Belfast-born soprano Giselle Allen made her Opera North debut in 2001 as Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. She has since made many memorable appearances with the Company, most recently as Anna Maurrant in Kurt Weill’s Street Scene. She can currently be seen as Freia, Gerhilde and Gutrune in the Opera North Ring cycle online.
“When I was asked for my choices I found it so difficult as there are so many wonderful pieces of music to choose from! I could have listed about 20 of my favourites, but here are those that I come back to again and again in times of trouble.”
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1. Vaughan Williams, A Sea Symphony: IV. The Explorers
I love the quintessential English feel of Vaughan Williams’ music, and the way in this symphony the instrumentation evokes the power of the sea and also its stillness.
From the opening bars, ‘Behold the sea itself!’, to the end, Vaughan Williams takes us on a wonderful journey. The choral writing is fantastic, from the quiet beginning to the rousing, full throttle ‘Singing his Song’ where choir and orchestra are an incredible force together.
2. Britten, Peter Grimes: ‘From the gutter’
I have been very lucky to sing the role of Ellen Orford many times, most memorably with Opera North in its wonderful production directed by Phyllida Lloyd.
Ellen is a character that resonates with me so deeply as a woman, and in this quartet, which comes just after the mob has left to hunt down Peter, the women express their grief and devastation at the way men have treated them. It is heartbreakingly beautiful.
3. Mahler, Rückert-Lieder: ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’
This song is one of my favourites as it is just so beautiful. The simplicity of the melody, the harmonies and orchestration and ultimately the text, which seems very apt at this crazy moment in our world:
‘I am dead to the world’s tumult,
And rest in a quiet realm!
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love, in my song!’
4. Duruflé, Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens: ‘Ubi caritas’
At university in Cardiff we had a fantastic chamber choir and sang a wide range of music from ancient to modern.
This choral setting of ‘Ubi caritas’ by Maurice Duruflé is one I remember vividly and always come back to for comfort. The harmonies are so beautiful and calming.
5. Puccini, La bohème: ‘Mimì! – Speravo di trovarvi qui’ (from Act Three)
La bohème is, for me, the perfect opera! This duet between Mimì and Marcello is one of my favourites in the opera.
Mimì goes to find Marcello to explain she is dying and must leave Rodolfo. The incredible vocal writing and orchestration moves the opera into another realm and we know sorrow is coming. Mimì’s selflessness and Marcello’s loyalty here are deeply moving.
6. Humperdinck, Hänsel und Gretel: ‘Abends, will ich schlafen gen’ (Evening Prayer)
This beautiful duet in which the two children are saying their prayers to the angels is probably a favourite of many people.
The Sandman comes and makes them sleepy (also a beautiful aria) and they ask that the Angels come and protect them through the night. I used to sing this to my daughter when she was a baby so it has a special place in my heart. She also loves this opera.
7. Puccini, Turandot: ‘Signore, ascolta’
This is a sublime aria, again from Maestro Puccini. The simplicity of the melody and the subtle scoring of instruments is so affecting. Liù is such a loyal person, and in this aria her pleading with Calaf not to risk his life is heartfelt.
The final high note at the end, which has to sound so beautiful, is captured to perfection by Monserrat Caballé.
8. Janáček, Jenůfa: ‘Odesli’ (from Act Three)
Janácěk is one of my favourite composers to sing as his stories are true to life and his music draws on our deepest emotions as performers.
This duet between Jenůfa and Laca, which ends the opera, is the most beautiful example of love and forgiveness. The music starts very simply, but develops into soaring lines for Jenůfa as she realises that even after all the tragedy she and Laca have experienced, there is still hope and love.
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