Theatre in Wales

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From Maid to Princess     

Wales’ great soprano Rebecca Evans has finally made it from maid to princess and holds court not once but twice this season.
Still ringing in Rebecca’s ears are the cries of bravo from her debut as the princess Pamina in Mozart’s Magic Flute at Covent Garden this week.
After a run of performances into early March in this revival of David McVicar’s 2003 production, Rebecca then heads home and a month later starts work with Welsh National Opera on a new production of the same opera.
Penarth-based Rebecca was scheduled to sing in the WNO production before the Royal Opera Magic Flute came along. So the WNO Cardiff performances would have marked her stage debut in the role.
Such was the importance to her of singing in the WNO production that she turned down singing in Don Giovanni with the Met in New York to clear time in her packed schedule.
But it was a fairytale debut with the Royal Opera on Monday night that will now be in the soprano’s debut ever lengthening biography.
Conducting that Flute is Sir Charles Mackerras with the popular tenor Simon Keenlyside singing the bird catcher Papageno. And it is with both Sir Charles and Simon that Rebecca has just completed a recording of the opera for the Chandos label.
Yes, a glamorous and no doubt lucrative career for the charming, pretty and astute Pontrhydyfen-born singer who made the well-documented transition from NHS theatre sister to darling of the opera theatre. But, as Rebecca, stresses it is also hard work particularly developing and sustaining a career and not being a flash in the pan sensation.
And while she believes if you stop someone in the street and ask them to name a female Welsh opera singer and they are more likely to say Charlotte Church and Katherine Jenkins, Rebecca says they are singers of opera not opera singers.
“I’m a different generation from the opera babes and couldn’t be marketed that way and my career is very different”.
“Young singers’ talents have to be channelled carefully if you want to be in this business a long time. The first thing is to get an agent who isn’t in it to make a quick buck for himself”.
“I know now Charlotte is trying to break into the extremely competitive pop world. But people like Katherine and Hayley Westernra could stand in her way if she wanted to come back into the opera world. Well not the opera but the classical world as they are not opera singers”.
“The thing that defines an opera singer is standing, and sometimes sweating, in a costume and wig in front of an orchestra and audience and take part in a full blown performance. It is very hard work. When you have sung a role like Susanna where you are on stage in virtually every scene you can call yourself an opera singer.”
And the work doesn’t stop when the curtain falls. “I haven’t been on holiday without taking work. In the summer I was learning Hansel and Gretel for the Proms and at Christmas working on Magic Flute. It is constant”.
“But it is of course exciting and thank God I have lots of nice new roles to learn. On the other hand it would be nice to put my feet up and watch a movie!”
While the Royal Opera Flute had a short rehearsal period it was still in rehearsal right until the eve of the first performance, a school performance, as McVicar wanted to work on the opera’s crucial Act Two scene when our hero and heroine are transformed to join the mystical Sarastro’s inner circle.
“I have sung Pamina on stage and I nearly sang it in Santa Fe seven years ago but then along came the chance to record Falstaff with John Elliott Gardiner. Pamina is a different colour to anything I have sung before and I am not really sure I would have been ready for it.”
The role debut is now chalked up but Rebecca is relishing coming to Cardiff to work on a new production, an opportunity which as she puts it doesn’t come up that often particularly as opera houses struggle to find the funds to create new shows.
“The really exciting thing is I can create whatever I want to create with the director. It will be mine”.
“With existing productions the moves are already in the book and when a production has been established those ideas are pretty solid in a director’s head and why change it, especially if it has worked!” she laughed.
The Covent Garden Flute is sung in German while the Cardiff show is the same Jeremy Sanders translation as Rebecca recorded with Sir Charles. “Thank goodness it is the same translation. Going back and forward with different translation is murder, there’s nothing worse.”
However, Rebecca is delighted that it is Sir Charles, a former musical director of WNO, who is conducting her Pamina stage debut at Covent Garden. “He loves the fact that I have never sung the role on stage before and that I had never sung the role before we recorded it and I was totally in his hands. In fact I have created my best Mozart with Sir Charles.”
That highly successful singing career takes Rebecca around the world – she has engagements in Munich singing Saul, recitals in Seville and is back in Chicago in 2006 where she has already sung the saucy and “foxy” role of Adele in Fledermaus.
Rebecca and husband Stephen have a son William who is now at school age. For Rebecca being a mum is a role she is giving even greater importance too.
“When I sang Fledermaus in Chicago that was for three months and before that I was singing in Figaro at the Met so I was away for five and a half months. That is too long. William was with me then but now he is school age that isn’t possible. We have always had a nanny so that William has been able to travel and that is vital or your kids grow up and they don’t know you.
“When you have a child is isn’t just about me any more. Life is so very different when you have a child. Anyone who sacrifices having a child for their career is missing so much.
“We are also fortunate because Stephen has always been able to travel and we have never been apart for more than two weeks.”
In addition while it may all seem like a fairy tale princess the family is also coping extremely well with husband Stephen’s muscular sclerosis.
“Stephen was diagnosed last year. It was a shock at the time but we got over it and now live with. He is coping extremely well. Well, we all are.”
On the further horizon Rebecca is also looking forward to returning to Munich in July for the performances of Saul. She might have made it from maid to princess but she is relishing going off the rails. “I’m the baddie in Saul and I have never been a baddie before. It is such a challenge. I have been a goodie all my life or maybe a goodie and a fox!”

The Magic Flute is at The Royal Opera, Covent Garden until March 4.
Welsh National Opera’s The Magic Flute opens on Saturday, May 14.

Rebecca on Wales singers past present and, in the case of legendary Italian soprano Adelina Patti, Scottish baritone Donald Maxwell and Irish soprano Suzanne Murphy, adopted son and daughters of Wales.

Adelina Patti
A real legendary singer who, of course, gave us Craig yr Nos and that is where I made my debut in the pocket sized theatre in 1990 singing the Countess in Rossini’s Count Ory. It gave me a tremendous amount of confidence before singing with Welsh National Opera.

Stuart Burrows
Our greatest Mozartian and truly one of the world’s greatest Mozart tenors of his day. Nobody sang as beautifully as Stuart in the tenor repertoire. He really gave me important experience at the beginning of my career including inviting me to be a guest in his television series.

Sir Geraint Evans
We are rightly so proud in Wales of him and people often ask if I am his daughter. I never met him apart from speaking on the telephone when he asked if I would sing at the wedding of one of his daughter’s friends. I sang at the wedding but Sir Geraint didn’t make it as nature took its course and we lost a massive talent.

Dennis O’Neill
I believe he is the greatest dramatic tenor in Europe in the repertoire he does. I sang with him in my Idomeneo debut at WNO and he was very supportive. He told me before my first Prom performance it would be the beginning of the rest of my life and he was so right. He also enabled me to study the role of Susanna thanks to a bursary and that is the role that I have sung around the world.

Gwynne Howell
I have only done concert work with Gwynne and I respect him immensely. He is a wonderful bass and has enjoyed a distinguished career at Covent Garden for many years. It is always a good feeling when a Welsh singer is singing at Covent Garden. Like a number of our great singers today he is probably better known to London audiences than here in Wales.

Margaret Price
My favourite Mozartian soprano ever. It is a lovely golden voice. I have all her Mozart recordings. Pamina was one of her most famous roles and that catapulted her to even greater acclaim which she richly deserved. But again I never met her even though we sang in the Geraint Evans Memorial Concert in St David’s Hall – I was too shy then to say hello.

Anne Evans
I love Anne. What a singer. She is a really good friend and highly supportive colleague. She has sung Wagner all over the world. When I was to sing Figaro with Barenboim and I was very apprehensive she said just give him my love, give him a kiss from me and he will look after you and she was right.

Gwyneth Jones
Again I never met her even though I took part in the Fidelio tribute to her in the opening of Wales Millennium Centre. I am a huge fan and has anything more beautiful come out of a larynx? You could see why she had the status she commanded. She was a real trail blazer for Welsh sopranos.

Della Jones
We have done a lot of work together. She has always been a good colleague which in this business is really important and has enjoyed a long and successful career. She was one of the greatest Rossini mezzos and has recently been a huge success in Wagner.

Suzanne Murphy
She also worked with me on Idomeneo with WNO in 1991 and she is one of the greatest Elektras. That woman is one of the greatest actresses that ever stepped on the stage - and a voice to go with it. To think she has sung so many roles from Queen of the Night to now Janacek. She has also been so loyal to Wales and Welsh National Opera.

Donald Maxwell
He gave me one of my best lessons when we were singing in Ballo in Maschera. I was singing Oscar. He had a big hat and he kept telling me “You are in the shade, look for the light; audiences want to see your face, follow the light.” A wonderful actor whether it is drama, tragedy or comedy. His comic timing is tremendous. When we sang Beatrice and Benedict and he was the comical music master there was not a dry eye on stage he had us laughing so much. Fantastic.

Bryn Terfel
Beyond comparison. He is my greatest friend and he is the reason all this has happened for me. We met in a concert when I was still nursing in around 1985-86. He was studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama then. I was working as a theatre staff nurse and I was singing as an amateur and he asked me what I did. I told him and he told me to go to Guildhall and do it now. He was the catalyst in my career. A great ambassador for Wales and he is also a great friend.
The Western Mail arts pages  
web site
: www.icwaLES.COM
Mike Smith
Friday, February 18, 2005back



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