Alumni

Since our founding, more than 5,000 young people have passed through British Youth Opera’s training, in workshops and productions.

British Youth Opera’s alumni can be found in all the major international opera houses. Wherever British singers are performing, a number of them will have been through British Youth Opera’s training; and likewise, many directors, conductors and technical staff have cut their teeth in the BYO season.

Are you one of British Youth Opera’s alumni? We would love to hear from you, please get in touch.

Many alumni whose names you may recognise are listed with the roles they played in Our History: A British Youth Opera timeline, but here are a few of them speaking about their time at British Youth Opera and where they are now: 

Jason Howard, Baritone (1987)  

I was fortunate enough to sing the role of Don Giovanni in BYO’s inaugural production in 1987. It was a turning point in my life and career and taught me so much about how to collaborate and build an operatic work of art in a very close knit, company environment. I shall never, ever forget that time in my life, what I learnt about performing or the life long friendships which ensued. They are with me to this day. 

Rosemary Joshua, Soprano (1987, 1988) 

British Youth Opera provided me with my very  first operatic experience in 1987 and the all-important lesson of how to function in an artistic team. This was an instrumental in shaping my future collaborative approach to my work as a singer and I believe has subsequently led me to follow the path into working with young artists.

Katarina Karnéus, Mezzo-Soprano (1992)  

British Youth Opera gave me the invaluable preparation and foundation to stand on which I took with me when I began my career as a professional opera singer. I had the opportunity to take part two consecutive years as Cherubino in ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ and I also covered the role of Olga in ‘Eugene Onegin’. I made friends for life and met many of them later on, as our paths crossed in the profession.

Through BYO you will get a chance to work with professional conductors and stage directors and you will also get a chance to develop and experience what the opera profession is like for real, which is so important for any young artist to do. Being a part of BYO inspired me, and gave me the confidence to continue my operatic journey and aspiration to do what I love to do the most, SING! Through BYO I also had the opportunity to sing at 10 Downing Street and St James’s Palace, and also at Charity events.

Now, 27 years later, I am still singing and enjoying this wonderful profession. I urge all young singers to apply to BYO. 

Edward Gardner, Conductor (1998) 

My time with BYO was hugely valuable. I was in the middle of a conducting course with limited experience of any kind, and to spend the summer working at a professional level with great singers and guidance was exactly what I needed. I still think of my time there as the first proper opera production I worked on, and BYO gave me the taste and the appetite for a lifetime of work in opera!

Victoria Simmonds, Mezzo-Soprano (1999)  

BYO was the springboard into the whole of my career, without a shadow of a doubt. It got me onto the young artists programme at the ENO, and it got me an agent.

Sally Matthews, Soprano (1999)  

I had the very great pleasure to be given the opportunity whilst still at music college to audition for a role in Verdi's ‘Falstaff’ with British youth opera. I was very lucky to be given the role of Nannetta and started the process of learning my first operatic role. British Youth Opera were wonderful in so many ways but one in particular was pairing each one of us together with a working professional for support and tips in preparation for performing our role. I had the greatest pleasure to be introduced to Rosemary Joshua and we had several sessions together and are subsequently great friends. This opportunity was so important for me as a young singer. So very valuable for easing any nerves or answering any questions I might have about interpretation. Knowing someone was really rooting for me was incredibly special!

The rehearsal period was extremely professional and offered me so much experience. I learnt how to take direction, how to work properly as a company and it gave me confidence to develop my own artistic ideas, not to mention learning how to follow a conductor whilst staying in character.

I will be forever grateful to BYO for my chance, especially as my first operatic role out of college happened to be none other than Nannetta, believe it or not! I was a cover at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and the singer unfortunately went sick so I was pushed on at the dress rehearsal. You can imagine how glad I was at that very moment that I had my BYO chance when I did.

BYO really was so very valuable to me. I gained so much confidence  and many, many skills because of it. Every young singer should relish the chance. It really is a must! 

Max Webster, Director (2004, 2005) 

I’m 21 and standing in a crowded railway compartment when I get a call from Stuart Barker offering me a position to be an assistant director at British Youth Opera. I remember it very clearly: the sun was setting over fields of wheat and an acrid smell issuing from the train toilet. It was the first time I’d ever got a job in the arts. I had enjoyed the interview that afternoon, but never thought they would give me the position. I bellowed my thanks to Stuart over the crowded compartment, and remember my first thought after the shock was: I don’t want to look like the youngest person in the room, I’d better start growing my beard.

Why had they taken a chance on me? I’d never done any opera before (though I did always go and stand in the cheapest seats at the opera house, library score in hand) and certainly nobody had ever paid me for doing anything except waiting tables. But I suppose that is what BYO exists to do: take young people with enthusiasm and promise and offer them the opportunity to be part of a professional experience they could not have had elsewhere. A chance to gain skills and insight. To spend two months learning about opera from the best in the business. Not waiting tables.

I was nervous that summer, but I learnt fast. There was lots to take in. A ‘rep’ is not something you do with a gym-weight but a rehearsal pianist. A DSM is not an EU vegetable-directive, but the person who co-ordinates all the technical cues. I certainly screwed up often – and remember pitching up in Stuart’s office more than once in tears – but also toughened up, and as well as the artistic skills, started to understand the personal communication at the heart of collaboration. How do you direct a singer, what do they need? How are they different from actors? What makes a good production? How do you tell a clear story? How do you hook the audience in and make them sit up? What makes them cry? I didn’t get all the answers from those two summers, but watching Stephen Metcalf and Martin Lloyd-Evans work mapped out the foundations of my professional life, demarcated a set of professional interests and values, and showed me a path I’m still exploring.

Over ten years later, much has happened. Drama school (I got in thanks to a recommendation from Stephen Metcalf); years of kicking around on the fringe; some terrible experimental work; some slightly less terrible work, and eventually professional productions, mostly in spoken theatre. However it was my opera experience with BYO that got me a job as assistant to the director I most admired (Simon McBurney) and together we travelled Europe trying to find new ways of making opera. And slowly but surely my own directing work started to be recognised.

In 2016 I was asked to direct ‘Owen Wingrave’ for BYO. It was an extremely enjoyable experience. Not only because I recognised myself from ten years ago in the wonderful and wild energy of the young singers and trainees, but also because I found myself passing on things I realised I had learnt in the same organisation, in the same rehearsal rooms with many of the same people. We managed to make a production I was very proud of. 

Like all performing, you can’t learn about opera from books. It’s a practical craft passed down from person to person, generation to generation. It’s a huge technical skill – and beyond that – almost a way of life – but you can only learn by doing. You can never quite tell how a person will take to something new before they try it: but in 2005 BYO took a chance on me and offered me my first job, with no experience. It turned out to be just the right thing for me, and the gamble paid off. The path that BYO put me on has now become my career.

I can think of few things more valuable than being able to offer the same opportunities that I received ten years ago to somebody else at the start of their journey. 

David Stout, Baritone (2004, 2005) 

In a business where I am still regarded as ‘young’ at the tender age of 44, I sang with BYO as Forester ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’ (2004) and Guglielmo in ‘Così fan tutte’ (2005). I was too old for the competitions so, for me, it was one of the few opportunities available to me to be noticed whilst at conservatoire (GSMD) and take my training to the next level. In an industry where experience and exposure are vital to commencing a career in Opera, BYO provides a first class opportunity for singer/actors to take another step towards success. I’m currently on stage performing Leporello in Geneva with Simon Keenlyside as Don Giovanni. Thanks to all those at BYO who made this dream a reality.

Nicholas Lester, Baritone (2005) 

BYO was one of the first important steps to me establishing my career in the UK. I initially moved to the UK, having had limited operatic experience in Australia, and worked for a few years for a charity while I developed my technique and gained a clearer idea of suitable repertoire. I chose not to take a place at a UK college, I still have no degrees or diplomas to my name, but to try and gain access to and experience within the industry through chorus, small roles and covers instead. 

BYO has given me fantastic contacts, guidance, support, and experience. I have attended workshops, and taken part in two different operas with British Youth Opera as Paris in ‘Roméo et Juliette’ and The Speaker in ‘The Magic Flute’. I have also taken part in several concerts and fundraising events – this is almost a skill-set of its own! I believe it is important for performers such as myself to represent the industry and art form and to fight for its support and survival.

This experience with BYO has helped me develop long-lasting professional relationships with conductors, directors, movement specialists, singers, coaches and repetiteurs. With BYO I've had the chance to perform repertoire that I later have had the pleasure to repeat in my professional career and I’ve had main-stage London exposure resulting in useful press coverage.

BYO plugs a gap in the training of young singers working towards a career in opera. There is incredible competition for the large numbers of singers within a college environment who compete for the performance opportunities provided. The summer shows provide another possibility to perform/train in a safe environment. In addition there are vital opportunities for trainee stage management, music and production members.

Charlotte Forrest, Repetiteur (2007)

BYO was an essential part of my training between graduating from the Guildhall and my first professional contract with Opera North. It gave me invaluable experience of a working opera company and professional theatre in an incredibly supportive environment, with special mentoring from working professionals. It was a very special and enjoyable summer learning and developing along side many of my fellow students, some whom I see regularly in the profession, that I’ll never forget.  

Nicky Spence, Tenor (2008, 2009) 

British Youth Opera is a rarified gem in the training field of opera. It provided me with the most useful and enjoyable springboard into the singing profession and I owe them a great deal.

I didn’t have much to offer past bags of enthusiasm when I first auditioned for BYO, but ‘Flight’ remains one of the most pleasurable opera experiences I’ve ever had. The music was challenging and due to its ensemble nature, it demanded a great deal of play and trust in our colleagues which we built over the rehearsal period aided by the special atmosphere BYO creates both on and off-stage. Everybody equal, everybody working towards the same goal at the highest possible professional level.

I realise now that it’s this process which makes BYO unique. During ‘The Rake’s Progress’, BYO allowed me both a safe and professional atmosphere to galvanise skills which would make up my tool box for years to come as an opera singer. I was teamed up with one of my tenor idols, Robert Tear, who gave me an insight into the character of Tom Rakewell which is something special I will never forget. The rehearsal process also gave me the opportunity to explore how to learn a role, pace a multi-layered character both vocally and dramatically, and most importantly, how to behave within a company atmosphere. The colleagues I made during this time have proved to be friends for life and the skills I learned with BYO laid the foundations for the fruitful career I’m lucky enough to enjoy now.

Natalya Romaniw, Soprano (2008, 2009) 

I first came to BYO in 2008, playing a smaller part in Puccini’s ‘La rondine’ and then the following year I returned as the leading lady in Rossini’s ‘La scala di seta’. BYO played an integral role in my younger years as a singer, offering me the opportunity to learn what it is to really prepare a role with help in all the essential areas. It’s a huge hub of young talent gathered from all colleges throughout the UK, demanding the utmost professionalism from singers. For me personally, it taught me masses about stage craft and how to navigate singing with a large orchestra. It is the most vital institution for young singers carving their paths at a crucial stage of their careers. It has certainly informed mine!

Checca Ponsonby, Stage Manager (2008, 2009)  

BYO is the reason I work in opera, it gave me a passion for the genre and I believe it lead me to where I am today. 

Maikel Bellanco, Stage Manager (2014) 

I participated with BYO in 2014 and thanks to the experience and tutoring I received during my time with them I am now working with some of the leading opera companies in the UK (ENO, Glyndebourne, and so on). My time at BYO provided me with the experience, skills and confidence I needed to become a professional stage manager in opera. I made lots of professional contacts and have come to work with many of the performers and production team in my career again. Having been part of BYO feels like being part of a family and I would never be where I am today without that opportunity and the support I was given.

Anni Butler, Stage Manager (2014)

BYO's production of 'The Little Green Swallow' was the first opera I ever worked on. While I was training at RADA I was lucky enough to do a shadow evening at ROH. One of the ASMs there told me if I was interested in opera I should try to join BYO as she had done when she was just starting out. She was so right!

I found it really built my confidence to be able to learn the ropes of opera under the supervision of a professional Stage Manager. We had a real sense of pride and ownership at the end because we had been involved with every part of the rehearsal process. It was a brilliant experience and I still see people I worked with in the industry on a regular basis.

Katie Coventry, Mezzo-Soprano (2015)

British Youth Opera provides an amazing chance to collaborate with students from other conservatoires and is an excellent platform to perform in front of industry professionals. My first main role with BYO came just before I started opera school and I feel that it helped me make the most of this time. I was able to invite people who had seen me in ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’ to shows at the RCM and at this time had my first audition at ENO where I was cast in ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ and later became a Harewood Artist.

Harry Ogg, Conductor (2015)

As a young conductor, I can't think of a better training experience than the one I had as an Assistant Conductor on The Cunning Little Vixen at BYO. The combination of the hands on experience of putting together a show with a full professional-level team (music staff, lighting, costume, design, great young singers etc.) at a professional-level theatre, combined with the guidance from some of the most experienced conductors and directors around, seems truly unique to me. It was very special summer, which had a direct affect on the work and opportunities that I'm enjoying now.

Jake Muffett, Baritone (2017) 

BYO gave me the opportunity to sing a title role (Don Giovanni, a staple for my voice type) in a new, fully staged production with a professional orchestra. This experience simply isn't obtainable anywhere else in the UK at an educational level. BYO also supported me when I ran into financial trouble halfway through the rehearsal period and I'll always be grateful for that. The opportunity to work with the directors and conductors on the BYO roster at no personal cost is a fantastic and very rare thing!

 

 

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