Would you say Gareth Goes to Glyndebourne charts your biggest challenge to date?
Yes, I would really. I’m taking young people, many of whom have very little experience of opera, and getting them on the stage at the world-famous Glyndebourne, and in addition to that there’s learning about how an opera company works. The chorus sings in Julian Philips’s new opera Knight Crew, which re-tells the tale of King Arthur in an urban gang-land setting.
Did this appeal to teenagers?
Julian Philips’s piece is fantastic. He wrote technically challenging but accessible music, and the teenagers really took to it. It’s about all that sort of loyalty and betrayal, love and romance that teenagers get. The gang element gave it an edge that they responded to imaginatively, and Philips wrote very energetic, vital music.
What were you looking for when you were auditioning?
The word we kept on coming back to was ‘edge’. An indefinable quality! The people we chose came from a huge variety of backgrounds. When they were in the audition there was just a flash in their eyes, or the way they moved and sang gave us the sense that they were going to look right on stage. We weren’t really looking for experience, although we did have to get some in there who could hold a tune!
Did you encounter enthusiasm for or resistance to opera?
There wasn’t any resistance whatsoever. The minute we walked in and said, right there’s a fantastic opportunity to be on stage at one of the world’s leading opera houses, we got quite a lot of enthusiasm. The challenge was keeping them on board, as it was a full-on opera rehearsal schedule. These young people were rehearsing in evenings after doing full school days: it took a remarkable amount of commitment.
What were the highs and lows?
I had a low moment in winter with all the snow that stopped rehearsals. It made my job extremely difficult, as I was trying to build up their confidence and already up against it with a tight schedule. Obviously the performance was a high point, but it was actually the moments along the way where the chorus suddenly got something – came into tune, or had a good rehearsal [that were highlights]. Watching this very disparate group of under-confident young people, boys especially, becoming a chorus and at home at Glyndebourne – that’s very powerful.
Interview by Rebecca Franks
Gareth Goes to Glyndebourne is on BBC Two on Thursday 24 June, 9pm. You can watch the first episode on BBC iPlayer.