13 March 2020
Our expectations of our second opera masterclass with international operatic singer, Richard Burkhard, were running high, following his memorable last visit in November 2016. As before, it was not so much a “singers’ opera masterclass” but more a fascinating and often hilarious workshop in operatic stagecraft.
There is little doubt that whilst Richard Burkhard has a stunning international career as an opera singer, he is clearly also an opera director in waiting. His flair for this is both compelling and quite amazing.
This kind of event is so much driven by the character of the expert who runs the show – and, in the very experienced hands of Mr Burkhard, we also had someone absolutely at the top of their professional game, who brought a wealth of experience of working as a solo bass-baritone at some of the most famous opera houses in the world – Opera North, New Zealand, ENO, Scottish Opera, ROH and the Bolshoi.
We started with a scene from Verdi’s opera Rigoletto, played by the amazing Jeroan Yip, a new boy in the Lower Sixth, who seems to live and breathe his opera. It was great to see Mr Burkhard getting a group of uniformed schoolboys to step into the role of arrogant courtiers in the Duke’s court and the disdain they must feel for the dejected jester, Rigoletto – and getting Jeroan to bring out the character of this central character.
The second extract was from Mozart’s Magic Flute, with Oliver Simpson as Papageno. Oliver proved to be incredibly responsive in getting into the character of this forlorn, love-sick individual. The three boys – Owen Ravden, Andreas Lo and Jamie Kilroy were excellent in their supporting roles.
After the interval we had an extract, Cherchez les Femmes from Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. The three gods, Jamie Kilroy, Sammy Jarvis and Reuben McLusky, were encouraged to camp up the comic nature of their characters to fit the music, adapting their roles from tired office workers to lads down the pub, comparing notes on Cherchez les Femmes. Great to see the boys becoming increasingly animated as they found their characters.
The last ensemble was from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The scene is from late in the opera, when the arrogant and salacious Don (Kit Mannix), accompanied by his servant, Leporello (Kit Matthews), is confronted and taken to hell by the dead statue of the Commendatore (Tristan Tonks). The young singers already had a good idea of how to play the scene and were encouraged to think about how to get into their characters, how to carry themselves and use props to best advantage.
The next was to have been a scene from Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd, but unfortunately several singers were unable to sing, which meant that this extract had to be cut. Never mind – there was plenty of other music to work on, and more time to do it – and we were treated to an absolute feast of opera and a massive learning experience for all those involved, boys, teachers and audience.
This was another absolutely fascinating evening, which will stay in the memory for years to come. Our thanks to the boys for their wonderful work in preparation, to Mr Yeats for his idea, his accompaniment and the meticulously rehearsed music and, of course, to Richard Burkhard, who was so fascinating and enjoyable to watch and whose warmth and generosity with the boys empowered their performances to grow in confidence and to improve exponentially.