Gwyn Williams Bursary Concert ~ Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

It was an evening to remember at Birmingham Conservatoire’s Bradshaw Hall on Sunday 5 May, with a bevy of musicians out in force to support and raise money for the Gwyn Williams Bursary fund. The Bursary, has been set up in memory of the late Gwyn Williams who, amongst other credits, was the leader of the Viola section in the jewel in Birmingham’s crown, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The Bursary benefits and supports talented, up and coming young violists at the Conservatoire.

Nick Bailey, our host for the evening

The concert featured a cornucopia of classical delights and quite rightly, the Viola was the star of the show. The first voice of Classic FM, Nick Bailey played host as we were treated to music from the superb John Wilson on piano, accompanying Chris Yates who now leads the Viola section of the CBSO – they kicked off the varied programme. Arpeggione Sonata, D.821 (Schubert) was the opening piece and set the tone for the rest of the inspirational evening. Wilson and Yates went on to accompany one of my all-time favourite performers, Yvonne Howard, who sang Two Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano (Brahms). Later on, she treated us to a stunning rendition of Casta Diva from the Bellini Opera ‘Norma’. The artists accompanying Howard’s memorable performance were a mesmerising Quartet by the name of The Behn Quartet. The talented girls who make up the string Quartet also played String Quartet No. 1 in E minor (“From My Life”) (Smetana). Peter O’Connor, flautist, was also a welcome addition to the accompaniment for Casta Diva and he entertained us thoroughly at the close of the evening in a double act with pianist, John Wilson, with Carnevale di Venezia, Op.78 (Briccialdi).

Mezzo Soprano, Yvonne Howard

One of the most poignant performances (and there were many!) was courtesy of two nineteen year old students from Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Yuxin Chen played Viola beautifully, with Yang Bai on piano – they gave us a rousing rendition of Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev. It was a fantastically dramatic display and quite literally music to my ears!

This amazing concert would not have been possible if it hadn’t have been for Gwyn Williams’ widow, Stephannie who organised the event. As a string player myself (although I’m a very rusty violinist!), I appreciate the support that such a Bursary provides for up and coming musicians and long may it continue to benefit all who need it.

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Gwyn Williams Bursary Concert ~ Royal Birmingham Conservatoire ~ 5th May 2019

This event is not to be missed and I can’t wait to review the concert on behalf of Entertainment Views, it’s fantastic that the Gwyn Williams Bursary exists to support young violists at Birmingham Conservatoire. The details sourced from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire website, are below – try to get hold of a ticket if you can! Tickets are free of charge with a suggested donation of £30.

Introduced by Nick Bailey

Yvonne Howard mezzo-soprano
Maria Jagusz mezzo-soprano
Peter O’Connor flute
Rebecca Stubbs viola
Chris Yates viola
John Wilson piano

The Behn Quartet
Kate Oswin and Alicia Berendse violin
Ana Teresa de Braga e Alves viola
Ghislaine McMullin cello

Programme to include:
Schubert Arpeggione Sonata, D.821
Brahms Two Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano
Smetana String Quartet No.1 in E minor (“From My Life”)
Bellini Casta Diva
Schubert Ave Maria
Briccialdi Carnevale di Venezia, Op.78

A special benefit concert to raise funds for the Gwyn Williams Bursary Fund, which supports talented young violists at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. The evening will be introduced by the first voice of Classic FM, Nick Bailey and feature performances by current students of the Conservatoire and professional musicians who knew and worked with Gwyn.

Spaces for this event are extremely limited so early booking is advised. Please contact Robin Leonard on 0121 331 5534 or at robin.leonard@bcu.ac.uk for all ticket enquiries.

World Premiere of Rapture by Kerry Milan

On Sunday 30th September I attended the premiere of Stafford based composer, Kerry Milan. Kerry has previously collaborated with one of my favourite Opera singers, namely Yvonne Howard and I was keen to see his latest composition performed by my best loved performer.

This recital was a celebration of Staffordshire music and poetry and a chance to bring together three formidable singing talents all of whom spent their formative years in Stafford.
Dame Professor Carol Ann Duffy grew up in Stafford as did Yvonne Howard, international opera singer and Professor at the Royal Academy of Music. Kerry Milan is a Stafford based composer, violinist and teacher. Edward Robinson won the inaugural Staffordshire Young Singer of the year in 2013 and has been studying at the Royal Northern College of Music and Alice Dix won the same prize in 2015 and is at Leeds Conservatoire.

Kerry Milan studied violin at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama with Louis Carus (and Margaret Evans for piano), then in Brussels with Maurice Raskin, and later privately with David Martin. He is a Fellow of Trinity College London, and an Associate of London University Institute of Education.

The Staffordshire Young Singer of the year competition was founded in memory of John W R Taylor, former Staffordshire County Director of Music and is supported by FOSYM. Tickets for sale will be limited to 80. The event is supported by Kerry Milan, FOSYM, North-West Midlands Music Education Hub and Entrust Music Inspiring Futures Service Staffordshire.

Yvonne Howard

The programme opened with the wondrous sound of Baritone, Edward Robinson and Soprano, Alice Dix. Between them they performed a variety of pieces from Henri Duparc, Schumann, Schubert, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Korngold, Debussy, George Butterworth and Mozart. The duet from Mozart’s Don Giovanni was the highlight of this particular section, the pair sang La Ci darem la mano beautifully and their interaction was superb.

After the interval we received the World Premiere of Rapture and it was astounding to hear Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry put to music as Yvonne Howard accompanied by pianist, Dr Roy Wightman, melodically led us through 20 of Duffy’s poems from her 2005 book of poems. Yvonne was extraordinary, giving heart, soul and character to the song cycle. The selected order of poems followed in a sensical way, each appearing to blend with the one before it. Carol Ann Duffy’s poems have often appeared lyrical to me and to hear them performed in such a manner was a real eye opener in the very best sense. Just a few of the poems in the cycle are: River, Row, Give, Grief, Night Marriage ad one of my personal favourites, The Love Poem. Kerry Milan has composed an exquisitely fitting tribute to the penmanship of one of Stafford’s most celebrated writers and in doing so he’s gained a new fan…. me! I believe that Rapture has been recorded and copies will be available, so watch this space.

 

A Few of my Favourite Things…

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!

Favourite Musical

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:

  1. Phantom of the Opera (favourite Phantom is the mighty Ramin Karimloo!)
  2. The Girls (‘Silent Night’ sung by Claire Machin is quite a moment…)
  3. Mamma Mia (the ultimate feel-good musical and the current West End cast are insanely good)

Favourite Opera

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.

Favourite Play

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!

Favourite Film

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.

ITV Home Fires

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.

Favourite Actor

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.

Favourite Actress

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.

Favourite Singer

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)

 

 

Falstaff ~ Garsington Opera

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!

Photo Credits: Clive Barda

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 

International Women’s Day 2018 ~ My Inspirations

International Women’s Day has crept up on us again and I’m ready and raring to celebrate. However, Women’s Day should be celebrated every day. I have so much admiration for a whole host of amazing women on a daily basis. Some are fellow bloggers, many of them are friends and there are a handful whom I admire from afar and would possibly pass out in front of should we come face to face! Of course, my own mum is an inspiration to me too – I don’t tell her often enough how much admiration I have for her.

If the Oscars showed us anything it’s that strong, passionate and utterly fantastic women are all around us and doing their thing every day.

Here (in no particular order) are just a few women from the endless list of strong females who inspire me for a myriad of reasons:

Ruth Langsford

I’ve always felt if I was to give my life story (which isn’t all that exciting before you start wondering!) to any presenter/journalist/interviewer, then I would choose Ruth. Focused, empathetic and cheeky, she’s my kind of woman and I’m full of admiration for her ever-branching career. Her appearance on Strictly Come Dancing to show women of her age that they could do it too, was inspirational in itself, however I was proud of her strength and determination and felt that she did Anton proud in turn. I look up to her and not just because I’m sure she’s taller than me!

Shirley Ballas

Staying with the Strictly Come Dancing theme, a recent addition to my best-loved and much admired women, is the new Head Judge on the show. As a Judge on the show she was measured, encouraging and warm in her approach. I feel that should I ever want Ballroom or Latin dance lessons she’s the one I’d call upon. Her speech at this year’s National Television Awards was inspirational in itself and the piece of music she chose to make her entrance to resonates. A better or finer role model I couldn’t imagine.

Fern Britton

Fern Britton was one of my first favourite television presenters and to this day I still view her as one of the most versatile individuals in the public eye. Her presenting style is relaxed, engaging and second to none. As a writer, her books reflect her personality and draw the reader in to share in her world. I am chomping at the bit to see her play the role of Mari in the Calendar Girls Musical when it goes on UK tour. She also recently shared a deeply personal story about her diagnosis of Sepsis and the fact she’s spoken out will hopefully draw more attention to the condition.

Yvonne Howard

Opera hasn’t been a genre of live performance that I’ve had much exposure to, Gilbert & Sullivan was the extent of my knowledge. My love of G&S led me to watch the ENO’s version of The Mikado which was filmed and shown on Sky Arts. I was so taken with Yvonne Howard (who played Katisha) that I embarked on a journey which has awoken me to the wonder of Opera. Searching for other performances from Yvonne has led me to discover a world I’ve been missing out on. I saw Yvonne perform at Three Choirs Festival in Worcester, last year and I am off to see her in the ENO’s Iolanthe this month. I haven’t been so excited for a production for a long time and I am constantly inspired by Yvonne and her immense talent, as well as her involvement in engaging children in Opera.

Julie Legrand

Julie Legrand is an actress who turned my head when I first saw her on screen in ITV’s Footballer’s Wives. She was playing a revolting character, and it would have been in my youthful opinionated nature to dismiss her as something quite awful and not worth my time. However, I was drawn to her, I recognised that she was an incredible actress playing a challenging role and I kept my eyes peeled for her from there on in. I’ve seen her on stage three times in very different roles. Electra in Gypsy, a fellow professional in Wit (starring alongside the outstanding Julie Hesmondhalgh) and as Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals. Recently on screen she amazed me in an episode of BBC One’s Call The Midwife. Julie never fails to entertain and astound me and she’s one of the loveliest ladies you could wish to meet, too! She’s a walking masterclass in performance.

Sarah-Jane Buckley

Here’s a triple threat who first appeared on my radar as Kathy Barnes on Channel Four’s Hollyoaks. I knew then that I was watching a super-talented actress and I wasn’t wrong. In Blood Brothers which she has toured with for almost two years now, she is the best Mrs Lyons I’ve seen – I can’t imagine anyone else in the role now. Nobody can have a meltdown or descend into madness on stage quite like Sarah-Jane can! However, I have also had the privilege of watching her play Mrs Johnstone, and THAT is a moment I will never forget. As a singer, her vocal ability is exceptional and as I saw for myself when I watched her in pantomime last year – she’s an amazing all-round entertainer. A beautiful soul inside and out, she deserves recognition every day, however I’m very glad to be able to name her as one of my inspirations on International Women’s Day.

St Paul by Mendelssohn ~ 3 Choirs Festival, Worcester Catherdral

3 Choirs Festival runs until 27 July 2017 book tickets for the various events here: 3 Choirs Festival

Star rating: *****

Mendelssohn’s St Paul is rarely performed, therefore it’s selection for this year’s 3 Choirs Festival came as a treat indeed. With the Philharmonia Orchestra providing stunning backing to the stunning vocals of the Three Choirs Festival Chorus and the incredible soloists; Eleanor Dennis (soprano), Yvonne Howard (mezzo-soprano), James Oxley (tenor) and David Stout (baritone). As most enthusiasts are only familiar with St Paul via recordings, which certainly is the case where my knowledge of the libretto is concerned, to listen to parts I and II performed live was an unforgettable experience.

The oratorio begins with an introduction (Nos. 1-3), and continues with the martyrdom of St. Stephen, and St Paul‘s conversion and baptism (Nos. 12-22). Part Two continues with the mission of Paul and Barnabas (Nos. 23-27), Paul’s persecution at the hands of his former co-religionists (Nos. 28-31), the healing of the lame man of Lystra (Nos. 32-36), the resistance of the Jews and heathen (Nos. 37-40), Paul’s departure from Ephesus (Nos. 41-43), and following the mention of his martyrdom, a final chorus based on Psalm 103.

Both Eleanor Dennis and James Oxley provided a form of narration between them and their vocals were clear, pitch perfect with precise diction. David Stout’s baritone voice lent itself exceptionally to the oratorio and his voice possesses a rich, engaging quality which I am keen to hear again. Yvonne Howard, I was already familiar with, she is one of my best-loved opera and classical singers. Although in this piece her mezzo-soprano voice is used little in comparison to the other soloists, the quality of her sumptuous tone was a joy to behold and carried superbly by the acoustics of Worcester Catherdral.

The Three Choirs Festival Chorus performed spectacularly well as an ensemble, their voices blending seamlessly together as they followed the lead of their Conductor, Gerraint Bowen. I have not had the privilege of hearing the chorus before but they are the jewell in the crown of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.

The festival overall has been organised superbly, hats off to the team – and Break A Leg can’t wait to support this marvellous event again.

 

 

 

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