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

An interview with mezzo soprano, Imogen Garner

The end of May marks the beginning of opera rehearsals in London. Before things get under way, I managed to catch up with Imogen Garner who will be joining the opera chorus this year. Imogen studied at the Royal Northern College of Music and has been a member of the Buxton Festival Chorus for the last few years. To read more about Imogen, click here.

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

I’ve always loved singing and as a child I was drawn to singing based films and programmes. I didn’t realise quite how important it was to me until I reached my twenties, I then applied for a postgrad at the RNCM and was very fortunate to be offered a place.

How did you land your first opera role?

My first operatic role was Annina in La Traviata for Wilmslow Opera.

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

I’ve worked with lots of singers who’ve relished their experience of working in the Festival and so I went along to watch and really enjoyed the atmosphere and feel of it.

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

I’m covering Irene in Handel’s Tamerlano. I’m really enjoying her; she enters the opera expecting to marry Tamerlano but after discovering he has chosen another, she disguises herself and vows to win him back.

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

I always intend to approach a role in a systematic way starting with the notes and the music and building layer upon layer but often it becomes less structured and more organic.

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

I know most about Tamerlano so the production of that is most intriguing to me at the moment.

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

My first experiences of opera in my late teens were La Traviata and La Boheme at Opera North which I loved.

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

I think the most memorable experience to date must have been The Mastersingers at ENO, the audience’s response at the end of the first night was overwhelming.

What would be your dream operatic role and why?

I’d love to have another opportunity to perform Mrs Grose in The Turn of the Screw.

Is there a particular opera singer you really admire?

Kathleen Ferrier. I admire her as she seemed to be someone who remained completely true to herself with very natural and effortless sounding singing and performing

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

Lily Bracegirdle Executive Assistant

Guest blog: Tir Eolas

It looks set to be a pretty exciting summer for us here in Tir Eolas!  We’ll be visiting Buxton Festival, Cambridge Folk Festival, Folk East and the Edinburgh Fringe – which means A LOT of Monopoly Deal will be played and a lot of pillows will be thrown by Georgie at oblivious snoring band members.

Tir Eolas was formed a few years ago when percussionist Ruairi Glasheen sent out a note on the Royal College of Music’s weekly mailout, asking if anybody wanted to play folk music and ‘maybe do some busking….see where it takes us.’  It just so happened that guitarist Laura Snowden was having a ‘say yes to everything’ week and responded to the ad: next thing they knew they had narrowly avoided being arrested for busking in the central part of Covent Garden.  How were they to know they needed a licence….

The pair soon joined forces with singer/flautist Pip Mercer, who coincidentally was the first person Ruairi met when he came to London.  The band was completed by violinist Georgie Harris and bass guitarist Hedi Pinkerfeld.  (FYI : Pip now goes by the name of Pip Bryan – YEP she totally got married last summer and we totally went to the obscurest part of Lancashire on public transport to play at her wedding. And to sing some impromptu Simon and Garfunkel on the train platform).

Upon declaring ourselves a band and giving ourselves a name nobody can pronounce, we went on to play together in venues as wide-ranging as the Royal Albert Hall, Bestival, BBC Radio 3 and the gorgeous Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in Shakespeare’s Globe at the invitation of guitarist John Williams.  We were very lucky to be supported by the City Music Foundation, which allowed us to release our debut album Stories Sung, Truths Told, recorded with Jim Moray at Urchin Studios.  The album was really a culmination of all our work up till then, and consisted largely of original material as well as traditional song She Moves Through the Fair.

Laura writes :

‘For me our music is very much about storytelling.  I love writing songs which contain tiny, specific details about a particular character or place –  but through those details, what I am really trying to do is to describe fundamental human experiences with which everyone can resonate.  Inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of sources : I once caught the last twenty minutes of a film (whose name escapes me), and invented what might  have happened in the first half (of course I had no idea) and wrote a song about that.  Our song Aida is inspired by a children’s book called No Roof in Bosnia, whilst Morven Larry was inspired by a painting on my grandmother’s wall.’

Laura Snowden Guitar/Tir Eolas band member

To hear songs from their new album, click on the links below:

She Moves Through The Air / Aida