A selection of unsolicited comments about the Opera Foundry
From Angela Voyajolu, a soprano with the company
I just wanted to say a personal thank you to you both for yesterday and all that led up to it. If you told me I’d be able to sing what I did in last night’s concert last year, I wouldn’t have believed it! Just the fact that I was able to perform those pieces means a lot. Thanks so much to both of you for your support and all that you do, I so much enjoyed last night and am looking forward to working on the next!
I know I’ve said it before but for someone who gave up a while ago, these opportunities to perform with the group have been so important for me. I’m so happy to be part of it all and looking forward to continuing the journey with you both and everyone!
Angela received a Masters in music from the University of York. She enjoyed years of both ensemble and solo singing before taking a break. She is very excited to be performing again and to have joined Opera Foundry in 2014. Angela currently studies voice with Linda Hutchinson. She is also pursuing a PhD in early childhood musical development and works on various research projects.
The Guildford Magazine – February 2016
It doesn’t always pay to listen to the teachers. Ask Sarah Quantrell, acting chair of Surrey’s innovative music company Opera Foundry, whose childhood passion for the piano was prematurely cut down to size.
“At the age of seven I was actually told by a teacher that I would never be able to playprofessionally; that it would only ever be a hobby for me,” she recalls.
“So I rather took that to heart. I did study music at university (she received a master’s from the University of Surrey), but after graduating I went into IT!”
Enter Opera Foundry. Described as a ‘foundry for opera talent’, the company is dedicated to the development of living, breathing opera and honing the considerable talents of its singers. The small group of amateur, pre- professional and professional musicians rehearse and perform regularly, showcasing their impressive repertoire.
For Sarah, the project proved a musical lifeline. She has been the group’s repetiteur – accompanist and coach for rehearsals – since its inception in 2012, and is now its acting chair.
“I saw an ad on a job board, so I went along, a little bit nervous,” she laughs. “Opera was new to me, so I am learning just as much as the singers, and I’m loving it. I never in a million years thought I’d be good enough to play for money, but now I’m actually turning work down! It’s a nice position to be in.”
Founded by singer Martin Perman, Opera Foundry later came under the leadership of its Musical Director, Richard Cartmale. Originally trained as a conductor, Richard also worked with the English National Opera as a tenor for several years, before leaving in 2007 to focus on conducting, composing and coaching.
“Opera Foundry is just a small part of what he does,” explains Sarah. “He runs various choirs, he conducts, teaches singing – oh, and he’s just played keys for Sister Act! He brings a certain element of quality to the group. It’s because of him that we have attracted some very talented singers and are really making a name for ourselves.”
That and the fact that the group also offers a high level of development opportunity, acting as a sort of opera academy. Through a careful selection of parts, weekly rehearsals and regular specialist workshops, the singers receive the tools and challenges that they need to progress.
“Development is our USP. Matching the right kind of voice with the right kind of part, for instance. I mean, you can go to the National Opera Studio and do a course there, but you’ll need quite a bit of money. Here it’s continuous development.”
The singers are of mixed standard, though a certain level is required to make the cut. My hopes of following in Pavarotti’s footsteps are firmly back on hold.
“You do have to be a singer already and having lessons – we audition everybody,” says Sarah. “We have some people who are professional as it is, some who’ve been through music college and hope to make it professionally, and some who want to be opera singers but have discovered this only later in life. Like our tenor – he works in IT by day, but he is exceptional.”
Thanks to these high standards, audiences are treated to some top-notch opera. But not the endless, complex epics of operatic fame: at Opera Foundry they do things differently.
“We purposely don’t do costumes, as we’re trying to remove the stuffy image of opera – it’s all about the music. Not just arias, but ensemble pieces and full scenes too.
“Also, we only charge £10 a ticket (£12 on the door). We want to attract new audiences as well as seasoned operagoers, so we make it affordable. We come out to mingle and chat too – there’s no big curtain between us. It’s much more engaging.”
Next up is a concert series showcasing great arias and ensembles in particular languages, starting in May with Italian – “the easy one”, says Sarah – to be followed by French and German.
“We do work very hard at giving the audience a good experience: if something isn’t ready for performance, it doesn’t go in. Only quality makes it through. A lot of our Guildford audience are opera lovers already, but if it’s all new to you, come along and try it!”