Newsletter 55: The future of opera

This article is the cover story from Newsletter 55, Spring 2020
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We begin a new decade with rehearsals for a twenty-first century opera by one of this country’s most exciting composers. Announcing the return of Samling Academy Opera this summer, we’ve chosen Jonathan Dove’s sparkling chamber opera adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.

Dove’s engaging music and Alasdair Middleton’s libretto draw on the elegant world of Regency England and, like the novel itself, the opera deftly combines sharply observed comedy with touching insights into the human heart. With a good number of equally balanced roles and music that is suitable for young voices with a piano duet accompaniment, Mansfield Park is an ideal piece for Samling Academy’s fourth opera production. Dove wrote Mansfield Park with country house opera stagings in mind and so it gives us great pleasure to take our production to the Ryedale Festival in Yorkshire, where it will be presented in the elegant surroundings of Birdsall House, along with performances at The Witham, Barnard Castle in County Durham and at Sage Gateshead.

Samling Artist Programme
In March we welcome back the acclaimed mezzo-soprano Anna Stéphany to lead our Samling Artist Programme’s week-long residential course. Anna, who became a Samling Artist in 2005, is the first singer to return to us to lead the programme that she herself benefitted from. She will be joined by Caroline Dowdle of the Royal Opera House and actor James Garnon. You can catch all three as they coach, challenge and inspire eight emerging artists in a public masterclass at Sage Gateshead on 7 March, which is followed by a short concert showcasing the work that has been going on in private all week. Spring is also audition season for Samling Institute, as we review a first round of online applications for our Artist Programme for emerging young professional singers and pianists. With around 200 applications annually on a recommendation basis for just sixteen places, competition is tough. Live auditions are then scheduled over five days in London and Glasgow in March and April when our panel will hear around 100 singers and pianists.

Samling Futures
We are also looking forward to auditions for Samling Academy 2020/21 in March and are hoping that a new initiative, through our ‘Samling Futures’ scheme, will help spread the word about all that our Academy has to offer talented young singers across the North East. ‘With multiple school visits to state schools and a programme of masterclasses and performances planned,’ said creative development manager Peter Keenan, ‘we are hoping that this will encourage more young singers to sing classically and audition for our Academy.’ In October we are delighted that our Academy Singers will have the privilege of working with the renowned soprano Joan Rodgers CBE who is joining the leadership team for the first time. ‘Samling Academy has made a huge difference to aspiring young performers in the North East, giving priceless guidance, tuition and encouragement,’ she said. ‘When I was a young singer growing up in Cumbria this sort of programme would have been a godsend. Now the opera singers of the future do not need to leave the region to pursue their studies at a formative stage.’

For more details of this coming year’s programme of events please see our events page 

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Cover photo: Samling Academy Singers soprano Tia Radix-Callixte and baritone Patrick Owston with Royal Northern Sinfonia at ‘RNS LIVE! Set Works’, a concert for GCSE and A-Level music students. Photo: TyneSight Photographic