Tag Archives: Claire Pendleton

Charm and intelligence goes a very long way / The Perfect American / English National Opera – 6 June 2013

10 Jun

ENO AmericanIf you asked me to encapsulate my impressions after seeing Philip Glass’s latest opera I would say CHARMING. It may sound like a horribly twee response to a new work but it is exactly what I was thinking during most of it. The work is not scruff of the neck exciting or particularly fast paced. But the way it unfolds Walt Disney’s last months of his life is an intriguing work that Phelim McDermott treats with respect and assisted by Improbable’s skilled artistes and Dan Potra give a rich visual manifestation.

The mood of the piece is rather sepulchral as it opens with the terminally ill Disney sleeping and having a nightmare about an owl he saw as a child. Surrounded by animated (the Improbable crew springing out of them) drawing portfolios that get raised to the ceiling and eventually unfold to become screens for the projections creating a sense of enclosure. The set adopts shorthand references to his studio life, two cinematography cranes tower above with two cameras. The aesthetic is undeniably industrial conveying a sense of Mad Men sleekness with great use of animated drawings as backdrops bringing the story to life. His bed is on an animator’s drawing board, the bed given the prominence one would expect from a work that deals with the threat of imminent death. Glass’s music is dominated by five or six melodic ideas that recur and are woven in a rich textual tapestry adorned with prominent parts for cello and flute. It sounds like Glass and it works its insidious magic like most of his music. It takes over one’s thoughts and is deeply immersive. Even obvious failings in the unnecessary showy, wordy and at times crass libretto (one phrase comes to mind ‘I’m like a bee collecting pollen from desk to desk‘ on illustrating his studio working practise) by Rudy Wurlitzer are not making too much of a negative impact as the cast and director are giving the material flight.

Using animated drawings to tell Disney’s story is an obvious way to make it happen. The sheer beauty of the projections by 59 Productions and their integration with the set design is astounding. Unlike many opera productions they do not feel like an unnecessary add-on that all too frequently annoys. Here it creates his hometown in a double projection on the cloth suspended from the crane above and a back projection that harmonise to give wonderful depth while the chorus praises the generic looking “midtown USA” nature of Marceline, the silly apple pie references in the libretto is forgettable but the setting adds considerable magic to some evocative choral writing.

The staging is inferring the very nature of Peter Stephan Jungk’s book which could be called a fable biography. A composited life story that relates to Disney’s life  but instead of taking a realistic root it uses the absurd as a device to explore concerns that a straight biography couldn’t. In that context an animatronic Abe Lincoln and a fan visit by Andy Warhol are becoming an expose of controversial aspects of his character (totalitarianism, dubious racial beliefs, political conservatism) and a mirror of how other artists saw his work is revealing. Those two encounters are a welcome break from the linearity of the narrative and provide some welcome light relief. Overall the staging successfully fuses aspects of biographical detail with coup de théâtre moments of physical theatre. Like when the family are travelling back to LA from Missouri the projection on the semi transparent cloth is of a miniature railway (like the one in Disney’s garden in LA) overlayed with the performers behind it. An imaginative depiction of the journey sequence but also a time for the silly antics of adults riding a miniature railway.

Equally the way Marceline’s high street, Kansas Avenue is treated visually as a template for the Main Street in Disney resorts the world over. The inextricable fusion of reality and fantasy is a fundamental aspect of Disney’s output and one of the main reasons for his cultural omnipresence. This production manages to allude to so much while using subtle but beautifully realised metaphors. Near the end his diagnosis of advancing cancer is made by a doctor standing in front of a screen projecting a chest x ray with as his description of the seriousness progresses we see the tumours grow and multiply, suggesting in shape Mickey’s head, as used by the company in many forms of merchandising and branding. His lungs been literally taking over by a drawing Mickey Mouse is a good way to describe the overall effect of the animation. Disney’s boss like the thousands of staff he employed was taken over and consumed by this cannibalistic corporation. The animations are directly linked to the narration but make much bigger suggestions of underlying motives and his complex psyche.As such what Improbable have done is remarkable and deliciously vibrant. The many references to stop frame animation and the overall filmic character is something I imagine it would enthrall most people in the audience admiring the sleek presentation and how it gently fuses text, visuals and music.

The singing by the cast was excellent. Most of the writing is heavy in recitativi with the more lyrical passages adding variety. The writing for the chorus is a very strong component that adds urgency and a quasi-Disneyland celebratory mood, one is never able to discern where the servile cheering stops and the irony starts. Christopher Purves gives a bravura performance, reprising his role from Madrid’s world première showing. He is authoritative and can dominate the stage for the duration despite being the unflinching focus of the work. Tellingly the most tender and most horrid parts are when he is faced with children. His interactions with the adults are based on rank and dominance but he is either terrified of the children (like Lucy that shows up on the night of his birthday party and puzzlingly for him she doesn’t have any knowledge of his work) or comes to terms with mortality when he meets a child cancer patient called Josh (performed like Lucy by Rosie Lomas) in a series of tender exchanges the world of his creations blends into the reality of a fading patient in hospital.
The character of Dantine is a little too knowing and mugging for its own good but Donald Kaasch puts in a polished performance that brings to life what is the least subtle character in this opera. The ladies of the Disney clan and Janis Kelly as his personal nurse and confidante are wonderfully camp and mere suggestions of real characters but they add to the dream-like atmosphere that make this work what it is, a meditation on an enigma.

This opera does what a fair few have failed, it is filled with ideas that are expressed with simplicity and clarity. The sense of a journey through the story is eloquent and told with sensational gusto. The PR waffle of a great american composer taking on an american legend maybe a too simplistic an observation but there is a sense of purpose and it definitely is a work that feels mature and quietly thrilling. Go and see it if you are in London over the next weeks.

It is also coming out in September on DVD and Blu-ray by Opus Arte (they STILL don’t have a functioning website) from its Teatro Real outing, I would urge anyone with an interest in Glass’s work to give it a try, hoping that the staging will translate equally well in a recording.

Trailers from Madrid and London

Curtain call video

Some tweets from the evening

ENO American List

Top five most read blog posts of 2012

29 Dec

Top FiveIn the spirit of end of year lists, I thought I’d pull together a list of the five most read posts on this blog. If you’ve landed on this page from Google or a third party it may be a good introduction to what George’s Musings/OperaCreep was all about.

1. My little investigative report telling the story of a fantasist that survived on his wits and telling interminable lies, attracted a lot of interest and made it the most read item on the blog by a wide margin.

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/a-story-of-deception-paul-j-guest/

2. A little post on the queen of the UK popera scene, Katherine Jenkins was very popular. It seems her fans and foes like  to search for articles about her latest foray in light entertainment.

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/katherine-jenkins-is-steppin-out/

3. Was very lucky to be at the world première by Birmingham Opera of Stockhausen’s Mittwoch Aus Light. It was an extraordinary, near indescribable evening. The whole proposition of a Cultural Olympiad seemed just a  polite empty gesture by the government. But I am delighted the Olympic cash made this ambitious production possible. During such a deep recession and with an anti-arts government it was the most pleasant surprise of the year!

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/mittwoch-aus-licht/

4. The collaboration with Claire Pendleton was a source of jollity and insight. Was delighted to work with her and it seems a lot of people were happy to read them.

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/heres-claire/

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2012/08/27/beginning-of-rehearsals/

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/sitzprobe-eno-julietta-blog/

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/stage-rehearsals-eno-julietta-blog/

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/dress-rehearsal-eno-julietta-blog/

5. Alice Coote’s return to sing Winterreise at the Wigmore Hall was undeniably one of the early highlights of musical London in 2012. This performance cemented her reputation as one of the foremost mezzos singing today. It seems a lot of people wanted to read about it, which gladdens my heart! Now I wish the Wigmore would release the recording very soon.

Update: The CD and download is available from 8 April 2013, here’s the link to the Amazon UK page.

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2012/01/27/winterreise-alice-coote/

The dreamworld of Mr Jones / Julietta / English National Opera / Opening night – 17 September 2012

20 Sep

I have been hosting the blog posts of Claire Pendleton from the ENO chorus  for the last month and I had a good idea about the set up and direction of Julietta and even had a sneak peek view of the set during rehearsals. But the great unknown was always the work itself. Martinů takes the dreamworld of the original play into an extreme, his composing becoming fragmented and episodic, very few of the narrative threads are followed through and much of the singing is a recitativo accompanied by pillowy (at time wondrous) music. It makes for an unsatisfactory night at the theatre if the audience is not prepared to take it at face value and allow itself to be seduced by the spare but oddly voluptuous soundworld of Julietta.

The heroine is a dream and it seems so is the possibility of a coherent narrative. This production was immaculate and the orchestral playing was tremendous. Particularly how it was customised to the sometimes too hot acoustic of the coliseum was an impressive feat. The music sounded distant and echoing at times and others the fortissimi braced the material into shape. Edward Gardner as an astute and highly theatrical conductor managed to bring out a wealth of beauty and lyricism. The woodwind passages in Act Two were truly delicious and worthy of the concert hall let alone the opera house. The singing was mostly exceptional, Peter Hoare was tremendous as the dream swept Michel and managed to take us all on a journey as he gradually starting losing himself and his own memories and retreating from reality to the uncertain world of dreams. His singing was always assured and full of spark. His Julietta was as ethereal and edgy one would wish Julia Sporsén (who was unfortunately let down by the orchestral balance on appearance in Act One) sang with an airy confidence and strong stage presence. We could surely see why she made such and impression on Michel. She made a great case for ENO’s frequent casting of singers from its own young artist programme for major parts. If she was that wonderful on opening night imagine how much she will grow through the run.

The chorus who mainly creates a reflective echoing sound through the first two acts was a great asset and established the mood set by the orchestra.  And also supported Michel in his attempt to find his way through the provincial town he found himself stuck in.  Also Claire did do a magisterial dash across the stage in Act Two, as mentioned in a previous blog!  From the smaller parts Susan Bickley was a tremendous presence and the source of much hilarity either as the fortune-teller that talks about the past or as the old woman coming out to admonish Michel. Henry Waddington made an assured man at the window plus a dry witted waiter in the Second Act. One singer that made a distinctly bad impression on me was Emile Renard who maybe too carried away by the little arab character just oozed arrogance throughout the evening. Especially when she was out-sang as one of the three men by Clare Presland and  Samantha Price. She has a lovely lyric voice but her stage presence could use a little bit of toning down.

The production by Richard Jones was well honed (after all this is the third incarnation of this production since 2002) the three differently orientated accordions created a suitably surreal and evocative setting. One slight annoyance was the flimsy construction of the instrument in Act One with the doors almost prematurely flung open on impact. I can imagine Julietta with its sparse orchestration can be a victim to a director’s whim to add extra clutter to make up for it. Jones went against the grain and allowed the music and signing ample space to breathe. His attention to physical acting paid dividends, both Hoare and Sporsén gave us a fully lived performance of great distinction.
The addition of the custom curtain design made up of white drawn sleepers in pyjamas spelling out Julietta, with Michel being the last one on the lower right was a nice touch and when it re-appeared in the end it brought the story to a circular conclusion. Another beautiful touch was the wandering french horn player in the wood of Act Two adding another surreal touch in addition to the wine waiter and a piano being “played” by Julietta on a moving platform towards the back of the stage.

Jones’ touch was light and this production deserves to be seen for its sheer ebullience and wit. Unfortunately what let it down was Martinů and his fragmented, sometimes prescriptive music that especially in Act Three felt overtly laboured. Overall I am delighted that ENO exposed us to such a repertoire rarity especially when staged with such conviction and good taste but two days later not much of the music has stayed with me.  It surely was surreal and witty and a wonderful night out, but as an opera it seemed to lack that extra hook that makes it unforgettable. I may have to return to see if I will allow myself to be won over by the music 😉

Some tweets from the evening

Dress rehearsal / ENO Julietta blog

17 Sep

Last week we talked about the stage rehearsals, tonight is the opening night and all the hard work will be up for the critics’ and the public’s scrutiny! Claire tells us how the dress rehearsal went and we can agree the culmination of six weeks of preparation has reached its final stretch.

So, we finally reach the dress rehearsal. It’s been a busy week but we’ve made it. Such an early start too, on Saturday morning. Some of the singers and actors have been in make-up & wigs since 8am! There’s a nervous but excited buzz around the theatre.

The opera starts and Peter Hoare, singing the role of Michel starts his mammoth journey through the Martinů score.

Michel is dreaming…who will he meet in his dreams? Where will his thoughts take him? To a strange town where everyone suffers from chronic amnesia.

The villagers try to feed off Michel’s memories. The orchestra has a rich texture and depth, almost cartoon-like at times. The quirky set design compliments Richard Jones’ production, which is slick and stylish.
The stage is one enormous piano accordion, which has doors and windows. Characters appear inside and pop out of the vast, concertinaed instrument throughout the opera.
Everyone on the stage is an individual character and hunt in a pack-like group, to drain Michel of his memories in order to feed their minds, albeit for a few minutes before amnesia sets in and all is lost.

There’s a lot of running, dancing, jumping from those on-stage. It’s a fast moving production, full of life and energy.
I have to run right across the front of the stage near the start of act two, with the rest of the chorus and actors sprinting in different directions at break-neck speed too which is frightening. There have been a few bumps and bruises in rehearsal but nothing too bad!

The costumes are shades of green silk based loosely on the 1950’s style. The colours blend in with the set & lighting. The wigs are quirky styles also loosely based on 1950’s styles.

Julietta meets Michel and they immediately fall in love. She has shining red hair and her dress is pattered with miniature piano accordions but I don’t think the audience will be able to see that (you can surely spot them in the shot in the slideshow below).
She has some beautiful musical passages with Michel. They promise to meet again and throughout the opera Michel searches for her. No-one else can see her or knows her. Julia Sporsén sings the role so well. Her unique soprano voice suits the role perfectly. She has a folk-like unaccompanied verse off-stage which bewitches Michel and I’m sure the audience.

Ed Gardner steers the orchestra and singers through the lush, textures of Martinů. Richard Jones directs specific moves and noises during particular musical sections, which add to the drama and gels the characters to the score.
It has been a tough but enjoyable experience, creating such a masterpiece. This could be a ‘marmite’ opera but my guess is that the majority will come out with nothing but positive comments. Hoorah for Martinů! Hoorah for ENO!

You can follow Claire on Twitter, her handle is @ClaraButt .

Dress rehearsal shots in ENO’s Flickr account


Stage rehearsals / ENO Julietta blog

10 Sep

Last week we talked about the sitzprobe, this week we are getting closer to the opening night by another week! Claire tells us how it went.

So, here we are on stage, rehearsing with full set, props, costumes & lighting. I was very excited, walking on set and being bowled over by the enormous accordion which dominates the stage. It moves open & shut during the opera, sometimes on its side and for one section it splits in half to reveal a dark, star-lit forest. The rest of the stage is black with open wings. This is a problem for singers as the voices get lost as soon as you turn facing across the stage. We’ve had to resolve balance problems with the rich texture of the orchestra against the singers being heard. The Coliseum stage is very deep so we have to ‘cheat’ and sing out sometimes. We’ve such a great team working on the show. Martin Fitzpatrick, Head of Music has been up in the dress circle, listening for the difficult sections to get across to the audience and then relays it to Ed Gardner in the pit. Ed works hard to correct the colour and balance of the orchestra, to fit the staging and voices.

The chorus have some off-stage sections in which we’ve worked hard to get the right balance. Some sections are just echos of Julietta‘s voice. Others are the thoughts of Michel.

The costumes are a mix of cute and quirky. We have villagers, young and old, a blind beggar, bell-boy, man in pith helmet, a horn player, commissar and commander of the city, amongst other characters. Each has an individual personality which Richard Jones; the director is very good at creating.

The direction and choreography is very specific, with soloists, chorus and actors moving, freezing, glancing, running etc. at key points in the music. It makes for a typical Richard Jones quirky trade mark in my opinion and brings the opera alive. Never will you find characters just standing and singing to each other. There’s always movement. The direction has great pulse, which complements the score.

The lighting is still being worked on and will put the finishing touches to creating the right ambience during the scenes. This is a unique production, which will have the audience laughing and sighing with great pleasure.

Richard Jones and Ed Gardner are a great team. I feel lucky to be part of it.

You can follow Claire on Twitter, her handle is @ClaraButt .

The trailer for the production

Sitzprobe / ENO Julietta blog

3 Sep

Last week we talked about the start of rehearsals, this week we are getting closer to the opening night by a week! Claire tells us how it went.

The sitzprobe took place at LSO St.Luke’s (the London Symphony Orchestra’s rehearsal and education space) which is a fabulous venue (a converted church with a great acoustic and space to fit the chorus, singers and orchestra). The orchestra and singers were on fine form. The score is such fun. There are some gorgeous, romantic passages interspersed with what I would call filmic/cartoony writing. There’s real humour in the music. It’s the type to make everyone smile at some point. There’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Ed wanted a specific colour from the orchestra. Sometimes needing a dry sound from percussion, rather than that of a bierkellar. Also the strings needed to find a smoky, sensual sound to aid the storytelling. The piano accordion passages are a fun and unusual addition, it’s such a distinct sound. It also links the score to the on stage action, by having a set that is a huge accordion. Ed was great at conveying the story to the orchestra, giving them an idea of emotion in which to find the right colour. This is the time when the balance between the voices and the orchestral playing starts to getting calibrated making sure the final sound at the Coliseum is as tight woven as possible.

In Julietta, the soloists and chorus need to spit the words out in the fast sections. Diction is key in this piece as it’s such a strange and sometimes confusing story. Peter Hoare sings the role of Michel and has some stunning music to sing.

I’m always excited to hear the orchestra at a sitzprobe. Rehearsing with piano accompaniment in this particular piece has been alien to what the score really sounds like. You can’t get the mood and colour of the score without having the orchestra to bring it to life. Martinů’s character music is expressive, humorous and quirky. There’s lots of fun, percussive sections that were lost with solo piano.

The opera has now come alive for me and we start to rehearse on stage in the actual space, with the set, costumes and props. This is the point where Martinů’s imagination, the beautiful orchestral sound under Ed Gardner and Richard Jones’ direction will become one and take us to the final straight to the stage and dress rehearsals.

You can also follow Claire on Twitter, her handle is @ClaraButt .

Claire’s shots from the rehearsals

Beginning of rehearsals / ENO Julietta blog

27 Aug

Last week I introduced you to Claire Pendleton a soprano with the English National Opera Chorus, who will take us through the rehearsal process for  Bohuslav Martinů‘s Julietta which is opening on 17 September 2012. This week she looks into the musical preparation before the first week of rehearsals and the first contact with the director of the production and the chorus master.

This is a little insight on how we start rehearsing for an opera – specifically, Julietta.

The chorus started looking at the score during the last couple of weeks of season 2011/12, in July. We do not have a chorus master/mistress at the moment so Martin Fitzpatrick (known to all as Fitz); the Head of Music has taken over the hard task of preparing us for all operas until a suitable candidate has been found.

Fitz is very knowledgeable and well-regarded by all at ENO. It is such a privilege to have him putting us through our paces for each opera. He is very specific in what he wants to hear and how we should sing it, this is invaluable with an opera like Julietta as the chorus sections are small and sporadic, so detail is important. There are no long, legato lines. It’s all punchy, little lines interspersed with the soloists.

Only six female chorus members are on stage in act one and act three. Act two has eight female choristers and during the rest of the opera, the chorus sing off-stage.

As we sing every opera in English, the diction is very important but it mustn’t get in the way of the musical line. We spend rehearsals working through the score, marking up difficult rhythms, tempi and key changes. We continue to repeat sections in order to memorize chunks of the opera, and then we can put them all together and get ready for the first production call. Hopefully by that time we have managed to memorize the whole opera.

We have had costume fittings which for some of us have been made by external seamstresses. They bring half-made creations in for the first fitting and make adjustments whilst we wear them, other times they adapt existing costumes. This method helps produce a fabulous tailor-made costume that fits perfectly and is very comfortable to perform in. I will take pictures of my costume once it’s finished and we’re rehearsing at the Coliseum. I have long hair so it will probably be styles rather than wearing a wig. I’ll know more once we get into the theatre and everything is ready!

We’ve started production rehearsals with the director, Richard Jones. The venue for the rehearsals is the Lilian Baylis Studio inside Sadler’s Wells Theatre. We have a wooden mock-up of the different parts of the set, which is helping us to get used to the exact space that we’ll get on stage. Richard is a man of great detail, he is also very easy to work with and is one of the favourite directors of the chorus. He has specific moves, gestures, noises for us on certain parts of the music and scene. It is so helpful to work with a director that knows the score so well. In my opinion Richard’s operas have lots of mad-cap ideas. Always exceptionable, a little dark and totally off the wall. I love working with him. He has a great sense of humour too. We always laugh at something he says every rehearsal, which is fun and lightens the atmosphere during the long days in the studio. During the rehearsal we get to run through chorus sections with the music director. Our esteemed leader, Ed Gardner is conducting Julietta.

We’re coming up to the sitzprobe* this week (Wednesday 29th), which will be the first time the singers get to work with the orchestra. This is always a magical experience for me, the opera really comes alive then. I am looking forward to it so much! Watch out for the blog next week to see how did it go and what comes up next.

You can also follow Claire on Twitter, her handle is @ClaraButt .

*Sitzprobe (German) is a term used in opera and musical theatre to describe a seated rehearsal – which is the literal translation of Sitzprobe – where the singers sing with the orchestra, focusing attention on integrating the two groups. It is often the first rehearsal where the orchestra and singers rehearse together. The equivalent Italian term is prova all’italiana.

The trailer for the production

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Claire! / The ENO Julietta rehearsal blog starts here

20 Aug

I have only had one guest blogger so far in the form of @Mirto_P who wrote a beautiful account of an early encounter with the uncomfortable side of an opera recital, which you can read here.
Thought it would be a great idea, to ease everyone in the new opera season with a blog written by a singer. And this time I thought it was time we gave it a little twist, we have all read blogs about preparing for a role by one of the soloists, but this time we will focus on a chorus member as a way to communicate their important contribution and equally intensive preparation. Sometimes singing on stage with the rest of the cast and others being the off stage voice of the people or the neighbours,a chorus is an essential element for most operas.
In particular the chorus of the English National Opera is well known for the variety of repertoire they perform and also about their genuine dramatic engagement, so I was delighted that Claire Pendleton one of the sopranos of the ENO chorus agreed to join me on the blog to take us through the six week long rehearsals for Bohuslav Martinů’s Julietta. Every Monday we will look into the progress of the rehearsals and also any particular stages/processes that Claire finds worth highlighting.
Following is a brief biography and also a few questions to get to know her a little bit better. You can also follow her on Twitter, her handle is @ClaraButt .

Claire Pendleton studied at UCL/Birkbeck College, where she received distinction in Opera Performance and was awarded an Ottakar Kraus Memorial Scholarship. She then gained a Postgraduate Diploma at Trinity College of Music, studying with Wendy Eathorne and Geoffrey Pratley; winning several scholarships including the Ricordi Opera Prize and Beatrice Taylor Memorial Scholarship.

Whilst at college Claire sang as Madame Lidoine (Dialogue of the Carmelites), at Spitalfields Opera conducted by Andrea Quinn and received critical acclaim for the British fully staged premiere, in the title role of Barber’s Vanessa, at the Bloomsbury Theatre conducted by Gregory Rose.

Since leaving college, operatic roles have included Tetka cover (Jenufa) and Giulia cover (Gondoliers), Lakme soprano (On the Town), Vendor & Young Woman (Kismet) for English National Opera, Mimi & Musetta (La Boheme) for ENO’s Baylis Programme and Mabel & Gianetta for ENO Friends evening, Anna Bolena for Swansea City Opera, Rusalka for ‘I Maestri’ and Opera Box, First Lady (Magic Flute), for Opera Project and Opera à la Carte, Helmwige cover (Die Walküre) for Northern Wagner Orchestra, Aminta (Schweigsame Frau) for Garsington Opera Educational Project, Anna (Nabucco) at Blackheath Concert Halls, Mimi (La Boheme), Countess Almaviva (Marriage of Figaro), Michaela (Carmen) and Queen of The Night (Magic Flute). Gilbert & Sullivan roles include Yum-Yum, Rose Maybud, Celia, Gianetta and Fiametta along with Frasquita (Carmen), Madame Silberklang (Schauspieldirektor) and High Priestess (Aida).
Recently with English National Opera, Claire has sung the roles of Solo Woman in Puccini’s Turandot (2010), Old Woman in Alexander Raskatov’s A Dog’s Heart (2011), Suburban Mum in Nico Muhly’s opera Two Boys (2011) and off stage solos for Detlev Glanert’s Caligula (2012). She also covered the roles of Mrs Naidoo in Philip Glass’ Satyagraha (2010) and Flower Maiden in Wagner’s Parsifal (2011).

Claire has performed in many venues around the UK and abroad. She has recorded the role of Blush of Morning, in Arthur Sullivan’s Rose of Persia, with the Hanover Band, which is now released on the CPO label. She has also recorded for Chandos, BBC television and BBC Music Magazine. She studies with the distinguished soprano Marie McLaughlin.

A short Q&A

When did you realise you wanted to be a singer?

I sang in the senior school choir at secondary school, which introduced me to oratorios and Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. I remember Catherine Wyn-Rogers coming to sing the mezzo solo in Verdi’s Requiem. I was blown away. I then joined a weekend youth club & was introduced to my first singing teacher, Norman Welsby. He was encouraging, supportive and brought opera into my life. The first arias I worked on were Cherubino’s (Voi che sapete + Non so più from The Marriage of Figaro). I was totally transfixed by Mozart and became an avid fan. I saved up to go and see as many operas as I could. I queued up for the stars’ autographs too! I carried on with lessons and sang roles with operatic societies in and around London. My teacher at the time was Keith Bonnington, he sang in the ENO chorus and persuaded me to audition for extra chorus. My first opera at the Coliseum was War and Peace in 2001. The rest is history.

How long have you been part of ENO’s chorus?

I was an extra chorister from 2001 and was contracted to sing 2 or 3 operas a season. In 2005 I was employed on an annual contract to cover maternity leave so that was my first taste of full-time chorus work. It was SO hard! I covered annual contracts for 3 years then in 2007 I auditioned for a permanent soprano position and was lucky enough to get it, so for the last 5 years I’ve been full-time.

What has been the most challenging (physically or musically) work you have performed?

Gosh! Where to start. There have been a few. Nixon In China was a tough gig. I had to cover all the sopranos in the chorus. They all had a different physical gesture on each word in some of the scenes. That was tough to memorize. The music was tough too but I adored it, especially as I got to work briefly with the director, Peter Sellars. One of my favourite and challenging operas is Satyagraha. This was a great achievement to learn and memorize Sanskrit. You need good vocal stamina to sing the high, long phrases. The production was stunning and when we revived it I got to cover Janis Kelly. Doctor Atomic had some numbers that were tough to memorize musically. I grew to love it more than Nixon In China, which I never thought possible. I was positioned in a high box being harnessed in and having to lean out whilst singing. I realise now that I could never do that again. I was terrified every night.

Last season we performed The Death of Klinghoffer. The music is stunning but the opening scene starts with the women in a very tricky number to memorize. It was almost like a vocalize. I think that was demanding vocally and physically. I also played a hostage and that was physically tough but very enjoyable.

What is your music of choice at home?

I love a lot of different music. French cafe songs – Charles Trenet, Edif Piaf, Leo Ferre, Yves Montand, Maurice Chevalier …

Columbian & Cuban bands, Buena Vista Social Club, traditional jazz,
American rock & metal bands – Guns & Roses, Aerosmith, Black Crowes, Bon Jovi, Poison…

Easy listening pop – Abba, Queen, Brain Adams, 1980’s…

There’s a lot I’ve missed like northern soul or Burt Bacharach songs but I could listen to pretty much anything.

What was the strangest costume you had to wear?

Where to start at ENO? Ha! I can picture me as a geisha, prostitute, nun, vestal virgin, wet nurse, pirate, school girl, factory worker, a French revolutionary, little girl/dolly but my utter favourite was dressing as a gentleman in a pinstripe suit in Richard Jones’ Tales of Hoffman last season, complete with a beard and moustache. I think all the female chorus had such a giggle being a man.

The trailer for the production

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