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Isolation Arias: Madeleine Boyd

Set and costume designer Madeleine Boyd trained at Central Saint Martins and has subsequently designed opera and theatre productions around the world including The Turn of the Screw for Opera North (currently available to stream on OperaVision).

Before the crisis struck, she was working on the Leeds Playhouse/Opera North co-production of A Little Night Music and the Northern Heartlands community opera project Song of Our Heartland.

“Music for me is linked to retrospective thinking: reflecting on times in my life when I felt happiest or most secure. I therefore (perversely) don’t listen to music very much as a background accompaniment, because I find the emotions it evokes distracting and sometimes overwhelming. I’m usually seeking quiet, so I would say the isolation for me has meant seeking a lot of silence.

“As listening to music is a conscious act to sit and listen for me, it is a rather special, proactive thing. It can be either with the aim of generating a visual response in my work or as an indulgent meditation session. I’m surrounded by experts in music and so always feel very underqualified to have an opinion; in fact, I have been reliably informed a few times my musical taste is ‘terrible’! However, part of getting older is really not caring if your musical taste is simplistic, untrendy or dated.”

Listen to the Spotify playlist »

1. Bruce Springsteen: ‘I’m On Fire’

To be honest, I could list any of Bruce’s songs here.

I find his voice really reassuring and this particular song reminds me of dusty, warm evenings and my first solo car drive after passing my test!

2. Jeff Silbar / Larry Henley: ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’, sung by Bette Midler from the film Beaches

I chose this mainly because it’s Bette Midler singing it – although Beaches is one of my favourite films. I watched it the first time with my Dad, so it has various happy connotations.

3. Mozart, Don Giovanni: ‘Deh, vieni alla finestra’

I find the simple tune and the way it winds very much like a children’s nursery rhyme, which is interesting when juxtaposed with Don Giovanni’s intentions (the seduction of Donna Elvira’s maid).

The tune reminds me he was once a little boy himself and therefore it’s one of the few moments where I actually feel sympathy for his character.

4. Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice: ‘Che farò senza Euridice’

This always makes me cry. It’s clean and direct and speaks impactfully of longing without the frills.


5. Noel Gay / Ralph Butler: ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’

This reminds me of my Grandmother who had a ‘just get on with it and count your blessings’ attitude. She was always walking around humming this or ‘Daisy, Daisy’.

During lockdown, I’ve caught myself doing the same a few times. I can hum it solidly and repetitively for minutes on end and only notice I’m doing so when someone asks me to please stop!

6. Offenbach, Les Contes d’Hoffmann: ‘Il était une fois à la cour d’Eisenach’

I was an assistant working on a production of The Tales of Hoffmann and I clearly remember watching the staging rehearsals of this number and noticing when a conversation between Hoffmann and individual instruments was happening. It sounds like an obvious thing to say, but it was simply the first time it had consciously occurred to me that there was a conversation taking place between stage and pit!

It was therefore also the first time opera felt relevant and accessible to me – it was a very physical and witty staging where the singers were put through their paces as much physically as vocally.

7. Sondheim, Sweeney Todd: ‘A Little Priest’, sung by Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris

Here is an example of perfect comic writing and composing, performed with exemplary comic timing by Patti LuPone. Funny and horrifyingly delicious!

The whole musical makes me laugh and cry. It’s a totally cathartic listen.

8. Porter: ‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye’, sung by Ella Fitzgerald

I don’t remember the first time I heard this – it feels like one of those tunes you’re born knowing. The same can be said for Ella’s voice: it’s reassuring, familiar and comforting.

Part of the comfort is in the crackle on the recording; the way it was recorded is almost as evocative as the song itself.

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