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!


An interview with mezzo soprano, Jennifer Parker

This week, I caught up with mezzo soprano, Jennifer Parker who will be singing in the Buxton Festival Chorus this year. She has recently completed her Masters degree at the Royal Northern College of Music.

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

When I was a little girl I was desperate to be a writer, and was always reading and scribbling. Comparatively I came to singing very late in life and didn’t start having proper lessons until I was 24 years old, and I had an amazing teacher who was a real inspiration. It wasn’t until I was accepted at the RNCM in my late twenties that I began to imagine I could be lucky enough to make singing my career!

How did you land your first opera role?

My first opera role was that of Valencienne in Lehar’s The Merry Widow at the RNCM, and Stefan Janski once told me that he had cast me for my naughty personality – which I suppose is open to many interpretations!

What made you apply to audition for the Buxton Festival Chorus?

I was really eager to audition for the Buxton Festival because of its fantastic commitment to young singers like myself as it offers a host of opportunities to cover roles and perform a variety of repertoire in a range of settings, whilst always maintaining the highest standards of singing.

You are covering a role in one of the Festival’s operas this year. Could you tell us a little more about the role?

I am really excited to be covering the role of Tamerlano, the Emperor of the Tartars at this year’s festival. For those who don’t know the opera, Tamerlano is a mighty leader who is very accustomed to getting his own way no matter what; so when he decides he wants to marry the daughter of his most illustrious prisoner, the Sultan of the Turks, and things don’t go according to plan, he behaves very badly indeed – until he finally sees the error of his ways and his true love talks some sense into him.

Is there a particular opera in this year’s Festival programme that you are looking forward to performing in?

I am particularly excited about the performances of I Capuleti e i Montecchi because the music is so wonderful and it appeals to my former life as an English Literature student – especially given it is 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

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

My approach to learning a role varies based on the different demands it places, though for me the most important thing is having a very clear plan. I like to work very methodically through the role and have specific milestones in the process so I am never tempted to leave anything to the last minute or rush anything. As a general rule I always start with the recit as I like to learn it as a script without music first to get the speech-like qualities and language just right; and then anything with coloratura as the quicker I can get that into my muscle memory the better as I will then use these parts of the role to warm up before starting work.

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

For those who are less familiar with opera I would always recommend something funny and English – something like Albert Herring or The Old Maid and the Thief. These pieces are just brilliant, and hopefully would serve to dispel the illusion that opera is stuffy and boring!

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

I was fortunate enough to work at Opera Holland Park last year and was part of their wonderful production of Aida. Their re-imagining of the story reset the action to the 1980’s and a decadent party in an antiquities museum. As the party went on we all got wilder and wilder until during the triumphal march scene when all hell breaks loose and, following a strip tease, I ended up upside down and crowd surfing! It was memorable to say the least!

What would be your dream operatic role and why?

I would love the chance to sing the role of Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther one day. Not only is the music breathtakingly beautiful and fascinating to perform as the composer is so specific in his notation, but she is also a very nuanced and intriguing character – someone who has always tried to do the right thing but ends up completely heart broken because of it.

Is there a particular opera singer you really admire?

I am an ardent fan of Sarah Connolly and am a great admirer of her dramatic talents as well as her outstanding musical ones – and I had the incredible opportunity to perform in a masterclass with her whilst at college. Needless to say I was very star struck!

The Tamerlano cover show is on Tuesday 19 July 2-3pm at the Palace Hotel.

Lily Bracegirdle Executive Assistant