News & Views

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

'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

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

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

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


John Copley (Director) 2010

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

The Three Tenors, 1976, 1980, 1980

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




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:


For the Love of Opera – A Reflection

Audition OracleTue 2 May 2017 @ 8:39

With The International Opera Awards fast aproaching, we thought it would be good to hear from this years director and previous bursary winner Ella Marchment. An inspirational talent, this young woman really knows how to get things done! She sugar coats nothing. This industry can be brutal but the rewards are there when you stick to the 'WHY'.

For the Love of Opera – A Reflection

Ella Marchment - director, producer

Dear Ella,

Aged 16 you will be forced to sing on stage in a production of Dorset Opera’s The Pearl Fishers. This experience is going to transform your life. You are going to be emotionally overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of the form, the poignancy of the music and the thrill of the spectacle which sends excited chills through your entire body. You will want to create art in order to instil the same sense of wonder that you experienced in others and it is going to become your prerogative to make this genre as accessible and fun and moving as possible to a diverse audience. You are going to make your dreams a reality and live your bliss. 

"You will sometimes resent opera because the industry is brutal and can hurt."


It is not going to be easy. The road is one less travelled by and many fall off the wagon along the line. You will consider doing this on a regular basis and wonder what life would have been like if you hadn’t fallen so head over heels impulsively and compulsively in love. You will sometimes resent opera because the industry is brutal and can hurt. You will make mistakes, you will cry rivers, and – most importantly – you will have failures. You will struggle at times to make ends meet, you will feel lonely, you will be told how to dress, how to act, be criticised from left right and centre and shut out by others. It will cause you a significant amount of worry, it will land you in scrapes, it will force you to defend yourself, and it will exhaust you. You will meet people who disrespect you, who discriminate against you because you are female, and who take advantage of you. 

"You will travel the world. You will see amazing places and meet incredible people."


You will travel the world. You will see amazing places and meet incredible people. You will fall in love because of it, and you will fall out of love because of it. You will be working in an industry that simultaneously honours tradition and strives to constantly innovate and re-invent itself. This life will not be boring by any means, and you’d be surprised how many other of your peers feel equally that they are also riding the same rollercoaster as you. 


The most important thing is never forget why you do what you do. Never forget that moment when you were knelt onstage singing the ‘Brahama Prayer’ with tears rolling down your face because you felt more alive than you ever had done before. Never forget the people who inspire you to keep creating – artists, friends, family, partners, lovers, and thank them whenever you can for supporting you even when times are tough. Never forget the people you create for and the experience you want them to take away from seeing you be great. 

"The most important thing is never forget why you do what you do."


When you are happy smile, when you are sad cry, when you are angry tell people. Communicate and tell others what you want to do. You will be constantly surprised by the amount of people out there keen to back your madness.  

Reach out and ENJOY IT. This career is about indulging in a beautiful love every day that you can embody and share with others, and don’t forget that!

If you can dream it then chase it. 

Best wishes and an enormous hug,


• • • • • • • • • • • • •

As you can see from the above, I have gone on a slight tangent away from audition advice, but there is a simple crux to this matter. As a director and producer the most important thing when I meet any individual in an audition context is their display of their WHY. I want to be inspired by a singer’s energy, and I cannot emphasise how important it is to know exactly why you create and who you create for. If I can sense this then you will be infectious. I personally do not care if you are wearing a smart dress or suit, what colours you have used on your CV (as long as I can read it), or where else you have auditioned recently. I want you to want to work with us and to know why. 

"As a director and producer the most important thing when I meet any individual in an audition context is their display of their WHY."

Be positive. If I told you all the failures and rejections I have had along the way then we would need a trilogy of entries. In moments when you feel disillusioned with the industry, or someone has made you feel as small as a mouse remember why you chose opera….

It’s the beginning of a a good exercise in staying positive even when the skies look gloomy.

What to see more of Ella Marchment's work? Her next projects include...

Rethinking Grand Opera (Aarhus, Denmark, International Festival of Living Theatre, May 2017)
Il Letto (Buxton International Festival, and Copenhagen Opera Festival, July/August 2017)
The Marriage of Figaro, (Longhope Opera, July 2017)
L’Occasione Fa Il Ladro (On tour in Scotland, England and Italy, August 2017)
We’ll Meet Again, (Teatro Tuoro del Lago, August 2017)
A MInd’s Lively (Grange Park Festival, September 2017)

Mad King Suibhne

Mad King Suibhne, Bury Court Opera 2017