity.
Entertainment Views were delighted to chat with one of the Founders, Anna Patalong, about the Gala at Opera Holland Park on 21st July 2018.
Thank you for your time, Anna, tell me about SWAPra and where the idea originated from.
SWAP’ra is all about building a supportive community for women and parents in the opera world. We’re starting a conversation, raising awareness and creating positive change to allow opera careers flourish.
We’re a volunteer group of female opera professionals – three singers, two directors and a conductor; and three of us have children – hence the idea for SWAP’ra emerged quite naturally, although that wasn’t the only catalyst.
It was exactly one week before the Weinstein story properly broke and I had just read an article by director Sophie Gilpin (SWAP’ra co-founder) detailing some of the shocking disparities that still exist today between the number of top jobs held by male and female professionals in our industry. This, coupled with several practical ideas that were coming through a private Facebook forum (that sought to ease pressures on parents returning to work) gave me the idea to set up a platform that I hoped wold bring bright and talented women together, give us a stronger voice and see what suggestions we could come up with for an industry eager to be at the forefront of equality and opportunity.
I had only briefly met some of the members of our group before our first meeting, so was of course filled with some anxiety – will they think the same as me, are we capable of making this type of change, will people care? I suddenly felt a big weight of expectation and responsibility, but we did it, our first meeting! We’d started, we’d taken that first step and after discussing our different experiences and skills, I knew more than ever we were heading in the right direction.
What enticed you into a career in Opera?
Its a cliché, but I think opera is really something that chooses you rather than the other way around. I began as a pianist, but spent much of my youth obsessed with the theatre. I came to opera quite late, receiving my first singing lesson whilst at university. I’ve been hooked ever since!
How easy do you find juggling parenthood and a career in opera at the moment? Are you encountering any flexibility in the industry?
I am very fortunate to have the help and support of my family and partner (who is also an opera singer) to cover childcare and fill in when I can’t, but it’s still no walk in the park. The opera industry is equally demanding and rewarding (arguably part of its appeal) but it’s clear there are things that can be done, as in every industry, to support those who might struggle through parenthood.
At SWAP’ra, we recognise that support is not afforded to everyone, some professionals don’t have family flying out for babysitting duties, others face financial challenges or they’re simply not able to organise schedules around feeding times.
This is why SWAP’ra exists, to help ease these problems – and we believe our network (made up of supportive opera professionals) is crucially important in that effort. We hope it will generate workable ideas and create positive change from within our industry that will alleviate pressures on new parents and help maintain a talented pool of the highest quality opera professionals, no matter their parenting status.
Already we have encountered positive feedback from leading companies in the industry, who have not only been receptive to our aims, but have actioned them too. Opera Holland Park have this year put into place new systems of scheduling and pioneered our ‘Parent Pack’, inspiring other opera companies to follow suit. We cannot thank them all enough.
In our experience, opera companies often work as a ‘family’ and are always keen to help their artists wherever they can, greatly encouraging for all of us at SWAP’ra.
Yet, when speaking at a career development day at my old college (GSMD) recently, it is clear this is not a view widely understood in our industry. The main question posed to me by the majority of the female students (and some men) was ‘Will I be able to have a career and a family?’ Many women are reportedly still being told that they must choose.
We hope that by publicising the many inspiring women that are doing brilliantly (read their interviews on our website) and providing mentorship schemes in the future, we will be go some way to changing this outdated and restrictive narrative.
What’s your ideal ultimate outcome for all of your hard work with SWAP’ra?
I guess put simply, it’s to help remove all barriers that prevent women and parents achieving their full potential in opera and to arrive at a point where female conductors, composers, directors are no longer the exception to the rule.
What can we expect from the SWAP’ra Gala? Why should everyone buy a ticket and come to see it?
The SWAP’ra Gala will be the largest gathering of female operatic talent ever seen in one line-up, on one night, anywhere in the world.
We have huge stars lined up, including singers, conductors, directors, composers and musicians, to perform some of the most beautiful and breath-taking scenes from across the repertoire. Every single penny of the gala will go towards our future projects and we are eternally grateful to all the incredible artists and professionals that have supported our cause so far, giving their time and talent for free.
The Entertainment Views family will be there supporting such a worthy cause and can’t wait to see such a terrific line-up. Once again, thanks to Anna for her time, thanks should go to all of the amazing women who founded SWAP’ra, you’ll all be making such a difference.
As an entertainment and lifestyle blogger I’m always asked about my favourites, especially when I interview performers and creatives, I put the spotlight on them and more often than not the cheeky devils turn the tables on me! What’s my favourite musical, favourite play, who do I aspire to be? So, in the same way that every good website has a FAQs section, I thought I’d let you all in on my favourite things!
I’ve named this blogpost A Few of my Favourite Things, not because The Sound of Music is top of the list in the musical theatre stakes – although I do have a place in my heart for the show and I loved the incarnation which toured fairly recently and starred the superb Pippa Winslow and Zoe Ann Bown.
I digress, Blood Brothers is my all-time favourite musical. I can watch it over and over, I could watch it back to back and never get bored. I jump at the gunshot every time, I cry at different scenes but I do always cry. My favourite songs from the show have never changed, ‘My Child’ and ‘Show Upon The Table’. Musical theatre numbers at their best, give them a listen!
Narrowly missing the number one spot are:
Phantom of the Opera (favourite Phantom is the mighty Ramin Karimloo!)
The Girls (‘Silent Night’ sung by Claire Machin is quite a moment…)
Mamma Mia (the ultimate feel-good musical and the current West End cast are insanely good)
Opera is a recent addition to my list of happy places and it’s all thanks to a chance viewing of The Mikado on Sky Arts. I saw opera star Yvonne Howard playing the role of Katisha and she blew me away. From there I was checking out her credits and finding myself gripped by classical opera in a way I never could have imagined.
My current favourite opera is Falstaff, I saw it at Garsington Opera very recently and it’s continued to resonate. I have a long-standing love affair with Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, they’ve been on my radar since I was a kid, however, Verdi’s Falstaff is something else. Comedy, poignancy and Italian language – it’s a treat for the eyes and the ears.
Farce is my bag, when it comes to non-musical theatre I gravitate towards a laugh out loud comedy. Ray Cooney is one of my best-loved playwrights and recently I had the great pleasure of reviewing his production of Move Over Mrs Markham. It’s the king of farce and with the perfect cast, which the version I watched this year undoubtedly possessed – makes for a perfect night at the theatre for yours truly!
I’m a Disney fan and a Harry Potter geek, so choosing a favourite film is nigh on impossible. All the Harry Potter films would be one answer, all the Disney films would be another answer.
If I move away from those particular passions and opportunities for geekery, I’d have to go with the hilarious American Pie movies. I can’t choose between them because the cast stays almost consistent throughout all four of the main films from the franchise. If there were major alterations to the line-up I think that would affect my judgement, however the proverbial dream team appear in them all (barring the lack of Chris Klein as Oz in the third film – which I might never get over!). I have met Thomas Ian Nicholas too, at a comic con – something else I may never get over. Truly.
An addition to my list of films which I can re-watch with alarming regularity is a surprise entry. I didn’t expect to love Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance anywhere near as much as I did. The royal family are portrayed by a cast of exceptionally talented actors and I can’t recommend it highly enough. You can read my review here: Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance Review
Favourite Television Programme
So tricky to narrow this one down so I’m going to pick one (or more!) from each genre. If we’re talking about Soap Operas then it has to be Coronation Street (closely followed by Hollyoaks). The Street is a continuing drama that never loses momentum and some of the old favourites still reside there.
One of my all-time favourite television dramas was Home Fires on ITV. The fact that it didn’t get a third series was bewildering and it still has a place in my heart. Unforgotten recently trumped it for Sunday night TV but I also love Call The Midwife, I can’t wait for the Christmas special. These dramas all have excellent casts who gel and make the show thoroughly watchable.
No modern day sitcom comes close to the classics I grew up watching. Hi De Hi!, You Rang M’Lord, Keeping Up Appearances. There’s nothing there to beat them, the opportunity to watch them on Gold is a god-send. Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em is equally up there with the best comedies in my humble opinion. They are all on my must-watch list and half an hour of any of these shows can turn my frown upside down.
The name Stephen Beckett is one that immediately springs to mind, the admiration dates back to The Bill, Coronation Street and now last year’s Prospero in The Tempest at Stafford Castle and most definitely Mamma Mia at the Novello Theatre – Bill Austin is a part that was surely made for him. I didn’t know he could sing either so he’s most definitely an all-rounder de force.
I also need to add the incomparable Daniel Taylor to the mix, not only is he my favourite Sammy in my favourite musical, Blood Brothers – he’s also the best Tommy Cooper impersonator ever. He looks good in a dress, I can attest to that as I saw him as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella last year… just to clear that up! Seriously though, I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do.
As for screen actors, I hand the accolade to Seann William Scott, he is also better known as Stifler from the American Pie films and I think he’s got one of the most wonderful faces! Even when he’s voicing the role of Crash in Ice Age, I can picture him recording the voice of the character. I think his forte is comedy, although when he’s in a more dramatic role he still holds my attention – what an actor!
The actor I first admired when I was a telly addict child is Jeffrey Holland, Hi De Hi! was a must-watch in our house and I was smitten with Spike. Jeff is a chameleon when it comes to acting, there’s much more to him that meets the eye.
If we’re talking on stage then Sarah Jane Buckley without hesitation. In musical theatre she is exceptional, in pantomime she’s perfection and I first discovered her when she played the role of the unstable and, let’s face it, quite scary Kathy Barnes in Hollyoaks. I’ve always felt that the sky’s the limit for this super-talented lady. Sarah Jane is my best-loved actress on stage and on screen, without hesitation.
Through watching Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance I discovered two actresses who were previously unknown to me and whom I now intend to keep my eyes peeled for in future. Deborah Ramsay portrayed Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Parisa Fitz-Henley played Meghan. I’m a royalist and their performances in particular resonated upon first viewing of what is now one of my favourite films and I am eager to see their faces on screen again soon.
A cheeky mention must go to the wonderful Judy Buxton too, she was one of my favourite actresses when I was growing up with watching some of the best sit coms on television and she is a power-house on stage, the epitome of versatility.
Too many to mention, however with my newly discovered love of opera the first names out of my mouth are those of Yvonne Howard and Marcus Farnsworth. The latter grabbed my attention and never let it go when he starred in the ENO production of Iolanthe at the Coliseum earlier this year. The former wowed me in The Mikado, Iolanthe and Falstaff, I’ve also heard her sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in Carousel thanks to YouTube. Glorious!
I can’t finish the favourites post without a mention going to Ramin Karimloo, he was my first Phantom and he’ll always be my Phantom. Vocal ability that pushes boundaries, he’s a force of nature.
Photo Credits: Blood Brothers (Bill Kenwright Website), Falstaff (Clive Barda), Cast of Move Over Mrs Markham (Ray Cooney), Stephen Beckett in The Tempest (Stafford Shakespeare Festival), Sarah Jane Buckley as Mrs Lyons in Blood Brothers (with permission from Sarah Jane Buckley), Deborah Ramsay as Camilla in Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance (Lifetime TV), ENO’s Iolanthe (Clive Barda), Ramin Karimloo (Sourced from Broadway World)
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!
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.
Falstaff is one of four Operas in a sensational annual programme from Garsington Opera, ticket availability is limited, follow the link to see what’s on: Garsington Opera
Star rating *****
Sung in Italian with English subtitles, Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff opened at Garsington Opera last night and it was glorious. An evening of beautifully constructed, overt comedy featuring an elite cast of exceptionally talented artists. Ably assisted by the Philharmonia Orchestra, whose sound was carried effortlessly by the venue’s magnificent acoustics. This was their Conductor, Richard Farnes’s Garsington debut.
The libretto for Falstaff was adapted by Arrigo Boito from The Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes from Henry IV parts 1 and 2, by Shakespeare. The notorious, obese Knight, John Falstaff (Henry Waddington) is at the centre of the story – gluttonous to the core, in order to aid his money worries he’s plotting to have his wicked way with two of the three merry wives of Windsor (and almost succeeds in turning the head of the third, Mistress Quickly (Yvonne Howard)). Alice Ford (Mary Dunleavy) and Meg Page (Victoria Simmonds) each receive an identical love letter from the scheming braggart, delivered by the Page Boy, as Bardolfo (Adrian Thompson) and Pistola (Nicholas Crawley) have refused to be part of Falstaff’s deception. The unscrupulous pair are quick to tip off Ford (Richard Burkhard) about the devious plan and so forms another concurrent plot. Simultaneously, Ford and Alice’s daughter, Nannetta (Soraya Mafi) is desperate not to be matched with Dr Caius (Colin Judson) and with the help of the wives of Windsor she sets out to defy her father’s wishes and ultimately unite with her true love, Fenton (Oliver Johnston).
So unfolds a twisting, tantalising tale of mischief, enveloped by elegant, engaging and wondrous scenery and versatile props. Giles Cadle has designed a frame for the action which offers a window into the period of the piece, transporting the audience back in time with a simple flourish. I was truly transfixed by the backdrop and indeed the costumes which enhanced the overall depiction.
Henry Waddington is visually and physically comical in the title role, his articulate vocals perfectly portrayed the cocky character and the fat suit added a hilarious extra dimension. Richard Burkhard’s facial expressions were as integral as his strong voice in playing the fiercely jealous husband of Alice. He has palpable chemistry with Mary Dunleavy as Alice, Dunleavy is a gentile yet impish Alice and her dazzling vocal ability shone. Victoria Simmonds was equally engaging as Meg, cautious in comparison to her fellow mischief-makers yet just essential to the counter-plot forged by the wives. Yvonne Howard is perfectly cast as Mistress Quickly, who is the intrinsic cog in the elaborate prank – she takes joyous glee in the unfolding mayhem whilst resembling Queen Victoria in her black apparel. Howard’s mezzo-soprano voice melodiously complemented the character. Soraya Mafi was delightfully naïve and inquiring as the love-torn Nannetta, impeccably paired with Oliver Johnston as her desired partner, Fenton. Mafi’s vocals will resonate with me for a long time to come, pitch perfect.
Bruno Ravella has meticulously directed a rollicking ride of a comedic Opera, while Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting design complements the natural light afforded by the remarkable, innovative venue. Movement direction from Tim Claydon is spectacularly notable and there is excellent support from Garsington Opera Chorus. If you’re not an Opera aficionado, this is a perfect introduction to Italian Opera, the comedy element alone offers insight into the synopsis. If you are an Opera buff and familiar with Falstaff, this production is absolutely worth a watch. Either way you’re in for a treat!
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.
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
Another year gone since we last celebrated the world of Theatre in the company of ‘Larry’. Last year’s Olivier Awards were in danger of transitioning into Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Awards! This year, however, the winners have been selected a little more evenly across the board, although as far as plays are concerned, The Ferryman were very successful tonight and in the musicals genre, Hamilton collected a fair amount of the coveted trophies, as predicted. There were a few surprises though, which didn’t go amiss, one of them being Best Actress in a Musical going to Shirley Henderson for Girl from the North Country.
I’m personally delighted that Follies was recognised as having the best costumes, a well deserved win for Vicki Mortimer. Follies bagging Best Musical Revival was also exciting to hear!
The show itself which was broadcast on ITV at 10:20pm (and sadly, not in its entirety), showcased some fantastic productions and I am inspired to see Young Frankenstein The Musical. I thought that looked like a scream (pardon the pun) and what a brilliant showbiz number they selected to show off. 42nd Street, I have reviewed and the numbers they chose to perform remain as wow-factor fuelled now as when I saw the show live, last year. Tracie Bennett singing her solo from Follies was the highlight of the night for me, she blew the roof off the Royal Albert Hall, it’s a shame there couldn’t have been two winners in the Supporting Actress in a Musical category!
Here’s the full list of winners, see how many you agree with, I feel the list below indicates a good range of diversity in the arts and would like to congratulate each and every winner.