Remembering Kathleen Ferrier

Audition OracleSat 17 Jun 2017 @ 9:00

Remembering Kathleen Ferrier


Kathleen Ferrier, contralto - Audition Oracle Blog

This weeks guest blog post comes from Paul Campion, Executive Producer of Kathleen Ferrier Remembered

Kathleen Ferrier was perhaps the most popular British ‘classical’ singer of the 20th century. For ten years, beginning in the Second World War, she captured the hearts of millions of Britons – and millions overseas too – with her glorious, rich contralto voice and warm personality that shone through even on records and radio broadcasts. For those fortunate enough to hear her sing ‘live’, she had an almost mesmerising effect; each member of the audience under the impression that she was singing for them alone, that there was a direct link between singer and listener.

This personal magnetism was natural to Ferrier but, to become the great singer that she was, she had to study hard and learn a lot.

Ferrier was born in 1912 in the Lancashire village of Higher Walton. When she was two she moved with her parents, older sister and brother to nearby Blackburn, where she grew up. From her earliest years she was attracted to the piano and, as a young girl and teenager, she was exceptionally talented, gaining qualifications from the Royal Academy and Royal College of Music. She also enjoyed singing in choirs, but as a secondary musical interest.

In 1926, the fourteen year-old left school and went to work in Blackburn Post Office, later becoming a telephonist. Her marriage in 1935 to Albert Wilson was not happy and was annulled in 1947. While living in Cumberland in 1937, Ferrier entered Carlisle Music Festival and surprised everyone, including herself, by winning both the Piano and Solo Contralto class; such success made her think about taking her voice more seriously and she had lessons with Dr Hutchinson in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This prepared her for a move to London in 1942 – with just a handful of engagements booked and a great deal of ambition. Her ‘London Professor’, the baritone Roy Henderson, was able to teach her interesting repertoire, platform presence and built her self confidence.

The composer Benjamin Britten heard her sing and in 1946 he composed his opera The Rape of Lucretia with her voice very much in mind. Indeed, she sang the premiere at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1946, to considerable acclaim. The next year she returned to Glyndebourne to sing Gluck’s opera Orfeo and also took part in the first Edinburgh International Festival, singing under the guidance and the baton of the conductor Bruno Walter. This was the beginning of a five-year collaboration which has become legendary among music lovers worldwide.

By this time Ferrier was making records, of oratorio (St Matthew Passion), German Lieder (Schubert and Brahms, particularly), of opera (Orfeo) and British songs from the 17th to the 20th century. They sold in their many thousands and were broadcast regularly on radio. In this way everyone got to know Kathleen Ferrier, heard the smile in her voice and luxuriated in the confident warmth of her rich tones.

Tours to North America and around Europe soon followed; she was particularly popular in the Netherlands, which she visited frequently. At home, Ferrier travelled from the north of Scotland to the south of England, east to west, enriching the lives of many still suffering from the aftermath of the war. A visit to Vienna in 1950, to sing in a Bach Commemoration Festival, was a particular landmark in her career; but this busy lifestyle was temporarily stilled by a cancer diagnosis in 1951. As was conventional in those times, this illness was not spoken of and only closest friends knew.

Resuming a modified schedule, Kathleen Ferrier continued learning new works, making new records and singing every year at the Edinburgh Festival, at the Proms in London and all around Britain, where she was in great demand…everywhere.

A new production of Orfeo was planned for the Royal Opera House in 1953, to be conducted by her friend Sir John Barbirolli. She enjoyed working with him on the score and preparing for this important booking. The first performance was a triumph but, at the second, she was taken ill during the performance and only with difficulty managed to finish it. It proved to be her last appearance on any stage and she died eight months later aged 41, genuinely mourned by millions. At the time of her death she was said to be the second most famous woman in the country, next only to the young Queen, Elizabeth II.

Loved and admired all over the world – what was this fascination that Kathleen Ferrier exerted on so many people, many of whom would certainly not have described themselves as ‘Classical music fans’?

There are several answers: she was very attractive and self-assured with a confident stage presence; for many millions she represented ‘The girl next door’, never posh or arrogant but charming and smiling. Men loved her – in a very proper way – and women did too; but it was the voice that really appealed to the world. Those warm gentle tones, exquisite soft notes (and impressive ‘fortes’ when necessary) were literally unique. Rather bizarrely, one adjudicator at a Music Festival once wrote that her voice made him feel that he was ‘being stroked’…. He detected that relaxed ease and confidence that she displayed so generously.

No-one else has ever sounded like Kathleen Ferrier.    

In the generations before Ferrier, contraltos were often thought of as rather fearsome women. They were frequently grand, imposing – almost frightening onstage and often their voices matched their looks. One could admire them, for they were impressive, but love them – maybe not.

Ferrier is a role model for those who come after. They are seldom true contraltos, as she was, but more likely mezzo-sopranos, a voice style that seems to sit more easily in recent musical times. Ferrier could teach them charm and elegance, humour and style and there can be few, from Norma Procter to young Kathryn Rudge, from Janet Baker to Sarah Connolly, for whom Ferrier has not stood out as a role model.

She was indeed a singer apart.   

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, contralto | Audition Oracle

‘This is a disc that will thrill and delight every admirer of this glorious singer.’ Rupert Christiansen


Jorge Navarro Colorado wins rave reviews in the Göttingen International Festival!

Audition OracleMon 5 Jun 2017 @ 10:37

Tenor Jorge Navarro Colorado wins rave reviews in the Göttingen International Festival!


"Jorge Navarro Colorado gave us a breathtaking virtuoso display (while still acting his socks off) at the beginning of Act Two."
The Arts Desk

We are delighted to announce that Jorge’s debut at the Göttingen International Festival has been met with widespread critical acclaim. After winning the role of Beregnario in Handel’s Lotario, Jorge applied for our 2017 Preparation Scholarship Award. This award is specifically designed to help provide extra training in preparation for an important upcoming professional engagement (be it an opera, concert or related performance) with no age restrictions. Jorge was the recipient of this year’s award and it is wonderful to hear from him that all the preparation has paid off:

Jorge Navarro-Colorado

Berengario Lotario at the 2017 Göttingen Handel Festival


"I've had an amazing time, I felt completely well prepared and never below the level of my more experienced colleagues, and it has just been a joy to take part in such amazing production with such talented people. To top it off, I'm having more work offers following this job, and I take with me some lovely reviews:

"A second highlight of the direction and the unmistakable vocal artistry of the singers is Berengario’s great aria of remorse in the third act, in which Jorge Navaro Colorado, with a breathtaking mastery of coloratura, transforms the physicality of his character also with the most masterful vocal variety and musical characterisation."
Guido Müller - IOCO

 “As Mathilde’s husband Beregnario, Jorge Navarro Colorado displays an elegant, noble tenor. "
Michael Schäfer - Göttinger Tageblatt

"Jorge Navarro Colorado has much to sing as Berengario. With his radiant, high tenor, he shows himself completely mobile in the fast runs and performs a credible change from the evil villain to the repentant man. This is especially evident in his aria in the third act, "Vi sento, sì, rimorsi entro al mio sen", when he is always plagued by feelings of guilt and collapses in the arms of his wife."
Thomas Molke - OMM

"I wanted to thank you, Audition Oracle, the donors of the award and the panel who chose my application, once more, for being such a help in this little success which is a very big step in my professional development. Thank you!!”


We wish Jorge great success in the future! Our Singer's Preparation Scholarship has continued to grow each year and with no age or nationality restrictions, we hope that it will inspire other organisations to offer this type of open support for singers regardless of their age or stage of their career.  Look out for the opening of the 2018 Scholarship Award later on in the year!


Opera Icons on Desert Island Discs

Audition OracleWed 24 May 2017 @ 19:41

Opera Icons on Desert Island Discs

Who doesn't love Desert Island Discs? First broadcast in 1942, it is a format that has stood the test of time not least because of its capability to reveal far more about the interviewees than other, more conversational, interview techniques.

For those of us that love opera, the Desert Island Discs Archive offers an extraordinary insight into the lives and music choices of some of the most iconic opera artists of the past 70 years. Perhaps the most infamous episode in the show's history was with the operatic grand dame Elizabeth Schwarzkopf who chose seven of her own recordings, but look beyond this notorious appearance and you will find over eighty historic interviews with the great and good of the opera stage. So dip in to the archive and discover some extraordinary gems. Don't know where to start? Here are a few of our favourites!

Sir Peter Pears (Tenor) 1969 & 1983

Sir Peter Pears

'I wanted to be able to remember a very happy life’

These two interviews give a fascinating insight into Sir Peter's early training and, as you’d expect, the latter interview reveals far more about his relationship with Benjamin Britten than the first.

Jessye Norman (Soprano) 1981

Jessye Norman

Hear about a rather unconventional audition process that led to Jessye Norman winning a career making role in Tannhäuser for Deutsche Oper.


Jonas Kaufman (Tenor) 2015

Jonas Kaufman

An episode when you can hear a giggling Kirsty Young being swept off to the desert island herself by the smooth charm of Mr Kaufman...

Birgit Nilsson (soprano) 1963

Birgit Nilsson

This is pure gold for those that consider Birgit the ultimate Isolde....


John Copley (Director) 2010

John Copley

A hilarious interview into the astonishing life and career of the legendary opera director John Copley.

The Three Tenors, 1976, 1980, 1980

The Three Tenors

Yes! Long before Italia '90 all three tenors had appeared on Desert Island Discs...

Lucian Pavarotti 1976 

Jose Carreras 1980

Placido Domingo 1981

Renata Scotto (Soprano) 1980

Renato Scotto



How do you create a self-sufficient opera company?

Audition OracleThu 11 May 2017 @ 9:54

How do you create a self-sufficient opera company?

Pop-up Opera

Le nozze di Figaro, Pop-up Opera in a co-production with the Kilden concert house


Have you ever thought about setting up your own professional opera company? This week we spoke to founder and director of Pop-up Opera Clementine Lovell, to see exactly how she and her team achieved their mission to set up a self-sufficient opera company.


How did Pop-up Opera begin?

When I began training as an opera singer I had mixed reactions from my friends. Opera wasn’t really their thing, one even claimed to be ‘allergic’ to it. That stayed with me, and I wanted to prove them wrong, to show them that opera could be magical, hilarious, devastating or moving. I founded Pop-up Opera in 2011, on my return from living in Italy. Opera is so much a part of Italian culture, so broadly appreciated, and is performed everywhere, not just in the big houses. I grew up in a small village in the UK miles from an opera house. We never went to see it, it wasn’t an option. My uncle has a barn where he hosts folk and blues events and we put on an opera there for a largely non opera going audience. They loved it. It made me think about how the setting can have a bearing on people’s enjoyment, or their willingness to give it a go.


What financial model did you begin the company with?

I made the decision to try and build a company that could stand on it’s own two feet financially rather than replying on funding. I didn’t have any money to invest or form a basis for the company, so I started it as a profit share, and convinced 12 venues to work with us for the initial season, a few of which guaranteed us a fee. I found a stage director and singers who were excited about the project and willing to take the risk and give it a go. The production was a success and the word began to spread. During the second year I sat down and made a business plan and worked out what we would need to achieve to stay afloat and meet our running costs. Once I felt confident the performances would bring in enough revenue, I moved away from profit share to offering our singers and directors fees.


So many companies never make the jump from profit-share to paid. Not only have you done this, you have regular paid staff! The question most small companies will want to know is how did you achieve this?

The costs of running a company are enormous and it’s both terrifying and liberating to be self reliant financially. It takes a lot of faith and determination, being realistic and thinking outside the box. Absolutely key to success are the relationships within the company and with our venues. My co-producer Fiona Johnston came on board in year two and we formed a very strong partnership. This partnership, and the work we have put in to building the company forms its foundation. Initially we juggled producing with other jobs until we could pay ourselves. We worked to a three year business plan where we budgeted for every detail and were clear on our target number of performances and amount of revenue we needed in order to cover costs. We put a lot of work into approaching venues and and building a relationship with them and with our audiences. We now have many regular venues as well as new ones, and will do around 90 performances this year.


It is not only good financial sense that makes Pop-up Opera a success story. You also have cultivated your own unique brand that captivates and delights audiences. Tell us more about the artistic vision of the company?

Our aim is to get the story across and to engage the audience. There’s this idea that opera is stuffy and unreachable, but more often it’s the attitudes that surround it. At its core the emotions are ones we can all relate to: jealously, anger, desire, love, grief. Our projected captions have become part of our signature style. We believe that you can still make opera accessible when performed in the original language. The music, the intentions of the actors, the interaction between the characters and the power of the drama get the story across. The captions are there to compliment, not to detract. They keep the audience broadly abreast of the story but don't demand their attention all the time. With a comedy the captions can add another layer of humour, and we can play around with the modern context. In a drama we kept the translation more 'straight' but still with the same approach of captions rather than a full text translated into continuous surtitles.

We consider carefully what productions will work for us, and take into account many factors. We have to balance artistic and creative drive with financial and logistical constraints: we are limited by budget and by the number of people we can fit into our 9 seater tour bus. We also have to think about what will work in our venues and with piano reduction instead of orchestra. We consider the suitability of the roles for singers in the early stages of their careers, and we must be excited by the music. The quality of the performance is paramount and our wonderful musical director Berrak Dyer does intensive work with the singers rehearsing the music before we go into staging. We think about how we can adapt the story in our Pop-up style to make it more relevant to a modern audience, and how it will work in the different spaces. We try to choose venues based on the production and what will enhance this, for example a spooky tunnel shaft or urban basement is a perfect backdrop to the gritty violence and eerie beauty of the Capulets and the Montagues, whilst the Barber of Seville works in a room above a pub.


How do you attract your audiences and keep them coming back for more? Most singers have been in a production where there are more cast members on stage than people in the audiences!

We make it entertaining. We want the audience to laugh until their cheeks hurt, or to be moved to tears. Often the intimate space enhances the intensity and immediacy of the drama. Particularly in comedy the audience almost become part of it and we bounce off each over. We also make it high quality. Around 400 singers a year apply to work with us and we have talented people on board. Audiences are often very impressed by both the voices and the acting abilities. The venue also has a bearing on the performance itself, and the production grows and evolves as it pops up in different places. We adapt it to embrace each venue, so every night is different. The performance spaces vary wildly in size, shape, acoustic, feeling. We get in to the space on the day and start working out the entrances, exits, how to involve the audience... The performers have to think on their feet and be willing to allow some freedom and spontaneity. I think this keeps it fresh and creates a very special atmosphere.

Opera is still a hard sell, and often we don’t reach full capacity with a first time performance in a venue. When we go back a second time, word has spread and it sells out. Word of mouth is a very important thing for us. We build a following in the areas we go to, our audiences are loyal and return to see us again and again. We still have a lot more to learn about marketing, or hope that eventually we will be able to afford to bring on a marketing person! Our brilliant arts admin Emily Salmon has started to take on some of this, but she is already kept busy (as are we) by the huge amount of admin generated by working with so many different venues and all the logistics of touring. We are a small team and the company is growing!


New opera companies spring up every other week and many never continue beyond their inaugural production. Six years and nine productions later (with two more this year), Pop-up Opera has gone from strength to strength. What has been your proudest moment so far?

I can’t choose a single moment, there have been many highs (and lows!). Top moments include... Seeing my idea take wings when our very first production, Don Pasquale, came alive with the special talent and humour of our first stage director Darren Royston, who believed in my vision for the company. Our reviews for L’elisir d’amore and Matthew Parris writing about us in The Times. The moment when Fiona and I could give up our other work and focus on the company full time. Opening the Evening Standard to see we were included in the ‘Top 10 things to do in London this week’. The intense atmosphere of the dress rehearsal of I Capuleti and the thrill of doing a tragedy for the first time, in the capable hands of our brilliant stage director James Hurley. Hearing the full orchestra play the first few notes of Figaro as the curtain went up on the amazing set of our co- production with Kilden concert house in Norway. In general, we are proud to be a company that singers want to work with, and that we offer a fun and supportive environment.Le nozze di Figaro

Le nozze di Figaro, Pop-up Opera in a co-production with the Kilden concert house


What next for team Pop-up?

We are currently staging Cimarosa’s rarely performed comedy Il matrimonio segreto, with award winning director Max Hoehn, whose staging has been described as ‘brilliantly alive’. We’re excited to be working with him and feel it’s a great match for the company and our aim of making opera enjoyable and relevant for a modern audience. In the autumn we’ll be doing Hansel & Gretel. In general it’s a very exciting time for the company. As well as our core productions touring 90 shows a year, we have also began to collaborate with larger organisations, such as the amazing Kilden concert house in Norway where we upscaled but still stayed true to our ethos and style. We hope to take on more projects and partnerships like this as well as continuing to bring our productions to intimate and usual venues around the UK. Ultimately though, the sky’s the limit. Anything is possible if you believe in it enough and are prepared to work hard to make it happen.

Find out where you can next catch the innovative productions of Pop-up Opera 


Winners of the 2017 International Opera Awards Announced

Audition OracleMon 8 May 2017 @ 9:33

Winners of the 2017 International Opera Awards Announced 

The International Opera Awards 2017

Last night the London Coliseum was home to the 2017 International Opera Awards.  Hosted by Petroc Trelawney, the evening celebrated the very best of the International opera world.  Anna Netrebko was named Female Singer of the Year, Lawrence Brownlee won the Best Male Singer category, Louise Alder awarded Best Young Singer and the Wexford Festival Opera took home the prestigious Festival of the Year award. One of the many highlights of the evening was Renata Scotto being presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the indefatigable opera director John Copley. 

The audience were also treated to a series of world-class performances by Louise Alder, Stéphanie d’Oustrac, Lauren Fagan, Bryan Hymel, Rhian Lois, Anita Rachvelishvili and Stuart Skelton. 

The ceremony itself doubles as a fundraiser for the Opera Awards Foundation which was founded in 2012 to award bursaries to support aspiring artists. The evening’s finale showcased the talents of the many bursary award winners in a stunning group performance of the Easter Hymn from Cavelleria with the wonderful Orpheus Sinfonia conducted by Stephen Barlow. 

Full list of award winners:


Arnold Schoenberg Chor


Philippe Jordan


Klaus Grünberg


Christof Loy


Natalya Sats Children's Opera Theatre, Moscow


Anna Netrebko


Wexford Festival Opera


Bernard Foccroulle


Renata Scotto


Lawrence Brownlee


Saariaho: L'amour de loin, d. Robert Lepage (Metropolitan Opera)


Lorenzo Viotti (Conductor)


Opéra de Lyon


Juan Diego Flórez




Pique Dame (BR Klassik)


Pretty Yende: A Journey (Sony)


Żeleński: Goplana (Polish National Opera)


Alberto Zedda


Thomas Adès: The Exterminating Angel (Salzburg Festival)


Louise Alder

Read more about the awards here:
Donate to the opera awards foundation here: