In 2009, baritone Marcus Farnsworth was in his third year of postgraduate study at the Royal Academy of Music and entered the Wigmore Hall Song Competition simply to learn more repertoire. In the two years since winning he has sung operatic roles by Mozart and Britten, performed at Wigmore Hall with the likes of pianist Graham Johnson and played a violent East End punk in Mark Anthony Turnage’s opera Greek.
Why did you enter the Wigmore Hall Song Competiton?
The main reason was that my pianist Elizabeth Burgess and I thought it would be a tremendous opportunity to learn an awful lot of repertoire. We had to get three programmes together, as well as the music for our entrance CD. And of course, to get the opportunity to perform on that historic stage – you don’t get many chances to perform at the Wigmore and it’s a wonderful place to sing. The Hall has the perfect acoustic for song, it’s as simple as that. There’s a wrap-around quality to the sound, and the atmosphere in the Hall is always superb.
What did it mean to you to win the competition?
It was a massive surprise at the time because it was our first competition and Elizabeth and I just thought we’d have a go. This competition is one of the biggest accolades in song anywhere in the world, so it was a real honour and it elevated my career to a completely different plane.
What kind of repertoire would you like to specialise in?
Ideally, I want a career that is a balance between concert and recital work and opera, because I think they inform one another. The song form has an intimacy which is unlike any other genre of music and that informs the way you connect with an audience in a larger operatic context. But the bigger dramatic gestures that come with opera make a huge difference to the way you perform song and inhabit characters in song.
Do you have a composer whose music you particularly enjoy performing?
That’s difficult but I think Schubert is probably going to be a lifelong companion because he is the most unforgiving of the Lieder composers. You’ve absolutely got to know what you’re doing with every moment because he gives you everything you need – but nothing more. He’s so complex that you could devote an entire life to the performance of Schubert.
You’re currently playing Eddy in Mark Anthony Turnage’s Greek, an opera based on the Oedipus story. What drew you to the role?
I’ve always done a lot of contemporary music, so it wasn’t actually such a big shift for me. And I do think we’ve got to make sure that the music of our time has a forum. Dramatically, though, it’s very different to things I’ve done before – you couldn’t get further away from song repertoire, and that was part of the attraction. Eddy is a very violent, in your face role. But it’s been great fun to work on.
Interview by Elizabeth Davis
Marcus Farnsworth will be appearing in Music Theatre Wales’s production of Mark Anthony Turnage’s opera ‘Greek’ in venues around the country including Edinburgh, Oxford, Aberystwyth and Newport.
Enter our competition to win a pair of tickets to the final of this year’s Wigmore Hall/ Kohn Foundation International Song Competition.