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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.