OperaFirst: Eugene Onegin

Students from ten local schools attended a performance of Eugene Onegin at Wormsley as the climax of our OperaFirst initiative. This brings together our Learning & Participation programme with our Alvarez Young Artists' scheme with the covers taking to the stage to sing the principal roles. 

Each school took part in immersive workshops led by Hazel Gould (Director) and Jessie Maryon Davies (Music Director) and worked with a professional Garsington Opera singer. The students performed alongside the singer, worked on their own compositions and listened to extracts sung live in the original Russian as well as performing their own opera in a day to invited peers and parents. 

Local journalist, Andrew Green, wrote a brilliant round-up of the evening for us.

Wow! After many a Garsington night among the penguin-suited and gorgeously gowned, what a sight at Wormsley on July 4th. Independence Day? I’ll say! The marquees and grassy slopes given over to schoolkids either hungrily devouring their pre-opera picnics or romping around the auditorium approaches. Teachers ticking off names or scouring the horizon for the keener explorers or doing some last-minute filling-in about the tale shortly to be sung…Eugene Onegin. Among the schools represented, the likes of Cressex Community School in Bucks, Westgate School in Berks and The Cooper School in Oxfordshire.

Before the action, a lively presentation on-stage from Garsington’s Karen Gillingham…aided and skilfully abetted not just by various orchestral musicians and conductor for the night Jack Ridley, but members of the backstage staff keen to say ‘Hey, you could do my job, too!’ Karen also had us all doing warm-ups. Dare I say it, I ended up as flushed as I’ve ever been at our delightful-but-occasionally-draughty Garsington.

What I love about schools’ performances is how, after all the high-pitched youthful banter and chatter (so different to the usual sophisticated burbling us serious types manage) and scrunching of sweet packets, the music itself commands instant silence and attention. Amazing…and an object lesson. However else we package opera for kids, it’s the music itself which makes the best case of all. We need loads of listeners in the future, not just talented musicians and those with a GCSE in music on their CVs. So let ’em listen.

It was a night for those singers who’ve been covering the principal roles in Onegin…and how they all seized the chance and shone! Stand-out performances, if I really had to choose, came from Kirsty Taylor-Stokes as Tatyana, Benjamin Lewis as Onegin (what punch at the very end!) and James Way (a delightful Monsieur Triquet, both vocally and dramatically). Minor roles can also reveal voices to listen out for in future…and David Ireland’s Zaretsky certainly came into that category. In the pit, conductor Jack Ridley made the most of his moment of opportunity with calm, undemonstrative authority.

That rapt concentration from the kids never wavered…and after Onegin had finally spat out his despair, the place erupted. As rowdy a round of curtain calls as you could ever wish to hear. And the excitement continued to spill out as hundreds of new young opera buffs headed for the cars, minibuses and coaches.

Can’t wait for the next schools’ performance…and I’m in my mid-60s (though friends tell me I don’t look a day over….)