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