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

Guest blog: Elin Pritchard on Hathaway

This is possibly one of the biggest challenges I have taken on as a opera singer.
When I first received the script I just didn’t know where to start. I had done a small amount of dialogue in opera however the last time I’d learnt lines like this was when I was studying A Level drama. My home town and London have seen me muttering on the train, out walking and even in the gym. Learning lines without a melody is rather foreign so it’s taken a huge amount of time to get them ingrained in me!

Anne as a character is a wonderful strong woman whom both Ella and I wanted to show. The range of emotions she experiences during her time with William are enormous! We had to focus closely on how her dramatic journey progress throughout the show, she had a really tough time! We’ve also added a few little interesting snippets that may persuade the audience that Anne had more to do with William’s work than we’re aware of.

I have eight arias/songs in total. To say it’s a vocal marathon is an understatement. Every aria has its challenges, I’ve had to look carefully at the pacing of the show as most of the pieces are enormous and singing them back to back is difficult to say the least! I’m attempting to find as many colours as possible throughout the music, we don’t have the luxury of an orchestra however with Noah’s playing and also the work we’ve done on each piece, we’re hoping we can draw in the audience to this magical mix of wonderful music!

I am nervous but also a little excited to see how the audience react to the show. It’s definitely a new experience for me and I don’t think anyone has attempted something quite like this in a recital venue before. I hope everyone enjoys this wonderful story and journey of Anne Hathaway.

Elin Pritchard Soprano

Shakespeare at Buxton Festival

This year marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. His plays have been transported into the opera (and ballet) world, and his poetry and sonnets are still well-known and read today. This year, Buxton Festival will be marking the anniversary with a number of writers/speakers, musicians and an opera that have all been inspired by Shakespeare!

How was Shakespeare pronounced? is the title of a talk by David Crystal who will explore the Shakespearean language on 10 July, while Andrew Dickson (his book cover of Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys around Shakespeare’s Globe at the top) on 17 July takes us on a journey to understand how Shakespeare’s works have found a home across the world, and the most unexpected of places. It doesn’t just end there – on 19 July, Assistant Director of Leonore, Ella Marchment, directs a performance based on the life of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway – performed by Elin Pritchard (Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor 2015) – weaving together arias and songs that use Shakespearean text. A recital by tenor Nicky Spence, accompanied by Simon Lepper, As You Like It – Shakespeare Songs, offers a range of songs from Britten and Poulenc, to Purcell, Schubert and Tippett. Manchester Chamber Choir on 17 July features a selection of Shakespearean songs by Paul Mealor and Vaughan Williams (amongst others), and Buxton Festival Fringe’s Shakespeare Juke Box will be outside Buxton Opera House. One of the Festival operas this year is Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi (see it on 9, 13, 16, 20 & 23 July). Artistic Director Stephen Barlow recently wrote a piece in the Festival’s newsletter about Bellini and his opera, which is in fact based ‘on other Italian sources’. In case you missed it, here it is below.

Vincenzo Bellini was born in Catania at a time when Catania was a thriving city of grandeur, status and artistic fertility. His education was hardly all embracing, albeit there was a period when he was immersed in the music of Haydn and Mozart. Principally his life revolved around the music of contemporary Italians over whom Rossini towered. Bellini is said to have remarked after he saw his first opera by Rossini, Semiramide, that there was no purpose in anyone else trying to do anything. However, his adoration of Donizetti in particular led to his career blossoming and he was soon in demand as a composer who knew how to produce in the style of bel canto to please his audiences. But ‘bel canto’ goes nowhere near describing Bellini’s insight and rare talent to ally narrative and psychology within  ostensibly melodic parameters. Verdi was in awe of Bellini’s melodic talent certainly, apparently saying that ‘there are extremely long melodies as no-one else had ever made before’. He was also described romantically as the Swan of Catania as his reputation grew. It was in Germany where this deeper  dramatic talent was truly recognised, and as Tim Ashley writes ‘Wagner, who rarely liked anyone but himself, was spellbound by Bellini’s almost uncanny ability to match music with text and psychology. Liszt and Chopin professed themselves fans’. Wagner intervened in typically magisterial terms in an esoteric but heated debate in Germany with a full justification of Bellini’s seemingly innocent works attesting that behind the purity of simple melody lay deep dramatic artistry.

I Capuleti e i Montecchi was composed in about 5 or 6 weeks, very hurriedly to commission although you would never know it, based not on Shakespeare but on other old Italian sources. Capuleti is Bellini’s first opera in his prime written before he was 30 years old, and within the five years following he composed SonnambulaI Puritani and Norma which remain as three of the most complete and inspired operas of the time. It was the first Bellini opera I conducted and it was in Catania’s aptly named Teatro Bellini with the well-known soprano Mariella Devia as Giulietta. A beautiful statue of the great man stands outside the theatre, such is the value placed on his legacy. Alas, the Bellini cocktail has nothing to do with him at all, but Pasta alla Norma, a Catanese dish based on aubergines certainly does, named by a Director who claimed that the aubergine dish was as sublime as Bellini’s opera, Norma. Heinrich Heine held Bellini in very high regard, and although he described him as ‘a sigh in dancing pumps’ is quoted as telling Bellini he was ‘a genius and all geniuses die a premature death, like Raphael and Mozart’, which apparently he took to heart. He did in fact die at the early age of 34, only two years short of Mozart’s life span, and we can only speculate in sadness and admiration about what great works might have followed if he had lived longer.

Stephen Barlow Artistic Director

So, as you can see the Festival has much to offer to honour ‘England’s national poet’ and ‘Bard of Avon’. Public booking opened on 29 March so be sure to get in early to avoid disappointment!