Glyndebourne’s community and youth productions have been opening the hearts and minds of both participants and audiences to the world of opera since their inception in 1986. Our latest production, Agreed, features three adult chorus members who performed as young people in the first ever main stage youth opera, Misper, in 1997. We caught up with them about the impact that taking part in these extraordinary productions has had, and how it feels to come back to Glyndebourne’s stage now.
I grew up in the village of Ringmer and Glyndebourne was always a treasure that the locals were proud of. From a young age my parents knew that I loved to perform and singing was my passion, starting with private singing lessons from a retired Glyndebourne singer at the age of 8. From there, I joined the school choir and the Glyndebourne Youth Opera (GYO) at 14. My older sister had joined GYO before me and always came home singing and jumping with excitement every Sunday evening so it was natural to my parents that I was going to join too. I then had the great opportunity to be involved along with my sister in an opera called Misper. It was great fun and my sister seemed to drag me around behind the scenes so I didn’t get lost or separated. Glyndebourne is still a marvel to me today with its numerous corridors, rooms and rehearsal spaces everywhere. Myself and my sister were furry monkeys (I think we looked more like sloths) with furry collars and hats. I remember the set with large scroll like pages coming down from high in the sky, brightly lit in red and also a very tall emperor character (although he might have just seemed tall to me at that age).
The rehearsal process felt like a workshop, so you had fun and felt creative the entire way through. Even now, 20 years on, the process is great fun and helps chorus groups form a lasting friendship. I find it’s easier to learn when laughing and having fun which I’ve always felt Glyndebourne provides.
Misper was the start of my fascination with performing and opera which led me to joining GYO and gave me some rare golden moments, from performing a duet for the first time to getting singing advice from Dame Kiri Te Kanawa who happened to be visiting for a show at the opera house and popped into a rehearsal. The experiences and people you get to meet at this renowned opera house are outstanding and you never know who you will meet next or what opportunities will become available during and after the process.
I have found the opportunities that Glyndebourne gave me those years ago shaped the career and interests I have today in my adult life. Glyndebourne gave me the voice of confidence to lead me through public speaking, dealing with important meetings and the social skills to interact with others from all walks of life which has made me successful in my career as a hotel manager and wedding coordinator. Looking forward to life after Agreed I have already looked into local choir groups to join as I feel I’m going to be left with a void after the project.
Unfortunately due to work commitments I had placed opera on the back burner and wasn’t pursuing my passion until receiving an email regarding open auditions for a new opera Agreed for the community surrounding Glyndebourne. Heading along to the audition I was extremely nervous as it had been near 15 years since singing and training in the world of opera. All these nerves were taken away within a moment of walking in with all the beaming and excited faces surrounding me, from the project team and other participants who were also eager for the opportunity to sing and create magic at Glyndebourne. It is fantastic to be back at Glyndebourne and working with a great team that are passionate and want our input into creating this new opera. I’m not the only chorus member who is excited to be working on this project.
I would encourage all (and I mean all) to look out for future projects Glyndebourne are offering as you will not be disappointed. It’s great fun, you meet lots of new people and get a chance to work with great teachers and professional singers. There’s no other place like it that helps encourage people from all walks of life from participating in this great form of art.
My first memory of Glyndebourne:
It was my mum who wanted me to go to the audition initially – I had never heard of Glyndebourne but she had seen the advert in our local paper and was aware of its prestige in the operatic world. I was in the school choir, my voice had broken and I loved musical theatre – so after some convincing I agreed to go for the experience. I was driven to the audition by my grandparents (who were also thrilled for me to be auditioning at Glyndebourne). I remember walking into the Ebert Room which had a black floor covered in set markings and a huge green cloth against the back wall. As we started to play warm-up games I remember thinking ‘this is just like a drama workshop’ – from that point on I was hooked.
I played Barry Rook in Stephen Plaice’s Misper by Stephen Plaice and John Lunn, directed by Stephen Langridge. I was so lucky to have this as one of my first professional stage experiences – from the amount of rehearsal time we were given, the set, the crew (Stephen Cowin – Head of Stage Management), all the backstage staff (Ian Jackson – Company Manager), wardrobe – everyone and everything was run to such an incredibly high standard – in some ways it had given me a warped sense of the industry that I ended up going into – it was so professional. I’m certainly grateful my mum convinced me to go to that audition. Working with Stephen Langridge was amazing – truly a gift. His experience and insight helped me start to learn the craft. He challenged me and got me thinking in different ways – how to embody a character – how to play the truth – all whilst singing. He was incredibly detail orientated whilst also holding the bigger picture – one rehearsal I remember him saying – ‘I want to know your Barry Rook, not someone else’s. What makes you tick – why do you go and set light to the school?’ – These questions really stuck with me. How to portray and fully embody a character. I still do one of his tongue twisters as a warm-up even today.
The next production I was in was Zoë – when I played Luke Summers. Here I made more friends for life and had the most amazing experience. I still keep in touch with a handful of the cast even 20 years on. Several of us are now having kids – I will certainly be sending mine through GYO. Zoë was also later turned into a film for Channel 4 and it gave me the film bug.
I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better experience in GYO. As a result of being in GYO and the youth productions I took the decision to train further. I decided to train in musical theatre. Looking back I think I made that decision as it felt a more well rounded discipline – acting was just as important as singing. Although, having seen several performances recently at Glyndebourne I can see that is changing in the opera world and if I was doing GYO now, I may have taken the operatic path. Regardless, I owe an awful lot to Katie Tearle [then Head of Education] for giving me those opportunities – thank you.
I came back to the UK in 2013 after living and working in the States as an actor. I had just had my greencard application declined and was drifting. I believe it was my mum again who saw that Glyndebourne was doing a new opera. I jumped at the chance, auditioned for it and being in that production honestly felt like I had come home. I met a lot of good people and through the show I re-found my spark, my passion for singing and live performance. It was also wonderful to reconnect with Ian Jackson and Stephen Cowin who remembered me from when I was a kid.
I chaperoned these shows for the education department. This was a wonderful experience to ‘give back’ and see the new opportunities Glyndebourne was offering the next generation of performers. It was lovely to be a part of the team in that way too.
I met Howard Moody [composer/conductor] through the production Push. He inspired me so much that I wrote a screenplay of that opera and hope to see it made. When I found out he was composing another opera on the main stage at Glyndebourne I jumped at the chance. I was so pleased to reconnect with Dan Kerry (a fellow Rook scarer in Misper) and Ross (one of the monkeys) – it has been really nice to hear the paths we have all walked and still found ourselves back here on the Glyndebourne stage. Howard’s story is so powerful and relevant for today’s audience. I can’t wait to perform it and to see how the audience responds to it.
I really can’t begin to describe or put into words what it has meant to me to be a part of the Glyndebourne family – and it really has felt like that. I am so excited to walk out again onto that stage and show the world once again what we’ve got. Toi toi toi to all the cast and crew of Agreed 2019.
I joined GYO on the back of a school production of Annie; the Head of the Music Department told us about this new opera for school kids that Glyndebourne was putting on. I was a shy, bullied 15-year-old, but ironically, it was one of the bullies from school who gave me these immortal words as I was hovering outside the Courtyard Cafe, too scared to go in; ‘Get in there ya sad loner’. Inside, I met people who I would never have normally socialised with (a college rugby player and a goth to name but two) and they accepted me as one of their own.
When I saw that they were holding open auditions I decided I’d go and see if I ‘still had it’… guess I still do. More than 20 years later, it is as equally different as it is the same. It still amazes me how people from so many different backgrounds can come together and ‘make opera’.
Our Education projects would not be possible without our generous donors.
‘For a number of years we have been supporting schemes to help young people to find a career in the arts, particularly in dance and theatre. Since becoming supporters of Glyndebourne we have been very impressed with its educational programme and particularly with projects such as Belongings in 2017 and Agreed this year which commission original operas and bring around 80 young people to the theatre to perform on the main stage alongside professional singers and an orchestra, which in itself offers opportunities to young musicians. It is such a good introduction and opportunity for those young people to develop a passion for opera’. — Jules and Cheryl Burns