Opera is not just about the here and now. One of the most rewarding aspects of what we do is nurturing talented young opera singers, equipping them with the tools and techniques required to succeed in the operatic world.
There is no greater excitement than discovering a young talent at the very beginning of their career.
— Christine Jane Chibnall, Opera North Planning Director
Rather than running a ‘one size fits all’ scheme, Opera North takes a more flexible approach to supporting young singers by individually tailoring programmes to their specific needs. The support given can include mentoring, funding singing lessons, involvement in Education programmes and research projects, movement lessons, language coaching, individual sessions with directors and the chance to sing or cover roles in mainstage productions. Above all, the Company enables each singer to develop gradually, whilst avoiding the trap of taking on a big role too soon.
Many mainstage productions feature up-and-coming artists alongside more experienced performers as the Company looks to develop younger singers at the pace best suited to their particular talents. Two young singers with whom Opera North has been working for several years are Katie Bray and Gavan Ring. Katie returns to the stage in January to sing Hansel in Hansel and Gretel after her critically-acclaimed performance last year as Rosina in The Barber of Seville, while Gavan, a baritone who appeared alongside Katie as Figaro, sang the role of The Novice's Friend in Billy Budd and will be tackling Ping in Turandot in the Spring. All of these roles have been carefully selected to exactly suit the singer's voice and stage in their career.
Working with Opera North has been nothing but a pleasure – they take care of their artists whilst upholding the highest professional and international standards.
— Gavan Ring
Being an Opera North Associate Artist takes this process one step further. Associate Artists work with the Company more intensively for longer. They are given opportunities to perform or cover mainstage roles, sing at concerts with the Orchestra of Opera North and become involved with the Education team’s community residencies and Whistle Stop Opera performances on tour.
The Associate Artists for the Autumn and Winter seasons are Heather Lowe who will perform the part of Lel in The Snow Maiden as well as appearing in the Schools’ Matinees and Whistle Stop Hansel and Gretel; Soraya Mafi who has been singing Suor Genoveva in Suor Angelica as well as performing at various community concerts on tour; and Ellie Laugharne who will perform in the Schools’ Matinee performances, a selection of concerts with the Orchestra of Opera North and Whistle Stop Hansel and Gretel.
Funded by The Leverhulme Trust, Opera North runs residencies for students at both the Royal Northern College of Music and the National Opera Studio, giving them a valuable insight into all things operatic at a key stage in their education. Each residency is structured in a slightly different way to take account of the student's individual needs and the best way of complementing their postgraduate studies. Typical activities include masterclasses with professional conductors and singers, attending production rehearsals, discussions around stage design, spoken text sessions, voice coaching, shadowing mainstage singers as they master a major role and performance opportunities. The culmination of this year's intensive week-long NOS residency will be a performance of duets and arias from some of Mozart's best-loved works, Words and Mozart, in the Howard Assembly Room.
Championing the Chorus
Traditionally, music education prepares students for careers as solo artists with less of an emphasis on the alternatives, such as becoming an operatic chorister. Keen to redress the balance, Opera North has introduced a mentoring scheme at the Royal Northern College of Music, highlighting the realities of professional chorus work and giving the students the chance to take part in mock auditions and to gain valuable feedback. Tenor Alexander Banfield participated in Opera North's Chorus Mentor Scheme at the RNCM in 2014.
Getting to know the Opera North company better has been really interesting: what it expects, how it operates, and the supporting environment that it nurtures for its performers.
— Alexander Banfield
The Chorus of Opera North was increased to 36 last Autumn with the addition of eight new members. This will offer many more opportunities for choristers to sing and cover roles on the mainstage as well as taking part in other aspects of the Company's work and singing in the Chorus throughout the year.
At Opera North, we love to develop long term relationships with singers. We are happy to see those we have nurtured in their early years take their place on the international stages of the world - singers such as Paul Nilon, Robert Hayward, Will Dazeley and Alice Coote - but we are also thrilled when they come back to us.
— Christine Jane Chibnall, Opera North Planning Director:
Young artist Amy Freston as Rose Maybud in Opera North's Ruddigore. Photo credit: Malcolm Johnson
Katie Bray as Rosina and Gavan Ring as Figaro in The Barber of Seville. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
Associate artist Soraya Mafi sings Suor Genoveva in Suor Angelica. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
The National Opera Studio students prepare for their performance. Photo credit: Malcolm Johnson