Idomeneo – destroyed by a monster within

Director Stephen Medcalf emphasises human emotion over ancient myths in Buxton’s production of Mozart’s Idomeneo.

First performed in Vienna in 1792 and composed when Mozart was 25 years old, Idomeneo is widely regarded as Mozart’s first mature work for the stage and the first in a long line of incomparable masterpieces which ends with The Magic Flute and Mozart’s untimely death.

The story is based on legend: according to Homer King Idomeneus of Crete is returning from the Trojan war when his ship is caught up in a ferocious storm. He vows to Neptune, god of the sea, that if he is saved he will sacrifice the first human being he meets on dry land, which turns out to be his own son. The libretto turns this story into a powerful enlightenment drama which celebrates the triumph of human reason and compassion over the absolutist will of the gods. It also explores ideas of leadership and responsibility and examines how human beings behave when they experience the stress of an endless and bloody conflict. In this respect the themes of the opera are familiar to today’s audience, dealing as they do with the inevitable consequences of a long war: suffering on a huge scale and the mass displacement of peoples. In many respects Idomeneo is like any returning veteran, trying desperately to adjust to peace time while war still rages within him.

Mozart’s music is extraordinary; no other word will suffice. He takes the traditional form of the old opera seria as perfected by Handel but gives it a good shake up and in so doing advances it towards the through composed music drama of the nineteenth century. First of all he introduces the chorus as a major protagonist (under the influence of Gluck) and composes for them some of the most dramatically potent and sublimely beautiful choruses ever written. He does away with the traditional stop-start character of the opera seria by composing bridging passages and incidental music which give the opera great fluidity and a sense of forward momentum. He brilliantly exploits the form of the accompagnato (orchestral recitative) to give an active quality to reflection and a reflective quality to action; thus the plot moves forward on a crest of an emotional wave. Most important of all his music creates truthful characters of psychological complexity, which of course are to become the hallmark of his late, great Da Ponte trilogy.

There is, of course, plenty of traditional operatic spectacle implied in the stage directions of but what fascinates myself and the designer, Isabella Bywater about Idomeneo, and arguably what most interested Mozart is not so much the boiling seas, shipwrecks, gods and sea monsters but what they represent. In a moment of musico-dramatic genius the jealous rage of Electra’s first aria Tutto nel cor vi sento mutates into the tempest that destroys the Cretan fleet. Later, in probably the most famous aria of all: Fuor del Mar, Idomeneo likens his suffering to a raging sea within his breast. Then when the sea monster appears at the climax of Act 2 it seems to be the personification of Idomeneo’s guilt, tormenting him as his subjects gaze on amazed.

At this critical moment Idomeneo cries out: ‘Eccoti in me, barbaro Nume! Il reo!’: which can be translated as ‘Here he is, cruel god! The guilty one’. At a literal level he means guilty in the sense that he has failed to carry out the sacrifice of the innocent victim that he promised in exchange for his own life and is therefore the one responsible for provoking Neptune’s anger. But at another level it refers to the crippling sense of guilt he suffers as a result of making the vow in the first place. The first part of the sentence has the literal meaning ‘Here you are in me, cruel god’ and which tantalisingly hints at the idea that Idomeneo feels himself possessed by the spirit of the vengeful Neptune. It may be that what terrifies the populace is not the monster in the waves but the prospect of their all-powerful leader disintegrating before their eyes, destroyed by a monster within.

Stephen Medcalf, Director

Climbing the Tower

Music Theatre Wales’ Artistic Director Michael McCarthy talks to Robbie Carnegie about Y Tŵr

RC: How did this project come about?

MM: We knew composer Guto Puw for some time, especially in connection with his work as Resident Composer for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Having won a Creative Wales Award to allow him to explore the idea of writing an opera, Guto approached us to find out how to go about it. We were very interested in him, and suggested the best way forward was for him to come up with an idea and we would take it from there, one step at a time. In fact, Guto already had the play Y Tŵr (The Tower) in mind – he’d seen it as a youngster (the play, by Gwenlyn Parry was written in 1978 for the National Eisteddfod) and it had made a great impact on him, thanks to its powerful linguistic sense of location and the sincerity of its story. The next stage was to put him together with a writer, so we suggested Gwyneth Glyn, an accomplished playwright and screenwriter but also singer-songwriter, who had previously worked with MTW on a Welsh-language version of Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale, and they found an overlap of interest that would combine to create this piece. We suggested that Guto and Gwyneth should come up with a first act, which we then workshopped. Realising that Y Tŵr had enormous potential, we invited Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru (the Welsh language National Theatre of Wales) to attend the conclusion of the workshop and on the basis of their feedback asked them to team up with us on the commission and creation of this production.

RC: What are the themes of the opera?

MM: Y Tŵr is Parry’s most straightforward and lyrical work, which moves away from the more absurdist themes that are a feature of his other plays. ‘The Tower’ of the title is a symbolic idea, encapsulating a couple’s journey through life together, going up by floors representing the different stages of their lives. That makes it a good vehicle for looking at how people behave, both individually and as a couple, with a core emotional content that is completely timeless.

RC: How is Y Tŵr going to be staged?

MM: It has a simple, but symbolic staging – a platform with a ladder running through it representing the upward journey through life. As a starting-point for the design of the show, we looked to the Dutch ‘vanitas’ paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries, where a single still life encapsulates an individual’s life. The challenge was how to portray two people aging 60 years on stage. We’ve decided to have two dressing tables where the singers can be seen aging in front of our eyes, thus bringing the audience into the inner world of the characters as they age by encouraging them to accept the theatrical device that demonstrates it.

RC: I believe Buxton’s the only place Y Tŵr can be seen outside Wales?

MM: It is really important to us to show a non-Welsh-speaking audience how Welsh is a dynamic, living language which lends itself brilliantly to a musical setting, and we’re thrilled to be bringing Y Tŵr to Buxton where we’ve shared such successes as The Golden Dragon, The Killing Flower and Greek. And it’s opera, which audiences are used to hearing in all sorts of languages, so why not Welsh? As Gwyneth Glyn says, the drama is both personal and universal, just like the language which is both highly specific in location and yet carries a message for us all – about how to live and how to love.


Y Tŵr will be performed at Buxton Festival on Monday 17 July at 7.15pm

Liberation Day – Director Francis Matthews on Albert Herring



Albert Herring is based – very loosely – on a short story by Guy de Maupassant, Le rosier de Madame Husson. It is a portrait of provincial French life. An absurdly patriotic local doctor tells his friend the story of Isidore – a timid youth – who is crowned May King in the absence of any girl virtuous enough to be crowned May Queen, but who then disgraces himself by getting obscenely drunk on his 500 franc prize money. In Britten’s opera, the town of Gisors becomes the Suffolk village of Loxford, the myopic self-regard of the Norman middle class translates into the small-minded snobbery of a rural East Anglian community, and Isidore – passive, non-speaking cipher – becomes Albert Herring – much nagged and inhibited, but who finally and spectacularly discovers his voice. Britten and his librettist Eric Crozier are more involved with the character and fate of Albert than Maupassant is with Isidore. Isidore becomes a useless alcoholic and dies – ‘dans une crise de delirium tremens, naturellement’. But Albert is strengthened by his post-coronation experiences, speaks up for himself, at last defies his oppressive mother and stands up to the angry condemnation of Lady Billows, Loxford’s local moral guardian.

Albert Herring was composed in the late 1940s, during Clement Atlee’s reformist Labour administration. As Paul Kildea observes in his biography of the composer ‘Labour was promising a lot … the successful demobilisation of servicemen and women; jobs for all; world peace; education and welfare reform; a tax-funded national health system; town planning; nuclear defence; the nationalisation of major industries …’ Albert knows very little about any of this, but it is tempting to see his emancipation in the context of a national impatience with the status quo. There was a fear that under a Conservative government, change and progress would be resisted, and the freedoms and opportunities suggested by wartime endeavour, by the sense that the country was ‘all in it together’ – would be lost.

Albert Herring is not in any overt way a political piece, but it is alive to the sense of possibility. A comic collision between an inflexible authority and the irrepressibly Dionysian appetites of the people of Loxford reminds us of Malvolio’s clash with Sir Toby and ‘the lighter people’ in Twelfth Night. Britten’s opera is very much on the side of the lighter people. Albert has had to put up with too much and needs a break. The village boys and girls have been having their fun, but now it’s Albert’s turn. We never quite find out what he got up to after the coronation, but whatever it was, he comes back a stronger, more confident, curiously liberated man. The war is over! As the children sing at the end of the opera ‘Albert’s come back to stay, Better for his holiday’.


The 1847 Macbeth

ElijahDirector Elijah Moshinsky on the ‘propulsive vitality and rough originality’ of Verdi’s first Macbeth

The early operas of Verdi are a unique genre. Often derided for their naivety or crude directness, they are neglected in relation to his more expansive and complex works which have found a permanent place in the repertoire of every opera house.

I aim to explore these neglected works. Macbeth is a particularly interesting example of an early opera composed in1847 which was then revised by Verdi in 1865. The first performances were written for the Teatro Pergola in Florence, a small theatre – about the same size as Buxton Opera House – and the later Macbeth was commissioned for the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris which was a large House boasting a chorus of over a hundred and a large orchestra. Much of the opera was rewritten to accommodate this larger scale and an extended ballet sequence was added. There is no doubt that the later version has many improved developments in style, sweep and colour. The new numbers show the progression of Verdi’s ability to express more sophisticated emotional range but the first one shows us Verdi’s direct attempt to write a Shakespearean opera. It is the earlier version that has propulsive vitality and rough originality. This is Verdi’s anti-bel canto opera, the one that he wants to be sung at times almost as speech: ‘The plot is taken from one of the greatest tragedies the theatre boasts, and I have tried to have it well verified, and to give it a new texture, and to compose music tied as far as possible to the text and to the situations’.

Verdi had a close friend in Guilin Carcano who was translating Shakespeare into Italian, and in 1846 he read to Verdi the play of Macbeth. This clearly gripped the composer’s mind and he immediately recommended it as a subject for his commission in Florence and in 1847 Verdi actually saw a performance of Macready’s production in London.

But what we see in the opera is Shakespeare as performed through the traditions of nineteenth century theatre. One particular part of that tradition survives in this early version in the final death aria of Macbeth which is derived from David Garrick’s idea to write himself a stirring climactic death speech, because he believed Shakespeare did not provide Macbeth with a good ending. The librettist, Francesco Mario Piave, simply followed current performance practice. By the time Verdi rewrote it for Paris the taste had changed and Verdi was asked for a heroic chorus of one hundred bards to hail Malcolm’s victory.

So what is remarkable about this first version?

  • It captures in operatic form much of the essence of Shakespeare’s drama.
  • It has the dramatic compression of Verdi’s early works.Constant contrasts used to create drama.
  • A use of music and text which seems to us unsophisticated but cumulatively building to a complex piece of theatre.
  • Directness in presenting the drama.

Verdi laid great emphasis on simplicity: the characters should stand out clearly; the changes in their fortunes or situations should be readily grasped. With this subject he attempted to dramatise the horror and darkness of regicide. But this play had a supernatural element in the witches which connected the action. Verdi wrote to Piave: ‘The subject is neither political or religious; it is fantastical’.

The opera is not about the rise of a modern fascist nor is it about political tyranny. It is a study in character, about ambition for power, a toxic marriage which leads to the inner destruction of the protagonists and the descent of the world into chaos.

Artistic Director Stephen Barlow looks forward to Mozart’s Lucio Silla

Mozart was only 16 when he wrote Lucio Silla, but in his exceptional case ‘only’ is hardly the right word. It appears that he also conducted the first performances and this would not have been anything of a surprise to anyone involved or the audiences. Mozart’s early mastery simply dazzles and bemuses us these days, and seems precocious. But his completely magisterial command of all aspects of technique allied with an uncanny perceptive understanding of human psychology and music’s power to suggest frames of mind beyond simple fury, despair or love, defies everyday assumptions of the callowness of any kind of youth. Lucio Silla is a thrillingly virtuosic work, full of brilliance and affecting beauty, rarely performed and even more rarely staged. Glimpses of his later works are here, the flashes of inspiration that place him as primus inter pares in the pantheon of composers who made opera not only into paeans of humanism but also the ultimate theatrical experience. Directing Lucio Silla will be the widely experienced American director Harry Silverstein, and Laurence Cummings will return to conduct following his beautifully realised Tamerlano for us this last summer.

Artistic Director Stephen Barlow looks ahead to our first opera for 2017, Verdi’s Macbeth

The Five Sisters - Scotland

Verdi’s career clearly shows three periods of development and inspiration, described as early, middle and late. As with Beethoven, when Verdi was a younger composer, he composed tightly within forms that were prevalent where he was brought up, studied and was inspired by, forms that Rossini took to their apogee, the famous Bel Canto era. Macbeth belongs to Verdi’s early period. But whilst keeping to the structures and aesthetics of bel canto the composer was beginning to develop innovations in colour through his inspired orchestration and in psychological insight, and breaking down formal aria and cabaletta for greater dramatic effect. Drama was Verdi’s primary interest, exciting visceral theatre his aim. Macbeth follows the well known doom-laden story and elicits from the composer some of his most electric music within a frequently frightening soundscape. For the Festival I have chosen the very first original version of this opera, premiered in Florence in a smallish theatre not unlike the Buxton Opera House. When the opera was performed in Paris, as usual the opera house management and their audiences demanded ballets and much more flamboyance. But the concise original version is more powerfully taut, and less often performed now which is a great shame. Elijah Moshinsky who made his worldwide reputation with his productions of Verdi, especially the earlier works, will direct for us. In their pomp at the ROH Elijah and his revered colleague Edward Downes especially wished to produce this version there, but it never happened. I’m delighted that we can to some extent put the record straight by producing this lesser known version in Buxton, with a wonderful cast and with all the drama writ large in the intimacy of our special opera house. I am looking forward personally to conducting this production enormously, having conducted often many of Verdi’s operas but not Macbeth.

Stephen Barlow, Artistic Director

Soprano Helen Bailey, the first recipient of the Buxton Festival Young Artists Bursary, talks about her career and her time at Buxton Festival

Have you always known you wanted to be a singer, or did it develop over time?

I’ve always loved singing and had many chances to perform at school but didn’t actually decide to train formally until after my undergraduate degree in English Literature and a year of teacher training; I arrived in London, intending to study for one year on a postgraduate course at Trinity College of Music, and it turned into eight years, the final four of which were spent at The Royal Academy of Music. I never expected that it would develop into a career; I was always intending to be an English teacher.

How did you land your first opera role?

After singing in the chorus in productions at Trinity College of Music, and having had some stage management experience in two other productions, I landed my first principal role at the end of my first year. A group of students had created their own opera company, Mean Time Opera, and auditioned fellow students for the roles. Bizet’s Carmen was to be performed at Greenwich Theatre, fully staged, costumed, and with orchestra, and I was thrilled to be offered the role of Micaëla. It was an amazing experience but I was well and truly thrown in the deep end as it’s a big sing for a young singer. I lived to tell the tale and would love to sing the role again in the future.

Last year, you were in the Buxton Festival Chorus. What made you apply to audition?

Jane Glover, former head of Royal Academy Opera, put me forward for it in 2012. I was offered a cover role for the 2013 season but was unable to take it up. I was then offered a cover role for the following year, which I had to decline due to expecting my first child in the middle of the festival! Third time lucky and I was able to join the chorus in 2015, covering the lead role in Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco. It was such an enjoyable and memorable experience that I returned for a second year last summer, again as a cover and member of the chorus, plus singing in a festival mass.

How did you find the experience of being in the chorus?

Like me, most of the choristers were returning for a second year so it was lovely to be back working alongside so many familiar faces. Singing in the chorus can be hard work but it was lots of fun to play a soldier in the Bellini opera and to be on stage with such excellent chorus members and soloists. The other three sopranos and I became great friends and we were all instantly supportive of each other. We even formed a ladies’ Barbershop group; we practised in the interval during the run and sang at one of the Song at Six performances at the end of the festival.

You are the first recipient of the ‘Buxton Festival Young Artists Bursary’. What does this mean to you?

It is an in incredible honour and an immense confidence boost. Carving a successful opera career is difficult at the best of times, and I have had a turbulent few years. It was particularly hard to regain my motivation after suffering with Endometriosis during my studies and having an operation in my first year of opera school, leaving me unsure as to whether I would be able to have a singing career at all. Luckily, due to our fantastic NHS and the support of family, friends, and teachers at the RAM, I got myself back on track and graduated on schedule, performing the lead in Haydn’s opera La Vera costanza during my second year. Another (more positive) challenge has been having two children in the last two years; I was actually four months pregnant with my daughter during my Buxton debut covering the lead role in Giovanna d’Arco! Although not without its difficulties, being a mother definitely adds to my abilities as a singer as I have experienced a wide range of emotions that I can bring to my performances.  I am incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity by Buxton Festival to be a part of such a creative and hard-working team. The bursary will enable me to have regular singing lessons and produce a demo recording, both of which are essential for a successful career but which I would not be able otherwise to afford.

You’re returning again this year but as a principal in Verdi’s Macbeth. Could you tell us a little more about the character you’re playing?

This year, I will be playing the role of the lady-in-waiting to Lady Macbeth; not only do I witness the famous sleep-walking scene and therefore discover the truth about Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s crimes, but I also announce Lady Macbeth’s death to Macbeth.

How has your career developed over the last twelve months?

Just under eleven months ago, I gave birth to my daughter; two months later, I was singing in public again and preparing for recitals and oratorio performances. When she was five months old, I started to rehearse for the two Buxton Festival operas and then my husband and both of our children travelled to Buxton to stay with me for the duration of the festival. Since then, my diary has been steadily filling with engagements for 2017 and 2018 and I have had many successful auditions. However, most of the work that I have been offered has come directly from audience members rather than auditions; it just shows that you never know who is in the audience! Most importantly, over the last twelve months I have felt more at home in the lyric soprano fach than ever before; due to the timbre of my voice, I experimented with Zwischenfach and mezzo-soprano repertoire. However, my voice has settled over the last year and the standard lyric repertoire now feels more comfortable.

How do you start learning a role? Do you approach a role differently each time?

As every good opera school graduate knows(!), it’s important to start with the text. I go through the score and highlight everything that I sing or say and then add a word-for-word translation to make sure that I know what I’m singing and to whom. I was once told by a vocal coach to work hard on the recitative and spoken dialogue as ‘the tunes will take care of themselves!’, so I make sure that I pay more attention to those sections at first. After the textual analysis, I move onto characterisation. One way that I approach this is by underlining in the score everything that any other characters say about me or that I say about myself, which can help to create a more believable, three-dimensional character. Then comes the technical work, which means taking each section of the role in turn and working on it by singing it at home and, where possible, with a vocal coach. Finally, I work on the memorisation, which mainly comes from repetition. I sometimes like to write out my libretto onto prompt cards to help me with memorisation, or sometimes my husband will take the score and sing in the other characters’ lines to test me on my cues. It helps to be married to another singer!

For people who are less familiar with opera, is there a particular album or show that you’d recommend?

La bohème, The Magic Flute, and Carmen are all accessible to an opera novice; they have recognisable tunes and the narratives are easy to follow.

What has been the most memorable opera production that you have performed in?

I will never forget performing in Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park at The Royal Academy of Music, directed by John Ramster. Due to it being a real ensemble piece, along with John’s mesmerising direction, there was a fabulous sense of teamwork within the cast and we created something very special.

What would be your dream operatic role and why?

I have always wanted to perform the role of Governess in Britten’s Turn of the Screw and Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Both characters are strong, interesting women, although not without their flaws, and suit me vocally.

Is there a particular opera singer you really admire?

Favourite opera singers of mine are Dorothea Roschmann, Sarah Connolly, and Anna Netrebko for their beautiful, unique, lyric voices. One of the best recitals I have ever attended was given by Elizabeth Watts whose stage presence is incredible.

Young singers that I admire are Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson, Thomas Elwin, Katie Bray, and David Butt Philip; as well as having fabulous voices, they all have such drive and determination, and they are all extremely down-to-earth despite their glittering careers!

Guest blog: Ella Marchment on her Buxton Festival experience

After five years, five different jobs, five birthdays during London rehearsals, and sixteen productions, Buxton Festival has become so integral to shaping the artist I am today that I might well have been the privileged inhabitant of a fairy tale land for the past five years. At 24 years old, even though I am still one of the youngest company members I am only out-Buxtoned (in terms of years at the Festival) by head of music Annette Saunders (whom legend suggests has been at Buxton since the dawn of time), costume supervisor Mark Jones (who I got off to a great start with by blowing the fuse box of the house we lived in in Buxton year 1), production manager Sam Fraser, and I am also pipped to the post by Stephen Barlow by a year (he conducted a production in 2010). I’ve lived through the reign of two executive directors, and through the operas I’ve travelled between domestic confrontations in Austria to opium induced hallucinations in France, via the Italian mafia, Beethoven’s quest to find his eternal love in Vienna, and most recently ended up with William Shakespeare’s dead body and widow in Stratford.

I love opera because I love telling stories, and Buxton has provided me with invaluable opportunities over the years to indulge wholeheartedly in a fabulous variety of exotic and exciting tales, executed to incredibly high and exacting standards. Not only have I expanded my knowledge and comprehension of operatic repertoire through Buxton, but through the various jobs I have had in the Festival I have acquired the tools needed in order to run my own companies, to direct my own shows, to be a spokesperson for my genre, and to be independent minded. But most importantly of all, Buxton has taught me to value teamwork and collaboration.

My Buxton journey started aged 19 (yes actually in the Buddhist Arts Centre at Bethnal Green) in a production introduction for Intermezzo. I had written to over fifty companies asking for internships or to work as an assistant director and Buxton – via Randall Shannon’s predecessor Glyn Foley – was one of the only places that responded saying that they would take me on as a stage management intern. I leapt at the opportunity as I know that I am never happier than when I am in rehearsals, and immediately threw myself into supporting the stage management team on the three opera productions that year for Buxton. I spent most of the four weeks of London rehearsals making paper props for the various productions, and famously went on a wild goose chase around London for chocolate coins that Stephen Lawless insisted on having, only managing to find them after half a day of hunting in…

Harrods…in the form of chocolate Olympic medals. (I did mention that Buxton has a commitment to quality right?)

However, I already knew that I wanted to be a director, and within a few days most of the Buxton company did too as I would sneak into the back of rehearsals whenever I could with my score and sit in the corner whilst making props trying to grab glimpses of the rehearsal process. I. Was. In. Heaven. Not only that year did I learn how to make all sorts of period letters, but I gained an overview of the operatic production process.

I actually did a little dance for joy when Stephen Barlow asked me back the following year as the Young Artist assistant director. This time I was actually allowed to be in the rehearsal room all the time and doing what I dreamed of doing in the Festival. Also, the nature of the Young Artists Programme meant that as well as the two main productions, I was also introduced to two relatively contemporary pieces of music theatre (Stephen Oliver’s Exposition of a Picture and Stravinsky’s Renard) and felt like I really belonged to the team of other Young Artists.

After two years of incubation Stephen Barlow and Unwin agreed that it was time to unleash me as an assistant on the main productions – a role that I have now fulfilled on Stephen Unwin’s The Jacobin (2014) and Lucia di Lammermoor (2015), and Stephen Medcalf’s Leonore (2016). I was simultaneously allowed to sink my teeth into the concert operas from that year too (I looked after Rossini’s Otello in 2014 and Louise in 2015), and pre-performance talks.

I have now been at Buxton longer than I was ever at any school, and in many ways the Festival has given me far more practical skills and knowledge of my chosen industry than any other institution, college or school. I’ve looked forward to Buxton every year like a small child excitedly waiting to rush down to see whether Santa has visited on Christmas morning. Every year as soon as I’ve known I’ve been returning I’ve counted down the months in eager anticipation of another year, another opera, another opportunity to help another director bring their ideas to fruition, and another opportunity to spend time with a company that has become like a second family to me.

But what I am most grateful to Buxton for is for the fact that they have trusted in my competence as an artist and have taken risks in me at every turn. In the first year bringing me into a production department that I had virtually no prior knowledge of, in the second year giving me a real role in a company whilst most of my peers were still safe within the bounds of University life, for giving me my first real assistant jobs, for letting me look after the design of the concerts, for letting my imagination run wild in the cover shows, for giving me the opportunity to practice public speaking, and – most recently – for being co-producers in Helios Collective’s (the company I founded in December 2012) Hathaway in the 2016 Festival and providing me with an invaluable opportunity as a young director. Buxton has had faith where very few others have, and for that I will never be able to thank the family enough. Buxton isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life.

Ella Marchment Assistant Director Leonore

Young Artists Programme 2016

Every year, Buxton Festival runs a Young Artists Programme which offers young opera singers a professional platform to train, rehearse and perform alongside principals in our productions. This year, seven young singers from the Royal Northern College of Music performed in Beethoven’s Leonore. Here, they reflect on their time at the Festival.

Matt Mears Tenor

The Young Artist Programme at Buxton Opera Festival has been an amazing experience this summer. The opportunity to be involved in a professional production, working with such talented performers, production team and staff, is invaluable to us as young performers. I have particularly enjoyed working with the rest of the Young Artists this year, it’s great to work with so many friends on a project over a couple of months. Once we were in and around Buxton itself we could relax and enjoy performing in Leonore, as well as watching the other amazing productions. 

Matthew Palfreyman Tenor

It was an incredible privilege to be able to perform as one of the young artists in the Buxton Festival Opera this year. Working on a full opera from the start of the rehearsal process to the final performance was an enlightening experience and gave me an insight into many aspects of rehearsal, organisation and performance that I had not previously been aware of. As a postgraduate student the opportunity to work with a professional chorus was invaluable at this stage of my education. The experience helped me to develop a deeper understanding of professional opera and allowed me to make further connections within the industry. Working as part of Buxton Festival Opera gave me the confidence and skills to successfully audition for roles in other Opera productions. Leonore was an inspired choice of opera and to work in Buxton was a real delight. I would love to return to work with the Festival Opera.

Ranald McCusker Tenor

The Young Artist Programme offers a real insight into the professional world of opera. For a young singer, the programme is an opportunity to work professionally with experienced singers and accustomed musicians. I had a rewarding time with the company with some great colleagues. The performances will always be a highlight, and I feel I have left with more stagecraft experience and I am grateful to have worked with some great singers. I had some memorable times with great friends, and I hope to work with Buxton again at some point in the future. 

Henry Ngan Tenor

I graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music with a Masters. The Young Artists Programme is a great opportunity for us to participate in such a large opera and music festival, singing alongside world-class artists. This provided an essential platform for us to gain stage experience, responding to conductor and director’s command and our sense of space on stage. As a Young Artist, I also received some coaching sessions with different Festival music staff to assist with my learning and practice, and I became much more aware of my singing and musicality. Buxton is a very beautiful place and it was great to sing in the historical opera house, which is very elegant and detailed, like the music we produced. All the colleagues were nice and energetic, and together we created a warm and friendly atmosphere. I thoroughly enjoyed every part of the programme.

Ed Gaffney Baritone

My name is Ed and I have loved being part of Buxton Festival this summer as a young artist. I am currently a student at the Royal Northern College of Music and first experienced the Festival as an intern two years ago. I quickly fell for the charm of Buxton and was inspired by the talented artists and staff. Therefore, I was thrilled to gain a place on the Young Artist Programme (YAP) this year. The programme has offered me the opportunity to join a professional cast and crew and experience the creative construction of one of the Festival’s operas from score to performance. The YAP provides an insight into rehearsal etiquette and allowed us to fully integrate into the Festival Chorus. We also received coaching as part of the programme which was led by the hugely experienced and renowned music staff that work as part of the Festival. Being a Buxton Young Artist has been such an important step along my opera training path, providing me with a clearer outlook on the journey ahead. 

Matthew Nuttall Baritone

I auditioned for Buxton’s Young Artists Programme to gain professional experience in the opera world. The programme has been great, rehearsing and being on stage with such talented singers and musicians has been amazing. I have had an incredible time with colleagues old and new and I can only smile looking back on my experience as a chorus member in Beethoven’s Leonore. Being a Young Artist has had many rewards for me; the whole process has been fantastic and I have gained so much experience in the last month, watching, listening to and being involved with the production. My time at Buxton has been one I’ll never forget and I hope I can return again in the future.

David Cane Baritone

It has been a real pleasure participating in the Buxton Festival on the Young Artists Programme this year, performing in the chorus of Leonore. From the first rehearsal in London we were all made to feel very welcome by the production team and all the other members of the company. I loved the overall concept for the production and it was great fun working alongside the Festival Chorus, even if my knees didn’t enjoy it quite as much – what with all the crawling! During the Festival itself, it was fantastic to get to know Buxton as a town – and there was so much going on all over the place! What an amazing way to spend the summer – working with such talented and inspiring musicians and for such a friendly team!


Chatting with Festival supporter Mark Sutherland

During the Festival, I sat down with Mark Sutherland who is a great supporter of the Festival.

So Mark, could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I live in Sheffield where by day I am a career civil servant working in project management in the Department for Work and Pensions. Outside of work I enjoy travel, reading, drinking too much beer and wine, visiting museums and galleries, and attending opera and concerts. I regularly attend performances at the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, BBC Proms and Wigmore Hall. Occasionally I also write reviews of these performances for the website I am also a member of the BBC Trust’s Yorkshire Audience Council.

How did you first find out about Buxton Festival?

I was introduced to the Festival by a friend of mine Norma Hird who also happens to be a member of the Festival Board. Knowing my passion for opera and the fact I attend operas in the UK and abroad it was Norma who suggested I come to Buxton. I was ashamed to say that I hadn’t been to the Festival despite it being on my own doorstep.

What attracted you to the Festival, and what was the first event that you attended?

It was the variety of events and Norma’s steer that attracted me to the Festival back in 2012. The first event I attended was Intermezzo – an opera by Richard Strauss. As a lover of Strauss operas I thought this was a fantastic production with Janis Kelly terrific in the lead role. It was also the first time I had heard the fabulous Northern Chamber Orchestra who play such a critical role at the Festival each year.

Is there a particular part of the Festival that you like?

For me the unique selling point of the Buxton Festival is that it’s really three festivals in one; a fantastic marriage of opera, music and books. I love the fact the festival showcases rarely performed operas. Each day is varied from the talks and concerts in the morning and afternoon to the opera in the evening and then the late night jazz which makes the Festival very special.

Do you book your tickets fairly early? 

As a benefactor of the Festival I make good use of the priority booking period. So this year I booked my tickets in February which was just as well as several of the events I booked including the 9am talk with Nick Robinson and Peter Hennessy, and the Oldie Literary Lunch with Joan Bakewell and David Aaronovitch sold out quickly. The great innovation this year was that priority booking could now be done online which in my view was about time too.

Have you attended every year since you first visited the town and Festival?

Yes, since my first Festival in 2012 I have attended every year. I now try and spend around 10 days at the Festival going to as many events as I can. In addition I have attended the Autumn Literary Weekend since it was launched in 2014 and also various Friends of Buxton Festival events both in Buxton and London.

During the last five Festivals I have had some great experiences watching the operas and attending some fine concerts. It has also been great to meet in person some of the literary speakers. Personal favourites have included Alan Johnson, Gyles Brandreth, Peter Hennessy and Jean Seaton, the official historian of the BBC, who I met many times at the BBC Archives so it was great to hear her talking about her research. Each year I am an enthusiastic user of Twitter giving my feedback on events I have enjoyed.

What attracted you to the Festival this year?

It was the usual mixture of rarely performed operas, established and talented young musicians, alongside a range of interesting speakers.

What was your favourite event and why?

That’s a difficult question as there is always so much great stuff at the Festival. In the opera series I really enjoyed Beethoven’s Leonore. As someone who has seen Fidelio, the opera that Leonore eventually became, a number of times it was fascinating to see the genesis of this masterpiece. In the music series a standout was the concert from celebrated pianist Stephen Kovacevich. The late night jazz concerts in the Pavilion Cafe just get better and I loved the gigs from Jazz At The Movies and Digby Fairweather’s Half Dozen. In the literary series Alexei Sayle was hilarious, Peter Hennessy entertaining in all three of his talks, and it was great to hear D J Taylor, a writer and critic I greatly admire. 

What would you say to someone who is new to opera?

Give it a go, don’t be scared. Opera is an art form for everyone not just the few. Many of the plots may be bonkers but the music and the singing will surely bowl you over. The glorious Frank Matcham designed Buxton Opera House is a terrific venue to enjoy a night of opera. Next year the Buxton Festival will be producing Benjamin Britten’s opera Albert Herring. This a great introduction for those new to opera. It’s a funny story, has some great music and is sung in English. Definitely give it a go!

What would you say to someone who is new to the Festival?

Enjoy all the Festival has to offer. Buxton is buzzing during July with the Fringe running alongside the main festival. Try and sample as much as you can whether it’s the opera, concerts or literary events. Buxton is definitely the “friendly” festival supported by a great Board of Directors and Executive Team, fantastic interns (some of whom end up working for the Festival full time!) and volunteers who all make sure you have a great time. I guarantee that if you come to the Buxton Festival, just like me, you will come back year after year!

Thanks, Mark!

Lucy Durack Development Director