PerformerUpClose: Tom Colwell

PerformerUpClose interwiew, 15 May 2016

Tom Colwell Baritone
OperaUpClose performer credits: Marcello in La Bohème, Dancairo in Carmen.

How did you end up in opera? 
My first singing teacher was a huge influence on my musical career, plus all my friends at the time were auditioning for music college so I thought that I'd just have a go.

What would you be doing if you weren't a singer?
I had quite a long break from singing after I completed college and even worked as a carpenter on the Isle of Skye. If I weren't singing now, I would definitely continue along those lines, but I would love to get into something more refined like furniture making, or even instrument making.

What would be your dream role to play?
It would be Dr. Oppenheimer in John Adam's Dr Atomic. His aria 'Batter my heart, three person'd God' is stunning.

If you were in charge of a festival, what would you programme, which singers would you programme and why?
In terms of what kind of music, I'd definitely programme some 20th Century repertoire. I am a huge fan of Britten and John Adams. Who? I would programme Gerald Finley. I think he is both a great singer and actor.

Tom starring as dancairo in  carmen

Tom starring as dancairo in carmen

Growing up, who was your idol?
I would say that my first musical idol was Jon Bonjovi. I remember clearly 'Slippery When Wet' blasting in the common room at school.

If you were able to time-travel to any period in musical history, where would you want to be?
Hands down, I'd travel to see Jazz in America in the fifties and sixties. It would have been great to see Coltrane and Miles Davis in New York.

What was the last thing you listened to?
'Plainscapes' by Vasks. A really beautiful and haunting piece I highly recommend.

 

Which opera would you recommend to someone who has never seen an opera?
It would probably have to be something by Puccini, Madame Butterfly or, of course OperaUpClose's La Bohème...

As a performer, you've worked with lots of other singers and directors. What's the most bizarre direction/tip you've ever been given?
I was once told to move around the room as if I were a puppet who's strings were being pulled around and shaken by a toddler. There were a few of us and a lot of flailing limbs!

Tell us a little-known fact about yourself?
I am actually a qualified Rope Access Technician. This pretty much means I can abseil off anything that needs fixing or cleaning. 

 

DirectorUpClose

Valentina headshot.jpg

Director, Valentina Ceschi
OperaUpClose directing credits: Ulla's Odyssey (Kings Place), Dido & Aeneas (King's Head Theatre), Elixir of Love (King's Head Theatre), Manifest Destiny (King's Head Theatre), Associate Director La Bohème (Cock Tavern Theatre, Soho Theatre, King's Head Theatre).

How did you get into opera?
I stumbled into it a bit. After graduating from the Jaques Lecoq School, in Paris, I set up a company with Thomas Eccleshare with whom I co-wrote directed and performed all the shows. As our work developed we became more and more inspired by European auteur- directors and performance artists. We were at a festival in Italy at the same time as Emma Dante. I was a huge fan of her work and found out that she was directing Carmen at la Scala and did everything in my power to get in and work as her rehearsal assistant there. Growing up I was taken to many (and I mean very many!) musicals and being half Italian opera has always been in my blood. But it was only when I was in Milan, spending my days listening and watching the singers, studying their faces and bodies, their emotions, their processes in the rehearsal room where you are really close, that I truly fell in love. 

The production was considered controversial and caused a bit of a stir on opening night. It was exciting to be a part of this, and I realised how opera - especially at an institution such as la Scala - could be shaken up a bit, and that stories needed to be told by fresher, younger voices. 


What is your favourite part of the job?
The moment when something shifts and suddenly you see something in the story or the piece that excites you that you'd not noticed before, and together with your MD or the cast you all get goose bumps, it's like having a vision and you think "ah, yes, that's why we have to tell this story now! And it all makes sense! " 

I also love working with young people, they don't have any baggage from training, they inspire me and they make me laugh. I would love to work more with young people. 

Valentina working on  Ulla's Odyssey  with musical director Alex Beetschen and puppeteer Matt Hutchinson

Valentina working on Ulla's Odyssey with musical director Alex Beetschen and puppeteer Matt Hutchinson


What's your least favourite part of the job?
I don't know. Often once the show is up and running you feel left out. The cast, MD, musicians and stage manager still get to hang out every night and do the show, but you're no longer essential, no longer in the gang. It feels quite lonely then.

What's the best thing you've seen on stage (theatre or opera) in 2015 and why? 
I just saw some Kabuki whilst on holiday in Japan and puppet artist Basil Twists's Dogugaeishi at the Mime Festival in London, both Japanese art forms, both breath-taking. I also love the new programme at the Almeida. 

What are your dreams for the future/ what's next?
Making design-led opera. I don't know how yet, but I'm working on it.

Tell us a bit about Ulla's Odyssey?
It is a charming action packed adventure for anyone of any age who has ever felt determined to prove themselves against the odds and who will brave huge waves, winds and sea monsters in order to achieve their dream. 

Your strangest / funniest experience whilst working on a production? 
Once I was touring a show with my company Dancing Brick and we were on stage up in Stockton, halfway through our show when we suddenly realised we had skipped ahead 3 or four scenes without even noticing! The scenes all took place in real time, so it was easy to feel our way back and we were so tuned to each other we recovered without the audience noticing! The show however was packed full of subtle but complex sound design and lighting cues so when I happened to glance up at the tech box I could see our stage manager pulling her hair out and mouthing all sorts of obscenities! The fact that the audience were none the wiser makes me worry about the structural integrity of the piece. 

What do you think is an essential quality in the work you direct? 
I'm a stickler for visual clarity and I strive for efficient storytelling. If what I'm seeing - whether it's slapstick or a romantic scene - doesn't tell as much if not more of a story than what I'm hearing then it's not working for me. 

#5Reasons to see La Bohème

ONE.

This opera's in English. 
No squinting to read the surtitles & no missing the jokes because you don’t speak French. The comic elements of this hugely popular production heighten its tragic ending, with audiences saying this 21st century Bohème affected them like no other, thanks to its stark relevance to modern day issues. Robin Norton-Hale has created a truly thought-provoking libretto and directs the piece with vigour and pace.

TWO.

The story.
Puccini's Bohème is the world's most-loved opera weepie with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments too. As one of the most accessible and moving operas ever written, it's a perfect introduction to the artform. We focus on the storytelling in our productions without ever compromising on the musical standards so both seasoned opera-goers and complete newbies will enjoy.  

THREE.

It's cheap as chips (or as cheap as a night out!).
We make sure our tickets remain affordable for everyone by downsizing the opera but not the quality. Our singers have performed at the Royal Opera House and ENO, here you're seeing them for a fraction of the price. 

FOUR.

The Reviews. 
You don't need us telling you it's amazing when our audiences and press do such a good job of it! This is the production that beat Royal Opera House & ENO to an Olivier Award, so whether you're an opera-buff or a complete newbie, it will knock your socks off! 

★★★★
Madly Brilliant
The Times

★★★★
A Masterstroke
Guardian

★★★★
Puccini without a safety net
Evening Standard

★★★★
Opera with the gloves off
WhatsOnStage.com

★★★★
Metro

★★★★
Sunday Express

★★★★
Daily Express

a huge artistic success
New York Times

FIVE.

It's Up Close.
Get a good seat 'Up Close' where you will see that opera singers can act & experience the phenomenal power of their voices!