More Cautionary Tales

Opera North’s witty adaptation of Belloc’s deliciously macabre Cautionary Tales for Children was a big hit with audiences and critics when it first premiered in March 2011.  I’m back in Leeds covering the mezzo role, which includes two fantastically-badly behaved children, lying Matilda and daredevil George, both of whom meet messy ends. Composed by Errollyn Wallen, in whose YES I also sang at the Linbury Studio last year, and adapted and directed by Pia Furtado.

Click here for tour dates

The Last Journey of the Princess Elizabeth

I will be premiering a new commission from Rachel Stott alongside Façade, by Edith Sitwell and William Walton, on February 4th.  The new work celebrates the Diamond Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth.  

In her programme note, Rachel writes: “Researching this piece led me to explore the background to the death of King George VI in February 1952 and the dramatic nature of Elizabeth’s final hours as a princess; it also led me to the discovery that another ‘Princess Elizabeth’, a steam train of the Great Western Railway’s ‘castle class’, was withdrawn in February 1952, after a 40 year working life, and came to its final resting place in Swindon (where the first performance is taking place).

The instrumentation of the piece is the same as for Walton’s Façade, flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, cello, percussion and voices.  I have taken a few lines from Edith Sitwell’s poem ‘Mariner Man’ (set by Walton in Façade) for the central section of the piece.  The text of the opening and closing sections is a line written in the register at Tree Tops Hotel, Nyeri, Kenja by Jim Corbett, the famous hunter and adventurer who accompanied the Princess and Duke on that memorable occasion:  For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess, and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience, she climbed down the next day a Queen”.

YES – Bonnie Greer and Errollyn Wallen

YES received mixed reviews from the national press but was one of those projects that was so much fun to work on that I didn’t mind quite so much when our efforts didn’t meet with universal approval. Needless to say, my prediction that I would be upstaged by my best career prop to date – Ambrose, the battery-powered cat – was proven right, as evidenced by our appearance in the adjacent review from The Times.

Mr Benn at WNO

A workshop presentation of Mr Benn by Stephen McNeff, with libretto by Andy Morton, for WNO’s MAX department, directed by Rhian Hutchings. Seen here are Laura Pooley as the Princess, Jonathan Gunthorpe as the King and me as the Dragon.

Royal Opera House lunchtime recital – Monday 24 October 1pm

Following the great success of Beginnings, Hugh’s songs for me with string orchestra that were premiered at the 2010 Presteigne Festival, he has dusted off a second set, this time converting the original orchestral score into a piano accompaniment. The Laurie Lee Songs were begun at a similar time to Beginnings, in the late 1950s, and set Lee’s five poems Boy in Ice, The Edge of Day, The Easter Green, Town Owl and April Rise. Like Beginnings the songs are full of rich lyricism, lush textures and dramatic colour.

Click here to go to the ROH bookings website – the concert is free to the public but tickets are limited and booking opens nine days before the performance, with some tickets held back until the morning of the concert itself.

Click here to listen to excerpts from Beginnings

Mr Benn – the opera

Finally someone has decided to immortalise the fabulous Mr Benn in operatic form. The popular childrens’ cartoon from the 1970s usually provokes sighs of nostalgia from the over 35s and bafflement from anyone younger, despite having been repeated almost constantly ever since. Andy Morton has written the libretto, set by Stephen McNeff, and I will be in Cardiff later this month to workshop the first sections at WNO. The inspiration for these first scenes is Mr Benn – the Red Knight (click here to watch the original) I play the Dragon and my fellow cast members are: Darren Abrahams (the Shopkeeper); Laura Pooley (the Princess); Paul Carey Jones (the Matchmaker); Thorbjørn Gulbransøy (Mr Benn) and Jonathan Gunthorpe (the King). Eugene Monteith conducts and Rhian Hutchings directs.

A Night to Remember

Pictured left: Me, with Deborah Bull, Darren Abrahams and Lindy Tennent-Brown, following our concert in Eye, Suffolk on October 1st. This was a first airing of a new programme built around the idea of a throwing a party, in which we follow a group of characters through the evening, from the planning and preparation, to clearing up the mess afterwards. It features a genre-busting range of musical styles from Rossini to Sondheim, via Roy Orbison, Mozart and Noel Coward, and the rapturous reception we received from our audience confirmed our belief that this a great way to construct a concert, drawing on the full range of our skills and experience in opera, recital and music theatre to make connections between songs from very different worlds. We also like to tailor repertoire to the particular event, devise seamless musical linkages, and sharpen up lyrics to make the whole programme flow. Look out for further performances of this fantastic programme.

Most popular tune of the evening: Crying (Roy Orbison)
Best prop of the evening: Red Velvet Cupcake (Hummingbird Bakery)

Recording Michael Hurd’s opera, The Aspern Papers

I have been in Belfast this week for recording sessions on Michael Hurd’s operatic version of Henry James’ novella The Aspern Papers. The Ulster Orchestra sounded wonderful in the generous acoustic of the Ulster Hall and George Vass was again at the helm, following the success of his recent recording of Hurd’s The Widow of Ephesus, which included two of the singers also appearing on this disc – Louise Winter and Pippa Goss. Louise and Owen Gilhooly appear with me in the adjacent photo.

The full cast list in order of appearance: Servant: Clare McCaldin; Harry Jordan: Owen Gilhooly; Mrs Prest: Pippa Goss; Miss Tina: Clare McCaldin; Juliana Bordereaux: Louise Winter.

9/11 Memorial Concert – Three Choirs Festival

This year’s Three Choirs Festival is hosted by Worcester and Sunday’s concert played to a packed Cathedral.  In addition to Mozart’s Requiem, a specific composition to commemorate the departed in the Christian liturgy, the programme contained other works inspired by or now associated with national mourning and loss. 

Barber’s Adagio was broadcast over the radio at the announcement of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death and played at the funerals of Albert Einstein and Princess Grace of Monaco. It was also performed in 2001 at the Last Night of the Proms to commemorate the victims of 9/11. 

John Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls is written for chorus, orchestra, children’s choir and pre-recorded tape, and was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Lincoln Center following the 11 September terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.

Mahler’s Adagietto from his fifth symphony was conducted by Leonard Bernstein at the Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, on 8 June 1968 for the burial of Robert Kennedy.

My fellow soloists in the Mozart were Julia Doyle (soprano), Simon Wall (tenor) and Robert Macdonald (bass).  Adrian Partington conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Three Choirs Festival Chorus.

Jerwood Opera Writing Programme workshops at Snape Maltings

I’ve just returned from six days at Snape Maltings, working with composers and librettists in their third week of the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme Foundation Course.   Six singers, two conductor/pianists and six instrumentalists gathered to workshop the ten-minute mini-operas written by each of the ten composers-librettist teams. We also had directors with us, some of whom had also provided libretti, and on the final day of the course we presented all of the operas in a staged version, with lights and costumes and a range of sets making imaginative use of cardboard boxes.  Stephen Langridge was keeping us all under control, ably assisted by Stephen Plaice and David Sawer joined us for the final day of presentations, to offer a composer’s-eye view.  Aside from the enormous amount of talent and creativity on show, I was also struck by the generosity of all the participants towards each other and their support of each other’s work.  A challenging week but one in which everyone achieved something impressive.  I hope everyone else enjoyed themselves as much as I did.

The nun costume was featured in “Hope Dies Hard In His House” by Luke Styles and Alan McKendrick, in which I was joined onstage by Anna Dennis and Sarah Leonard.

For more information on the programme and a full list of the participants click here