Building the future

Article by Robert Thicknesse

“We’re always looking for new ways of providing entertainment for our audiences and, at the same time, promoting the careers of the young singers for whom OHP is such an important stepping-stone.  And we’re fantastically grateful to Christine Collins, whose generosity has made this programme possible.”

I’m talking to producer James Clutton about a new scheme that sees the light of day this summer, a matinée performance of the Zanetto and Gianni Schicchi double-bill featuring, in Schicchi’s dozen or so minor roles, some young singers making their OHP debuts in named roles, and conducted by Matthew Waldren, last year’s chorus master and conductor of Fantastic Mr Fox.  And rather than having simply an ad-hoc arrangement, OHP has formalised the project as an emerging artists’ programme of the sort that exists in national opera houses.

Christine Collins is the founder donor for the scheme, hence the Christine Collins Young Artists’ Scheme.  Christine began her large-scale sponsorship of OHP by supporting the chorus in four operas in 2011.

“I had been an Ambassador and wanted to get involved with the chorus because the young people who audition find it very difficult to dovetail it in with their other work.  It would allow them to audition without losing a day’s pay.”

So when the idea of a Young Artists’ scheme arose, James Clutton and Mike Volpe felt Christine was the right person to approach.  Christine readily agreed.  “My involvement is twofold.  It gives emerging artists an opportunity to sing in front of an audience.  To my mind this is even more important than being able to audition as nerves can play a huge part in any performance.

“Secondly, because the performance will be a matinée, it will enable people who find getting to and from an evening performance difficult a chance to enjoy the surroundings of OHP in daylight and still be home for supper.  There are many elderly people who find the whole idea of travelling back late in the evening an absolute trial.  This scheme will promote OHP in many ways, not least the fact that it will be affordable, will give singers exposure to a live audience and help those in the community who love opera to attend in a more relaxed way.”

James Clutton continues: “We’ll have Alan Opie performing the title role at the matinée, as he does in the evening performances, but the other roles will be sung by our Young Artists, with Matt conducting.  This gives them the chance to sing in a performance that isn’t second-string in any way.  They will have their own rehearsals and language coach, stage management and répétiteur – all a part of psychologically preparing to be a principal singer.  It will be the same production as in the evening, directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans, but this cast will be rehearsed in their own space by Martin’s assistant Oliver Platt, who worked on Fantastic Mr Fox.”

Lauretta – Schicchi’s daughter, who gets to sing ‘O mio babbino caro’ – will be sung by Christina Petrou, who last year sang in the chorus.  Other singers appearing will include Maud Miller, whom Clutton thought outstanding when she appeared in Shadwell Opera’s performance of Albert Herring in the park last summer, and Laura Woods, who sang the small role of Giovanna in Rigoletto and has, for two years, sung the role of Agnes in Fantastic Mr Fox.  “It’s a big test for them, of course, but dealing with pressure is a big part of what being an opera singer is,” says Clutton; “and it’s a great opportunity and experience too, to prove that they can perform to a thoroughly professional level to what I hope will be a full house.”