Bright young things... how Glyndebourne has supported burgeoning talent

Posted On by

Winning the Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which will be presented on 24 March by Dame Janet Baker, has the potential to propel a young singer’s international opera career and will cast a spotlight on the wealth of burgeoning talent in the industry today.

Fostering promising singers isn’t all that new to Glyndebourne. In fact, the Glyndebourne Opera Cup is just the latest development in a rich history of spotting and supporting burgeoning talent…

Pivotal to many of Glyndebourne’s productions is the Glyndebourne Chorus. With a world-class reputation, the Chorus plays a significant role in elevating and carrying the action on stage. It is also a crucial developing ground. Glyndebourne’s Director of Artistic Administration, Steven Naylor, says: ‘Glyndebourne places great importance on helping talented singers gain the experience and exposure they need to launch successful careers. We see the Chorus as a collection of talented soloists and seek to provide chances for them to perform small roles or to understudy; an opportunity not often afforded to singers at such an early stage in their careers.’

The Chorus is comprised of a small group of 14 permanent members who return each year and a larger group of singers who are recruited annually. Many of the new recruits are music college postgraduates and the Chorus provides a much needed transition from the conservatoire to the professional world. The list of ‘alumni’ is long and distinguished, notably Dame Janet Baker herself and Dame Sarah Connolly who returns to the Glyndebourne Festival in May to perform the title role in Giulio Cesare.

World-renowned bass baritone Gerald Finley first took to the stage in the old Glyndebourne theatre in 1986, singing in the Chorus in Peter Hall’s production of Simon Boccanegra. Later, when Le nozze di Figaro opened the 1994 Festival in the auditorium we know today, Finley’s Figaro sang the first notes to an eager audience. Finley says: ‘Glyndebourne has always seemed the ideal place to do one’s best work, with high standards and a friendly team of people at the top of their profession.’

Since 2005 Glyndebourne has increased its investment in developing promising young singers from the Chorus with the Jerwood Young Artists (JYA) programme. The initiative identifies three or four promising singers from among the Chorus each year who receive a personalised programme of extra vocal and language coaching, stagecraft and extra recital opportunities. The scheme has been made possible through the generosity of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation.

Tenor Stuart Jackson, a former Jerwood Young Artist [2013], notes: ‘Being in college is a different experience to being a professional opera singer. You spend most of your time in coaching or in classes which is, of course, incredibly important and underpins your ability to perform, but you don’t actually spend a huge amount of time on stage. Being in the Glyndebourne Chorus was great, you get stage experience and become more comfortable in front of an audience. The JYA scheme hugely increases opportunities for performers, allowing more stage time to perform more demanding roles. It is backed up with access to top quality coaches and teachers.’ Jackson returned to Glyndebourne in the 2015 Tour to perform in Barrie Kosky’s critically acclaimed Saul, a role which he will reprise this summer. Jackson adds: ‘I was so happy to be back to perform in Saul in 2015 and just as happy to be doing it again this summer. I owe a lot to the support of Glyndebourne and am really looking forward to singing in the Festival.’

Another vehicle for nurturing gifted singers is contracting them as cover artists during the Festival and the Tour. ‘Our cover artists receive a substantial five weeks of rehearsal time, the same as a main stage production. They then take part in a full studio performance with an invited audience. This is really the first time I get to see and hear them performing the role. For them it is an affirmation of what they do and for me, an indicator of potential casting in the future,’ says Naylor.

For young singers this opportunity to understudy roles, for which they are fully rehearsed by the assistant director, provides vital professional experience and in some cases the chance to give a breakout performance. Such a call to arms occurred in 2014, when Louise Alder stepped in to perform the role of Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier at the BBC Proms having covered the role during the production’s Festival run. ‘I was on holiday in Thailand when my manager emailed and asked if I would like to jump in for the Prom. I couldn’t quite believe it. There had been over ten shows in the Festival and I had sat at home convinced I would never make it to the stage.’ says Alder. ‘To be given this opportunity; role debut, opera company debut, BBC Prom debut, BBC Radio 3 debut and LPO debut, all on one night, was somewhat surreal. As far as career-making evenings go, I believe this was one of those nights. I got many reviews (thankfully favourable ones) and was definitely ‘put on the map’ and I will forever be grateful to Glyndebourne for this unbelievable kick start.’

Alder went on to win the 2014 John Christie Award, an annual scholarship given to a promising young singer to fund private study and has been awarded since 1965 by the Worshipful Company of Musicians. Past winners include: Ryland Davies [1965], Gerald Finley [1989], Kate Royal [2004], Matthew Rose [2006], Allan Clayton [2008] and Duncan Rock [2010]. ‘The John Christie Award is an incredible nod towards a young singer who has stepped out of their comfort zone, and taken a dive into their career, possibly with a jump in like me, or by noticeably contributing artistically to the Festival. I was able to pay for singing lessons and coaching, travel and for German lessons in preparation for my relocation to Germany that year when I joined the solo ensemble at Opera Frankfurt and sang six role debuts in quick succession,’ says Alder.

Alder competed in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2017 competition at which she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Glyndebourne Tour. Founded in 1968 by George Christie, the Tour was established not only to make the work of the Festival accessible to audiences throughout the country, but to give performing opportunities to young and promising singers. The Tour has been successful in spotting and nurturing great artists at the beginning of their careers including; Thomas Allen, Felicity Lott, Valerie Masterson, Rosalind Plowright, John Rawnsley, Amanda Roocroft, Richard Van Allan, Lillian Watson and Willard White.


Felicity Lott, one of the many singers whose early career was nurtured by Glyndebourne Tour. Pictured in Intermezzo, 1983 (Photo: Guy Gravett/Glyndebourne Archive)

Glyndebourne recently celebrated another anniversary – 30 years since the formation of its education department. Established in 1986, its initial ambition was to complement the company’s touring activities but over the years the department has expanded and is now delivering projects year round. These include Glyndebourne Academy which works to increase diversity among professional opera singers and Glyndebourne Youth Opera which gives local young people the opportunity to access world class operatic experiences, including skills workshops and performances on the Glyndebourne stage. To help mark the 30th anniversary, Glyndebourne launched two new biennial awards for young singers who have taken part in education projects at Glyndebourne.

This year the department is launching Glyndebourne Junior Artists. Targeted at local singers aged 14-19 who wish to focus on their singing skills. Glyndebourne’s Head of education Lucy Perry says: ‘32 years in, the education department is more determined than ever to give young people the opportunity to sing. The classical music industry needs to be more representative and to innovate and we believe this starts with young people. Musical and vocal talent can be found anywhere, as initiatives like Glyndebourne Academy prove. Recognising talent, nurturing it and watching it flourish is one of the best parts of my job.’

Sebastian F. Schwarz, chair of the 2018 Opera Cup jury sumarises: ‘Glyndebourne itself is world famous for unearthing the stars of the future – Sarah Connolly, Kiri Te Kanawa and Luciano Pavarotti are among the singers who performed here early in their careers – so the competition dovetails perfectly with the opera house’s reputation for nurturing young artists.’ The great variety of ways in which Glyndebourne nurtures young singers has given it an international reputation for spotting talent. With its expert jury and international outlook, the Glyndebourne Opera Cup is an exciting new chance to uncover the stars of tomorrow. So watch out for the semi-finalists and finalists at an opera house near you in the years to come.