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

Cunning Little Vixen

Here I am with Rebecca Bottone in the Ryedale Festival’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen, directed by Joe Austin and designed by Simon Kenny.  Nick Winston did brilliant work with the cast to develop a range of movements to suit our non-human characters – foxes, chickens, mosquito, owl, frog, hare, cricket, dog, woodpecker – and the warm colours of the animal costumes contrasted tellingly with the austere grey palette of the human world.  Iain Farrington’s reduction of the full orchestral score somehow still managed to suggest many of the colours in Janacek’s original soundworld, so who knows? perhaps the success of this small-scale production (cast of nine, and orchestra of nine) proves that The Cunning Little Vixen can have a new lease of life with smaller opera companies as a touring piece.  Click here to see video footage.

Sketched at the Knitting Concert

At a recent concert, Dennis Lane was sitting in the audience and sketched this lovely line drawing of me singing.   This was one of Robert Bridge’s splendid Knitting Concerts in Putney, at which the audience is encouraged to listen while doing another activity.  A great way to encourage people to support concerts on a Sunday night, when traditionally there are chores to be done. People have been seen reading, knitting, drawing, darning, ironing (allegedly) and organising their tax receipts during the performance – or they can even just sit and listen.

My thanks to the artist and the owner of the sketch for their permission to reproduce the image here.

Lakesongs by Phillip Cooke

I will be premiering Phillip Cooke’s Lakesongs on August 9th 2011 in a recital of music for mezzo-soprano, viola and piano at the Lake District Summer Music Festival. The three songs were commissioned by the LDSM and are settings of A Lake Memory by William Wilfred Campbell, The Lake Isle of Innisfree by William Butler Yeats and By The Lake, by Dame Edith Sitwell. The songs are intense and lyrical, charting a descent into emotional austerity. The composer describes the viola’s role in the songs as that of a “commentator, a distant representation of the emotional content an dark melancholy of the lakes”. The songs are extremely atmospheric and effective, and I hope there’ll be opportunities to perform them again.

New songs by Hugh Wood

Following the great success of Beginnings, Hugh’s songs for me with string orchestra that were premiered at the 2010 Presteigne Festival, he has written a second group, this time with piano accompaniment.  The five Laurie Lee Songs were begun at a similar time to Beginnings, in the late 1950s, but remained incomplete until this year.  The poems that Hugh has set are Boy in Ice, The Edge of Day, The Easter Green, Town Owl and April Rise and the songs are full of rich lyricism and lush textures, as well as the drama inherent in Hugh’s intelligent wordsetting.

I hope to premiere the songs in a recital at the Royal Opera House later this year.  Watch the website for a date and booking details.

Click here to listen to excerpts from Beginnings

Brave Tin Soldiers – Sarah Nixey’s new album

Sarah’s second solo album came out in May and has been garnering great reviews.  She sang in Black Box Recorder, before going solo, and recently supported KT Tunstall in concert – the first performers to appear in concert at the newly-built RSC theatre in Stratford on Avon.  Download her album from iTunes here and receive the bonus track Silk Threads (Antonymes Lost Thread Impression), a reworking by the amazing Antonymes, plus the digital booklet.

Sarah and her band are performing at the AAA Kensington on July 8.  The other magnificent band members are Mark Lodge (keyboards and cello), Tim Weller (drums) and Kevin Cormack (guitars).

Click here to go to Sarah Nixey’s website

Cunning Little Vixen cast update

Rebecca Bottone will play the Vixen in Ryedale Festival Opera’s production, in which I play the Fox and the Dog, with Sam Evans as the Forester.  Other cast members include Michael Burke, Tom Herford, Eleanor Greenwood and Helen Bailey.  Joe Austin directs, Simon Kenny designs and Iain Farrington conducts.  Performance dates are 15 and 17 July – see the gig guide for more details and booking information.

As In Waking Dream – Monday 23 May, Opera North, Leeds

I’m delighted to be involved in this project, curated by Cheryl Frances-Hoad. Six new song cycles have been written by poets and composers from the Universities of Leeds and York and will be performed by a group of singers, actors and pianists, including me, Natalie Raybould, Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks and Ian Shaw.

As in waking dream is a thought provoking evening of new music and poetry written in response to Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben (A Womanʼs Life and Love).

New poetry by Adam Strickson, John Whale, Andrew Knight, Jo Brandon, Bethany Layne and Ian Fairley.

New music by Edward Caine, Marcello Messina, Nektarios Rodosthenous, William Finn, Jessica Ward and Dorone Paris.

The performance is in the Howard Assembly Rooms, Opera North, Leeds.